12.30.2014

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

PLOT: David Sloan is a former kickboxing champion who owns a run-down gym but along the way meets some shady characters trying to get him out of retirement...and they will do ANYTHING it takes do so.

Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: David S. Goyer
Cast: Sasha Mitchell, Dennis Chan, Peter Boyle, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michel Qissi, John Diehl, Vince Murdocco, Heather McComb.




PLOT THICKENER: Here we have David Sloan (Mitchell), the centrepiece of this film, and not to mention Eric and Kurt's younger brother. But as you have probably realised by now, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Alexio won't be making a quick cameo in this sequel. Why, you ask? Well, it's simple--they were murdered. Yep, the Nok Su Cow and the paraplegic former kickboxing champ were gunned down by none other than the deliciously evil Tong Po (Qissi). David also has an up-and-coming fighter named Brian (Murdocco), who is one ass-kicking away from being a douche-bag of a fighter with a greasy slicked back pony-tail. He believes he's ready to turn professional despite David's advice on him being far from it. An argument starts, forcing Brian to turn to the dark side of the force by running into the arms of dodgy fight promoter Mr. Maciah (Boyle).

David is forced out of retirement by the same sleazy fighting promoter to fight their current champ, and what do you know guys? Their paper champion loses to David. Not only that, but David announces after his win to an arena full of people that these promoters are crooked. Humiliated, embarrassed, and downright pissed, they respond the only way they know how: setting fire to his gym, the one place he finds solace in the world...those bastards. Beaten, burnt, and broken, David is stuck in hospital and feeling disheartened, upset, and angry, but it's going to be okay because we can insert the philosophy and comedic timing of Uncle Xian (Chan) from the previous installment. Xian can see David is out on his luck so he decides to retrain him using simple techniques to help him rehabilitate.


Now that we have the positive chi pumping, the film is going to teach you a lesson on 'Deliciously Evil Fighting Plans 101', and what better teacher to have than Sanga, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa? He knows that Maciah is trying to train Brian up to be a champion, all with the help of aggressive trainers and steroids (you may have flashbacks to a certain training montage from Rocky IV on that one). But Sanga also knows that Brian will be a perfect guinea pig in his plan on winning back the honour of disgraced fighter Tong Po.

Brian is now feeling the roid rage, you can see he is so close to getting that greased up pony-tail and the cockiness (which was previously shown by Eric Sloan) is in full swing so let's see Brian kick ass...oh but wait! Sliiiiiiight change of plan in his first professional fight -- his original opponent has pulled out but he has a replacement. Our new contestant loves kicking down cement pillars with his bare legs, paralysing fighters to give them a reality check or to kill them (whichever's easier at the time) and he has a strong fashion sense when it comes to long braids and red Muay Thai shorts -- please welcome Tong Po.


Now the question is: who will win? Brian, who is pumped full of so many steroids that he actually thinks he can kill Tong Po? Or Tong Po, who has a track record for killing, paralysing and violating anything that comes into his path? That was a dumb question wasn't it? So, Tong Po humiliates Brian and to be honest, I am kinda glad he did -- we now have once less douche-bag in the cinematic universe. And who can resist seeing Tong Po give a good beat down to some arrogant prick? I know I can't!

Do I enjoy the end fight scene? Yes, I do, but I feel that there should have been a bigger pay off. They had an entire arena practically to themselves -- no crowd, no reporters -- so why not go all out? I feel that the ending was rushed, and I can understand that they probably didn't have a bigger budget since the main star from the first film wasn't appearing in this. But fans of the original definitely would have all rented this film in the 90s, without a doubt. I know my mum let my older brother and I rent this...great parenting, right?



VERDICT
Overall, I enjoy this film, as it does pay homage to the first but it definitely has its own look. While the film does seem a tad bit rushed at the best of times, I can't deny that I enjoy it.  Even though this film is somewhat funny at times, you cannot deny that it does have heart, and that is what makes me appreciate it. I really wish Sasha Mitchell could have been in more films, because I do like his acting style -- it's very light, it's not trying to be overly serious, you can see that he knows his strengths and he makes the most of what he has. I also love that they included Dennis Chan in this film, as he brings a lot of depth to the film as well as great comedic timing; his cheeky demeanour really does light up the screen. And what does one say about Michel Qissi's performance as Tong Po? He is still badass, the less talking he does, the better. His menacing look is enough to make you want to run and hide; that is what makes a great villain. It does have decent choreography but I wish they really could have showcased that a bit more -- you can definitely see the director was trying to concentrate more on the story than the violence.

And special mention must go to the opening song 'My Brother's Eyes,' by Eric Barnett. I loved that this is what the film opened with, because it gives you a taste of what is expected to come with the film's core. And not only that, as the song is playing it pans across David Sloan's gym and you see photos of him and his brothers...yep I'm a sucker for that stuff.

AVAILABILITY 
Amazon and Ebay.

5 / 7


12.02.2014

American Streetfighter (1992)

PLOT: A successful businessman leaves the lap of luxury to save his estranged younger brother from an underground kickboxing ring. Unfortunately, the airline screwed up and he’s really pissed about having to fly coach along the way.

Director: Steve Austin
Writer: David Huey
Cast: Gary Daniels, Ian Jacklin, Gerald Okamura, Roger Yuan, Tracy Dali, Kent Ducanon, Andrew Cooper





PLOT THICKENER
“Youth is wasted on the young,” said George Bernard Shaw, a man I once believed to be a curmudgeonly dickhead. It wasn’t until I turned into one myself that I discovered he was totally right! Young people have boundless energy and opportunities but spend most of their days finding ways to fuck it up. The bubble of youth is the best time to make those mistakes, though. American Streetfighter, a 1992 Silver Screen movie starring Gary Daniels, explores this idea of youthful indiscretion and the relationships that suffer as a result. It also answers the age-old question: is a funeral parlor a good setting for a samurai sword fight?

As evidenced by his tassled leather jacket, acid wash jeans, and poor decision making, Jake Tanner (Daniels) is a young punk mixed up with the wrong crowd. After he and his fellow gang member, Ito (Yuan), rig up a jukebox with explosives to damage a local business, they realize innocent people were inside! They run back to save them, but the hapless potential victims are packing heat and open fire. Jake escapes with his life, but Ito is shot dead. To be more accurate, Jake drives off after Ito is shot, but still alive. Because Jake drove off, Ito is stuck waiting around to be shot again.

Years later, Jake has moved on to bigger and better things in his new life in Hong Kong. Leather jackets and unkempt locks have given way to power suits and a greasy ponytail. His shitty getaway car has evolved into a shitty office with a drop ceiling and poor lighting. Dead business deals have replaced dead friends. During a late night at the office, he receives a troubling phone call from his mother: Randy is in trouble. Wait, who’s Randy? Oh right, the younger brother in the picture Jake is now holding.


