“It’s hard to explain. A strange series of events made him our ally.”
Akira Kurosawa probly had no idea when he made SANJURO that he was doing a sequel to one of the greatest movies in all of Badass Cinema. He just wanted to have some fun doing another small, funny samurai story with Toshiro Mifune’s character from YOJIMBO. This time the itchy wandering ronin (calling himself Sanjuro, another name made up on the fly) falls in with nine young, idealistic samurai who have discovered corruption in their clan. They want to do the right thing but they’re kinda dumb and inexperienced and he’s an incomparable swordsman and strategist, so he finds himself advising them, assigns himself to their most dangerous tasks and takes on the army and government mostly on his own. (read the rest of this shit…)
In LADY DRAGON 2, Cynthia Rothrock de-prises her role as Kathy Galagher, ex-CIA underground fighter out to avenge the death of her also-a-CIA-agent husband. This time she plays Susan “The Golden Angel” Morgan, who in the opening scene defends her professional (i.e. not underground) competitive karate title in the presence of her very much not dead yet husband and famous soccer player Sonny (George Rudy). But then later her husband gets murdered and she has to avenge it.
Meanwhile, criminal maniac Diego (Billy Drago, DELTA FORCE 2, MARTIAL LAW II) and his two flunkies (Sam FLASH GORDON Jones and Greg Stuart [QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER]) are stealing diamonds from the mafia, and then staying in the same hotel as Susan and Sonny. Somehow sensing that Sonny’s fame as an international soccer star will get him brushed through customs without much more than a glance, they stash the stolen loot in his luggage and follow him to Jakarta. But when they go to reclaim the diamonds they’re gone.
Before we move on, let me just say that they call it soccer throughout the movie, they don’t say football, so I don’t have to say it either. Those are the rules. I also say shit instead of shite. It’s how I was raised. (read the rest of this shit…)
In MARTIAL LAW II: UNDERCOVER, our hero Sean “Martial Law” Thompson from the movie MARTIAL LAW has gone so far undercover that he doesn’t even look like Chad McQueen anymore, he looks like Jeff Wincott (MISSION OF JUSTICE). But he’s still with his cop girlfriend Billie Blake (Cynthia Rothrock) and he still opens the movie by stopping some bad guys while in disguise. Last time he was a pizza delivery guy stopping a hostage situation during a jewelry store robbery, this time he pretends to be a confused homeless guy and interrupts some bikers making an arms deal.
In case you forgot, he’s called Martial Law because he is a lawman who does martial arts. In fact he does so many martial arts that this time he gets a credits sequence where he’s silhouetted doing katas in front of flags while smooth jazz plays. He just made detective, but he gets transferred to another city to start a martial arts training program for the police there. He and Billie have the kind of relationship where that’s okay, you can just move away and it’ll be okay, no discussion necessary. (read the rest of this shit…)
As much as beautiful action sequences are one of the great joys of life, the story really is the important part, it turns out. It can be formulaic and unoriginal – no problem, that can even be a plus sometimes – but it has to be a good engine for the fights and chases, giving us characters with motivations and making us want to see something happen, even something as simple as “I hope he kills that motherfucker” (or “I can’t wait ’til he fights that little guy!” as the guy next to me at THE RAID said). Most of the better Asian martial arts movies are especially story-driven I think, because of their themes of brotherhood, honor, tradition vs. innovation, etc.
So this is unusual but here’s one I’m recommending mostly just for the action. It’s the reverse of so many modern American action movies where I liked it despite the action being weak. I liked it even though I didn’t care much about what was happening until like halfway through.
