The Film: 3.5/5
How in the hell do you make a sequel to one of the greatest bad movies ever made?
In the case of Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance - a Kickstarter-funded follow-up to the late Amir Shervan’s brain-damaged action flick that was conceived in the late 80’s at the height of the cop movie craze and crapped into existence just as the trend was becoming a victim of show business Darwinism – you do as director Gregory Hatanaka (Mad Cowgirl) did and prove to the naysayers that there are some wells worth going back to after damn near a quarter century. This may be the sequel most of us never really wanted, but Deadly Vengeance turned out to be a ton of B-grade fun made with style and attitude and its tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Formerly known as Matt Hannon, Mathew Karedas returns as the legendary Samurai Cop Joe Marshall, a mythical figure in his old police department who has pulled a MacGruber and renounced his career of enforcing the law by sword after the love of his life was murdered. His old friend and partner Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) tracks Joe down and implores him to return to active duty when their old foes the Katana Gang reemerges just in time to battle it out with another Asian-themed wannabe criminal empire over who holds sway over the Five Points…wait, now I’m describing the plot of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Screw it. The Katanas are still lead by Fuj Fujiyama (Cranston Komuro), but this time he’s joined by the vicious Dogge (Bai Ling) and her private army of bodacious lesbian assassins. The rival faction is controlled by the rambling lunatic Linton (Tommy Wiseau).
The fight scenes and gun battles in the first Samurai Cop were ineptly staged and executed with little regard for human life (remember that guy on fire?), but under the direction of Hatanaka (who also collaborated on the script with Rich Mallery) the action in Deadly Vengeance kicks it up a few thousand notches. Most of the principal cast went through extensive fight training prior to the commencement of filming and their hard work results in some impressive set pieces, including some brutal hand-to-hand combat that often threatens to reach Raid 2 levels of awesomeness. The digital cinematography credited to five different people flows smoothly and keeps the action sequences in frame and comprehensible.
Even Karedas has committed to convincing ass kicking and his acting has also improved a great deal since the last time he picked up Joe Marshall’s samurai sword to slice and dice the evil criminal scum of California. His chemistry with Mark Frazer (who is clearly having a blast and doing little to conceal unbridled enthusiasm) is cool and effortless, and for once both actors look to having a groovy time slipping back into characters that have brought them unlikely cult stardom like donning a comfortable pair of shoes. Tommy Wiseau, the one and fuckin’ only, plays one of Marshall’s new enemies, a wacko in a domino mask, and he is absolutely nuts in the part. The delusional lunatic with the impenetrable foreign accent reportedly had to be fed his every line of dialogue from someone off-camera, but that approach seems to have to improved his acting. Similar methods worked well for Brando later in his career. Bai Ling does what she does best and gets really Ling-y with it every time the camera makes its way to her neck of the set.
The supporting cast also features Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop) as Marshall and Washington’s fellow detective, Joe Estevez (Soultaker) as their blustery commanding officer, Lisa London (Sudden Impact) as a rival gang leader dispatched by the Katanas early in the film, Ralph Garman (Family Guy) as a bartender, Kristine DeBell (Meatballs), and slumming porn stars Kayden Kross, Lexi Belle, and Zoey Monroe. The XXX starlets can be thanked for giving Samurai Cop 2 some welcome sexuality and nudity. Returning from the original are Melissa Moore, Gerald Okamura, and Cranston Komuro, and the years have been very kind to them. Komuro in particular has aged into a performance of quiet dignity that overshadows his garbled hamming in the original. Other speaking roles are taken by Kickstarter backers who help add to the speedy yet disjointed of the sequel.
Samurai Cop 2 was shot in high-definition on Red Epic digital cameras to give it a darker, moodier, and glossier look than its predecessor. Cinema Epoch’s 2.35:1 widescreen transfer preserves the creative intentions of the filmmakers but is frequently unable to conceal its integrated CGI effects. It’s a clean and vibrant picture with a low amount of grain to keep appearances from looking too shiny, and the 35mm sequences from the original used as flashback fodder look pretty good here as well. Backing up the good picture is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack with loud music, audible dialogue, and a busy effects mix that is spread evenly across the channels. No subtitles have been included.
Bonus features kick off with a pair of commentary tracks, both moderated by Dave Robinson of the cult movie podcast 80’s Picture House. The first is with director Hatanaka and strikes a nice balance between how the creative and technical aspects of the production were handled and how the director approached the material as a fan and the films that influenced that approach. Stars Karedas and Frazer share the spotlight on the second, more low-key track with a warm camaraderie and appreciation for Hatanaka’s skills behind the camera and the challenges they all faced in making the sequel a reality.
“Behind the Scenes” (3 minutes) is a brief montage of B-roll production footage held together by music from the soundtrack. There are no narration or interviews, but we do get to see Wiseau’s acting methodology in practice and it is pretty amusing. Four justifiably deleted scenes (9 minutes), a superfluous still gallery, and the trailer (1 minute) close the extras out. A DVD copy featuring a standard-definition presentation of the movie (with a Dolby 5.1 audio option, strangely enough) and the same bonuses has also been included.
The original Samurai Cop may be one of the great howlers of film history, but its belated sequel actually manages to be an authentically entertaining adventure that never takes itself too seriously. Mostly forgettable, but you might just have a good time while watching it. It looks and sounds better than expected on Cinema Epoch’s Blu-ray and the company threw in a few worthwhile bonus features to sweeten the deal.