Muscular cop Chris Kenner (Dolph Lundgren) grew up in Japan and now uses his knowledge of Bushido culture and expert martial arts skills to wage a one-man war against the Yakuza mob that control a small Japanese area in Los Angeles. Reluctantly partnered with Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee), an unbelievably dumb but scrap-handy half-Japanese DEA agent, Kenner is after Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the tattooed mob boss who not only murdered his parents but now has a dastardly plan to smuggle a new street drug inside bottles of imported Japanese beer. No, really. Yoshida slips up when as a prelude to molesting comely nightclub chanteuse Minako Okeya (Tia Carrere), he employs an unorthodox seduction technique by screening a video of him shagging then decapitating her best friend. With a possible witness on the cards, Kenner springs Minako from Yoshida’s pad and brings her to his own hideout, but the yakuza are on their trail.
Among the stupidest action movies ever made, Showdown in Little Tokyo plays like it was scripted by a bunch of xenophobic frat boys armed with a six-pack of beer, a stack of old martial arts tapes and a working knowledge of Lethal Weapon (1987) from which several scenes are shamelessly recycled. Lurid but silly, the film parades one stupifying inanity after another to the point where even its intentional humour comes across as bizarre. For example, as yakuza storm their hideout, Murata tells Kenner: “Just in case we get killed, I just wanted to tell you, you’ve got the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man.” It is the kind of film where a rape victim, shortly after attempting suicide, slips into a hot-tub with a man she only just met. Then, as a post-coital punchline, Minako informs stealth expert Kenner: “That time, I heard you coming.”
By the early Nineties, martial arts films had morphed from cheap chop-socky efforts starring anonymous (to most western eyes, anyway) Chinese fighters into slick, mainstream friendly action thrillers headed by photogenic Caucasian, more often European stars, largely in reaction to a seminal scene in Way of the Dragon. In 1972 Bruce Lee courted a degree of controversy by asserting a well-trained Chinese martial artist could outfight Caucasian karate champion Chuck Norris, something many still uphold as physically improbable. Mainstream filmmakers spent the next few decades striving to redress the balance and Showdown in Little Tokyo comes across as an extreme variant on that trend.
Along with films like Black Rain (1989), Year of the Dragon (1985) and Rising Sun (1993) - which also features Carrere and Tagawa along with a more pretentious agenda - this conveys an idea that Japan has exported crime as part of its corporate takeover of the west. They are stealing our business, buying properties on our land, even shagging our women. This runs part and parcel with an old colonial era concept wherein a westerner proves himself so adept at mastering Asian culture he comes to embody its principles far better than the natives. See also: The Challenge (1982) and The Karate Kid Part II (1986). The key scene occurs one minute in when Kenner calmly shrugs off a blow from a Japanese karate expert. Chuck Norris you are avenged! Kenner knows more about traditional Japanese culture than any of the film’s Asian-American or American wannabe characters. He speaks the language fluently, lives in a Japanese styled house, has mastered martial arts to the point where he beats Bruce Lee’s son in a fight, and - as he delights in informing Yoshida - can sexually satisfy Minako free from the sting of erectile dysfunction. Yeah, screw you, Tojo! Little wonder, after our chief antagonist meets an admittedly amusing fiery end, the residents of Little Tokyo bow their heads before Kenner as if he were some white god.
It adds up to another glossy, knuckleheaded exploitation film from Mark L. Lester, who began his career making political documentaries but whose real legacy were lowbrow landmarks from Roller Boogie (1979) to Firestarter (1984) and Commando (1985). Lester brings little in the way of style aside from a near-maniacal lack of restraint that is perhaps befitting, as when Yoshida beheads a topless blonde (Renee Allman) whilst sodomising her before an audience of yakuza thugs. A scene that covers so many offensive bases it almost impressive. The acting is atrocious, with Lundgren maintaining the charisma vacuum that saw him consigned to second-string villain in the following year’s Universal Soldier (1992), although Brandon Lee proves by far the worst offender. One can’t lay all the blame upon the tragically short-lived actor given, given Murata is scripted so moronic you can’t believe he can tie his own shoelaces let alone function as a DEA agent. Tagawa delivers the closest thing the film has to a competent performance, by simply glowering effectively.
Despite input from Terry Leonard, stunt co-ordinator on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the chop-edit action is sluggish and dull whilst David Michael Frank’s farting synthesizer score coupled with Kenner’s sub-Confucian witticisms make the whole thing far more laughable than Lester’s intentional comedy actioner, Armed and Dangerous (1986). Still, some bad movies exert the pull of a black hole and fans of irredeemable trash may yet relish the sight of Lundgren, stripped and oiled enduring elecro-shock torture, or charging into the climactic battle dressed in what resembles an aerobics instructor’s idea of samurai garb.
Prolific American director/producer who specialises in crowd-pleasing B-movies, usually action or horror. Earlier films include more serious works like the award-winning documentary Twilight of the Mayas and Steel Arena, plus 1976's hilarious exploiter Truck Stop Women, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw and Roller Boogie, with Linda Blair.