Thursday, June 18, 2015

Craption! Showdown In Little Tokyo

Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network strikes again with an evening that included Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee classic Showdown in Little Tokyo and the Swedish made ode to the 80's, Kung Fury. Cleaned up, El Rey's presentation looked way better than my full screen DVD from Warner Brothers that had a cardboard case with a plastic snap mouth. It was also uncut so titties and baddies getting slashed, stabbed, shot, kicked and exploded in hardcore 80's yet released in 90's style along with cursing galore glory. I remember buying the flick from a video game store and my non-action movie friend not understanding why Dolph was wearing a kimono style outfit with headband and machine gun.  In college, a neighbor was a huge Dolph fan and we quoted SILT constantly, he even had a similar leather jacket to Dolph's shoulder padded, kind of short, 90's style outerwear. At the time, the film was dumped by studio Warner Brothers and written off as a by the numbers rip off of Lethal Weapon. But in true Craption! fashion, Showdown In Little Tokyo has become a cult favorite and remains one of Dolph's most enjoyable films.

Set in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, Dolph plays Sergeant Chris Kenner, a raised in Japan by missionaries who get killed by a Yakuza assassin now living like a Samurai in Southern California guy. A violent group of Japanese mafia dudes in zoot suits and driving convertibles show up, harassing local businesses for protection money, running clubs, dealing drugs and chopping off the heads of hot chicks who like to get high. After Kenner takes out a group of thugs who interrupt his breakfast, we're introduced to his new partner on the Asian task force Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, View In Peace), a smart ass Eurasian kid who grew up in the valley with a dentist dad and only took up martial arts to appease his mother. The two mismatched cops bicker about upper body strength, fighting form and being polite. Shit gets serious when Kenner finds out the leader of the invading Yakuza is Funekei Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the man who killed his parents! Now on a blind mission of revenge, Kenner forgets all of his calm, cool and collected Samurai wisdom and just wants to shove a red hot poker up Yoshida's bum. Murata joins the crusade on the condition they do it right as they fuck up Yoshida's drug network while picking up disgraced club singer turned Kenner love interest Minako Okeya (Tia Carrere).

Directed by Commando's Mark L. Lester with a script by Stephen Glantz and Caliope Brattlestreet, Showdown is pure 80's and 90's over the top, cliche ridden action/martial arts cheese that makes little sense but is also extremely entertaining. David Michael Frank's awesome synth meets guitar soundtrack is also a nice touch of the era. Lundgren and Lee have great chemistry with Kenner being the stoic muscleman who knows about the ancient ways of Bushido, is honorable to a near fault, builds log cabins and can flip cars while Murata is a sheltered, easygoing guy who likes to fight, can do back flips off cocktail tables, wouldn't mind a Porsche and just wants to work in Malibu. There's a terrific cast involved with just about every Asian actor/stuntman you could want. Joining Tagawa you get Toshishiro Obata (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Phillip Tan (Tango & Cash), Simon Rhee (Best of the Best), Roger Yuan (The Perfect Weapon), Gerald Okamura (Big Trouble In Little China) and Steve Park (In Living Color).  The great Terry Leonard (Raiders of the Lost Ark) handles stunts with a crew that includes Jeff Imada (Big Trouble), James Lew (Best of the Best) and Al Leong (Die Hard) while Chuck Norris disciple Pat E. Johnson (The Karate Kid) helped choreograph the fights.

There's plenty of action and muscle on display as we get Dolph showing off his most jacked and defined physique in tank tops and plenty of shirtless scenes while kicking and throwing perps across rooms, flipping a classic car, jump kicking over a moving one and pressing his way out of a crushed other. Lee shows off his nimble martial arts acumen with a style reminiscent of his famous father's bouncing fluidity but still all his own. Lots of gunfights throughout with bad guys shooting a million times and missing while Dolph fires once and finds his mark. A traditional kendo style sword fight in the streets of Little Tokyo wraps things up, after Kenner gets shot through the chest and then the bad guy inexplicably blows up...and there's even a training montage with an oiled up Dolph practicing his sword play and jump kicks. There's plenty of one liners, bad jokes and awkward dialog delivery throughout about dick size, hearing someone coming and having the right to be dead but luckily the script doesn't veer into any super cheap Asian cracks. While the villains might be typical movie gangsters, the near genetically perfect blonde hero wants to be Japanese and is assisted by a half Chinese sidekick and a Hawaiian love interest.

Studio Warner Brothers was reportedly very high on the reported $8 million dollar film, hoping to capitalize on Dolph's Rocky IV heat and being Brandon Lee's first American film. Lester had already directed the Arnold Schwarzenegger hit Commando and action movies featuring larger than life heroes/physical specimens who used guns and martial arts to beat the bad guys were in demand thanks to Stallone, Arnold, Seagal and Van Damme. However early test screenings sucked the support from the film and smelling a loser, WB recut the film down to 79 minutes and only released the film theatrically in the United States, Mexico, Italy, Israel and Hungary. Reviews were mixed with the action, violence, sex and buddy theatrics praised or looked down upon. Opening in only 140 theaters, Showdown would gross $2.3 million bucks in America while it ranked #9 on Hungary's Top 10 of the year. In an interesting bit of Dammaged Goods coincidence, Showdown opened on August 23rd of 1991, the same weekend as fellow Craption! study Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.

Showdown would be the end of Dolph's career as a theatrical leading man after post Rocky IV roles in Masters of the Universe, Red Scorpion, The Punisher and I Come In Peace failed to ignite the box office. Lundgren would bounce back as the villainous Sgt. Andrew Scott in Carolco's mini-Terminator sci-fi/action/karate effort Universal Soldier opposite the up and coming Jean-Claude Van Damme. At only 26 years old, Brandon Lee was on his way after co-starring with David Carradine in a Kung Fu TV movie and low budget films from Hong Kong and South Africa. Deals with Fox and Carolco were signed and post Showdown starring vehicle Rapid Fire would be a solid showcase for him while grossing a respectable $14 million at the box office. Lee's next film, The Crow, would be a dramatic change of pace for the martial arts actor playing a murdered musician who comes back from the dead to make things right. Lee was sadly killed in an on set accident involving a dummy bullet stuck in the barrel of a prop gun.The film was finished using stunt men and digital effects and grossed a sturdy $50 million bucks upon release, spurring several sequels and a TV show.

As years pass, Dolph has always been complimentary of Lee's work and Showdown experienced a rise in popularity following his death. The film has lived on with action aficionados to become a bit of a cult classic with the scene of Japanese businessmen eating sushi off of naked women being particularly remembered.  A Showdown or Lee question always seems to pop up during Q&A while  Lundgren's cameo on Comedy Central's Workaholics hinged on one of the character's asking about the sushi scene.

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