"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Fist of the North Star

FIST OF THE NORTH STAR is a straight-to-video live action manga adaptation post-apocalyptic white people martial arts b-movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for about 20 years even though everybody said it was garbage. And I’m sure if I knew the comics or the anime version I would hold it to different standards, but coming to it fresh I gotta tell you this one checks off alot of boxes of the type of shit I enjoy in a movie. I am here to tell you it has merit.

The villain is the head of the Southern Cross martial arts school, who rebuilds a city after World War III and becomes its dictator, and the hero is the last heir of the rival North Star school, whose powerful fighting style is the only thing that can defeat Southern Cross. And even though their names are Shin and Kenshiro they are played by two white dudes, Costas Mandylor (VIRTUOSITY) and Gary Daniels (COLD HARVEST).

Today this would be frowned upon as whitewashing, and fair enough. But I guess I’ve grown up fascinated with white adoptees of martial arts from the ’70s and ’80s kung fu, karate and ninja booms, and to me there’s something sort of awesomely stupid (in a good way) about these muscular dudes with mullets and leather vests without shirts being the last great martial arts warriors of the future. And I have no right to impose this policy on the outside world, but in my mind there’s a statute of limitations that says since he’s not pretending to be Asian in any way Gary Daniels is grandfathered in to be allowed to be named Kenshiro as he practices moves on the bones of western and/or eastern civilization.

One complaint: why no headbands? I have rarely seen two dudes more worthy of cool headbands.

Anyway, Kenshiro refuses the call to heroism, instead continuing to pursue his personal hobby of desert wandering. That asshole Shin murdered his dad Ryuken (Malcolm McDowell, TANK GIRL), kidnapped his fiancee (Isako Washio) and left him for dead after stabbing his fingers into his chest, unintentionally giving him stars in the pattern of the Big Dipper.

(I was gonna joke that it should be called FIST OF THE BIG DIPPER and some of the fight moves should involve dipping people into stuff, but then I read that that really is the direct translation of the original Japanese title.)

The thing that’s great about being The Fist of the North Star, besides being able to walk in the acid rain and make a little blind girl see by shadowboxing next to her (long story) (actually, no, that’s pretty much the whole story) is a secret fighting style that can horribly mutilate bodies or, better yet, cause their heads to bulge and then explode with a bunch of light pressure point hits. He does this trick on Nils Allen Stewart (THE SHADOW, THE MASK, BARB WIRE), first seen in this cool shot through a peephole:

Stewart’s character Zeed asks “What are you trying to do, tickle me to death?” after he does a bunch of rapid air-punches around his head. He just turns to walk away.

“Don’t turn your back on me!”

“You’re already dead.”

(Huh?)(Wait, what the– is my head inflating? How is this–)(BOOM!)

I bet he’s had alot of practice to time that shit correctly.

Kenshiro is haunted by the voice of his father trying to get him to take up the fight against Southern Cross. At one point, dad even possesses a rotten corpse to come out of the ground and talk to him. Kinda more extreme than the ways, say, Mufasa or The Phantom’s dad do it.

Leave me alone, dad.

This might be a good time to mention it’s from HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II director Tony Randel (his followup to TICKS) and writer Peter Atkins (before WISHMASTER). And also a good time to remind you that Atkins appeared in HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH as my favorite character, Kool Aid Man Cenobite.

Maybe this doesn’t sound cool enough yet? Well, did I mention that it has a post-apocalyptic settlement where Melvin Van Peebles and Downtown Julie Brown are prominent members of the community? And that Downtown Julie Brown is indeed credited as Downtown Julie Brown? Also Dante Basco (Rufio from HOOK, and Pinball from BLOOD & BONE) is a hyperactive dude who does somersaults and helps train everybody to fight. And sometimes Shin’s gang of “Crossmen” marauders ride in on motorcycles and terrorize everybody, and one of them is Clint Howard so there are a bunch of shots of a camera attached to the handlebars looking up at him as he drives around making his most DELIVERANCE or TEXAS CHAIN SAW worthy faces.

Also the wrestler Vader and Chris Penn (BEST OF THE BEST 1-2) as Jackal, who has a lumpy head like Jason or The Toxic Avenger, but with a bunch of leather belts strapped around it. We learn in a flashback that yes, he put those things on because he got North Starred and the second they come off his head is gonna finish exploding. I mean, you cannot dismiss a movie that offers such possibilities.

