15 – 90mins – 2015
KEEP LONDON WARM
Tuesday night saw a major motion picture premiere overtake Leicester Square in London. A jumbotron was erected, a red carpet laid, VIP areas cordoned off and police were in attendance so the Hollywood A-Listers of How to be Single could be papped in style and safety away from the autograph-hunting masses…
This isn’t that story.
But just around the corner, at the diminutive independent Prince Charles Cinema, another film star had flown in from L.A. for the UK premiere of another new film. With a budget which would struggle to pay for a day’s catering on a blockbuster set, and actors you’re unlikely to have heard of – let alone seen in Heat magazine – this film is less mainstream and more niche – but far more entertaining.
This is that story.
I had the pleasure of attending this unique event in the company of friend and 80’s PictureHouse co-host Thom. Along with his podcast partner Dave, they have long championed the original, errr, subjective “masterpiece” Samurai Cop (1991) – a film so bad, it’s hilarious. Due to a fortuitous imdb typo, the pair watched, reviewed, recorded a commentary track for and fell in love with the uber-cheesy 90s production on their 80s-centric show – and the rest is history.
Having interviewed and struck up an e-mail correspondence with lead actor Mat Karedas, the podcasting duo (along with Dave’s girlfriend – and 80s PH promoter – Tina and best mate Ramrod) were offered the enviable honour of shooting a cameo scene for this belated Kickstarter-funded sequel and hosting a pre-screening Q&A in the cinema two nights ago.
It was a surreal enough experience for me to finally meet Dave and Tina, having listened to their banter and anecdotes for so, so many enjoyable hours over the past three-or-so years. We were also joined in the evening by friend Laura – who I hadn’t seen in at least six years – and friend of the podcast Lou from cult DVD maestros Arrow Video, but when the Samurai Cop himself, accompanied by girlfriend Diane, entered the Slug and Lettuce and sat down to eat with us, things took a turn for the dreamlike – it isn’t every day you have dinner with a film star!
With his trademark long black hair (now no longer a wig!) and – at 6”3 – even towering over me, Mat was an absolute delight – approachable and down to earth with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek approach to his legacy – and he came across just as open, honest and amiable during the laidback Q&A session, in which he recounted tales of working with renowned personality Tommy The Room Wiseau and openly admitting that their original vision of filming a cheap 90s take-off of buddy cop actioner Lethal Weapon failed miserably. But then without Samurai Cop’s abundant failings, we never would have got such quotable gold as “Keep it warm for me”, “Have you been circumcised?”, “I’m an undercover cop” or indeed Deadly Vengeance itself.
So what of Samurai Cop 2? Well, it’s a turd, albeit a polished one. But I don’t think Mat, director Greg Hatanaka, producers Cinema Epoch or even The 80s PictureHouse would be offended by me calling it that – because surely that was half the point of following up on a film which is met with uproarious laughter as lines are fluffed, shots are scuppered and wigs fall off but the camera keeps rolling because one take is all they could afford. Right?!
Often films with larger budgets that try to be bad fail to capture the B-movie magic (I’m thinking of such soulless dross as Sharknado, et al), and that was a fear I had with SC2 – would it be too knowing, too obvious in its reach for motion picture ignominy? Samurai Cop worked because it didn’t, but would an HD, CGI-glossed piss-take fail to raise a laugh?
Thankfully not, and the up-for-it crowd in attendance at the Prince Charles were in uproarious voice with cackles, cheers, hoots and heckles throughout. “What the fuck?!” was audibly bellowed from the back after 15 minutes – and that pretty much sums the whole saga up!
Deadly Vengeance is a film funded by fans and made for them – so there are abundant nods (in a couple of scenes literally, courtesy of exaggerated co-star Mark Frazer) to the most memorable and quotable scenes from the original, as well as copious cameos from stuffed toy lion heads (seriously!) and bit-part players whose outrageous contributions have now become iconic. Bounteous clips from the first film also make their way into the sequel, either through flashbacks, credit sequences, or in one instance when Joe Marshal (Karedas) is handed a pair of binoculars during a stake out. Why? Just because!
Halfway through, I felt a tap on my arm and Laura – who went in completely cold having never seen Samurai Cop – leaned over to ask me what the hell was going on. But I was just as bewildered and lost by the madcap torrent of nonsense that was playing before my eyes! New to the sequel, semi-sci-fi and hallucinogenic elements only confound the Japanese gang war plot rather than aid it. At one point a floating mini-Death Star-like ball sucks the life out of adversaries, but was then quickly forgotten, while a drugged drink leads to repeated instances of Joe watching himself on TV.
Gratuitous nudity, gratuitous violence, gratuitous CGI blood spirts and gratuitous shoddy acting make up the rest of this bewildering comedy-adventure, with fans of baaaad cinema in for an absolute treat with Bai Ling and Tommy Wiseau’s supporting roles leading to more mirth at their sheer ineptitude. Like the film itself, their hearts are in the right place – but it doesn’t mean they should be on camera!
I will confess that towards the action-heavy climax my smile was faltering; there are only so many times you can laugh at incompetence, even if it is intentional. The unnecessarily convoluted storyline, meanwhile, does almost necessitate a repeated viewing just to decipher who is who and why they are doing what they do, but even if the film is 1* pap, it still can’t detract from a glorious 5* experience which I was honoured to be a small part of. My final score reflects all of this by plumping for a middle ground calculation.
*My thanks to Thom, Dave, Tina, Lou, Laura, Mat, Diane, Cinema Epoch and the Prince Charles Cinema for keeping London warm for me*