5.25.2015

Recoil (1998)

PLOT: After a bank robbery, cops kill one of the robbers. The robber turns out to be the son of a gangster. This makes his daddy awful unhappy and so he decides to kill all the cops involved. What he wasn't counting on, though, was that two of them would accidentally not get killed. These two men would set out to accidentally not get killed as long as possible. In the meantime, there is a not a single car or helicopter in the city that won't blow up.

Director: Art Camacho
Writer: Art Camacho, Gary Preston Jr.
Cast: Gary Daniels, Gregory McKinney, Thomas Kopache


PLOT THICKENER
I think this may very well be the best PM Entertainment film the company ever produced. At the very least, it is in the top five. This is one of the best films of its type that you'll ever see. Okay? Good. We're done here.

If you really must know more, you should know that this film works so well, I believe, for three reasons. First, it is directed by the great Art Camacho. Sure, a glance at Camacho's directorial efforts shows us that he is responsible for such fare as Little Bigfoot and Magic Kid. However, Camacho in the director's seat is great news because of the second point: action director Spiro Razatos.


Spiro Razatos as action director with stuntman Art Camacho in the director's chair means that the stunts and action sequences in this film are stellar. Really incredible stuff. There are a handful of really big scenes that must have been incredibly difficult to pull off. This is a film that knows what its audience wants and it does that thing better than just about anyone could, which brings me to the third point: Recoil is a very formulaic film.

That might sound contradictory. However, all PM Entertainment films are essentially formulaic. What sets Recoil apart is that it sticks to the formula for the entire running time. There is an opening bank robbery/car chase scene that lasts for about a third of the runtime. After that, we learn the very bare essentials about who the characters are and then there's another action set piece. The entire film is like that. It never strays from this formula and it never stops throwing cars and helicopters at you and blowing them to smithereens.


Probably the sole criticism of the film is that Gary Daniels does not get much of an opportunity to flex his martial arts skills until the final third but, when he does, it is very well choreographed and shot because, again, this is an Art Camacho film and he understands such things. Daniels very capably handles the action but, truly, the stars of this film are Spiro Razatos and Art Camacho.

VERDICT
If someone were to ask me why I watch these DTV action flicks, Recoil is one of the films I would show them. It gets almost everything right and almost nothing wrong and it is a window to a time in cinematic history that, sadly, just does not exist anymore. It sticks to the wild action set pieces and stunts that are the reason we watch these movies and it doesn't do anything else at all. Thank God.
-- Review by Craig McNeely

AVAILABILITY
Netflix, Amazon, YouTube.

7 / 7


5.10.2015

Weapons of Death (1981)

PLOT: When his sister is kidnapped by a group of hired hoodlums working for a crime boss, a martial arts instructor must save her. But he won’t do it alone. His martial arts pals come along to provide fighting expertise, and his deadbeat father comes along to provide awkward emotions and dad-strength.

Director: Paul Kyriazi
Writer: Paul Kyriazi
Cast: Eric Lee, Louis Bailey, Gerald Okamura, Bob Ramos, Ralph Castellanos, Alan Gin, Paul Kyriazi, Garrick Huey, Joshua Johnson, Gina Lau



PLOT THICKENER
In the right hands, almost any everyday object -- car keys, a doorknob, a stale baguette -- can become a weapon. We've seen this lesson repeated in countless 1980s self defense videos. In the hands of trained martial artists, though, these objects become even more dangerous. What would happen then, if you gave these same martial artists swords and spears instead of pineapples and hardcover books? For the answer, we turn to Paul Kyriazi’s 1981 film, Weapons of Death.

It seems almost far-fetched now, but there was once a time when San Francisco was filled with leather bars and martial arts schools instead of unaffordable housing and tech startups. Grizzled bikers brushed shoulders with liberal activists. And somewhere in the hills of Marin County, Danny Tanner was probably laying the foundation for his reign of terror. Our story begins in the dusty confines of one of the city’s scummiest booze joints, where a down-on-his-luck drunk named Carter (Bailey) gets bailed out of a raucous bar fight by his old troublemaking pal, Bishop (Castellanos). Fortune smiles upon Carter when Bishop offers him a spot on a team running a special sort of errand for local crime boss, Foon (Gin).