There are other weird touches, like when Shin is wounded and the blood not only drips into the form of the Big Dipper, but then catches fire. Is the guy just cursed to always be reminded of his enemy? I bet there’s a deleted scene where his Spaghetti-Os do the same thing.

Mandylor is less exciting than Daniels, but he’s convincingly despicable. I like the part where he makes a musclebound follower (David “Shark” Fralick, BEST OF THE BEST 4) fight him. The guy looks so tough and then he talks in a goofier voice than I expected. I liked that guy.

I mean, the fights could be more elaborate, but Daniels is obviously good, and sometimes they’re shot with cool scenery like this.

The super powered punches make them fun. I only wish that stuff increased towards the end instead of completely tapering off. Fight choreographer Winston Omega only has a few IMDb credits, but one is CROSSCUT starring Mandylor.

It’s a solid b-movie production with some cool model shots, cinematography by Jacques Haitkin (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, BLOODSPORT II) and a score by Christopher L. Stone (PHANTASM IIRAVAGER). Apparently the anime is much gorier, and maybe if they’d stuck to that, at least to add an exclamation point on the finale, it would’ve caught on. But the movie was not popular with fans, critics, or other. The DVD has a commentary track with Randel and Daniels, who are good sports about that, and share some good trivia. The banner that says “There’s still time brother” is a reference to Stanley Kramer’s 1959 post-apocalypse movie ON THE BEACH. Julian Sands and Viggo Mortensen turned down the role of Shin. Etc.

Daniels seems very proud of the role. He talks about having recently seen the animated series, as opposed to just the animated movie, and learning things about the character he wishes he’d known at the time.

Within a few years Randel was directing episodes of Power Rangers in Space and Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction. His most recent film is last year’s A DOGGONE ADVENTURE, scripted by Jim Wynorski. “A telepathic dog enlists a group of fun loving kids to help him solve a mystery. The K-9 detective leads the children down a road filled with action and adventure.”

For Daniels, though, it was a bigger budget than usual, and a cool showcase of his skills, that did not slow a prolific career in low budget western martial arts films. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. It’s a pretty cool movie.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at 9:54 am and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Fist of the North Star”

  1. I should give it a re-watch. I didn’t like as much as a kid because the fights were kind of lame but I think I can appreciate something like this more now.

    Also, thanks to Dinner for Fiends, I can’t hear Costas Mandylor’s name without realizing the theme for Saw is singable with his name.

  2. It’s interesting that Mandylor did that movie, while he was on the award winning TV smash hit PICKET FENCES. Okay, TV stars do weird movies between seasons all the time, but this seems like a really odd choice. Maybe he was a fan or got paid well.

  3. I found this after numerous rentals of the original anime movie and it did not disappoint. Sure it lacks the scale, gore and general insanity of the animated version, but it did a pretty decent post-apocalyptic world. Superior in my mind to the likes of Cyborg which gets way too much respect. Whenever I think of Chris Penn I always think of this or Best of the Best. Not Reservoir Dogs or what have you.

    Vern, I don’t recall you reviewing many anime (I know you’ve done animated movies before though), but I think you should make an exception for this. Any film with a tag line of “an epic assault on the senses” needs to be taken seriously. The series(s) are too overblown though so avoid them. The animated film is just enough distilled mayhem, story and badass action to make it an anime classic though.

  4. Haha oh wow I haven’t thought about this movie in a long time! I remember I rented it with some friends for a sleepover because we had all seen the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES movies way too many times and I believe the video clerk made this suggestion to one of my friend’s parents that, since this was also based on a cartoon, we’d probably love it. To be fair, they weren’t wrong and “you’re already dead!” became a catchphrase for us for a while.

  5. CJ Holden, what is even weirder than doing this film was that Mandylor made the softcore Zalman King film Delta of Venus the same year. I only know about this film because before we got internet this and Poison Ivy 2 was my “porn” that I had taped from late night tv. Yeah, before internet porn this was the kinda shit we had to watch.

    I always wanted to watch Fist of the North Star after seeing the trailer on a VHS I had. I found this film on youtube. I might give it a shot, but my backlog is so large. I have not seen a single film in March.

  6. This one was a can’t-miss proposition on paper but it didn’t hang together well and ended being far less than sum of its parts, each of which I then promptly forgot and never thought of again.

    So yeah, it’s a live-action manga/anime adaptation, alright.

