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Monday, 1 May 2017

Retro Review: Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)

Showdown In Little Tokyo
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary- Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere 
Genre: Buddy Cop Action
U.S Box Office Gross: around $2.3 million

Plot: Two cops have to work together to bring down the Yakuza, whilst trying to protect a beautiful woman 

'Mindless Buddy Action Flick That Doesn't Measure Up To The Best That This Genre Offers'

After John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China, which was set in San Francisco's Chinatown, came along martial arts B-movie Showdown In Little Tokyo which instead of the Chinese mysticism and ancient sorcery and kung fu antics is replaced by the dreaded Yakuza, as well as karate and Little Tokyo itself in L.A. Unfortunately, unlike Big Trouble (which this film has based its title on) and Mark L. Lester's previous B-action movie style offering, Commando, Showdown in Little Tokyo hasn't garnered the massive cult following that those films have acquired.

& in revisiting this film in a long while, I can understand why. 

Set in Los Angeles, a pair of police officers in Johnny Murata and Sgt. Chris Kenner, attempt to take down a Japanese organised crime syndicate, who are trying to infiltrate the drug trade. 

The less famous and well-known Showdown in Little Tokyo was marked as a B-movie with the casting of Dolph Lundgren when it was released in 1991, although it flopped at the box office. Its somewhat so-bad-its- good reputation, sees it share the same fate as Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls: brutal and not so favourable feedback from critics when it first came out, yet over time, it has garnered its own fans. Add to that a troublesome production with a number of cuts being made to the film, one being a beheading, and in doing so any attempts of character development were virtually eliminated. There is a backstory involving Kenner with his parents being murdered by the Yakuza when he was a young child, but it seemed redundant and too cliched and tacked on for the sake of it.

Dolph Lundgren hasn't managed to obtain the same amount of success as Arnie and Sly, and yet regardless, with the right movie choices he could've joined the likes of these two muscle-bound action star actors. Here, his performance is just about better than the script. On the other hand, Eurasian and part -Chinese American Brandon Lee plays a Japanese American, who sounds and acts like he is from The Valley in California. Here, he tries to bring about that charisma and later on in the film, and his character is slightly more tolerable.

Directed by Mark Lester who gave us Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Showdown in Little Tokyo only managed to claw back $2.3 million in box office takings after spending $8 million on the production. It certainly echoes its similar and familiar style and tone of violence, humour with the one-liners, as well as the score is eerily similar to that of Commando.

But for the beheading of a blonde woman and the switching of a Caucasian cop, Chris Kenner raised in Japan and being able to speak the language fluently and Japanese American, Johnny Murata who can't speak a word of Japanese and hates sushi, Showdown In Little Tokyo doesn't offer much that is new, unexpected or exciting.

The comedy aspect is rather meh with Lee acting as the wise guy to Dolph Lundgren's straight man. Yet the humour is corny and for a so-called buddy cop action flick with comedic elements sprinkled, it just doesn't work, despite its rich potential for it. Lundgren just doesn't have a deft of and grasp of humour in the way that Schwarzenegger does in his movies. The camaraderie between the buff -looking Lundgren and Lee is okay, but nothing that memorable although the two cops not seeing eye-to-eye thing has been done before in other movies and far more convincingly also; buddy cop films, comedy or otherwise, require chemistry and a sense of affinity between the two actors and here, it is not quite there. Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee just don't seem to have buddy chemistry like with 48 HRS Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, Tango & Cash's Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell and Will Smith and Martin Lawrence from Bad Boys. The fight in the Sauna was not bad and the action overall is decent, but nothing spectacular or groundbreaking. It certainly pales to Commando, which was released 7 years earlier.

Though the film is no more than a series of fight scenes and beat 'em' up encounters, coupled with sexual nudity and terrible female misogyny. As well as slicing off a woman's head, there is the odd random love scene with Carrere and Lundgren; Carrere doesn't do much but play the role of the damsel in distress, with a (forgettable) portrayal that borders on parody of the Asian female, who isn't some kung-fu kicking lady & yet as such gets slapped around in one scene. Apparently, she used a body double for her naked love scene, which if that is true, well, that is disappointing. Oh, and Tia Carrere's character is a singer, just like her other character, Cassandra in Wayne's World. Rounding up the main cast is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who like in many of his films, is the typecast, sneering villain.

The editing is out of sorts and a bit choppy at times and the plot is derivative that simply exists as a launchpad for the action and fight scenes, and the dialogue is mostly drivel that is uttered by the cast. & I won't comment on that ridiculous line uttered by Brandon Lee's character about Dolph Lundgren's character's manhood.

Otherwise, it is fairly routine standard stuff we'd come to expect from these type of movies, only that Showdown in Little Tokyo is let down by the writing, which is mostly weak, occasionally juvenile and actually rather lacklustre and being too formulaic - yet doesn't go beyond the lengths to make it worth remembering.

Final Verdict:

Mark Lester did it far better with Commando, yet with this early 1990s action showing and whilst Showdown In Little Tokyo has its little moments that are watchable, it is a buddy cop formula that has been done substantially better in other films. With Brandon Lee at his corniest, he has ever been. It's bad mindless cheese all the way through with very little story and lots of - well a couple of action scenes, and for some people, this is a guilty pleasure.

It is somewhat terrible but in an amusing way that we laugh at it, rather than laugh along with it. Showdown in Little Tokyo possesses little appeal of and has virtually none of the enjoyable novelty of John Carpenter's Big Trouble In Little China

For me, however, it's too generic and ordinary despite its somewhat solid premise and in all, it is a rather underwhelming action flick that not only does it fail to stack up against the likes of Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash and 48 Hrs, Showdown In Little Tokyo also lacks the energy and synergy that helped define and strengthen Commando as a '80s cult action classic.


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