One thing about IMMORTAL COMBAT (1994) is that it’s called IMMORTAL COMBAT. Pretty good. However, just like the last American Sonny Chiba movie I watched (BODY COUNT, formerly known as CODENAME: SILENCER), you can tell from the opening credits cutting to black for the title that it used to have another title. This time the original title was RESORT TO KILL, because it takes place on an island resort. And some people get killed there.
Another thing about IMMORTAL COMBAT [sic] is that it stars both Roddy Piper and Sonny Chiba. And the villain is Piper’s THEY LIVE co-star Meg Foster as Quinn, who rules the island with her husband Stan (Roger Cudney, TOY SOLDIERS, BARBARIAN QUEEN II) and is behind some scheme with a chemical company called HybriCo to kill fighters and turn them into brainwashed, uh, ninjas or something. I didn’t totally follow it but these companies are always up to complicated shit. What else is new?
The movie opens with Quinn in bed with a muscleman (Woon Young Park, SNIPER: LEGACY, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY), rubbing his chest and telling him he needs to run because her husband is about to catch them. She tells him to leave the island, which is when you realize that this lady has talked him into coming to a remote island to sneak into her bedroom. The only good decision we see him make is when he’s climbing out the window and she asks for one last kiss, and he doesn’t bother. She fans herself and smiles as she watches him run away.
He doesn’t get far before he’s attacked by a fellow member of the shirtless community, this one with long hair and who frequently yips, squeals and does weird poses during their WWF style brawl. I believe this is Deron McBee (later in CAGE II and the correctly spelled MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION) a “Muller,” though it’s very possible there’s more than one long-haired wrestler looking guy in the movie and I’m confusing them.
Next we meet Detective John Keller (Roddy Piper, who had not done any movies in a few years – this was his followup to that Highlander episode I reviewed on Patreon) and Japanese cop J.J. (Sonny Chiba between FIGHTING FIST and BODY COUNT), who bumrush a huge rich people cocaine snorting mansion party and end up having to fight a bunch of guys. In an unusual move for Chiba, he does kind of a Jackie-Chan-esque comedy thing where he will hit the guys but then pose with his arms crossed whenever Keller looks at him, to pretend like he’s not helping.
But then he sneaks off and has a good one-on-three sword fight that’s better than anything he got to do in BODY COUNT.
There’s also another officer named Hiro (Hiroyasu Fujishima, whose only other movie part is as an uncredited aikido master in the original THE MECHANIC) who’s there and gets to fight some guys.
This is only speculation but it seems like this section was either shot for another movie that was never finished or for a completely different version of this movie that was reconfigured. The party sequence feels like something that would come in the middle of a movie, and it has higher production values than everything after it. Weirder than that, it’s presented as Keller and Hiro – but for some reason not J.J. – telling the captain (George Belanger, DON’T PANIC, LICENCE TO KILL) about what happened.
The scene is played for laughs as Keller tries to play down how many rules they broke, but the big failure of the mission is that their partner who we never saw in the same setting as them, Jill (Mineko Mori, CEMETERY OF TERROR), was murdered in the bathroom by a serial killer dressed like a Chippendale (the same muscle guy Muller from the island, I believe).
But Keller has some kind of lead on “The Island of Sta. Marta, The Caribbean” that he thinks will lead him to Jill’s killer, so he resorts to going to the resort to kill. On a small boat on the way there he sees some guy harassing a woman, Karen Keeler (Kim Morgan Greene, SCORNED, BRATZ), pretends to be helping the guy get a bee off his shirt and then “accidentally” head butts him. This impresses another passenger who witnesses it, Yanagi (the great Tiny Lister, between THE METEOR MAN and MEN OF WAR, and wearing Zubaz pants) but not Ms. Keeler, who later tells him off, saying she didn’t need his help. Because of their similar last names the hotel somehow fucks up and gives him a key to the same room, and it’s awkward when she comes out of the shower to find him in her room eating the food she ordered.
One thing I’ve noticed about Roddy Piper characters is that they seem natural calling women “lady.” Look, lady, it’s not my fault. That kind of thing. I don’t think I would sound right saying that. Or “pal” either. The world has changed.