Randy (Jacklin), is a rising star in the world of underground fighting. When Jake arrives after his latest fight to discourage this behavior, Randy rejects the advice. After all, Jake ran away following his own transgressions and left his sibling alone to fend for himself during his formative years.

A shrewd businessman if there ever was one, Jake approaches the fight circuit boss, Ogawa (Okamura) and asks to buy out Randy’s contract. When Ogawa rebuffs, Jake instead offers to take Randy’s place as a fighter-by-proxy. For reasons known only to screenwriter David Huey, Ogawa totally goes for it. Jake gets his ass handed to him in his first competitive fight -- even suffering the indignity of being repeatedly whipped with a car antenna -- and retreats to the home of his master’s daughter, Rose (Dali), to lick his wounds. While there, he goes through a rigorous rehabilitation program under the supervision of Rose’s adolescent son, whose martial arts knowledge is informed by his rabid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fandom. Once he’s fully healed, Jake is joined by his master, Nick (Ducanon) and they take the fight to Ogawa’s gang.


If you know his work, the involvement of Expert Weapon’s director, Steven Austin doesn’t inspire much confidence. In fact, if the films I’ve reviewed were holiday desserts, King of the Kickboxers is a delicious pecan pie at the high end of the spectrum, whereas Expert Weapon would be a pile of stale-ass pizzelles or plum pudding. (For continued debate around weak-ass holiday desserts, please leave your thoughts in the comments). This film isn’t nearly as rough as the aforementioned Ian Jacklin joint, but it lacks technical polish -- the soundtrack appears to have been lifted from a mix of 80s porn and an SNK fighting game ported to a 16-bit console -- and the pacing is fairly wonky. Fight circuit backdrop: plastic sheeting and gaudy light colors. The action: occasionally competent but weirdly edited and choreographed. The dialogue: just nevermind, OK? The movie definitely gets points for the feathered locks of Gary Daniels but I don’t think we should give Austin credit for that. (Unless he did hair and make-up. I’ll need to consult the production credits again to confirm).


Out of at least three Daniels films, this is the third in which he’s been drugged or otherwise had his mental acuities compromised. While Daniels needs to keep a better eye on his drink, I suppose putting your martial arts hero on drugs is the logical extension of the “drunken master” trope popularized and codified by Hong Kong kung fu cinema of yesteryear. That said, what drugs would make for the best martial arts movie? Weed would turn any serious fight film into a stoner comedy, so that has crossover appeal. Heroin is too prone to overdose. I’d have to think that something like meth or crack cocaine would yield the best product. If the hero in "Return of the Supreme Crackhead Master" seems too invincible, just put all of the bad guys on bath salts and have them eat the master’s face for the inciting incident. This shit practically writes itself.


This film nips around the edges of some solid and trashy action, but it comes in drips and drabs. The underground fight scenes are comical -- Ian Jacklin’s youthful arrogance is characterized by him flexing his muscles with exaggerated grunts after he strikes (“flex fighting”) --  but also slow and awkward. The same can be said of the stunt work. During a climactic scene involving henchmen on dirt bikes, we see one of the most disproportionately cruel and protracted retaliations by a hero in the history of cinema. After a snazzy dirt bike entrance, a henchman is tossed from his bike, pummeled to the ground, covered in gasoline, and then set ablaze via Zippo by the grizzled, eyepatch-wearing Nick. The whole scene transpired over what seemed like hours and would be right at home in a Videodrome telecast. Then there’s that funeral parlor sword fight, which is plodding despite the inspired mise-en-scene. Remember kids: not even a samurai sword can make a short-sleeve shirt and tie combo look cool.



VERDICT
American Streetfighter is a fight film made on the cheap and punctuated by occasional quirks. The choreographed violence is frequent and often over-the-top (see: aforementioned funeral parlor sword fight). There are curious character ticks galore, a totally hamfisted subplot about dead kickboxers, and more socially awkward moments than at a food packaging convention. (I have no proof, but I’ve always assumed this industry is full of weirdos). The movie works as a cinematic curiosity, but is probably for Daniels and Jacklin completists only.

AVAILABILITY
Amazon, EBay, Netflix.

3 / 7

11.22.2014

Lethal Ninja (1992)

PLOT: When his microbiologist wife is kidnapped by an evil rich white dude, an art therapist and former “company man” must rely on his ninja training and the help of his kickboxer friend to find her.

Director: Yossi Wein
Writer: Norman Coombes
Cast: Ross Kettle, David Webb, Karyn Hill, Norman Coombes, Kimberleigh Stark, Frank Notaro




PLOT THICKENER
The martial arts b-movie genre has a problem with traditional naming conventions that occasionally borders on full-blown identity crisis. A few years back, we covered a David Heavener film that was titled For Hire in every country except Canada, where it was called Lethal Ninja. As the coup de grace for this year’s Ninjavember, we’re covering the 1993 South African film, Lethal Ninja. However, if you saw this film in South Africa, it was probably called American Ninja 5: The Nostradamus Syndrome. This causes the star of the *actual* American Ninja 5, David Bradley, to cry bitter tears of brand confusion and lost royalties. That’s right. United States copyright law makes shotokan and kempo practitioner and former movie star David Bradley weep openly.

Somewhere in Africa, a group of biochemists is working frantically in a makeshift tent laboratory to determine why a freshwater lake is growing lethally acidic. The scientists are ambushed by a group of ninjas backed by the perpetually grouchy and borderline transluscent industrialist, Kray (Coombes). No one is left alive except a statuesque blond named Dominique (Hill). Will she be held hostage in a darkened cell with no access to food, sunlight, or Internet? Nope, she’s held hostage in a luxury hotel suite with fresh produce, a great view, and dial-up access to Prodigy bulletin boards because it’s 1993. Kray intends to exploit her knowledge of microbiology for nefarious but non-specific purposes.


Unfortunately for Kray and his goons, it’s only a matter of hours before Dominique’s husband comes looking for her. As he leads his students through an outdoor meditative hippie-dippie art class in San Francisco, Joe Ford (Kettle) is roused from the sleepy lesson by a visit from a former “company” associate with some bad news about his wife. When Ford demands to know what the “company” plans to do about it, the colleague reiterates that “company” men only do what the “company” brass tells them to do. And Dominique’s rescue isn’t on their checklist. (If you guessed that the “company” is just movie-speak for “C.I.A.” you’d be wrong. The “company” referenced here does catering and party entertainment).

Abandoned by his former employers, Ford seeks help from the one man upon whom he can rely: kickboxer and moustache enthusiast Pete Brannigan (Webb). The two pack a few bags full of  crossbows, ninja gear, and clean underwear before heading for the unnamed-and-imaginary African country where Ford's lady love is trapped against her will. Can they rescue Dominique before her knowledge is put to evil use? Could Kray’s chemical factory be related to the toxic lake water? And why is hotel proprietor Mr. Osman (Notaro) such a greasy fucking creep?


