You know what never goes out of style? The buddy cop movie. We keep seeing it over and over again in different reincarnations from “Starsky and Hutch” and “Dragnet” to more off-the-wall varieties like “Turner and Hooch”. With more news coming out about Kevin Smith’s new film “Cop Out”, I figured I would go back and pull one of my favorite instant classics out of the pile whose cop match-up was both familiar and different at the same time with a bit of a cultural twist added in there for flavor.
The movie I am of course talking about is the 1991 buddy cop classic, “Showdown in Little Tokyo” starring Swedish action machine Dolph Lundgren and American cinema newcomer Brandon Lee. For 400 years, Japan has been home to a secret criminal organization dedicated to its own supremacy in the underworld. Ruled by an ancient, arcane code of honor, the deadly Yakuza have been among the most feared members of society. Even today, they are immediately recognizable by the stunningly ornate tattoos that cover their bodies, telling the terrifying story of their stature and career in a dark order that knows no mercy. Now the Yakuza are coming to Los Angeles. But in America, they’re going to meet their match. Two cops are on their trail. One’s a warrior. One’s a wise-ass. Chris Kenner (Lundgren) is an American raised in Japan who contains the mind and spirit of a samurai, and the body of a human fighting machine. His new partner, Johnny Murata (the late Brandon Lee), a Japanese-American raised in California’s San Fernando Valley enjoying malls, pizza and MTV. Conversely, he can disarm five gunmen with his bare feet. Opposites in attitude, once they get on the streets of Little Tokyo, they’re a perfect odd couple. And what they have in common is their enemy–the Yakuza who are bringing a lethal new drug trade to Los Angeles, coupled with a macabre taste for violence and cruelty.
Now the plot is following a basic action movie formula, gang of baddies moves into town, muscles the locals, puts drugs on the streets and is very, very violent. What was new and fun about this film at the time was the fact that you are pairing two cops — your protagonists — from two different lifestyles that are a complete flip-flop of what you think they would be. In Kenner you have an orphaned white child, raised in Japan with a samurai spirit and code who is partnered with Murata, a Japanese-American raise on 80’s pop culture. Team these two polar opposites up and its time to kick some serious arse. I mean serious, especially if you look at the Yakuza, how it is portrayed in this film and who the leader of the group is played by.
Your main villain, Yoshida, the leader of the Iron Claw sect of the Yakuza is played by none other then your famous movie baddie Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Balls of Fury). This gentleman has been a cinema bad guy ever since I can remember the need for a baddie of asian decent. His character in this flick is just as evil as the rest but way, way more sadistic. He crushes people in a car compactor, drugs a woman up and beheads her, chops off a bikers hand to prove a point and many more gruesome acts that prove he may be one of the worst bad gents in 90’s cinema.
Of course in any action film the likes of Showdown in Little Tokyo, you have to have the love interest. Minako is a lounge singer a club Yoshida takes over. She is dragged, kicking and screaming right into the middle of all the trouble. Upon meeting, Minako (played by the lovely Tia Carrere) is instantly drawn to Kenner. Naturally toward the end of the film there is a love scene that takes place that is actually fairly revealing, though I tend to think she used a body double for the nudity (no clear face shot, as well as poofy hair). In any case she is a beautiful, shining presence added to this violent and action pact slugfest.
For the action portion of this film you have several people that make it work. You have Lundgren’s aggressive might, throwing, kicking, chopping and destroying the bad guys with vengeance. He is a massive, muscle bound brawler with the skills of a Karate expert. You have Brandon Lee with his agility and acrobatic fighting style flying all over the place with a beautiful and youthful grace and determination. Last but not least you have Tagawa and his Yakuza who don’t give a crap about who they hurt as long as their mission is complete. With all these forces going head to head in one big event, you get some mind bending action complete with car chases, bath house fight sequences, one man rescue missions, katana fight in the middle of a parade route, gun battles in an exploding brewery and much, much more.
I think this combination of heroes, baddies and hotties is one that will occur again and again in future films but I can guarantee that there will be no set up like with this particular cast. Most of these classic action actors have aged to the point where they just can’t keep up with todays cinema style. Of course everyone who is an action fan, is missing Brandon Lee, who met with an unfortunate accident during the filming of The Crow in 1993. He was much, much too young and a rising star in American cinema. He has, and will continued to be missed much like his father.
As far as A2 Classic go, this one is up there among my favorites. Its got all the action elements you could possibly ask for, a great and varying cast, decent direction and an solid and interesting buddy cop concept. I think that you really can’t go wrong with this one if your looking for a good action and adventure flick. Even if it isn’t award winning, I felt that I at least needed to bring it back into the edge of the spot light so that people can be reminded how brutally entertaining old action films were. Check it out on Netflix watch instantly, buy it at Amazon or rent it at any of your local video stores. Thanks for checking out the 2nd A2 Classic of 2010.