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Posts Tagged ‘James Lew’

Showdown in Little Tokyo

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

“Y’know – this is a weird part of town.”

August 23, 1991

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO is a movie I have long enjoyed (here is a pretty dumb review of it I wrote 13 years ago). It’s a buddy cop movie starring Dolph Lundgren (between COVER UP and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER) and Brandon Lee (between LASER MISSION and RAPID FIRE), so any possible deficiencies are easily overcome by their great charisma and the unrepeatable novelty of their team-up. Watching it in the context of these other ’91 movies it does seem slightly primitive; it’s a Warner Bros. movie, but the budget was $8 million, which is less than DOUBLE IMPACT – or even non-action stuff like DEAD AGAIN, THE COMMITMENTS, BINGO, RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON and LIFE STINKS – let alone the new state-of-the-art represented by POINT BREAK and TERMINATOR 2. Fortunately it’s in the capable exploitation hands of director Mark L. Lester (STEEL ARENA, CLASS OF 1984, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, CLASS OF 1999), so it has heavy doses of The Good Shit. He always gives you something extra.

Just as MYSTERY DATE has its two leads getting into trouble with gangs in Chinatown, this is about two guys fighting a Yakuza drug ring in L.A.’s Japanese district. In this case that’s in their job description as members of the LAPD Asian Crime Taskforce. Dolph’s Sergeant Chris Kenner gets the kind of introduction all his characters deserve: he single-handedly raids an illegal fighting circuit by climbing through a skylight, swinging into the ring on a rope and saying, “Haven’t I told you this is illegal, and it pisses me off?” Then he’s announced as the new challenger and has to fight the guys in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mortal Kombat: Legacy I & II

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

There’s a new MORTAL KOMBAT movie about to enter our realm, and it’s crazy to think they’ve been developing this thing for over a decade! It made me want to journey back to the beginning of that process and revisit what happened when director Kevin Tancharoen tried to reimagine the fighting tournament game turned movie series.

Tancharoen was on the mixing stage at Warner Brothers when he heard talk about hopes to restart the series. He thought there was a way to put a new, gritty spin on it, and wanted to try. One problem: the only movie he’d directed was a glossy musical, the 2009 version of FAME. He was much more established as a choreographer for Britney Spears than as a filmmaker. He knew they weren’t gonna fuckin believe he was the guy to bring back MORTAL KOMBAT unless he showed them. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Replacement Killers

Monday, September 7th, 2020

I try not to be too set in my ways, which is a good reason to rewatch a movie years later and see if you respond differently than the first time around. So something told me it was time to revisit something from those heady days when the emerging international popularity of Hong Kong action cinema fired peak John Woo and Chow Yun Fat out of a cannon aimed at the heart of Hollywood. I’m not sure what kind of a cannon shot them so that Woo landed in 1993 and Chow not until 1998, but life is a mystery. Anyway, they exploded and in the case of Chow, we were mostly disappointed and then happy that he didn’t stick around that long, because Hollywood clearly didn’t know what they were doing with him.

THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS was significant not only as Chow’s first Hollywood/English language movie, but the directorial debut of Antoine Fuqua, who became a much bigger deal when 2001’s TRAINING DAY won Denzel Washington an Oscar. That kind of gave him the air of an Important Filmmaker for a little bit, but I think now he’s settled in as the type of director who makes OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and THE EQUALIZER 1 and 2, which is more like the expected trajectory for the director of this one. He came from directing music videos, most famously “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, but also “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” by Prince.

Chow plays “John Lee,” who’s pretty much a remix of his character in THE KILLER. He’s an assassin who owes one more hit to L.A. Triad boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang, A BETTER TOMORROW 1 and 2, THE KILLER, SUPERCOP, RUSH HOUR 2). But he’s sent to the home of LAPD Detective Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker, CLIFFHANGER) and sees the man’s wife and son through the sniper scope and decides he can’t do it. (In a corny touch, Zedkov doesn’t see him but looks right into the scope as if sensing him.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Ballistic

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

BALLISTIC (no relation to ECKS VS. SEVER) is a 1995 DTV joint that I bought after seeing it on Michael Jai White’s filmography, right before his breakout role in TYSON, and after the Don “The Dragon” Wilson movie RING OF FIRE 3: LION STRIKE. He’s thirteenth-billed on its IMDb page so I figured he’d just be standing with his arms folded behind the bad guy in one scene, but I was intrigued enough by the rest of the cast to order a copy on VHS.

The star is Marjean Holden (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION, Sheeva in MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION) as Jesse Gavin, who seems to be a prostitute in the opening scene, until it’s revealed that she’s undercover. She’s trying to bust some limousine-riding creep after selling him a bag of coke, and has to break off her heels to chase him down an alley.

During the pursuit she accidentally pulls her firearm on an old timey stereotype of a bag lady (Rosie Taravella, flight attendant on a three-parter of Who’s the Boss?), allowing the bad guy to sneak up on her and knock the gun out of her hand. When she’s done beating him up, the homeless lady is holding the gun, covering her, and helps carry the unconscious suspect in her shopping cart, before declaring “You know what you are, sweetie? You’re ballistic!”