The first thing that struck me about Lethal Ninja was its flippant approach to ninjas in general. They’re not terribly important to the story and receive no explanation or context. Why are black-clad ninjas running around the orange and brown backdrop of the African grasslands cutting people to pieces in broad daylight? We get katanas, but there are no smoke bombs. No shurikens. No flying. Not even Ford’s ninja wardrobe or tactics get a proper backstory. Yossi Wein basically comes to the table with a confused look on his face and says, “ninjas?” No thank you, Yossi. Just give me the check so I can leave now.

The action is very hit or miss. The fight sound effects are occasionally amusing but the application is uneven. There’s a car chase between two vehicles I wouldn’t be caught dead driving in the 10th grade, and it’s set to PIANO MUSIC. There’s a showdown between Ford and Kray’s head ninja where the former blocks an overhead katana strike with his bare fucking hands, but things are otherwise pretty uninspired. (Aside from the electrified “see-saw” contraption for the requisite “shirtless heroes torture scene” -- that shit was pretty cool). On a very positive note, Brannigan spends at least half of the climax in unabashed “cheat mode” by haphazardly using exploding arrows with his crossbow to solve all of life’s problems. The final damage tally was like 42 buildings and two humans. I would love to see how that guy shovels his driveway during the winter because you know the crossbow is coming out if it’s more than four inches of snow accumulation.


If anything, the legacy for this film will be a classic YouTube-ready scene where the hero is accosted in a poorly lit warehouse by a group of rollerskating ninjas. The roller skates themselves have shiny, retractable blades and the ninjas have choreographed a nice little synchronized skating number to accompany the deadly confrontation. (No waltz music, but it’s still good). This scene alone elevates the film to rarified air; the only other movie that I can recall to feature the ninjas-on-wheels trope was Godfrey Ho’s 1984 cluster-eff Ninja Thunderbolt. Great cinematic minds think alike, or something.

VERDICT
While I enjoyed the dynamic between Kettle and Webb, and Wein’s attempt to merge espionage, ninjas, and industrial wrongdoing in a sub-Saharan setting, this didn’t quite put its hooks in me the way I’d hoped. Wein and company jumped on the ninja bandwagon well after the craze had crested, and didn’t inject enough originality to make it a compelling film. For cinematic exploding arrow enthusiasts only.

AVAILABILITY
Used copies can be had on Amazon for the price of shipping and handling plus one U.S. penny! Also on YouTube.

3 / 7


11.18.2014

The Last Ninja (1983)

PLOT: A group of terrorists infiltrates an important business meeting with national defense implications, and threatens to kill the hostages unless their demands are met. The tactical force charged with rescuing the hostages passes the buck to a guy who may or may not be a ninja, but definitely is an art and antiques dealer who can sniff out a good deal on a 19th-century chaise lounge.

Director: William A. Graham
Writer: Ed Spielman
Cast: Michael Beck, Mako, Richard Lynch, Nancy Kwan, John McMartin


PLOT THICKENER
Among other important lessons during my upbringing, my father taught me how to throw a football, hook live bait on a fishing line, and draw both cat and dog cartoon faces with relative ease. These details may strike most readers as ordinary fixtures of an American male’s formative years, but they’re totally boring to anyone who grew up as an orphaned caucasian adopted by a middle-aged Asian martial arts master. Michael Beck’s character in 1983’s The Last Ninja looks at your idyllic childhood and does a sarcastic jerk-off motion before disappearing behind an exploding cloud of ninja smoke. After all, playing catch can’t hold a candle to throwing your first shuriken into a tree.

From where did this whiteboy karate fantasy originate? I would think that Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s Kung Fu television series served as the first model for orphans learning fighting skills under the tutelage of their older Asian masters. (Other examples include the protagonists in Bloodsport and American Ninja, respectively). It may surprise no one to learn that Ed Spielman, creator of the original Kung Fu series, wrote the screenplay for The Last Ninja, an ABC TV pilot that never took hold as a regular series. Did Spielman go to the well of head-scratching cultural appropriation once too many times? Fuck yeah he did, but read on anyways.


Michael Beck (Swan of The Warriors fame) plays Ken Sakura, an art and antiques collector who makes his home in California. By all indications, he lives on a sprawling estate with his step-sister, Noriko (Kwan), but this detail puts no cramp in his debonair life of bachelorhood. When he’s not appraising vases or charming strangers at soirees, Ken is a heroic ninja who breaks up dope rings and captures serial killers and rapists. Only Noriko knows of his secretive triple life of art-collecting, man-whoring, and crime-fighting.

Mr. Cosmo (McMartin), the government agent who was legitimately born with that name, may have an inkling about Ken’s post-work activities. He pays Ken a visit one afternoon and details a series of correlations between Ken’s whereabouts and the captures of criminals on various dates by a mysterious ninja. Despite the implication, Ken laughs it off and chalks it all up to (a shitload of) simple coincidences. Not to be dissuaded, Cosmo intends to reveal Ken’s vigilante deeds to the newspapers unless said ninja hero infiltrates a Dallas skyscraper where a group of defense industry employees is being held hostage. The ninja, quite simply, is the only chance they have to save them.


Not that head kidnapper Dr. Gustav Norden (Lynch) is such a bad guy. He’s professorial (tan corduroy coat), direct (“the mobile laser system, that’s what we want”), and extremely sweaty. A disgruntled former colleague of his hostages, Norden simply wants the plans for some nondescript military technology to benefit himself and his kidnapping brethren instead of the annoying assholes with whom he used to work. Don’t we all want that at the end of the day?

For the remainder of the story, Ken’s past is slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks. As a newborn, he was left on the doorstep of the Sakura family during a stormy night. After his biological sons are killed in the Korean War, Mataro Sakura (Mako) has no direct heirs for his ninjitsu wisdom, but tosses baby Ken into a pool as a test of his suitability for training. Ken survives! Mataro doesn’t get arrested for attempted infanticide! Mataro kicks adolescent Ken out of the house for a week to teach him humility. He gives him a kitten upon his return to teach him about balance. He performs sleight-of-hand tricks to teach him about misdirection. He shows him that the catch and release of a fly is more skillful and virtuous than catching and killing it. I’m sure there was an awkward talk about “the birds and bees” that involved a katana blade and a watermelon, but it probably ended up on the cutting room floor. THANKS REAGAN.


It should be noted that the showdown between Ken’s ninja persona and Norden’s gang arrives with about 20 minutes remaining in the 93-minute film. Most would agree that’s not a lot of time for insane ninja action. Ken has only two fight scenes that I can recall, and the most notable aspect of the action scenes is the raspy and oddly cosmic voice he uses when talking from under his mask. (Imagine Christian Bale’s Batman voice hooked up to a reverb pedal). Instead, the emphasis here is on the training and origins underpinning the central character -- keep in mind this was a pilot for a TV series -- and the central relationship between a father and son. There’s roughly a 60-40 split between flashbacks and “present day” footage, so viewers should be prepared for a lot of bouncing back and forth. And more clever disguises and silly voices than the transformation scene from Mrs. Doubtfire.


