Setting out to make a campy (or “good/bad”) movie, especially when sequelizing a cult favorite, is a difficult thing to do. Well, let me rephrase that. It's easy to put little money or effort into your film, tell the actors to go as overboard as possible, and do everything with a knowing wink, but that's not what endears us to these types of films. It takes a special blend of incompetence, passion, and blind ambition to create the greats of this genre. For every The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, or Fateful Findings that comes along, there's a The Neighbors, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, or...well, Neil Breen hasn't fucked up yet, so I'll say Kung Fury (a recent intentionally bad short that I hated, but everyone else is eating up like a shit sandwich wrapped in gold foil). It's a special kind of lightening in a bottle that can't be replicated, no matter how hard you try. But we've discussed this phenomenon at length on this site already. Today I'm here to talk about one film that actually got it kind of right, at least inasmuch as you can in films like these. Perhaps it's distance from the original, a fresh-eyed take from a fan, or tackling it from a completely different angle, but a sequel to a little known “so bad, it's good” movie made 25 years later pulled it off. His name is Joe Marshall, they call him Samurai.
The original Samurai Cop came out in 1991 and was the brainchild of Amir Shervan, an Iranian-born filmmaker also responsible for the very entertaining Killing American Style. A mix of no money, a strong determination to get his film made at the expense of quality and comprehension, and a strong language barrier led to him creating a cult masterpiece in Samurai Cop. I, like I'm sure many who have gravitated to the film, discovered it fairly recently through a Red Letter Media Half in the Bag episode and a Cinema Epoch DVD release. When I heard there was a Kickstarter to fund a sequel last year, I had almost simultaneous thoughts of, “Holy shit! Awesome!” and, “Wait, that sounds like a horrible idea!”. We all know how attempts to redo these unexplainable and magical catastrophes go, but for some reason this one still excited me. Not only were the two leads returning from the original (after a video surfaced online that proved the Samurai Cop himself, Matt Hannon/Mathew Karedas, was still alive and well), but it would be directed by fellow fan Gregory Hatanaka, who also happens to be the President of Cinema Epoch!
Well, I finally got to see a screening of the new film a few nights ago (thanks Alamo Drafthouse!). While the sequel does have its fair share of problems, it delivered what any fan would want and serves as a step in the right direction in creating these types of films, if not a blueprint for success. It brings back the original cast in all their glory (sadly, no Robert Z'Dar cameo, RIP) while finding new cast members that are just as game. It gives enough nods to the original without being a carbon copy or becoming lazy. But most importantly, it doesn't try to recreate the entertaining faults of the original by intentionally inserting bad cuts, ADR, or wigs. It could have easily done that, and any other filmmaker might have, but that would have put it on the level of stuff like the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse movies. Don't get me wrong, those movies are still pretty damn fun, but they felt completely insincere with every bubbly frame or “missing reel” they put in to make it feel more like the films that inspired them. Instead, Gregory Hatanaka shows a surprising amount of restraint, making a film with the same heart of the original, but enough differences to be its own thing. And at the end of the day, it just comes off like he was trying to make a fun, and most importantly good, movie...even if he might have had a few stumbles along the way himself.
Samurai Cop 2 has its own set of faults, but most of those came from areas I didn't anticipate at all. The music choices have to be my biggest complaint, because the songs they inserted were all too loud, frequent, and ultimately distracting from the fun I was having watching it. The acting was pretty hammy all around, which is to be expected, but there were a few performances that went a little too far into the self-aware zone. Most of those came from smaller and secondary characters though, so it didn't take away too much from the final product. Star Mathew Karedas actually gives a pretty good performance, obviously feeling the need to prove himself a little after a job he didn't take too seriously or think would see the light of day became something that would spawn a sequel and an actual fan base 25 years later. Of the leads, Bai Ling is the only one I felt took it a little too far, but she seems to be having such a blast in the role that I can't really fault her for it, and she's in the same movie as Tommy Wiseau. Yes, Wiseau plays one of the villains in the movie and he has a scene where he trashes a room (ha!) that is halfway between forcefully unhinged and goddamn genius. If nothing else, this is a scene that needs to be seen by everyone with a soft spot for this stuff.
You might have noticed that I haven't really mentioned the plot of the film yet. That's because I'm not entirely sure I know what it is, despite the paragraphs of detailed exposition the performers recite throughout the movie. But let's be honest, the plot really isn't that important here. The Samurai Cop comes out of hiding to help his old partner Frank Washington (Mark Frazer, who seems to have barely aged in 25 years) take down the Asian mob, while several of those gangs are also at war with each other, and there's assassins and fighting and boobies, etc. There are some really great moments involving hilarious flashbacks to 1991 that use the same playbook as David Wain's recent Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp series. With the exception of a slump between the 2nd and 3rd acts, which makes the film seem a little long despite only running 96 minutes, Samurai Cop 2 is one hell of a ride that's easy to get on board with and does its damndest to please the fans.
In case you couldn't tell, Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance gets a glowing endorsement from me. Sure, it's not necessarily a great film and doesn't quite hit the masterful level of whatthefuckery of the first film, but it's a lot of fun and quite an achievement in proving itself worthy of all the effort involved in resurrecting it. It knows what kind of movie it is and just tries to be an enjoyable love letter to the random acts of insanity that spawn these types of cult followings, without trying too hard to make one for itself. It may not be perfect, but it doesn't try to be. It's just a simple story about a couple of cops, a bunch of bad guys, and the way of the Samurai. What more could we ask for? Thanks for keeping it warm for me.
7 out of 10 Mark Frazer camera muggings