A Japanese movie – or rather a mix of two – there’s a good reason why Shogun Assassin should be a part of this blog. The movie is combined from two Japanese movies of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga series originally shot in the early 1970s.
The project to cut the two movies together for Northern American release was a brainchild of Robert Houston and David Weisman who were the fans of the original movies. The movie got more attention a few years later as the home video release that got almost banned due to its graphic depictions of violence, gained a solid cult status and has been since featured in pop culture and movies.
The movie itself? Loved it. It’s stylish and moody without any camp factor often associated with ninja movies to it. The unlikely sword hero is a total badass and the fighting scenes are choreographed in a beautiful way, and I can totally understand why so many people often re-visit this movie.
Ah .. Shô Kosugi, my not favourite martial artist star of the 80s is back with Pray For Death.
Most of Kosugi’s movies seem to fall into unfortunate slot of not being guilty pleasure like the cheap and over the top ninja movies of the era, nor are they exceptionally well choreographed and orchestrated like what Jackie Chan was already producing at the time.
While the movie doesn’t seem to do anything particularly well, it’s still for sure Kosugi’s better movies of the era – if not the best. The thriller and revenge plot line works, and the movie (and its poster) have that 80s home movie & computer game vibe to it that I actually enjoyed quite a bit.
Shô Kosugi starred in many famous 80s Ninja movies, most of which really did not resonate with me, except for the entertaining Ninja III: The Domination, and his venture out from Ninja genre fared ever worse with the low budget stinkers like Rage of Honor and Black Eagle.
In Rage of Honor he plays a sort of a James Bond type that goes after a drug king pin in Argentina and while the movie is not quite as bad as Black Eagle, it just does everything in such an unimpressive and mediocre way that the movie leaves no lasting impression whatsoever.
An action b-movie, Kill Squad presents us with a motley crew of Vietnam vets who get together to revenge the murdering and raping the wife of their former platoon leader.
This is one of those movies where every encounter with even the car salesmen turns out as a martial arts fight with all of the clichés that go with the genre – including those over the top whack, yap and ki-yah sound effects!
The movie rinses and repeats the same scenario of a fist fight ending up with a sniper doing away one of the squad members over and over again, and there’s only little charm to it after the third time. Still, the concept is something I’ve never seen before and there’s certainly something enchanting about the whole movie that raises it above similar brawler movies.
Bloodsport, one of the definite martial arts / sports movies of the 80s still delivers!
While Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career is patchy to say the least, it’s here that he is at his very best, presenting impressive moves and showing certain on screen charism. Donald Gibb feels at first like an odd match for Van Damme, but ends up making the movie much more memorable than a more conventional choice.
The movie is just the right amount over the edge and built to push all the right buttons for the fans of the genre; Bloodsport aims to entertain, and it does so with flying colors (and kicks).
Force: Five is one of those early 80s action movies that you should pick up on VHS. I watched the movie from a pristine bluray copy and the movie seems to have lost a little something in translation.
I guess this goes with all of the ninja type of movies, although Force: Five technically isn’t one. Led by the legendary kickboxer Joe Lewis, the movie follows a oddball martial arts special force put together to get rid of a religious cult involved in shady business in a faraway island.
I did not fall in love with the movie, but it did get into that cozy feeling of picturing myself finding this movie on a dodgy rental tape sometime in the 80s – and having a not too bad movie night with it.
What makes Ninja Busters special is that it was never actually released by its distributor after test screenings and the reel sat in a warehouse until discovered again and released by Garagehouse Pictures on Bluray in 2015.
It’s a martial arts comedy in the vein of They Call Me Bruce that follows two losers who get their asses kicked and join the local martial arts club, become black belts and then get mixed into weapon smuggling ring, led by their former employee.
The first half works better after which the movie loses a lot of its sympathetic nature after it turns more into a (poor) showcase of a martial arts fights. Actual laughters are scarce, but the movie is good natured, as are its two lead actors.