If you peruse the user reviews on the film’s IMDb page, you’ll notice that it’s almost universally praised. However, it’s striking that many of the users recall seeing the movie when it originally aired, and I can’t help but feel that nostalgia may have influenced their opinions. (No judgement: nostalgia was the primary motivation for this entire site)! Despite my dissatisfaction with the action elements, I found myself really engaged during Mako’s scenes and I enjoyed Richard Lynch’s scenery chewing, because the man chews the fuck out of scenery. That said, these are decidedly non-ninja reasons to enjoy this particular film, which makes it a bit of an outlier: the unspectacular character study dressed up in ninja’s clothing.

VERDICT
The Last Ninja offers none of the harebrained plot points we’re accustomed to seeing in most American ninja films. Instead, it features a compelling character study with a well-written father-and-son relationship at its core. The action, while infrequent, emphasizes realism and illusion over the more fantastical visual tropes that would come to epitomize the 1980s ninja film (lasers, decapitated limbs, unexplainable flying). While not without its issues, this is a decent standalone “origin” story that also portended an entertaining TV series. It’s a bit of a shame it didn’t get an actual run, but I feel the same way about Poochinski, so I may not be the best evaluator of failed TV pilots.

AVAILABILITY
As an early 80s TV film, it never had an official home video release on VHS or DVD. There may be gray market copies out there, but YouTube is your friend. Go forth and plunder.

3.5 / 7


11.16.2014

Ninja Death (1987)

PLOT:  By day, Tiger is a Martial Arts expert…by night he is the bouncer of a brothel. Tiger is trained under the watchful eye of “Master” and in this process of training it occurs that the Grand Master and his merry men, AKA Ninjas, are trying to take over Tiger’s turf in Japan.

Director: Joseph Kuo
Cast: Lo You, Fei Meng


PLOT THICKENER: 
When it comes to story, Ninja Death is pretty damn jagged, and while you can fault it for the shoddy editing, it unapologetically turns into a comedy. As the film opens, we are treated to a group of ninjas fighting but there is something significant about this; it's as if the film is being fast forward on VHS...I got a little nostalgic, I will not lie. While some of the story is already tongue-in-cheek, it just goes all out, and for entertainment purposes you just accept it and ride it out. While the entire cast clearly tries to play this film straight and serious, so much is wrong technically but that is what makes it so funny to watch. To be honest, there isn’t much to do with ninjas, and I was deep down hoping for hundreds of ninjas just showing off their skills and bad acting. And while you do get to see some ninjas, it’s very short lived, but what they do have to offer will leave you content, not full. As the film progresses, we are exposed to random flashbacks which turn into really elaborate and strange sex scenes. I really do feel that the director lost faith in this piece and thought “Hrmm you know this film isn’t going where I want it to so here have a really long and awkward sex scene.” I was literally sitting there laughing because after several minutes there is only so much un-erotic sex scenes I could take seriously. I think I stopped taking those scenes seriously after 10 seconds…maximum. 

The plot itself doesn’t make a lot of sense, for the best of times, but the way I interpreted it was that Tiger was training in the ways of the Martial Arts while trying to prove his manhood on a nightly basis to the prostitutes he had to protect at the brothel. And then all of a sudden there’s several Ninjas that just happen to pop up and really not do much. Which left me wanting more. I found that once the momentum was finally up and running, it would all of a sudden just cut to another scene which completely left of field and left you thinking "What the hell?” In some ways, it did feel like two films were cut together at the best of times. 


The martial arts choreography did start off strong, which initially got me pumped, and yeah I fist pumped, don’t judge me. But you can’t help but get excited that at 2 minutes and 6 seconds, a guy has his eyes gouged out; how’s that for an opening? I think with a lot of the B-grade Asian cinema, you really can’t fault it for its choreography because a lot of these guys all worked together on a number of films. You can definitely see how the director, Joseph Kuo was influenced by the Shaw Bros, as a lot of the sets looked as if they were cast offs from Five Deadly Venoms, and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But unless you have seen a lot of the Shaw Bros films, it may pass you by and go unnoticed. There was also a mini montage in this film, and straight away I could feel that locked door in my brain -- which consists of all of the movie montages I have seen -- was being unlocked. And that triggered something inside me which made me connect to the film just a little bit, because I felt you could see the side of montages we know and love in American Martial Arts films. 

You want dubbing? Oh, you will get dubbing with this, and it is so hilariously put together. If you listen carefully to the dubbing you will realise the accents change from American to English. Who am I kidding, it’s not exactly subtle. But it’s this kind of silliness in production which spills over into the film and it just creates a hilarious over-layer that you cannot help but thrive over…okay maybe that was just me?

VERDICT
So let's rewind! There's long, awkward sex scenes, fast-forwarding ninjas, eyes gouged out in the first scene, odd but hearty training montages, solid choreography, terrible editing and several stories rolled into one? I can see the effort that was put in for selected parts of the films and I can take that for what it is, because I thoroughly enjoy how bizarre this film is. Isn't that everything you need to enjoy a craptacular night in with your pals? Add a Cherry Coke in there and BAM! you are in for a good night in. 

AVAILABILITY
Amazon...and any bargain bin selling VHS leftover from 1987. 

4.5 / 7


7.28.2014

Reviews on Parade (to Hiatusville) and the GGTMC

While it was announced solely in the Facebook group -- yet another reason why you should absolutely request to join! -- the blog is currently on hiatus so I can recharge. Life has increasingly gotten in the way, as it often does, and things other than underground fights to the death and punching watermelons require my attention. Hard to believe, I know! That doesn’t mean this space will disappear any time soon, nor does it mean I’ll stop watching these kinds of movies. However, it may mean that ongoing coverage takes on different and less frequent forms than rambling 1200-word critical essays and cartoonish screen-caps of mulleted dudes mean-mugging.

Case in point, here’s what is hopefully the first of several “highlight reel” videos from what I’ve unofficially dubbed the “Burnt Ends” series. This installment is for the 1991 Gary Daniels masterpiece, American Streetfighter, or as it’s known overseas, Samurai Sword Fight in a Funeral Parlor. Please feel free to leave comments on this (positive or negative, as always) here or on YouTube.



PLUS! On the most recent episode of the Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast, I joined Large William and the Samurai to discuss the flaming skeletons and flying chickens of 1984’s Furious, and the proper tuck game and overt racism of 1992’s College Kickboxers. Click here to hear us discuss disproportionate stuntman screams, the futile nature of sex in hot tubs, and 1980s copyright law, among other topics.

To conclude, I just wanted to let the reader-only crowd know what was up. Reviews may be quiet for a little while as I get life sorted out, but they’re not gone. Please consider joining the Facebook group for more regular (and lively) activity and discussion. Be kind to animals and the elderly. Eat more bananas.