But Yanagi befriends Keller and invites him to a fighting competition he’s taking part in, run by Quinn out in a field with a bunch of gunmen and tiki torches. That guy who fled from her bed is now one of her stable of fighters, because after they killed him they brought him back as a mind-controlled drone or something. Like Universal Soldiers I guess, but they just use them for combat sports instead of military actions.
Like Keller, Karen is here with a secret agenda. She’s actually a reporter for National News Magazine, and she sneaks off from a tour group to take pictures of some ruins. When Keller sees police or security guys or whatever trying to take her camera, he pretends to be her husband and they do a comical fake accent thing. Then he breaks the cops’ necks. She treats it like he did a favor her, but not like “murdered two cops for me” type favor. Then they drink champagne on some rocks and dance and it’s implied (through the shorthand of her wearing a man’s shirt with no pants) that they fucked off camera. But some guys in ski masks break in at night and Keller beats them up and she cries and the next day figures out they stole the film because it proved that some guy’s wounds healed or something.
Unfortunately our friend Yanagi is turned into one of their soldiers, but he does fight against it. There’s a GET OUT type moment where he’s crying and trying not to be their slave, saying, “Will… not… KILL!”
But then he has a fight with the crazy wrestler weirdo serial killer guy while some ninja guys watch? I’m not saying it’s a great part for Tiny, but he doesn’t just stand behind somebody looking scary. He gets some dialogue, gets to joke around, plus a fight against that lunatic. It’s more than he got to do and say in many of his movies, good or bad, so I appreciate it.
I haven’t mentioned Sonny Chiba for a while because J.J. is out of the movie for a while. He stays home with his adult adopted daughter Andy (Lara Steinick, MY GIRL) and there’s a bunch of cool footage of him in different robes doing little rituals and/or training like chopping candles with his sword and stuff. Sho Kosugi type business. Then suddenly he tells Andy that he needs to go help Keller, and also that he actually killed her parents and that’s why he took care of her but he loved her, and they cry about it.
Anyway, gotta go, see ya!
As he’s slinking out the door she stops him and, as a sign of forgiveness, gives him his pearl-handled gun in a carrying case. It’s a whole lot of backstory and emotional turmoil crammed into one scene about why he’s now going to go on the trip that I’m unclear why he didn’t just go on in the first place. But I guess the awkward separation is worth it for when Keller’s being attacked in the hotel by some guys who suddenly drop dead with throwing stars in their heads. Oh, hi J.J.! Glad you could make it! Before you know it he dresses up in full-on ninja gear with the metal-enhanced headband and everything.
He gets to do some ninja stuff, some fighting, all cheap and cheesy but not worthless. The best part of the climax is that during the final battle with “the Signature Killer” (as the muscle guy is apparently known professionally) he catches on fire and then for some reason runs over and hugs Quinn as she screams “Noooo!!!” Both of them are wearing puffy fire suits and his stuntman’s face is conspicuously blurred, but we get the idea of what’s supposed to be happening.
It’s one of those movies that’s supposed to end on a real fuckin ironic kicker, but you’re not totally sure you understand what it is. Everything seems like it’s taken care of, and Karen comes to meet Keller at a restaurant, strutting in looking all sexy. When a waiter lights her cigarette she notices that the lighter has the HybriCo logo is on it. She and Keller both look surprised, and he puts his head down on the table. I guess it’s supposed to be “Oh no, we thought it was all over because the supernatural serial killer pro-wrestler/Chippendale guy caught on fire and hugged Quinn and dragged her into a burning house and therefore we successfully murdered my friend’s killer as well as proved for your magazine that there are super ninjas or whatever, but actually it’s not all over because there’s still a lighter that company made”? Maybe?
Clearly this is a movie of poor craftsmanship, unworthy of comparison to much of Chiba’s filmography and at least one of Piper’s. But if you get a kick out of this sort of crap, as I do, there’s plenty to be amused and befuddled by. And during the small portion of it where it’s a Roddy Piper/Sonny Chiba buddy movie, that’s pretty fuckin cool.
RESORT TO KILL PRESENTS IMMORTAL COMBAT was the feature writing and directing debut of Dan Neira, an Argentinian-American director of McDonalds commercials and stuff. His later films include 2003 and 2009 versions of a movie called A WAY WITH MURDER, both times starring Greene, once with Michael Madsen. (From the IMDb descriptions I suspect the second one just adds new “telling the story” footage to the first one.)