Instead of relying on your typical Hollywood ninja mythology that Kosugi usually does well, Black Eagle is more of a poor mans rendition of your typical Bond movie of the era; all the secret agents, military secrets and special gizmos are here, but the movie itself is a bore and without much thrills. The cinematography looks dull and the team fails to find any interesting, movie like aspects from the location (excluding those cool caverns), and the long awaited martial arts showdown between the leads in the end is anticlimatic, to say the least.
The third film in Cannon Films’ Ninja Trilogy (the first being Enter the Ninja, and the second Revenge of the Ninja) that all have sort of a cult following, Ninja III: The Domination is really sequel only in name.
But it might the the most bizarre one of the all three, combining elements of ninjitsu mythology, exorcism and erotic thrillers and throwing in to the mix all sorts of 80s elements like big hairs, neon lights and aerobics.
Despite all this, Ninja III: The Domination isn’t quite the riot it sounds like – but it does end up my favourite of the three. What was said with the previous movies of the trilogy, holds true here as well: the new 4k transfers look amazing, but the old worn out VHS versions will provide much more atmosphere that somehow work out for all the Ninja movies’ advantage.
Released straight on video on 1987, They Still Call Me Bruce actually kicks off promisingly – not the Oscar kind of mind you, but discount VHS bin silver nugget kind of promisingly.
The late 80s style suits the movie better than what was seen in the original instalment, the plot revolving around the karate studio is marginally more interesting and the jokes dealing with Bruce misunderstanding English sayings are generally funnier this time around.
But this sequel starts running out of steam soon and the heavy handed padding makes the movie crawl through the finishing line.
The quite hacky They Call Me Bruce deals with a clueless oriental cook getting constantly mistaken for a martial arts master – and never bothers to clear up the mix-up.
The joke that plays on the stereotypical portrayal with asians is funny, but nowhere strong enough to carry through a full length feature film. The remaining of the movie is less inventive, with most of the humour derived from our antihero misunderstanding your basic English proverbs.
No Retreat, No Surrender takes a good portion of Karate Kid and mixes it up with Rocky – especially the fourth one – and manages to come up as a pretty fresh and entertaining competitive martial arts movie.
I always mistook the movie for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s vehicle, but instead he is seen portraying the role of a cocky baddie straight from USSR. The cold war aspect of the movie feels much, much more glued on than in Rocky IV, but in an 80s movie like this that’s just part of the fun, right?
The story itself concentrates on a young kid who practises karate and idolises Bruce Lee. After getting his ass handed to him by the bullies and running into clash with a syndicate and his father, he is visited by the spirit of Bruce Lee that teaches him the way of the Kung Fu.
The modern Bluray transfer reveals the shortcomings of the original film and the movie seems old beyond its years – not in a flattering way – so my recommendation is to hunt this one down as VHS instead.
Well color me me surprised. I watched Enter the Ninja totally randomly and I was surprised to find out that not only does it stars Franco Nero from the The Salamander, the very previous movie I watched, but that its his very previous movie release. That’s a first for me so far.
Taking its name from the iconic Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon, Enter the Ninja is often credited for being the catalyst for the endless stream of ninja assassin movies of the early 80s. But on top of showing some impressive Ninjutsu moves by Shô Kosugi, the movie has somewhat limited entertainment factor to it, given you haven’t seen it before.
I watched the remastered Bluray version, and somehow I suspect that the movie lost something in the translation, and that this is one of those few movies that gets a better mileage when viewed from a worn out VHS tape instead of a flawless source.
USA national karate team goes against team Korea in Best of the Best, a totally ridiculous, unrealistic, sports movie about an unlikely karate team.
Sports movies can be a bore as they stick to the plot of an underdog making it through difficulties to the final victory and then try to masquerade this one way or another. Best of the Best on the other hand does not shy away from clichés, it fully embraces them: There’s the unlikely team, an old shoulder injury that you know will come back haunting later, over the top acting, and a final showdown with an opponent guilty of killing your brother! The only thing missing from the arsenal of clichés is if the last match would’ve ended up with some unorthodox special move.