6.14.2014

Martial Law (1990)

PLOT: When he discovers that his younger brother has been stealing cars for a local crime kingpin, a cop is forced to choose between his family and his badge. Though it goes unmentioned, we can assume option C includes fleeing to Canada to enjoy a lifetime of free health care and maple syrup.

Director: Steve Cohen
Writer: Richard Brandes
Cast: Chad McQueen, Cynthia Rothrock, David Carradine, Andy McCutcheon, Philip Tan, Vincent Craig Dupree, Tony Longo, John Fujioka, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, James Lew, Jeff Pruitt


PLOT THICKENER
I appreciate it when filmmakers go the extra yard to subvert genre conventions. The “reluctant partners” trope rears its head in 1990’s Martial Law, but director Steve Cohen has an ace up his sleeve. Not only are the partners at the center of this story willing to pair up professionally as police officers, but they’re also romantically involved and -- OH BY THE WAY -- martial artists. This comes from the widely held belief that the couples that stay together, play together, but also work with each other, and frequently bang each other. My feeling is that given the evolving cultural climate, it’s only a matter of time before we see a new genre of “more-than-buddies” cop movies. I’m all for future iterations of Riggs and Murtaugh living freely and openly.


Sean Thompson (McQueen) is a good cop. He makes a convincing pizza delivery man during hostage situations. He shakes down Chinatown gangsters with ease, and he can back-fist and sidekick with the best of them. But beneath that skill and toughness, there lies a palpable sadness. In the wake of his parents’ premature deaths, he has struggled to maintain a relationship with his younger brother, Michael (McCutcheon). It may have something to do with his complete inability to communicate, about which his girlfriend and fellow officer, Billie Blake (Rothrock), frequently complains. In any case, the raging teen has begun to go astray.

Michael now works for a crime lord named Rhodes (Carradine) who deals in expensive stolen cars, among other lucrative business pursuits. Of course, no gang is complete without hired muscle. Martial arts expert Wu Han (Tan) and lumbering oaf, Booker (Longo) flank Rhodes as his trusted advisers, and throw their weight around with aplomb. Michael’s skills as a carjacker are just fine and dandy, but as Rhodes points out, his burgeoning martial arts expertise cemented his made man status. This film will make you long for the cinematic underworld where employability is not dictated by one’s penchant for loyalty, ability to multitask, or skills in resource coordination, but instead by one’s skills in the dojo.


As Rhodes and his goons continue their violent and illegal business practices, from which dead bodies are just one biproduct, the cops take notice. With Michael caught between two roles -- a carjacker trying to make a good impression on his new boss, and the estranged brother of an emotionally distant cop -- tragedy seems a likely outcome. Can the elder Thompson bring his brother back from the dark side? What will Rhodes do if he discovers that his golden boy has a cop for a brother? Is it humanly possible to stage a nunchucks fight in an office with a drop ceiling?


It was only while conducting background research in conjunction with this review that I discovered that not only was McQueen trained by Chuck Norris, but he was a member of Johnny’s Cobra Kai homeboys in the original Karate Kid. Most of ya’ll are going, “YEAH NO KIDDING K-BREZ,” which is the new nickname I gave to myself just now. I would say this qualifies as another example of why my “martial arts b-movie reviewer on the Internet” card should be revoked but it’s not my fault. The minimum qualifications are really archaic: all you need is a 486 computer and the ability to tell the difference between Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Don Cheadle or Owen Wilson. In any case, on both the acting and fighting fronts, McQueen is pretty good, and I’m surprised he didn’t end up doing more films like this (he was replaced in the sequel by Jeff Wincott).


This was a cliched story with a few decent performances from Carradine, McQueen, and Vincent Craig Dupree as a paranoid gang member, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the fight scenes. Rothrock expectedly brings the thunder, but as an added bonus she gets a short fight with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez in a Stateside collision of 1980s Hong Kong action gweilo icons! Tan is a great athlete and an eminently watchable martial artist, and Carradine is, well… Carradine is a good actor. The stunt performers sell everything, the strike combinations are swift and logical, and there’s enough cardboard boxes to go around for all of us to pack up and move to Delaware. (Not necessarily recommended).

VERDICT
Solid execution is the cackling arch-nemesis of low expectations, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was surprised by the level of competency across the board. The performances were adequate for this type of film, the fights had good energy, and Cohen sidestepped a lot of the fatal flaws that often dog this subgenre. Sure, I could have used a bit more fighting with better sound effects. Maybe the secondary characters could have been more distinctive. More Rothrock would have been great (but when is that not the case?) Rather than downgrade Martial Law for quantities, however, I’ll give it credit for what’s on screen: a highly serviceable crime kickfighter.

AVAILABILITY
There are definitely all region PAL discs floating around, but your best bet might be a used VHS copy.

4 / 7

5.05.2014

Karate Cops (1988)

PLOT: Two Las Vegas cops -- one a straight-laced teetotaler, the other a rule-breaking redneck -- are assigned to solve a gang murder. Troy Donahue plays the mayor… Ronnie Lott makes a cameo... it was released in 1988. Um, I think that’s about it.

Director: George Chung
Writer: George Chung
Cast: George Chung, Chuck Jeffreys, Stan Wertlieb, Hidy Ochiai, Troy Donahue, Elizabeth Frieje







PLOT THICKENER
Take a good, long look at the VHS cover for Karate Cops, or as it was known in Spain, LAS VEGAS, 2 SUPERPOLICIAS (2 SUPERCOPS for you gringos). Not too long, though! The 1988 film’s original title of Hawkeye -- a titular nod to the character played by George Chung -- didn’t provide an adequate amount of deference to the character played by Chuck Jeffreys, so they went with something more encompassing and less likely to be confused for a member of Marvel’s Avengers. A lot of folks have noted that Chuck Jeffreys’s cadence and line delivery bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Eddie Murphy. No one would confuse the two in a visual comparison though. So who exactly did the Spanish distributors think they were fooling with this video cover? Perhaps the better question is: was the cover artist a racist prick who thought all black males in the 1980s all looked the same? Perhaps the best question is: was this movie any good and was there any nudity? In no particular order, maybe and perhaps.


George Chung plays Alex “Hawk” Hawkamoto, a renegade cop, former non-baseball Texas Ranger, and burgeoning black belt in Las Vegas. After a botched negotiation with a group of bank robbers in which Hawk punches a hostage in order to knock out the captor behind him and then leads a violent shoot-out, his superiors and the mayor (Donahue) are in an uproar. In order to put him back in line, they pair him with Charles Wilson (Jeffreys), who just happens to be the city’s most decorated cop. Eager to create a foundation for a lasting friendship, Hawk makes a horribly racist joke and the pair trades punches. INSTANT BUDS!

The reluctant partners have plenty in common: they have girlfriends, they’re cops, and they’re martial artists who enjoy jogging. The reluctant partners are so different: Wilson doesn’t drink, Hawk hates sushi, Wilson abstains from eating red meat. However, they’re united in the mission to solve the murder of a shady middle-man who fell into some bad company. Was he snuffed out by gang leader Sakura (Ochiai)? Was he set up by mob boss Tony (Wertlieb)? What happens to stolen drug money after the police take custody of it and take their requisite 20% skim?


