Thursday, 30 July 2015

Fatal Blade

FATAL BLADE (aka GEDO) (2000)

Directed by: Talun Hsu
Screenplay: Nao Sakai & Bill Zide
Starring: Gary Daniels, Kiyoshi Nakajo, Seiko Matsuda, Kentaro Shimizu & Victor Rivers

Gary Daniels plays tough LA cop (well, obviously!) Richard Fox who just doesn’t have the time to meet his girlfriend’s parents because, you know, he’s busy doing tough cop stuff. This involves staking out some nefarious crime lord called Bronson (Rivers) who when not hanging out with hot women in their underwear (well, somebody’s got to!) is committing crime all over LA. A local rival Yakuza gang want Bronson dead and send their top assassin from Japan, Domoto (Nakajo), to kill him. However, it all goes pear-shaped when Fox and his partner intervene which eventually leads to a high speed car chase which (wouldn’t you know it!) ends with the death of Fox’s partner. Thinking Domoto was the killer (he wasn’t, it was some other evil Yakuza type), Fox naturally swears revenge and goes gunning for it all over LA. Meanwhile, Domoto is injured, has a foxy female in tow (!), and now questions the motives of his Yakuza employers. In addition, Bronson is still alive and also looking for who tried to kill him, meaning there is a whole lot more going on than usual for a late 90s low budget action flick starring Gary Daniels. 

Fatal Blade has all the great traits of a 90s low budget American action film: Gary Daniels, 90’s fashions, bad guys rocking goatees, a dead partner, a hero who is just so darn committed to his work, a surfeit of decent action and blink and you’ll miss them cameos from stalwarts George Cheung, James Lew and, bizarrely, Cuba Gooding Jr’s dad (ok, so Cuba Gooding Jr’s dad is not necessarily a 90s low budget American action film trait but is certainly a bonus: I guess!). The whole film has the look and feel of the time period and looks exactly like a million other films that would have clogged up video stores in the 90s. Yet Fatal Blade does try to do something a bit different, attempting to include a bit more story and character than is usual for a straight-to-video action film. Daniels’ cop out for revenge is only a small part of proceedings with just as much time given to the story of Domoto and his blossoming relationship with the woman he has in tow. In fact there might be a bit too much going on in Fatal Blade, as there are at least 4 bad guys at one point and in the last act focus switches again, this time to Rivers’ goateed Bronson. No doubt this was probably a longer and more ambitious film, cut down to 90 minutes and unfortunately means Daniel’s feels more like a co-star than the leading action man.

Still, the film is nicely played and while there isn’t near enough action as one might be expecting what there is, is very good. While there are only a couple of fights, they are crisply choreographed by Alpaha Stunts alum Koichi Sakamoto and Akihiro Noguchi (Drive, Guyver: Dark Hero) meaning Daniels get’s to cut loose and show his impressive fight skills. He even gets that other well worn trait of having to chase down some goons (unrelated to the rest of the plot) just so he can stop in an alleyway and fight them so we know what a bad ass fighter he is: cool!

While it gets a little muddled and looses focus with its various plot strands and their characters, Fatal Blade nobly attempts to be more of a serious crime flick than an outright trashy action film and often succeeds at this but thankfully remembers to also bring some decent action and fights to the plate meaning one still gets to see Daniels’ kick some ass.  

The Ghost

THE GHOST (2001)

Directed by: Douglas Jackson
Screenplay: Douglas Jackson & Dave Tedder
Starring: Chung Lai, Richard Hatch, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Michael Paul Chan, Brad Dourif & Michael Madsen


This is some mad shit right here. On the one hand this is a low budget actioner, with a few well known stars in the cast, of the type you would have seen a million of back in the 90s video shop heyday. It’s the tale of a Chinese super assassin (Lai) fleeing Hong Kong and hiding out in LA while the crazy crime boss she tries to kill, some bounty hunters and the cops are all out looking for her. On the other hand it’s some bat-shit-craziness about said assassin hiding out in LA posing as an internet bride (!) with a good portion of the story focusing on her relationship with her new American husband (Hatch), while the likes of Tagawa, Dourif and Madsen seem to try and out overact one another. Oh and not forgetting the homeless guy with no legs who gets into kung fu fights (what the?!), Chung Lai’s complete inability to express any emotion and, well, more absurdity than one can possibly imagine leading to a whole load of what-the-fuck!

This should have been a fun and straightforward action flick (and I suppose on its own insane terms, it kinda is) but is instead an unintentionally hilarious and, often downright, odd cavalcade of low budget weirdness. From Tagawa’s (a dude all of us in the action movie community love) completely insane bad guy performance (complete with face-painted-orgy-sex-scene that opens the film: seriously WTF!), to poor old Richard Hatch actually trying to take it all seriously, to Michael Paul Chan and Brad Dourif looking as though they will immediately walk off set as soon as they have said their lines, to Madsen’s the-fuck-am-I-doing-here performance where I swear it appears he is looking off camera at the director/his agent/some poor sap from the crew and is going to punch them, meaning  you have possibly the most what-the-hell-am-I-doing- in-this cast of any low budget action film. Ever. 

On top of this proceedings rarely make sense, the editing is all over the joint, Chung Lai (a star of some infamous Category III Hong Kong films) is, well, I’m not even sure I can describe her “performance” adequately and she has perhaps the most obvious stunt double in her fight scenes (i.e. it’s a dude dressed up as her) and The Ghost is just, well, mad. Shame as the cast is decent, the two dudes who play Madsen’s bounty hunter cronies are actually pretty good (and should have been given more to do) and the fight action (when it happens and despite the copious doubling) is actually pretty good, having been handled by Koichi Sakamoto and his stunt team (Drive, Wicked Game).