Eric Roberts seems a weird pick for the lead role at first, but he actually makes for one menacing looking fighter in his ponytail – and gives an excellent performance that’s just the right amount over the top.
Written in one weekend and shot with shoelace budget just to find some use for movie sets and costumes left over from cancelled movies, Cyborg is a prime example of how movies shouldn’t be made.
The movie is pretty much a mess, edited painstakingly to make it to the feature film length. The pacing is way off and the cyborg theme is not followed through at all. The few fight scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme handing out roundhouse kicks are somewhat entertaining but go only so far to save the movie.
The lack of vision and enthusiasm shines through every crevice of the movie and Cyborg ends up a lifeless shell of a movie done solely with quick cash business goals in mind.
Jackie Chan appears in his first english speaking role in Battle Creek Brawl, a comedic martial arts movie with disappointing plot and an uninspired 1930s setting. Chan himself already shows some of the promise in the imaginatively humorous fighting choreographies that later become his trademark, but it’s those same more recent movies that make the moves seen here kind of basic.
What I did like was how the actual Texas brawl tournament was setup, with an imaginative array of fighters that reminded me in a good way of many classic fighting arcade games like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Street Fighter series, both of which might have takes some cues from this movie.
Despite the few good fighting bits, as a movie Battle Creek Brawl is a pretty tired show that has a bit too much whiff from the past – both the 30s and late 70s – for me to really enjoy.
Unmasking the Idol is yet another nominee for the worst Bond copycat movie of the decade.
The film looks exactly like many of the various super agent movies that came out in the late 70s and early 80s, and is such very much a late comer both in its formula and style. The mimicking of Bond movies goes much too far in the very first scenes to the film; after the movie marched in Sato, an asian version of the agency’s inventor Q, I had to recheck I was really watching an independent action adventure, instead of something categorised as a Bond spoof.
Still, there’s something sympathetic about the whole looney underdog ninja adventure. As crappy as it is, its comic book mood with zany monkey sidekicks and caricaturistic baddies kind of grows on you. Had I seen the movie as a kid, I’d probably still think very highly of it.
From time to time I’ve mentioned movies that take all the right ingredients, but end up making kind of a shoddy mess out of them. In the case of Lovely But Deadly, even the ingredients are a mess.
There’s an aspiring singer that gets into the wrong side of law and whose uninspired musical numbers we’re forced to watch throughout the movie. A lot of the scenes are either too prolonged and don’t really seem to fit together, and it all happens in an alternative world where everyone seems to be a two penny martial artist.
Actually, I take back a few of my previous words: Lucinda Dooling as the lead makes for a darn decent and radiant action star. Too bad she didn’t get to debut in a bit more decent movie.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what the alternative title and the poster of The Retrievers on the right is all about. It most certainly does not seem to be any way related to the movie I just plowed through. Given the setup and the title, my guess is that the movie performed badly initially and was released again with a more exploitation, revenge porn sounding title and the poster to go with it.
But then again the original poster did not make much more sense either.
Either way The Retrievers is a remarkably insignificant movie with equally insignificant plot line and production values. There’s a limited amount of entertainment to the dodgy kung-fu aspect where everybody in the movie seems to be some kind of a karate champion, grabbing a pair on nunchukas that happen to be handy when the fight starts, and the choreographed fights really seem out of place given the setting, mood and the outfits. And on most parts the fighting is pretty much on par with the home movies you made as a kid, throwing a few roundhouse kicks that felt just about perfect in your mind, but looked much less impressive as you later viewed them on telly.
There isn’t much info available online about the movie to be shared. The director and the writer Elliott Hong would direct another movie in the same year, a martial arts comedy called They Call Me Bruce? that would end up his best known title by a long shot.