This is probably the greatest film in the history of cinema that uses Comic Sans font during an opening credit sequence shot on VHS. The first 30 minutes of the film contains a botched drug deal, our hero taking a black belt test to honor his YMCA instructor, a bank heist by a femme fatale and incognito Ronnie Lott, expensive vase shooting, racist jokes that would make Don Rickles blush, and a random hostage punching (by the hero). Amazing stuff, but perhaps this pace was unsustainable. Maybe Chung ran out of ideas. Maybe my expectations for “lost” genre gems are unrealistic following the renaissance brought about by movies like Miami Connection. Whatever the reason, the film grinds to a halt as the reluctant partners then attempt to detangle the loose threads of a half-baked police procedural plot. I say “attempt” because I’m still not sure what happened or why characters were doing what they were doing. I do know, however, that the main characters didn’t do nearly enough of what they should have been doing: fighting.


Jeffreys and Chung get to show their action chops in a few isolated scenes, but they’re few and far between. A shoot-out on the Las Vegas strip feels like too little, too late. There’s not really any stand-out stunt work of which to speak, though some of the gun-play is marked by healthy squib usage. I came away feeling really underwhelmed by the action in this action movie, and part of the blame lies with Chung as a director, and Frank Harris as the director of photography. The over-emphasis on comedic and dramatic elements may have been the byproduct of Chung having too many production roles, a lack of willing stunt people, or even Chung using this film as a showcase for his acting skills instead of his action skills. However, what action is on the screen doesn’t flow that well and looks washed out, with poor composition from shot to shot. Some may recall that Harris collaborated with Leo Fong on at least two drab action films in the mid-1980s, and went on to squander a stacked cast for the post-apocalyptic Aftershock (1990). Lo and behold, Fong is an executive producer on this very feature! I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here other than Harris and Fong working together screams “bad juju!” like that creepy antique doll whose eyes follow you around the vintage store when you’re digging for Al Green vinyl.

There are very few actors featured on this site who are as decorated in the world of real-life as George Chung. He was a founding member of the vaunted West Coast Demo Team. He’s a five-time world karate champion. He earned a Super Bowl ring as a martial arts trainer for the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. Currently, he serves as Chief Content Officer for Crunchyroll and has served executive functions for several media companies. Any one of us would be lucky enough to have accomplished one of those things in our lifetimes, yet Chung has compiled all of those accolades and more. He has an easygoing charisma here and while he doesn’t carry the weight of the film, I can imagine he’d have an enjoyable wise-cracking presence in an ensemble cast. That said, he has his fair share of awkward emotional moments, so maybe we’ve discovered the one thing he isn’t good at. Take THAT, wildly successful George Chung!


VERDICT
It’s hard to do action and comedy really well. There are plenty of films and franchises that have made the combination seem easy as pie, but executing either genre element well individually is a feat in itself. The comedy in Karate Cops -- both intentional and unintentional varieties -- is given much more run than the action scenes, often to the detriment of the film. That Chung and Jeffreys were in their physical primes makes the low quotient of action scenes all the more puzzling. Add in a clunky plot and you have a recipe for meh, or maybe blah, depending on where you live. Karate Cops is a rare curiosity for those itching for deep cuts from this subgenre and these actors, but ultimately it can’t overcome its narrative shortcomings and low budget.

AVAILABILITY
To my knowledge, this only made it as far as VHS, and it's a pain in the ass to find. Happy hunting!

3 / 7

4.23.2014

Final Impact (1992)

PLOT: The light heavyweight kickboxing champion of Ohio seeks out his hero for training before a major tournament held in Las Vegas. Can the young upstart save his drunken master from his demons?

Director: Joseph Merhi
Writer: Stephen Smoke
Cast: Michael Worth, Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, Jeff Langton, Mimi Lesseos, Art Camacho, Gary Daniels, Ian Jacklin, Frank Rivera




PLOT THICKENER
The majority of opening title sequences in direct-to-video fight films are so bland that even the slightest deviation proves compelling. Had 1992’s Final Impact featured two minutes of arbitrary text touting the professional accomplishments of the film’s kickboxing stars over some generic rock track, I wouldn’t have blinked. I may have fallen asleep. I may have started doing semi-nude poom sae along to the beat of the generic rock track. Who the hell knows. It doesn’t matter, because Joseph Merhi gives us something different. In close shots with careful lighting, we get random hands oiling up random bodies. Hands wrapping hands in tape. Hands lacing up bikinis. Fists punching into palms with powdery impact. Hands applying lipstick. Hands tying shoelaces. I thought all of these hands belonged to the same rugged but sensual kickboxing lady, so I was pretty stoked.


It was all for naught, though, because there is no foxy kickboxer with equal attention to proper hand wrapping and well-blended cosmetics. This is the story of Nick Taylor (Lamas), an alcoholic kickboxing ex-champion and his new student, Danny Davis (Worth), a promising youngster in need of mentorship. Their paths cross in what might be the most amazing bar in the history of cinema. Women in nothing but oil and bikinis wrestle each other on one side, while sweaty brutes kickbox the daylights out of each other in a ring on the other side. (Thus, all the random hands in the opening). In between these two attractions, people dance, drink, and socialize. I didn’t see any skee ball or tabletop shuffleboard, but I’m sure they had them in a side room.


Danny is disappointed to find that his kickboxing hero has turned into a drunkard only three years after his title loss to arch-rival Jake Gerrard (Langton). Still, after proving himself through a short exhibition against Gary Daniels during his immaculate ponytail phase, Danny convinces Nick to take him on as a pupil. He spends time training at Nick’s home, in the patient company of his girlfriend Maggie (Kinmont), and she’s suspicious of her boyfriend’s intentions. Is Nick using Danny to win fight money? For a self-esteem boost? Or to take out his rival, Gerrard, and regain his past glory?

If you’ve been following this site for a while, you’ll notice that this is our first foray into the work of Lorenzo Lamas. For fans of American chopsocky, this might constitute an egregious omission but at this point, I have Lorenzo-phobia deep in the bone. First, I hated the Renegade television series. Hated it. There was also a fairly well-documented incident in which Lamas broke Avedon’s nose during a shoot for the former’s self-defense video and didn’t handle it with much professionalism. (Considering the results, it was for the best that he removed himself from the production). Avedon has great stories, and he’s been a class act in all of my interactions with him. He was one of the best screen fighters of his era, and I like the guy. If you’re a huge fan of Larry Bird, can you also be a fan of Bill Laimbeer? Dr. J? If you’re being real about it, probably not. To be fair, if Lamas could dunk a basketball from the free-throw line, I might feel more conflicted. Few actors other than Michael J. Fox can get that kind of hang-time.


