11.15.2010

Bloodmoon (1997)

PLOT:
A mysterious killer with metal fingers has been knocking off martial artists, and Det. Chuck Baker is stuck with no leads as his superiors are losing patience. When retired cop Ken O’Hara joins the investigation, he and Baker must work together to put an end to the murderer’s reign of terror.

Director: Siu-Hung Leung
Writer: Keith W. Strandberg
Cast: Gary Daniels, Chuck Jeffreys, Darren Shahlavi, Frank Gorshin, Nina Repeta, Brandie Rocci, Hakim Alston


PLOT THICKENER:
During a lunar eclipse, the earth’s atmosphere can bend red sunlight into our planet's shadow and scatter out blue light. The result gives the moon an orange or reddish appearance. Lunar eclipses occur at least twice a year and present excellent opportunities for night photography, stargazing, and killing martial artists.

The nameless homicidal martial artist, played by Darren Shahlavi, is a practitioner of several fighting styles and as it turns out, many hobbies. Among other activities, we see him strolling through a park snapping photos and later, admiring the talent at the local nudie bar. But there’s one pastime that’s giving the NYPD absolute fits. Like, other than the murdering. It’s his robust set of advanced computer skills. He sends cryptic, taunting emails to the station. He livestreams a murder and sends them a link to watch. I would guess he’s pretty good at Quake too.


Following in a long line of martial arts stars playing characters of the same name, Chuck Jeffreys plays Det. Chuck Baker. The time he doesn’t spend cracking jokes is used to perform archaic magic tricks like sneezing out flowers and producing flames from his hands. Also contributing to his lack of productivity on the case is that his work space is covered in karate magazines. Seriously, there isn’t an inch of visible desk or floor in his entire office. While some might point to his enthusiasm for the martial arts, I’d wager it’s more likely that he’s a compulsive hoarder. It’s only slightly better than accumulating malnourished cats.

Collecting back issues of Blackbelt magazine and doing sleight-of-hand on the city dime aren’t Baker’s biggest offenses. The department is much more concerned over his inability to turn over a clue or lead in the killer martial artist case. His direct superior, Chief Hutchins, is catching plenty of heat from the press for the lack of progress. With Hutchins, the film satisfies one of the basic tenets of b-grade American martial-arts film by casting recognizable television character Frank Gorshin in the role. I’m not sure if someone replaced all of the periods with exclamation points in Gorshin’s copy of the script, because he ends almost every line of dialogue by yelling angrily. Then I remember that his top detective sneezes flowers ... so I guess he has every right to be pissed all the time.


So Hutchins sends Baker to entice retired detective and profiler Ken O’Hara (Daniels) to join the investigation. Due to a traumatic past and his fragmented family situation, O’Hara is initially resistant. He softens his stance because you can’t have Gary Daniels in a movie and contain his natural instinct to fight people and pursue martial arts killers. It’s in his blood!

Initially, Baker and O’Hara don’t get along particularly well. Baker likes to make jokes, O’Hara is uptight. Baker carries a gun, O’Hara detests them. Baker sounds a lot like Eddie Murphy, O’Hara sounds like Jason Statham’s older, slightly more effeminate brother. In time, they discover common ground and are able to work together. Surprisingly, their love and practice of the martial arts is not this mutual interest, but rather the fact that they’re both crappy husbands who work too much. And much like my grandparents, they’re both completely confused by the concept of email.


When they’re not showing off their prowess during impressive fight scenes, Baker and O’Hara walk through a number of scenarios common to police procedural films. They play “good cop/bad cop” with a hacker, analyze wounds on dead bodies with a coroner, and pore over evidence. Through it all, they’re also trying to deflect involvement from the daughter of a slain martial artist (Rocci), who wants nothing more than to take vengeance for her father’s death. Considering the established buddy cop dynamic, this subplot was as useful to the story as tits on a cactus. However, it did lead to a pretty cool fight centered around some “refrigerator and cramped NYC apartment kitchen” choreography. I only wish it looked that cool when my wife beats me up for burning waffles.


The action in Bloodmoon ranges from solid to fantastic as Daniels, Jeffreys, and company are utilized to great effect by director Kuang Hsiung. A member and former vice chairman of the Hong Kong’s Stuntman Association, Hsiung’s fight choreography is tight, crisp, and fast, and his performers are up to the task. While Daniels and Shahlavi are both seasoned vets of Hong Kong action films, Jeffreys brings equally valuable experience as a fight choreographer and stuntman on Hollywood sets. There’s some fairly blatant wire-work during the climactic fight, but it’s not so defiantly unrealistic as to be offensive and the rest of the choreography during this stretch more than makes up for the visual missteps. We also get a very cool Kendo-influenced swordfight, complete with metallic sparks and sword clash sound effects. Most important, we get wrestling star Rob Van Dam dry-humping a girl on top of a pinball machine.


Action aside, the film is not without its narrative flaws. Most, if not all, of the story’s focus on computer technology comes off as clunky and half-baked. The killer’s apparent omnipresence is never fully explored and despite a very cool look (steel-tipped boots, cape, mask) he spouts off some pretty wretched villain cliches (among them: “Welcome to hell!” and “The end game has begun!”) There are some lazy stock characters as well -- the angry chief and the hacker-as-fat-pervert are the worst offenders -- but in pointing them out, it’s equally important to acknowledge that we’re watching mid-90s American martial arts here, not a Michael Mann crime thriller. That said, I still have no clue why Baker needed the magician background. That shit was creepy.


VERDICT:
Having not seen much of his other work, I’ll prematurely conclude that Bloodmoon is Gary Daniels’s best starring vehicle. He and Jeffreys have good chemistry and the fight scenes are well-choreographed. It’s a bit of a shame that Kuang Hsiung didn’t do more work in the American film industry; his direction is solid and his fight choreography is creative and visually engaging. He and Strandberg would team up again for 1997’s Superfights, but Bloodmoon is the better of the two and definitely deserving of your attention. Great action cast, solid plot, and RVD dry-humping a girl on a pinball machine.

AVAILABILITY:
A new copy might cost you a pretty penny, but you can get this shizz on Region 1 DVD via Amazon or EBay.

7 / 7

4 comments:

  1. You're absolutely right about that, at least from my standpoint, that Bloodmoon is one of Daniels's best. I just did Cold Harvest recently, and that one was close to this-- if not better-- but Bloodmoon really utilizes Daniels in a way that you'll wish he was used in a lot of his others.

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  2. Great call (and review) on Cold Harvest, I didn't realize that Isaac Florentine directed. Will definitely seek this one at some point, but I want to backtrack to Daniels' earlier stuff first. Rage looks amazing for the sheer amount of broken glass alone.

    I definitely think the HK-style choreography benefited Daniels in particular and all the performers, generally speaking. Not to say that Western action directors can't put together a compelling fight scene, but I think Tony Leung has a great eye and was a good match for this set of talent. Shahlavi and Jeffreys were also awesome and I'm looking forward to seeing the former in Hangar 14 w/ Michael Jai White and Steve Austin.

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  3. Just picked up a copy of this a few weeks ago.

    Gary Daniels was at his best here. Looking forward to watching it again!

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  4. I'm not terribly deep into the Daniels filmography but this is easily my favorite thus far. Really dug the dynamic between he and Jeffreys. Hope to see you guys review it on the Comeuppance side!

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