Friday, 5 December 2008

Martial Law



MARTIAL LAW (1990)

Directed by: Steve Cohen
Written by: Richard Brandes
Starring: Chad McQueen, Cynthia Rothrock & David Carradine

What do you get if you combine Steve McQueen’s son, the high-kicking Cynthia Rothrock, Bill from Kill Bill, the great Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez (and several other chop-socky stalwarts) and Subzero from The Running Man…well…err…Martial Law of course.

L.A cop Sean Thompson (McQueen) is nicknamed ‘Martial Law’ on account of his deadly kung-fu skills. He and partner/lover, Billie (Rothrock) are renowned for bringing in the bad guys but not before they break a few bones with their nifty moves. Sean’s younger brother, Michael (Andy McCutcheon) is dabbling on the wrong side of the law with top bad guy, Dalton Rhodes (Carradine). Sean attempts to sway his brother from a lawless lifestyle but to no avail. Michael soon finds himself in over his head and before long turns up dead at the hands of Dalton. It’s then a one-way ticket to Revenge City for Sean, and with Billie in tow, ‘Martial Law’ starts dealing out some kung-fu flavoured justice.

Martial Law isn’t a bad little film but is nothing special either. As generic as they come, it follows the template of late 80’s, early 90’s American kung-fu flicks: a cop/hero who is a gifted martial artist (and either works at or runs a martial arts school), is out for revenge (due to either his brother/father/uncle/pet hamster being killed) against the local kingpin: who is also a gifted martial artist. Things bristle along in a predictable manner, saved by frequent bursts of action. The fights are fairly energetic, if uninspiring, the standout being a scrap between Rothrock and Benny the Jet.

Chad McQueen (Firepower) is ok as the hero: neither acting up a storm nor coming across too bland. Though he has obviously trained in martial arts, he is not the most graceful of fighters (looks like he would have made a better boxer) and is left in the dust by Rothrock. She performs well, this being one of her earlier roles, and displays a gift for martial arts. Carradine (Kill Bill) is as slick and slimy as ever and seems to be having fun playing the intimidating Rhodes. Steve Cohen’s (Tough & Deadly) direction and Richard Brandes’ (Martial Law 2) script are both by the numbers and the film does suffer from having a slight made-for-TV look about it. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the film is spotting all the B-movie action star cameos (fun for martial arts fans and movie nerds like myself at least). James Lew (Mission of Justice), Jeff Pruitt (Sword of Honour), Tony Longo (Eraser), Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez (Dragons Forever) and even the late great Professor Toru Tanaka (The Running Man) all pop up at various intervals to either fight or just generally get in the hero’s way. Cool.

I bought this film for 50p from a charity store and it is an older vhs copy. This is evident in the fight involving nunchuks being completely cut out. One second two characters are squaring up to fight with said weapons, the next moment one is lying dead on the ground with no fight having taken place. Martial Law was a casualty of the no nunchuks scenes rule enforced by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). This law was apparently imposed because a football hooligan once used them at a match (or something) and many films were subsequently chopped up in order to elimate such scenes. This is a shame as it is very jarring when a scene suddenly disappears from a film and was another case of the BBFC overreacting (banning The Exorcist for 25 years…come on). I believe the nunchuk ban has now been lifted, fact fans.

So, if you fancy a beer and pizza and something to watch, then Martial Law provides adequate entertainment. Best thing to do is probably watch it with another avid kung fu fan and spot all the cool cameos. Martial Law was followed by Martial Law 2: Undercover (aka Karate Cop), which starred Jeff Wincott and Cynthia Rothrock (damn you movie nerdiness…damn you).

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