BROKEN PATH (2008) is a humble but impressive low budget production, simple in story and filmmaking, but with a high volume of work put into its virtually non-stop action scenes. A little like last year’s NIGHTSHOOTERS, it has the feel of an indie horror movie, but its attraction is high quality fight choreography. It’s what happens when some passionate people get together a little money to make a violent home invasion movie, but those passionate people happen to be a star, director/choreographer and stunt team (Alpha Stunts) from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
I had a hard time getting a hold of this obscure footnote in the history of western martial arts movies of the oughts. I’m not sure I can call it under the radar, because I’ve had it recommended to me a few times over the years and seen it on an underrated action movies list. It never got American distribution though, so when I looked for it years ago I couldn’t find it. But it’s directed by GUYVER 2 and DRIVE choreographer Koichi Sakamoto, so Jack Thursby (and possibly another person on Facebook – sorry that I can’t find your comment) reminded me of it when I did Steve Wang Week earlier this year. This time I was able to order it on a German DVD under the title ATTACK OF THE YAKUZA. I think there’s also a UK release as BROKEN FIST.
Whatever it’s called, it starts like a straight up Lifetime movie. Mighty Morphin Black Ranger and voice of Kaneda in an English dub of AKIRA Johnny Yong Bosch stars as Jack Ellis, gregarious young homeowner, husband to Lisa (Pamela Walworth, Fred Olen Ray’s TURBULENT SKIES), father to Maddie (Lanie Taylor, “Milton’s Daughter – Younger [uncredited],” DRIVE ANGRY), currently hosting their new neighbors for a backyard barbecue at their delightful (and isolated) country home somewhere in Texas. The others are older and white and with cowboy hats, but they stand with their beer bottles and he smiles and talks about renovating the house and shit and fits right in. The house is big, clean, brightly lit and devoid of personality, they dress like an Old Navy commercial, and everything is blandly happy, until we learn that they’re arguing about whether or not to move the hell away from this place.
A friend is taking their daughter away (for the summer?), so they have some romantic alone-time. Also the stage is set for a sudden intrusion. It switches from Hallmark Channel to Troma real quick when cackling psychos in camouflage, scary masks and kabuki makeup try to jump on Lisa. Jack immediately fights back, showing an expertise and confidence that belies years of training and experience.
One way for Lisa to react would be, “Oh, good – this is weird, but thank God my husband is a secret martial arts expert!” But she takes the maybe more realistic angle of being confused and horrified that her husband has clearly kept huge secrets from her. Walworth is very good in the reaction shots, conveying not only shock and disbelief, but a feeling of total betrayal. She keeps trying to get him to explain who these people are and what the hell is going on, and he keeps using the necessity of focusing on defense as an excuse to put off having that difficult talk.
As it will turn out, he was abducted as a child, trained and assigned to kill, much like Mark Dacascos in SANCTUARY or Iko Uwais in HEADSHOT. The others who grew up with him are like siblings, and they feel betrayed by him leaving and hiding from them. Sakura (Motoko Nagino, stunt woman on Power Rangers Ninja Storm, Power Rangers DinoThunder and Power Rangers S.P.D., stunt coordinator for WEATHER WOMAN) seems to have taken it the most personally – she keeps digustedly talking about “his bitch” that he left them for, so in that sense it’s a little like KILL BILL.
As the characters and backstory are introduced it starts to feel like a manga adaptation, particularly when this square-jawed, bleach blond fellow takes off his silver mask and Jack says, “Yoshi!?”
We learn that Yoshi (Dan Southworth, also the fight choreographer, who was in U.S. SEALS II, Power Rangers Time Force, HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2, THE BUTCHER, ACT OF VALOR, and DESTROYER) had a chance to leave with Jack – or Hiroki, as he calls him – and now says he wants to take him up on that offer, so they fight together, making Lisa even more befuddled.
I’ve seen a little bit of Power Rangers, and they don’t really make it seem like those guys can act. So I was impressed by Bosch here. He has a likable goofball presence, making dumb jokes and playing monster with his daughter, then shifting to kill mode.
It’s understandable why Jack’s lack of communication frustrates Lisa so much – I was kind of mad at him too – but he’s still sympathetic. More importantly, of course, he flips and kicks and smashes through a relentless gauntlet of fight after fight after fight after (etc.). Some would no doubt find this too repetitive, because it’s a handful of characters in one long fight scene after another, and it’s entirely limited to this location of the house, the yard, and a little bit at a nearby barn. But I admire the attempts to keep mixing up the moves, weapons and props, and the complete relentlessness of it. Imagine the grueling ordeal of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE style survival horror, but instead of endless screaming and chasing all day it’s martial arts. And it’s the exaggerated Power Rangers style of fighting where misses make a whoosh sound and hits makes a person fly through the air and do a somersault. So even with lots of emotion and blood, and bad guys constantly trying to convince him that he can’t move beyond his past, plus poor Lisa having to run and cry for almost the entire movie, it stays on the fun side.
I don’t get the same kick out of this that I do the better Isaac Florentine movies, which have a stronger sense of character and story and a bigger scope. But you can’t help but admire that they looked at what they had, and it was clear that their fight team was their strongest feature, so they said “okay, let’s take the fights up to 11. No, actually, 22. Fuck it. 55. For the first half. And 88 for the second.” And they attached that to a simple enough premise and gave the bad guys some crazy outfits to add a little flavor. It’s such a simple movie, but a unique one.
It was the feature debut for screenwriter Michael G. Cooney, who’s mostly done shorts and video games, but he also wrote Keanu Reeves’ MAN OF TAI CHI, which I consider a modern martial arts classic.
Director Sakamoto’s next directorial work was an Ultraman feature called MEGA MONSTER BATTLE: ULTRA GALAXY LEGENDS. I ordered a copy of that too and admittedly I haven’t been able to get more than 10 or 15 minutes into it because I’m not sure it’s made for humans. But I can definitely confirm that it’s something. Will report back later. Since then he’s done tons and tons upon tons and tons of Kamen Rider and Power Rangers and what not, but there have been a few features including this year’s BLACK FOX: AGE OF THE NINJA. (“A masked ninja stalks the streets. Who is this mysterious figure?”)
Sonny Sison, who played Jiro, went on to be the fight director and choreographer for BUYBUST, which is a hell of a credit. He talks about BROKEN PATH and many of his other movies in this interview with City On Fire.
It’s hard to comb through Bosch’s subsequent filmography, because he’s been ludicrously prolific as a voice actor for English dubs of anime and video games. But he seems to have only had a few more action roles. In 2008 he and Southworth co-starred with Ray Park, Gerald Okamura and Derek Mears in HELLBINDERS. In 2012 apparently he had an uncredited role as “Rupert” in JOHN CARTER and played “Torch” (the villain I think!) in the Eric Jacobus vehicle DEATH GRIP (2012). And he’s listed in the cast of a low budget war thing called THE ROGUE that IMDb says is in pre-production.
It’s too bad. I’m not saying this is as good as DRIVE, but much like Mark Dacascos in that movie it’s easy to imagine Bosch getting more vehicles if people had been able to see this. And I would’ve been happy to watch them.