There are very few movies that truly reach into your soul and breath life into the inner child you thought long forgotten, movies that take you apart piece by piece and re-assemble your very person with a better understanding of your entire existence, pieces of cinema so unique, compelling, immersive and real that they make you question everything you ever thought you knew. Truly life changing events happen very rarely but are forever remembered. From the devastation of the loss of a loved one, to the overwhelming passion and excitement of your first romantic experience; these experiences are the ones that we can look back on and think “if that had never happened I would not be the man I am today”.
With 24 years of colourful, eventful and educational life experience behind me I can look back on very few moments and say they truly changed me or helped me better understand myself as a person. One event however I can say with absolute surety helped me develop as a person was the first time I viewed the sheer mind blowing visual brilliance which is “Samurai Cop”
Now for those of you who have not yet seen this fucking masterpiece my first advise would be to close this page now and find a stream for this film… Trust me you will not regret it. For those of you who do not have the time or flat out cannot be bothered here is a quick synopsis so (spoiler alert).
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… then god had a fat line of some good grade A Columbian, blew his nose and then from the the dried blood, coke and snot he had dispersed into his handkerchief he crafted “Matt Hannon”, the first man on earth (if he can truly be called human). Matt Hannon who you may have seen as an extra one time in JAG plays our protagonist “Joe Marshall” who comes across almost like a failed experiment to create the ultimate all american role model using the combined genetics of Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, Jesus and The Tick.
It is at this point I should probably point out that if you haven’t guessed it already their may have been a small amount of irony and sarcasm in my introduction paragraph however I would also like to point out that even though I may have been joking a little about how much this film has impacted me, it is still one of my favourite films and I advise all should watch it.
Anyway as I was saying Matt Hannon plays the protagonist “Joe Marshall” who is a no nonsense cop, who doesn’t like to play by the rules, bought in from his home precinct in San Diego by his current partner “Frank Washington” (zero explanation is offered as to why or how these two know each other but either way Marshall has been on the force the sum total of a week and the two are already the best of friends) to help fight the Yakuza. The twist is Joe Marshall is no ordinary cop, as in between giving anti-drug speeches in schools and fucking every blonde that happens to catch his gaze he managed to master the art of the samurai, learned to speak Japanese and grew his hair really quite long (there is very little evidence for the first two other than everyone seeming to just know that Marshall can do these things so don’t ask too many questions and go with the films logic because trust me there are much better things to draw attention to). Anyway the stage is set and our crime fighting super duo work together in order to piss off and kill the Yakuza for a number of completely forgettable reasons, the Yakuza then get pissed off and try to hunt down Joe Marshall who apparently is the only cop in the precinct the Yakuza don’t have the address for, to do this they trust in there own samurai master “Yamashita” (played by the facially disfigured Robert Z’dar from tango and cash) who also happens to be Caucasian but fuck it we will go with it. After tracking down some of the cops close to Marshall and “interrogating” them, Frank warns Joe Marshall Samurai Cop that the Yakuza are coming for him so mid-fuck he picks up his service pistol and Katana (one of about three Japanese words the makers of the film appear to know) in order to go kick some Yakuza ass, and have a final face off with Yamashita… There are other things that happen in the film but to be honest I cant even overly remember why these things happened, its quite hard film to follow in terms of narrative because the chronology doesn’t often make sense and character alliances don’t really have any foundation to them so its quite easy to lose track. To be honest I cant really give a long wordy breakdown of this film so I am just going to copy and paste the IMDB synopsis:
“A samurai cop and his side-kick go after the Yakuza”
So why the fuck should I watch this ?
Now at this point you could be forgiven for being a little confused as I have just described a really bad stereotypical early 90s Cop Action film:
No Nonsense cop who doesn’t play by the rules: Check
Black partner with a moustache: Check
Tough guy captain with a heart of gold: Check
Sexy blonde cop with an attitude: Check
Criminal gang related activity: Check
Cheesy electro theme music: Check
Mullets: Fucking check !