That said, his involvement in the film’s pivotal restaurant scene is cinematic gold. Boozed to the gills, Nick stumbles over and confronts Gerrard (and the ex-wife his rival married, played by Mimi Lesseos) during a contentious altercation that leaves everyone feeling weird. Everything about this 50 seconds of the film is brilliant, from the bolo tie and Gerrard dressed in an outfit straight out of Night at the Roxbury, to Nick’s apparent self-satisfaction after calling his ex-wife a whore during a totally childish exchange. And what is the mythical Neon Graveyard to which Gerrard refers? (For the record, we find out later). Watch below for just a taste.



As the old cliche goes, the enemy is within. To be clear, Jeff Langton does his best to play Jake Gerrard as an obnoxious Jersey-tinged meathead, but he simply doesn’t have enough screentime or good lines to cement himself as a memorable villain. His fighting is vicious at the appropriate times, but Langton also lacks the look and physical stature to provide the audience with any sense of awe about his skills. We know the role of Gerrard is pivotal in Nick’s story arc because of the alcoholic tailspin that results from their fight. Thus, the real villain in this story is Nick’s rampant alcoholism. This character flaw makes him selfish, volatile, and visibly hammered for the vast majority of the film. We’ve seen the alcoholic mentor trope plenty -- in everything from King of the Kickboxers to Breathing Fire -- but Merhi really pushes it front and center as a major story element. Tequila with a chaser of blind vengeance is an especially dangerous mix.

Despite a capable fight choreographer in Eric Lee, I had low expectations about the action scenes in this film considering the long history of humdrum depictions of legitimate kickboxing tournaments. For the most part, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in dozens of films just like it. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the use of genuine psychology in the fighting itself. Several of the fighters have distinctive styles -- Gerrard is a roughneck brawler who aims for vital organs, and crowd favorite Jacky Clark is a flashy show-off -- and Danny is positioned as the well-rounded fighter who can effectively counter each of them. During breaks in between rounds, Nick relays his thoughts and then Danny deploys the strategy to successful results. I’m not sure what the correct countermove was for Gerrard’s signature “trap opponent in corner, pick up both of his legs and start headbutting him in the pelvis” attack, but Danny avoids it entirely.


This is the second time in three PM Entertainment films that Michael Worth played the trainee to a mentor on the hard sauce (see, To Be the Best). In that film, he got lost in the shuffle due to a large ensemble cast. Here, both his character and his performance are more interesting and layered. Worth captures Danny’s alternating streaks of cocky and naive convincingly, and he brings a palpable energy to the fight scenes. More than that, his engaged demeanor provides a nice counterbalance to Lamas’s cool and detached line delivery. Which is to say, sort of drunk. 

VERDICT
While not exactly an original work, Final Impact is a tournament fight film with decent in-ring action, a couple of good performances, and a lot of alcohol consumption, all under the bright lights of Vegas. While this was marketed as a Lorenzo Lamas film, it works better as a solid debut vehicle for Worth, playing a character trying to overcome his selfish mentor’s self-destructive bullshit. Recommended for fans of Lamas who would rather watch him drink than fight.

AVAILABILITY
Netflix, Amazon, YouTube.

4 / 7

4.13.2014

Angelfist (1993)

PLOT: When her kickboxing covert agent sister is mysteriously murdered in the Philippines, an American cop heads overseas to bring the killers to justice. Contrary to popular belief, justice is not a hip upscale Manila restaurant, but rather a fair and reasonable application of law.

Director: Cirio Santiago
Writer: Anthony L. Greene
Cast: Cat Sassoon, Melissa Moore, Michael Shaner, Roland Dantes, Cristina Portugal, Tony Carreon, Henry Strzalkowski, Joseph Zucchero, Jim Moss






PLOT THICKENER
There are few performances in film that can be described as truly chameleonic. Few characters are conceptualized in such a way as to grant us access to the various layers of their personalities. Denis Lavant’s Monsieur Oscar in Holy Motors comes to mind, as does Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. After viewing the Corman-produced, Santiago-directed 1993 action film, Angelfist, I think we can add Cat Sassoon and her character of Kat Lang to that same elite group. Over the course of roughly 80 minutes, she encompasses a wide variety of flavors and colors. She’s a cop, she’s a kickboxer. She’s white as a sheet, she’s tanned to the color of an indoor basketball. She’s dressed in her Muay Thai best, she looks like a backup dancer for Paula Abdul.


A rugged and experienced cop, Kat is cleaning up the mean streets of Los Angeles when she receives word that her kickboxing sister, Kristie (Birzag) has been murdered in Manila. Kristie captured the murder of a U.S. military man on film, and a terrorist group called the Black Brigade responded a little harshly. One airplane transition later, and Kat is knocking down doors and beating up random Filipinos in a search for answers. The local Manila police are useless and paranoid, and the U.S. embassy is no help at all due to constant protests and pressure from the local population.

With the assistance of a shallow himbo nicknamed Alcatraz (Shaner), Kat talks her way into a meeting with her sister’s former fight trainer, Bayani (Dantes). Only after winning his respect during a sparring contest is she able to set the wheels in motion for a break in the case. In order to uncover more solid leads to chase, she enters the local ladies karate tournament in which her sister took part. Upon joining their ranks, she not only catches the attention of her sister’s friend, Lorda (Moore), but also last year’s champion and secret brigadier, the standoffish, Bontoc (Portugal). Will Kat avenge her sister's death? Who are her true enemies and allies? Why do the fight organizers call this thing a "kubate" instead of a "kumite?" And why does Kat's skin tone vary so wildly by time of day and lighting? 


So, about those action scenes. The tournament fighting is marked by extremely repetitive strikes and an almost complete disregard for defense and blocking. Moore and Sassoon, in particular, are guilty of awkward fight stances in which they curl their arms up close to their bodies while kicking, almost in an effort to conceal something -- a strange choice given the sheer amount of toplessness throughout much of the film. Cirio makes sure to combine said toplessness with an actual fight, putting Kat in the crosshairs of would-be assassins who raid Alcatraz’s apartment as she’s fresh out of the shower. In the absence of technical sheen, the stunt players sell HUGE for Sassoon and others. Enemies go screaming and flailing through walls and tables. Any piece of furniture that isn’t nailed down gets incorporated and smashed to pieces.


Sassoon gets all of the bits to put her in position to win our hearts and look awesome. Our introduction to the Kat character involves her jumping through a window with an uzi to waste a bunch of drug dealers. She wins the respect of Bayani by whooping him in an eskrima sparring match. She also takes a three-story fall from an apartment window that sees her smash through multiple levels of scaffolding to the street below. No one will ever mistake her for Moon Lee or Karen Sheperd in terms of ballsy action scenes, but I’ll put it this way: I’d wear a t-shirt with the visage of a growling Kat Lang for virtually any occasion. Even if it was a tank top!