Unfortunately we already saw the title fired onto the screen earlier, we don’t get it there, but the awkwardly titular dialogue is still appreciated. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cage II

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

One of many underground fighting movies I took a look at in my action movies of summer ’89 retrospective was CAGE, a cheapie starring Lou Ferrigno and Reb Brown as Billy and Scott, two Vietnam buddies forced into a cage fighting circuit. It was enjoyable for its cast, its warm-hearted tribute to friendship, and even its naive-feeling sincerity about the uncomfortable premise that Billy acts like a child because of a brain injury. And I got even more entertainment reading about director Lang Elliott’s later business ventures, including taking over a smoothie chain in a failed attempt to produce a Dorf feature film and build a theme park.

In 1994 Elliott returned with a sequel, so far his final directorial work. CAGE II (subtitled THE ARENA OF DEATH on the VHS packaging) reintroduces Billy and Scott while they’re out grocery shopping. Their negotiations about whether or not Billy is allowed to buy a blue soft drink are intercut with ominous shots of a gang of long haired bad guys in sunglasses and black trenchcoats walking toward the store. And it lays it on thick how much innocence this evil is about to collide with. Billy and Scott smile at a little boy. Two women invite Scott to a party. Before that, while they’re giving him the eye, two smiling children skip by, holding hands! (read the rest of this shit…)

Self indulgent THE GOOD THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY journal

Monday, June 27th, 2016

tn_gdtBwarning: I had to write this down as a time capsule of my book signing experience. Read at own risk.

 

Today, like the mighty sasquatch, I live as a recluse somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday, in the name of transparency, I was out in the open in Burbank, California, joining lower-cased author david j. moore as one of the many guests signing his gigantic coffee table book THE GOOD, THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY: ACTION MOVIES & STARS 1960s-PRESENT.

“It’s about action stars, not action movies,” david kept telling people as he signed their books. He’d wanted a different subtitle that made that more clear. Rather than trying to catalog everything that could technically qualify as an action movie – which could end up being half super heroes and transformerses and shit – he chose to zero in on the dying art of the action star vehicle. I remember him calling me for counsel on this issue a few years ago. I don’t think I was much help, but I agreed with his eventual decision to limit it to actors who primarily or exclusively do action, and (with a few exceptions) started as martial artists or athletes. That means no to my boys Bruce and Clint, sorry to say, but yes to JCVD, Cynthia Rothrock, Jerry Trimble, Michael Dudikoff, Olivier Gruner, ex-diver Jason Statham, and plenty of people I’m not even familiar with. People who never had books about them before, who you never thought would have books about them. (He does include Bronson, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, if you’re worried.)
(read the rest of this shit…)

American Ninja 5 (and Antoine v. Ninja conclusion)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

tn_an5AMERICAN NINJA 5 is the explosive finale to the AMERICAN NINJA saga, by which I mean it’s an unrelated movie starring David Bradley that they retitled. At least that’s my assumption since he’s named Joe in this one instead of Sean. I could easily accept this character as Sean Davidson, who he played in parts 3 and 4, but they call him the other name so they must not have had that in mind while filming. He also opens the movie training with Tadashi “Bronson Lee” Yamashita, who played the Black Star Ninja in part 1, but this time Yamashita is credited as playing himself.

And I guess they must’ve decided that the title was misleading enough that they didn’t have to have a totally unrelated subtitle like all the other sequels. Something like AMERICAN NINJA 5: GAUNTLET OF FIRE or AMERICAN NINJA 5: IRON CLAW JUSTICE.

By the time this came out in 1993, ninjas were a subject of parody and kiddie fare. In the same year, the older brother of AMERICAN NINJA 5’s young star starred in SURF NINJAS with Rob Schneider and Leslie Nielsen. So this is a PG-13, sometimes jokey movie. Bradley has to take care of his master’s grand-nephew Hiro (introducing Lee Reyes). Also, his master, Master Tetsu, is played by Pat Morita, four years after THE KARATE KID III and the KARATE KID cartoon, one year before THE NEXT KARATE KID. Not very Cannonical. But it does have many elements of an AMERICAN NINJA movie: a scheming evil scientist, an army of multi-colored ninjas with one more visually distinguished lead ninja (with a snake-themed name, even), a kidnapping, sneaking into a foreign land, sneaking into a compound, getting jailed, doing a ninja hand signal meditation thing, child ninjitsu training montage, suppressed memories of childhood ninjitsu training. (read the rest of this shit…)

Balance of Power

Monday, January 18th, 2016

tn_balanceofpowerIn BALANCE OF POWER, Billy Blanks plays Niko, one of those martial arts instructors who teaches disadvantaged kids, in one of those neighborhoods where gangs go door-to-door demanding protection money. He makes the kids pick up litter in the neighborhood and lectures them if they think “the most important thing about karate” is “kicking some butt, man.” Niko is sensitive and truly cares about the kids, but he maintains a tough love exterior, hoping it will keep them in line. He’s especially worried about Billy (Adam Bonneau) because he told him not to ever go to the playground (inhabited by scary gang members) and then the dumbass went there for a girl.

Meanwhile Niko’s in trouble because the mob guys just noticed that they have mistakenly forgotten to ever shake him down for money. Embarrassing blunder there. So some thugs, including long-haired Shinji Takamura (James Lew, MISSION OF JUSTICE), come in, he refuses, they break some glass and give him an ultimatum. When he still doesn’t pay up the main enforcer guy drives a car by the playground and one of his ski masked guys does a drive-by on Billy. (read the rest of this shit…)