  7. This one kinda grew on me. First saw it all I did was compare it to the cartoon and comic and now I’m kinda impressed with what they achieved with what they had to work with. This actually looks like a pretty professional movie, a super-rarity in ’90’s DTV. I mean it cheats… it had Japanese money and played in theaters there but oh well.

    Fights still could’ve been better though.

  8. Also been wanting to get the Japanese DVD of this one for years because the Japanese dub features the cast of the cartoon voicing their respective characters!

    Then I see the like $80 price-tag and the like $30-$50 shipping and quietly put it right back on the back-burner…

  9. FIST OF THE NORTH STAR is one of the bigger anime/manga franchises I sadly have no experience with, but I of course know the famous “You’re already dead!” scene due to meme status and I’m glad the movie replicates it.

    Something kinda similar I have seen though that I fucking love are the two VAMPIRE HUNTER D films, even if anime is not normally your thing I can’t recommend those movies enough.

  10. Best way to describe VAMPIRE HUNTER D is imagine the Hammer Dracula movies crossed with STAR WARS and even MAD MAX.

    A little preface and setup so you won’t be as confused as I was when watching them as I had yet to read the first of the source material novels, VAMPIRE HUNTER D takes place in a twice post-apocalyptic world, first there was World War 3 which brought the end of mankind’s civilization, then Vampires arose to become the new masters of the world and created a technological advanced civilization that too fell after a human rebellion, so now the world 10,000 years into the future is a pseudo medieval, pseudo wild west world with remnants of advanced technology and monsters like Vampires running about, it’s so crazy and cool.

  11. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 28th, 2019 at 1:28 am

    Do they use “Heart of Madness” anywhere in the live action film? Man, that’s a great song.

  12. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 28th, 2019 at 11:55 am

    Shame, they should at least have put it somewhere during the credits!

  13. Maybe it’s on that awesome-sounding Japanese dub?

    Maybe it’s time to start a crowd-funding campaign to get that over here! Or at least ask Shout! or Arrow to get on that…

  14. My introduction to anime was the cartoon version of FOTNS, along with AKIRA. Unfortunately FIST was first, and to my 18 year old brain it was pure shit. Everybody has legs 5 feet long. There is a sex scene with a busty lady who has no nipples! The explody heads and people getting chopped to ribbons was not up my alley either. If AKIRA had been first I might have enjoyed it instead of leaving 15 minutes in.

    Not that AKIRA is great. It isn’t. But it is 1000x better than FOTNS.

  15. Yeah, the movie just mostly uses footage from the (very low budgeted) TV show so it’s kinda embarrassing they dumped it in theaters.

    Also, FOTNS isn’t great. It’s kinda dull and stupid but then out of nowhere someone’s head explodes or some other crazy stuff like that happens and you go “Awesome!!”

  16. This is another movie that disappointed me at the time because I didn’t appreciate B-movies yet, and also because I was a fan of the original anime and this didn’t resemble it very much—and then later I became nostalgic for it and by then had learned to appreciate B-movies. When I finally got a copy on DVD in the 2000s it was one of those DVDs with bad audio where you couldn’t hear the dialogue. Fortunately I found a VHS with normal audio at a thrift store a few years later.

    You could say that I had a similar exposure to anime as rainman since the first time I saw pure anime (not counting things like ROBOTECH) was also FIST OF THE NORTH STAR and AKIRA, on a VHS mix-tape made for me by my friend. (It also had BUBBLEGUM CRISIS, GUNDAM 0079, BLACK MAGIC MARIO M-66, and some other things.) This was back in the late 1980s before dubbed anime was widely available. My friend was a member of a Japanese animation fan club and these were blurry copies of copies, still in untranslated Japanese.

    But unlike rainman FIST OF THE NORTH STAR made a good first impression on me. My friend specifically started the tape with it because I’d asked if there was anime that looked more like G.I. JOE, with square faces and robust figures. He tried to give me a good sampling of things that weren’t stereotypical anime.

    A few years ago I realised that the thing about people’s legs in FIST OF THE NORTH STAR is that they’re drawn to the same proportions as mecha, but human. To draw a good mecha or Transformer you have to make the legs way longer than you would on a person. That’s why you can’t draw a good robot by just drawing a person and then adding boxy metal shapes over top.

    The one thing about both versions of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR that doesn’t hold up as well for me as it did originally is the post-apocalyptic setting. It’s depressing. But it’s kind of central to the premise so I can’t really argue with it, I can only approach the story expecting it or watch something else.

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