I mean, there are elements I love here. The hero Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng, DRAGON SQUAD) has a right fist so powerful his mom made him wear her jade bracelet to remind him not to use it. Donnie Yen’s wife tied a string around his wrist for the same reason in KUNG FU KILLER, but this is a more severe punishment because it’s pretty girly looking. His fist is often shot to look giant, and then we see that gaudy-looking bracelet with a metal charm on it that spins and hums with movement. So every time we see it we remember his vow of punchlessness. (read the rest of this shit…)
MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE is easily the crappiest movie in my Summer of ’95 retrospective so far. Maybe less offensive than BATMAN FOREVER, since it doesn’t seem to be made by professionals who should know any better, but it’s really something. I know it’s an extension of a cheesy kids TV show made up partly of stock footage from Japanese shows, but it’s amazing that a soundtrack album and a little bad CGI was enough to get this into theaters alongside real movies. APOLLO 13 and
JUDGE DREDD came out the same day. Watching it 20 years later POWER RANGERS does not seem like it belongs in the company of either, and the dark, low quality transfer on the DVD isn’t helping things. It didn’t get completely killed at the box office, though. That weekend it came in below APOLLO 13, POCAHONTAS and BATMAN FOREVER, but above JUDGE DREDD.
Like APOLLO 13 this is the story of an elite team of squares chosen to put on uniforms and helmets and fly into space. The Power Rangers are five teenagers chosen by a giant face in a glass tube named Zordon (Nicholas Bell, DARK CITY) to “transform into a superhuman fighting force” and defend the Australian-looking city of Angel Grove, California. That means morphing into masked and color-coded martial arts super heroes and piloting robotic dinosaurs called Zords that combine into a bigger, humanoid robot called Megazord to fight giant monsters. In their spare time the Power Rangers like to skydive, rollerblade and act as role models to local children who don’t know they’re the Power Rangers because it’s a secret identity, although that is never relevant to the story. As far as we see, none of them have parents, schools, jobs, homes or alone time. (read the rest of this shit…)
KUNG FU KILLER also played as KUNG FU JUNGLE (it still says that on the end credits) but the new title fits better. It refers to both the villain and the hero of this enjoyable moosh-up of martial arts challenge movie and serial killer thriller. Donnie Yen plays Hahou Mo, a renowned teacher and fighter who’s in prison for killing his opponent the last time he had a martial arts duel. But when a mysterious killer is targeting other martial arts masters Hahou convinces the police to let him out to help catch the motherfucker. I mean, if Hahou’s gotta go to prison for an apparently accidental and honorable duel-death then surely this murdering creep should be in there too.
Just as John Doe in SEVEN was killing based on the seven deadly sins, Hahou determines that this guy is killing in an order based on traditional martial arts training. He predicts who the victims will be based on who has the best kicks, grappling, etc. To stop the killer he works with police inspector Luk Yuen-Sum, or “Madam” (Charlie Yeung, BANGKOK DANGEROUS remake with Nic Cage), who is suspicious of him, and his wife Sinn Ying (Michelle Bai), who he is very protective of. (read the rest of this shit…)
SKIN TRADE (actually written as SKINTRADE on screen) is the long-awaited passion project of Dolph Lundgren, who produced and wrote the screenplay with Gabriel Dowrick (an editor and sometimes director) and Steven Elder (an actor who was in GALLOWWALKERS). Over the years Dolph had sometimes planned to direct it himself, sometimes not to act in it, at one point possibly to have Steven Seagal co-star. Eventually he handed over the reins to Ekachai Uekrongtham, director of BEAUTIFUL BOXER and PLEASURE FACTORY, which is about the sex industry in Singapore. To Dolph SKIN TRADE is an attempt to raise awareness about the problem of sex trafficking. For me it is an achievement in having a movie that stars Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White.
Dolph plays Nick Cassidy, an NYPD detective who gets himself into trouble by gunning down Serbian gangster Dragovic (Ron Perlman, sort of reprising his character from POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW)’s prettiest son two seconds after he yells “I will prove to you… I AM MY FATHER’S SON!”
Just another day on the job, you would think, but next thing you know some dudes fire an RPG into Nick’s living room window and he wakes up in the hospital with the side of his face melted and no wife or daughter in his burned down house.