It’s impossible to discuss this film without noting the untimely death of its star. Sassoon had a purported five-picture contract with Roger Corman, but was unable to see it through (I’m still anxious to see her Bloodfist franchise appearances). Discarding the minor transgressions of occasional duckface and dated wardrobe, most would agree that whether it’s an awkward love scene, a rompy fight, or long shots of her smoking a cigarette, Sassoon brings a palpable zest to the film. She’s clearly committed to this role and she got the memo about its tone; that effort is observable and lasting. Given the timing of her death in 2002, it’s difficult to say whether she would have weathered the erosion of the DTV action market that affected so many other stars in the early 2000s. Still, Angelfist is a unique time capsule that features Sassoon at her best, which is to say fierce, tanned, and mysteriously shiny.


Knowing that Corman took an active interest in creating “feminist exploitation films” -- using female protagonists as both asskickers and objects of lust -- I’m interested to know if viewers feel that Angelfist achieves this odd label. I’m undecided. The ladies here fight and snarl and save the day, but they also stand around awkwardly and navigate detachable shower heads over their nude bodies during inexplicable transition scenes. They’re terrorized by captors and pushed bare chest-first into blocks of ice, but they also deliver dialogue that earns the film a passing grade on the Bechdel test. Is Bontoc considered a villain because she’s part of a terrorist network, or because she never disrobes? There’s some serious contradictions at work here and I’m frankly not intelligent enough to sort it out. Maybe the Internet’s first aspirational expert in the subgenre of nude kickboxing movies, Keith over at Teleport City, can render a decision on this. Inquiring minds want to know.

VERDICT
Despite its flaws -- acting and originality among them -- Angelfist is a very entertaining film. It observes the loose but effective “action beat” rule where *something* interesting happens approximately every 10 minutes. (Even if it does nothing whatsoever to push the story forward or distract us from the arbitrary nudity). Despite her limitations as a peformer, Sassoon is ferocious and convincing as an action movie heroine, and the stunt team makes everyone look good. A fine effort from Cirio Santiago and something of an unheralded gem from the Concorde-New Horizons canon.

AVAILABILITY
Angelfist is at the ready on DVD or VHS.

4 / 7


3.31.2014

Night of the Kickfighters (1988)

aka Night Raiders

The month of March found the members of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit trading guest posts, podcast appearances, and in a few cases, illegal imported cigarettes and throwing stars! Our compadre, Denis from The Horror!? was kind enough to watch this 1988 AIP film and write a review for us. He's really earned that complimentary pair of Zubaz pants and the denim vest with the dragon patch on the back!

The company of Carl McMann (Adam “the gosh-darn Batman” West) has developed a shiny new laser cannon ideal for blowing away motionless jet models located on cardboard-looking pedestals. The technical innovation also includes a wondrous microchip that can recognize allied soldiers by their “eye prints”, cleverly even when they have turned their backs towards the laser cannon, though not while they are wearing sunglasses; nobody involved cares about civilians, it seems. However, as it always is when SCIENCE is making the Free World™ better at killing, those evil terrorists are there to mess things up.


Evil terrorist Kedesha (Marcia Karr) takes valuable time off from her various family friendly sexual perversions and lets her henchmen – among them the mandatory weird-looking big strong guy in form of Ponti (Carel Struycken) and his inspired grimaces – kidnap McMann’s daughter Kathy (Lisa Alpert). McMann gives out the data about the laser Kedesha wants from him, but he also hires international man of adventure Brett Cady (Andy Bauman) to find Kedesha, save his daughter and blow the complex (aka a series of grey corridors located in the desert) they’re in as well as the laser data to kingdom come.

Because Brett already had his ass kicked by Ponti once, he goes the seven samurai way and calls in a troupe of friends and business associates as his own private kick-fighting strike force. With a team consisting of computer wiz Clea (Phyllis Doyle), mandatory person of colour Socrates (Fitz Houston), hairy explosives and gadget man Bomber (Michelangelo Kowalski), and “British” stage magician Aldo (Philip Dore), all ready for a stealthy night assault on the Mexican base, evil terrorism won’t stand a chance.


Initially, the main claim Night of the Kickfighters had on my interest was the fact that it was distributed by the glorious Action International Pictures (still the only company I know which actually wanted to be confused with Arkoff’s and Nicholson’s AIP), the finest purveyors of direct-to-video nonsense. Now, after I’ve finally seen it, I’m quite a bit more focused on the film’s adorably silly mixture of low cost Eurospy stylings, Men’s Adventure pulp novel fixations, and part-time martial arts adventure. It’s the sort of thing I can’t help but describe with words like “adorable” and “charming”, because, while it certainly won’t thrill anyone with its exciting plotting, its poetic fight choreography or its brilliant acting, Night is a film very eager to please, putting all its negligible money and talent right on screen with verve and a sense of excitement that just doesn’t care how silly everything going on here actually is.


So how silly is it? Well, there’s a scene that sees Kedesha (and her oh so brilliant accent) dressed down to what might be very sparkly underwear or an equally sparkly bathing suit, writhing on a couch while cuddling with a snake, getting a foot massage by a nameless henchman, and being fed grapes by Ponti, which not only demonstrates how far out of its way the film goes in presenting her as of dubious sexual proclivities (she also likes to play with blood) while still keeping the movie breast-free, but is also one of the more inexplicable things I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time, unless the aim of the scene was to fulfill some producer’s very particular fetish wishes. During the course of the movie, we also encounter nunchuks that shoot bullets, a microwave glass tube for humans, blow-up dinosaurs, a heat-seeking explosive crossbow quarrel, and henchmen making a prescient impression of being time-travelling henchmen out of later stealth based video games, only lacking big yellow exclamation points over their heads; the line “must have been rats”, alas, is missing too.

These moments and little flourishes of reality-deprived nonsense run through nearly every scene of the film, with little happening in Night of the Kickfighters that actually makes sense going by our human logic or the rules of the real world (place of horrors), resulting in a film that can’t help but entertain through the sheer power of its willful imagination, and the absolute shamelessness it shows in putting it on screen, with no thought spent on yawn-inducing nonsense like “ironic distance”.


Surprisingly enough, the action itself is comparatively copious, and decently filmed by first-time (and only-time) director Buddy Reyes. At least, Reyes knows enough about filmmaking to keep his camera moving, giving the film a lively, if messy and cheap feel. Because we demand that sort of thing, there are a handful of explosions, two car chases (the first one rather awkward thanks to the inclusion of a luxury limousine as the chased vehicle), and some mild martial arts fights that do indeed have a kick to punch ratio of 5:1, just as the film’s better title promises.


On the acting side, I found myself rather unimpressed with Andy Bauman’s impression of a moving wooden doll, but Struycken’s truly inspired grimacing and Karr’s all-around impressive scenery-chewing that seems to interpret “femme fatale” in ways oh so patently right in being patently wrong, more than make up for this minor matter.

The resulting film is a beautiful, inspired (by drugs, alcohol or just the unbridled human spirit) thing, lacking even a single dull second. Or, to quote our dear friend Bomber: “Fuckin’ A!”

-- Denis Klotz
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