I ain’t one to rag on movies just for the sake of it but damn it’s hard to write a review and not point out the complete absurdness/crapness that takes place in The Ghosts’ 80 minute run time. It will test the sanity of the most hardened action trash fans, I’m sure there are dozens of drinking games you could play while watching this and if there was ever a low budget action film that needs some kind of making of/documentary about its production, then this is it! 

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Night Crew

Check out my new review of the new Luke Goss action film The Night Crew over at Blueprint Review.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Blue Lightning


Directed by: Lee Phillips
Screenplay: William Kelley
Starring: Sam Elliot, Rebecca Gilling & Robert Culp

Now this one is a treat: the living moustached legend that is Sam Elliot, great Australian locations, hard boiled banter, hard edged action and Robert Culp having a hoot as the slippery bad guy, The Blue Lightning is the true definition of a hidden gem. In fact, quite literally as Elliot’s tough and gruff private eye, Wingate, is shipped off to Australia in search of an elusive opal which, wouldn’t you know it, is in the hands of Culp’s dastardly villain, McInally. Throw in the very attractive Rebecca Gilling as Wingate’s would be guide (and who is also in search of her missing estranged husband), some cool outback inhabitants Wingate teams up with and a surprising amount of wicked action scenes and The Blue Lightning deserves to be rediscovered.

While the opening and closing credits are distinctly TV-movie in style (which this originally was), the flick feels very cinematic in its execution and much like a fully fledged 80s action flick. From the get go we see that Culp’s McInally is a complete bastard (with wobbly Irish accent to boot!) and rules over a small Australian town and its opal mine with an iron fist (complete with his own underground James Bond style lair: awesome! ). Culp, while not in it nearly enough, seems to be having a whale of a  time and is equal amounts vicious and over-the-top. Elliot meanwhile is all cool and confident but very likeable as the PI with a ‘tache and shares great chemistry with leading lady Gilling. It’s obvious they have the hots for one another from the get go and it’s nice to see the two characters getting along, trading banter, and warming to each other for most of the running time rather than spending a good chunk of it hating each other and bickering only to fall in love come the end.  Elliot also shares good chemistry with the outback fellas who rescue him and ultimately teams up with. John Mellion of Crocodile Dundee fame is in there as a booze doused doctor and there is a nice subplot featuring Wingate bonding rather touchingly with one of the local aborigines, their two cultures finding common ground.

While the drama is nicely played and the banter delivered with aplomb (meaning there are some laughs along the way), The Blue Lightning is stuffed with great action. From chases, to a great bar fight, to an impressive amount of gun battles the film rips along at a speedy pace. There is an impressively sustained running chase/gun battle with a couple of McInally’s goons, an equally impressive bit that involves a plane and a giant Australian road train (!) and oodles  of machine gun spraying and shotgun blasting action all delivered in that rough and tough 80s way we all know and love. Elliot’s character is often so fearless (bordering on stupid!) that he seems to openly walk in and welcomes any fist fights or gun battles he can get himself into. This is a crackerjack gem, which may be a little low key compared to other 80s action juggernauts, but holds its own in the hard action and cool character departments. 

Check it out. 

Spill (aka Virus)

SPILL (aka VIRUS) (1996)

Directed by: Allan A. Goldstein
Screenplay: Les Standiford
Starring: Brian Bosworth, Leah Pinset, Chuck Shamata & Eric Peterson

After the mega awesome (that’s right: mega awesome!) Stone Cold and a couple of decent actioners, one time NFL star Brian “The Boz” Bozworth trundled on for a while longer trying to carve out an action star career. Spill (or Virus depending on where you live!) tries to mix things up for The Boz by adding a disaster thriller element and, as you may expect, makes for a hokey but action packed 85 minutes. Part Outbreak and part generic mid 90s action movie, Spill is a mish-mash of genres that gets by on The Boz’s charisma and surfeit of ridiculous action.

He plays ace presidential security man Ken Fairchild, who is so good at his job he seemingly runs his protection details like American football plays (his character also being a former football player just like The Boz in real life: nice), as seen in the opening scenes where he saves the President’s life from being, err, egged! Some important dudes in suits are so impressed by this, they ask Fairchild to go ahead and scout out a location for the Presidents next speech. However, the National Park where said upcoming speech will take place is infected with a lethal virus when a tanker carrying top secret biological weapons crashes into it. Damnit! Now stuck in the park’s (oddly) vast wilderness, battling a virus and with a lovely local lady vet in tow, Fairchild much rush to safety, warn the President and get into a surprising amount of fights and gun battles.

While Spill is nowhere near as fun as the likes of other Boz vehicles Stone Cold, Midnight Heat or even (the greatly titled) One Tough Bastard, it’s still entertaining on its own low budget terms. Sure it doesn’t all quite hang together, the disaster/conspiracy element not really gelling with the Uzi blasting action element. One minute the film tries to be serious, then funny (as admittedly The Boz is quite humorous and likeable in this, showing a flare for comedy), then it’s full on fisticuffs in the forest or cars playing chicken while firing shotguns at one another (which, admittedly, is cool!). So yeah, it’s all over the joint not least in a crazy over-the-top character in the form of the pill popping tanker driver: seriously, this guy seems to have walked in from some other delirious movie and is perhaps one of the films more enjoyable, albeit unintentional, comedy highlights.

Factor in some impressive high fall stunts (and the cool bit where they actually drop a truck cab off the side of a cliff in spectacular fashion), an amusing subplot featuring a nosy reporter who resembles Columbo (!) and Spill is some undemanding and low rent folks-running-around-in-hazmat-suits action silliness. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Shark Killer

Check out my new review of Shark Killer over at Blueprint Review.