Director: Gregory Hatanaka
Cast: Mathew Karedas, Mark Frazer, Bai Ling, Kayden Kross, Tommy Wiseau, Janis Farley, Cranston Komuro, Laurene Landon, Mel Novak, Gerald Okamura, Kristine DeBell, Melissa Moore, Joe Estevez, Lexi Belle, Melissa Moore, Nicole Bailey, Mindy Robinson, Thomas J. Churchill
Running Time: 93 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The expression “so bad it’s good” gets thrown around a lot more than it deserves when it comes to cinema. In truth, many of the productions I’ve seen it applied to were just a whole lot of bad, regardless of how outlandish their premise or awful the acting. The reality is, there are very few movies able to reach that elevated level of being so impossibly bad, they become a work of accidental comedic genius. It takes a certain type of alchemy that can never be intentionally manufactured, and hence the true examples of “so bad it’s good” movies are few and far between. Iranian director Amir Shervan’s 1991 production Samurai Cop is one such example, an almost unfathomable mix of spiteful acting, bad wigs, one take only action scenes, and dialogue that has to be heard to be believed. In short, it’s so bad it’s good.
Its status as a revered work of cult cinema was further cemented by the fact many considered the productions star, Matt Hannon, to be dead. So it was a surprise to everyone (well, at least fans of the movie) when, in 2013, Hannon appeared on YouTube (going by the name Mathew Karedas) in a video explaining that he was very much alive and well. For fans of cult cinema, it was the equivalent of the second coming. A year later distributor Cinema Epoch had given Samurai Cop the treatment it arguably didn’t deserve (but we were nonetheless thankful for), releasing it on Blu-ray, and brining the movie to the attention of a whole new audience – myself included. What wasn’t expected though, was for Cinema Epoch founder, Gregory Hatanaka, to announce plans to make a sequel to Samurai Cop, almost 25 years after the originals release.
Hatanaka is a director himself, with a handful of movies with titles like Mad Cowgirl and Violent Blue to his name, and he’d be stepping into Shervan’s shoes for the sequel. Not only did he secure a whole host of Samurai Cop’s original cast to return for the sequel, but he also roped in a cast of B-movie names that would make even Lloyd Kaufman jealous. Cue two successful crowdfunding campaigns later, and Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance was born. The question is of course, how do you intentionally make a bad movie? It’s not an easy one to answer, and the very point of a sequel existing to such a unique piece of celluloid obscurity is one that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.
The cast list of Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance reads like an attempt to provide an answer. Hatanaka went intentionally out of his way to fill it with a who’s who of bad cinema – we get Tommy Wiseau from The Room as a screaming man-child, Bai Ling being, well, Bai Ling, Mel Novak who looks like he’s already half embalmed, and Joe Estevez as the constantly infuriated police captain. Throw in porn stars Lexi Belle, Kayden Kross, and Zoey Monroe (here credited as Nicole Bailey – not fooling anyone), and the approach seems to be one of throw everyone onscreen together, and wait for the magic to happen.
As expected, that magic fails to show itself. Instead, we get a sequel which involves a bunch of bad actors frequently yelling over each other, and hamming up their already bad acting credentials (something that’s clear from the BTS clips was encouraged by Hatanaka) like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone is aware of what they’re doing, seemingly of the belief that the more OTT they go, the more cult status is a given. However it’s that exact level of self-awareness that makes Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance such a chore, and often embarrassing, spectacle to watch. The amateur moments from the original, which saw Mark Frazer delivering reaction shots directly to camera, are now done intentionally, and more than once. Unless you’re George Lazenby (who was originally part of the cast, but had to drop out due to illness – a blessing in disguise), don’t try that stuff.
Even more ridiculous is the fact that the sequel delivers an inexplicably confusing plot, one which even now I’m not entirely sure what was going on (and I have no intention of re-watching it to clarify). From what I could make out, it amounts to two rival yakuza gangs battling for territory, but regardless of the intricacies, so much time is spent on it that, aside from a brief pre-credits sequence, Karedas himself doesn’t even show up until the 20 minute mark. Considering his constantly befuddled and (in his own words) disgusted performance is what makes Samurai Cop such a joy to watch, that’s a long time to make the audience wait. Someone needs to remind Hatanaka that he’s not making a Superman or Batman movie here.
It’s ironic then, that it’s the performance of Karedas that seems most out of place in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. Think about it, the guy hasn’t acted since the original, he innocently posts a YouTube clip to clarify he’s still alive, and next thing you know he’s roped into making a sequel to a movie he’s embarrassed of starring in from almost 25 years ago. Suddenly finding yourself in the starring role of a production such as this one must have been a bewildering experience, and there are various moments when it visibly shows on his expression (a sign that his acting obviously hasn’t improved in the time passed). Whether it be getting it on with an adult movie star, partaking in a fight in front of the worse green screen ever witnessed, or riffing on certain lines from the original, he frequently feels like a lost tourist in his own movie.
Instead it’s Mark Frazer, as the Samurai Cop’s faithful partner, that seems to be having the best time out of everyone. He clocks a significant amount of screen-time, and can’t quite seem to believe he’s managed to appear in a movie again after nearly a quarter of a century off the radar. If only the good time he’s having could be transferred to the audience. Likewise for Lexi Belle, who happily rampages around with a machine gun, and even indulges in a naked katana duel, which invokes the spirit of Reiko Ike for all the right reasons. I’d make a joke about her handling a different type of sword than she’s used to, but that would be in bad taste. As for Tommy Wiseau though, the less said about the self-styled actor/writer/director the better. Despite only appearing in a handful of scenes, his completely over the top performance as an incomprehensible screaming man child is painful to watch, even more so to listen to.
The smattering of action throughout is also guilty of utilizing some of the most low budget CGI blood in recent memory. It’s the type of CGI blood that makes the Z-grade Japanese splatter flicks from recent years look like they’ve been created by Industrial Light & Magic. This is supposed to be low budget fun, and I’d rather have seen someone squeezing a bottle of ketchup than the lame effects that have ended up onscreen. It’s decisions like this that really highlight the fact that nobody involved truly understands the charm of Samurai Cop, at least not those who are directly responsible for this sequels creation. Nobody is watching Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance to see a midriff baring Japanese assassin stand in front of the camera while CGI blood spurts from a slash in her chest.
Considering how much of an ill-advised idea making a sequel to a movie like Samurai Cop was from the very beginning, it was the fact it still got made that saw me drawn to checking it out, in part due to sheer morbid curiosity. Surely if it managed to get green lit, then the filmmakers must have had something up their sleeve that none of us could have expected. This sadly isn’t the case, and Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance is just as bad and misguided as you expect it to be, maybe even a little more.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10