The list goes on and on, if you have seen any of the lethal weapon films this is probably starting to sound almost like a direct rip off but trust me Samurai Cop is something so very truly unique.
In terms of narrative the film is about as good at telling a story as a blind dementia patient with a stammer, the chronology of events often does not make sense and the same set pieces are used over and over again (woods, open plains, cabin, house, hospital and police department)and quite often in ways that don’t make sense (a particular scene springs to mind were Joe is chasing one of the Yakuza through the woods only to corner him, at which point they begin their fight scene in the open plains). The acting is more wooden than Pinocchio’s erection, the attempted “jokes” and banter are tooth breakingly cringe-worthy, the film is often racist (although it does hilariously try to cover its back on that one), extremely misogynistic and if I didn’t know any better I honestly would have thought they were wanting to shoot a porno initially but none of the four actresses in the film could handle Matt Hannon’s five foot flesh katana … The film is fucking diabolical
But what if … That’s the point ?
The phrase “its so bad that its good” is a term that is often used to to describe B-movies or 90% of Bruce Campbell’s professional career. Films like “Army of Darkness” and “Bad Taste” immediately spring to mind. Movies which you can watch over and over because their short comings are a huge part of the initial attraction to the film. However Samurai cop seems even more self aware of itself than classic B-movie titles. It almost feels like this film lies somewhere between B-Movie and Parody, and that is how this low budget disasterpiece hooks us and keeps us coming back for more. I have seen this film three times and I could quite easily watch it again right now. This film isn’t “so bad that its good” so much as it is “So much of a train wreck that its fucking perfect” and I think a lot of this may have been intentional.
Ever since the early 80’s cheesy cop films have become a genre of their very own, and its extremely hard after seeing a few not to watch one and cross off everything from the above check-list as you watch. What makes this film so unique is that I get the impression that the films writer Amir Shervan was extremely aware of this tried and tested formula and he used it to his advantage. Samurai Cop was made in 1991 which in terms of this genre film puts it towards the end of the Cheesy Cop Film golden age (Beverly hills cop 3 was released in 1994 and I consider that piece of shit to mark the end of an era) the 90s were not a good time to be a mullet sporting cop with a black sidekick. So instead of trying hard to make a film that would not fair well with audiences, and be forgotten in a year what if Shervan instead set out to exploit the clichés of this genre of film in order to create a film that the audience can laugh at as well as the writer… This will be easier if I explain via example.
This Black Gift
If you have ever seen a film involving a police officer from the 80s there is a good chance that the film had a moustache sporting black person in it, often because the rest of the film will be full of subtle racism and somebody often played by Danny Glover is needed to even out the intolerance. The “token black guy” is essential to this breed of film in order to stay cool, give the occasional witty quip and supply the white guy with approving facial expressions. You cannot have a cheesy cop flick without a moustache rocking black dude. Frank Washington is the ultimate black guy … and he fucking knows it. Quite often it would feel like Frank was sharing a moment less with Joe and more with the audience, his fantastic facial expressions (and I really cannot express deeply enough how fantastic this man’s face is) often appeared to break the fourth wall as if to share a laugh with the viewer.
There are other times in the film that I feel the clichés of this genre are exploited with absolute genius, the character of Joe Marshall spends the entirety of the film either fucking, trying to fuck, killing or having terrible back and forth with his best friend Frank. The sex scenes are so terrible that they become part of the films charm. The weird grabby, long hair whooshing side to sidey sex scenes have always been bad in these kind of films and they often break up the action and just leave you feeling uncomfortable … However the sex scenes in this film are so embarrassing and unsexy that they represent exactly what is wrong with sex scenes in action films and join in the laugh with us “Look at that ridiculous roided up surfer try and grope his away around this spazzy hooker” its hilarious.
Samurai Cop was part of a dying era of film … and it knew it, but instead of trying to embarrass itself by trying hard to turn out a decent flick it opted to create a film that looks back on the stereotypes and clichés of the 80’s cop movie and joins the audience in a good old fashioned urine extraction.