Meanwhile Tony Jaa plays Tony, an undercover cop on a crusade against Dragovic’s sex slavery ring in Cambodia and Thailand. We first meet him wearing a nice suit and being threatened at gunpoint to have sex with a young kidnapped child. He fakes like he’s gonna do it but instead he pulls out his belt to use as a weapon to beat up every sorry sex slaving piece of garbage in the room and dangle their cowering leader (Gigi Velicitat, ELEPHANT WHITE, THE MARINE 2, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI) off the side of the building until he tells them where their next shipment of human cargo is headed. And then he drops him anyway. The guy probly shouldn’t have offered him that freebie on sex slaves in my opinion. That was his mistake. (read the rest of this shit…)
My friends, I don’t know about you, but I count myself lucky to live in a world where one of my favorite hip hop producers, the RZA, not only got to write, direct and star in a legit kung fu movie, but got to do a DTV sequel directed by one of the leaders of the form (Roel Reiné, THE MARINE 2, DEATH RACE 2–3, SCORPION KING 3, 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED). If I somehow slipped and fell into an alternate dimension that’s okay. I’m not going back.
Filmed in Thailand with about a third of the first film’s budget, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 is much more normal and low key than the first one, I want to warn you of that up front. There are fewer colorful gimmicks, no crazy Russell Crowe performance, comparably grounded (both literally and figuratively) martial arts, and no mention of the cliffhanger from the director’s cut where I think he had to team up with the X-Blade to save his wife that got snatched by the Falcon Clan and put in a big nest on top of a mountain or something like that. But for me it’s still a very enjoyable sequel because it maintains the most important ingredient: the complete sincerity of the RZA. (read the rest of this shit…)
I gotta admit, I didn’t know what Chad McQueen looked like, or that he starred in this, so I thought “Who the fuck is this?” when he showed up undercover as a pizza delivery man to defuse a hostage situation at Crown Diamonds. Those dumb fucks shoulda known the cops wouldn’t allow a real Domino’s dude to walk in there. Even in Seattle, where we’ll have a $15 minimum wage in a couple years, it wouldn’t be worth it, and this is Los Angeles circa 1990. (The 25th anniversary is on the 16th of next month, so get the balloons ready.) Also, fuck these guys for not insisting on giving him a huge tip when they believed he was a legit employee. Not cool at all, gunmen.
Anyway, he’s really a cop, so he karates them. He’s playing Detective Sean Thompson, nicknamed Martial Law. It took me a while to catch on that it’s because he’s a lawman who does martial arts. We learn that after his dad died in 1983 he took off to Hong Kong for a few years “to prove how tough I was.” He regrets it because he left his younger brother Michael (Andy McCutcheon) behind and now the kid wears a leather jacket, has two DUIs, crashed their mom’s car and steals sports cars. (read the rest of this shit…)
GOYOKIN is the seventh movie from Hideo Gosha, the director who started with THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI and SWORD OF THE BEAST. So he’d been around a bit by that point. It was 1969, the hippie era over here, but questioning authority was part of the samurai movie tradition anyway. The heroes follow a strict code and usually have to deal with some government asshole trying to pervert it. They struggle when there’s a discrepancy between following the rules and doing the right thing. And they always have differing interpretations of what those two things are. But this one seems particularly fitting for a couple summers after the summer of love, because it’s about one man who feels he must stand up against the power structure to stop an atrocity.
It starts with a mysterious incident. A girl returns home to her village to find that everyone has disappeared. Nobody there but her and the crows. They blame it on a curse called the Kamikakushi, but in fact it was a government sanctioned massacre. Some Waco shit. The Saido province feels they have to steal a shipment of gold in order to pay their taxes and survive, and they kill the local fishermen so there aren’t any witnesses. They feel it’s a necessary sacrifice for the greater good.
Three years later the ronin Magobei (Tatsuya Nakadai, YOJIMBO, THE SWORD OF DOOM, RAN) still regrets not trying to stop the slaughter. His brother-in-law Tatewaki (Tetsuro Tanba, THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI, RIKI-OH), the guy in charge, vowed to never do it again. But when assassins come to kill Magobei (they fail) he finds out it’s a precursor to another one. Clearly this stolen gold economics is not very sustainable in my opinion.
Magobei’s not gonna make the same mistake he made last time. He’s gotta stop this massacre or die trying. So he puts on his cool hat and starts walking. (read the rest of this shit…)