Upon meeting the gangster at his hide-out in the desert near the woods (!?) they’re tasked with kidnapping the daughter of a Chinatown businesswoman, Sue-Lin (Leemoi), who has refused to pay Foon protection money. Her oldest son, Eric (Lee), runs a martial arts school, her youngest son David (Huey) is a skilled archer, and her daughter Angela (Nancy Lee) rarely speaks but giggles a lot. They’re all over the age of 16, so you’d expect them to have real jobs or at least more promising career paths, but alas -- this is what often happens when fathers skip out on their family responsibilities. (No offense to you shitty dads out there).

Despite the best efforts of this fighting family, the band of mercenaries invade their home and kidnap Angela. During the confusion, Eric is distracted by Foon’s main muscle, Chong (Okamura), not just because he’s confused by Chong’s black leather and turtleneck in 70-degree weather, but because Chong is a really good fighter! You’d expect him to overheat in those threads but he presents a fierce challenge to Eric in short time, foreshadowing a climactic showdown. In the aftermath, Eric wants to pursue the goons immediately with David and martial arts friends, Joshua (Johnson) and Paul (Kyriazi), but Mama Bear has other plans: she’s calling her old flame, Curt (Ramos) for support.


As Eric and company gear up to track down his sister and her kidnappers, the addition of Curt becomes something of an emotional monkey-wrench in these plans. This is the man who skipped out on his mother. A person whose crude remarks and flippant prejudice grate everyone around him. A man whose fondness for Hawaiian shirts is a crime against fashion. Eric isn’t the only one contending with internal conflict as he heads into battle, though. Joshua is skittish about the lethal force this situation will require. David doesn’t completely trust his archery skills. Paul is contemplating his supporting second-banana status in this mission despite the fact that Angela is supposedly his girlfriend. Such issues are no easier for the kidnappers. Carter needs the money, but his heart might be too pure for this brand of crime. Foon's squad of lady ninjas are more than happy to fight, but will they turn their weapons against the obvious gender pay gap that only serves to inflame a tense work environment? Overall, Kyriazi does a good job injecting his characters with believable motivations, and there’s even a fairly sordid family twist as we approach the conclusion.

But are there any actual weapons of death in Weapons of Death?



Yes. So many goddamn weapons of death. In a throwback to the American Western, Paul opts for the six shooter. Despite some initial hesitation, Joshua warms up to the lethal length and pointy death of the spear. David loves the sniper-like precision of his bow-and-arrow, and Eric can fill both hands with swords like few others. At various points, enemies wield guns, knives, and swords, and Chong even breaks out the dreaded tiger claw for the climax fight. Kyriazi does well by placing these weapon selections in context throughout the film, and the various callbacks and character development we see while the characters use them was a nice touch. Going into a film like this from an era when martial arts movies were very hit-or-miss, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that the film wouldn’t live up to its actual title. Thankfully, the filmmakers deliver. The orchestral score adds an epic feel to the exterior fight scenes and the action has room to breathe for the most part.

Eric Lee has had a long and productive Hollywood career performing stunts and acting in supporting roles. Fortunately, he’s the centerpiece here and despite some occasionally clunky line delivery, he’s a total house of fire. His character is jaded by his upbringing and turned reactive and violent by the circumstances, but he also has a cool toughness as evidenced by an early sword lesson to his kung fu students (“a sloppy mental attitude turns into a sloppy sword”), and a legitimately tense scene where he dares David to shoot an arrow at a target which he happens to be holding inches from his face. He’s not quite Martin Riggs levels of crazy, but the characterization was a far cry from the jokester I’ve seen in other films, and he gets plenty of scenes to show off the fighting skill that made him one of martial arts’ most famous kata champions.



VERDICT
Like a limp body flying over the bar and smashing only the bottom-shelf vodka, this movie comes out of nowhere to surprise and delight. This is the sort of drive-in fare that passed me by due to generational differences, but I’d always stumble upon during weekend afternoons on cable TV. Exploitation-era men-on-a-mission kung-fu throwdown in the woods… on a budget. Recommended.

AVAILABILITY
View it online at YouTube or try to find a hard copy on Amazon.

4 / 7


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