It is the future, and the world has suffered a devastating war. Tradition tells that the two schools of martial arts, the Southern Cross and the North Star, must never fight. However, Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor) goes against this teaching and kills the leader of the North Star (Malcolm McDowell) in his plans to take over the world and rebuild it under his own commands. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger, Ken (Gary Daniels), wanders the Waste Lands, avoiding the men of the Southern Cross when he can. Ken is a highly skilled fighter, and it is his destiny to become the Fist of the North Star, but he is reluctant until he becomes involved with the shanty town of Paradise Valley - now he sees the way...
Written by the director Tony Randel and Peter Atkins, this post-apocalyptic tale was based on the ultra-violent Japanese comic book and cartoon epic of the same name, by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. It comes across as a studio-bound variation on the Mad Max sequels, with a heavy dose of spiritual pretention added in to give the project weight. However, what the original was best known for was the bloody fight scenes, and this film finds it can't compete with those outrageous combat sequences; the one thing that made the original stand out is played down. Yes, I'm talking about the exploding heads.
There is combat, certainly, and our hero spends his time getting in and out of scrapes amongs the ruins of society. We know he's a decent sort when he cures a little girl of the blindness that was brought on when she witnessed the deaths of her parents, and he's the man who will champion the underdogs of the nearby town. Mind you, everything is conveniently nearby in this film, with Lord Shin's city, the Waste Lands and Paradise Valley seemingly within walking distance of each other, so there's no sense of great scale.
Of course Ken has a history, which is filled in with flashbacks, where we discover why he bears curious scars on his torso, and that he and Shin were part of a love triangle with Julia (Isako Washio), who the wicked Lord now holds captive in his castle. For a Lord, he doesn't appear to do very much, just occasionally killing people with his special powers, or gloating over Julia; the dirty work is left to his henchmen, led by a nasty Chris Penn with restraining belts on his head. And why does he have such a thing on his bonce?
Because he was previously beaten up by Ken with his special powers, which has the effect of making your head explode. You would have thought that this would be the movie's piece de résistance, making the Scanners series look like Terms of Endearment, but we only see one head blow up during the whole running time, and one very nearly (the camera cuts away at the last moment). Fist of the North Star seriously overestimates its excitement value, which is brought down by a ponderous tone, and while there is a fair amount of violence there for those who want it, anyone digging deeper will find a hollow experience, with its love and revenge storylines amounting to only the most predictable outcomes. Non-stop bombastic music by Christopher L. Stone.
[The DVD is a must for fans of the film, featuring a commentary from star Daniels, an hour long, Japanese-made documentary, home movie footage from the shoot, trailers, a photo gallery and two interviews with Daniels.]