Thursday, June 09, 2016

Samurai Cop (1991)

Samurai Cop (1991)

In the pantheon of cult films Samurai Cop stands as one of the greats. It was directed by the Iranian director Amir Shervan who, after fleeing the revolution in his home country, decided to move to America to make amazing direct-to-video films starring Robert Z’Dar (as one does). Z’Dar, for those inclined towards more reputable (boring) cinema and who therefore are unacquainted with his masterful filmography, is among the most recognizable and glorious B-movie “That Guy!”’s in the history of people building movies. Z’Dar was as wonderful an artist as his name implies, a hulking man who previous to his acting career worked as both a Chicago cop and a Chippendales dancer (one can only hope he pursued these careers concomitantly). Z’Dar was also the owner of the most transcendent chin in the history of people having chins. Z’Dar’s most well-known role may be in the excellent 1989 action movie Tango & Cash, though B-movie aficionados will forever praise his thespianism in such classics as Maniac Cop (1988), Maniac Cop 2 (1990), and Fugitive X: Innocent Target (1996). (I’ve actually never seen that last one but it has to be great). Z’Dar, due to his formidable Chippendale’s physique and massive chin, was often cast as a hulking monster of one sort or another, a modern day Tor Johnson, but Amir Shervan broke the mold in this regard and has Z’Dar playing the slick and charming supervillain Yamashita in Samurai Cop. Z’Dar even gets a sex scene, which is a beautiful thing to behold indeed. I feel relatively secure in my heteronormative cisgenderedness but I would not have thrown Robert Z’Dar out of bed, had the opportunity ever presented itself.

The beautiful Robert Z'Dar as "Yashamita"

Samurai Cop is about a cop who is also a samurai. The cop’s name is Joe Marshall. It’s never quite explained why Joe is a samurai since he doesn’t really do any samurai-ing until the last reel, primarily because his partner Frank (Mark Frazier, who also starred as “Young Technician” in an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in 1993 and then did not star in another film until 2015s Samurai Cop 2: Samurai Harder) keeps shooting the bad guys before Joe can samurai them. The other cops in the precinct don’t like Joe or his cocksure samurai manner, but he and Frank become fast friends. Joe is brought in specifically to combat the vicious Katanga gang who control the cocaine trade in Los Angeles. The gang is led by the fearsome Okamura, played by Gary Okamura, who also starred as “Hard Master” in GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009) and as “The Master Demon” in The Master Demon (1991). The Katana gang abide by a strict code of silence and when Okamura suspects one of his men of talking to the cops he sends Yamashita to bring the guy’s head and instructs him to put it on top of a white grand piano that Okamura keeps in the living room. In fact, Yamashita and Okamura probably kill more of the Katana gang than Joe Samurai Cop Marshall does, just so that they can prove how bad they are.

A lot of the fun of Samurai Cop comes from marveling at how Shervan actually managed to get the film made. Shervan had absolutely no budget at all and could not afford such seemingly necessary elements of filmmaking as costumes, lighting, or sound. Shervan, having just escaped a rather scary revolution, was not about to let such trifles interfere with his art. He shot he entire film during daytime and used mostly natural lighting (kind of like Barry Lyndon minus the pretty) and post-dubbed all the dialogue after filming was done. Most of the “costumes” (primarily consisting of tight Wranglers and denim jackets) were the actors’ own clothes and most of them were even driving their own cars. Shervan also proved remarkably adept at overcoming difficult setbacks, such as realizing that after principal photography was done he needed a bunch of coverage shots of lead actor Matt Hannon, who by that point had shorn the Fabio-like mane that he had sported throughout the entire production. Shervan provided Hannon with the ugliest, most ridiculous wig ever made for this additional shooting and made absolute no attempt to hide the fact that the wig in no way resembles Hannon’s hair, because at that point Shervan probably had no fucks left to give and was full bore into the kind of artistic dedication that only a combination of genius and cocaine can provide.
These amazing feats of cinematic ingenuity aside, Samurai Cop is also replete with amazing dialogue and surrealistic set pieces, including some of the most bizarre choices in art direction ever seen this side of porn.

What IS that thing?
As previously mentioned, Shervan had to post-dub the dialogue, at which point most of the actors wanted nothing to do with the film anymore. Shervan had to do a lot of the voices himself but due to his limited acting range and even more limited abilities with the English language (or so I assume) he attempted to hide the fact that all the characters speak in the same voice by mechanically altering it in post. No one seems to have taught poor Shervan how to actually do this so most of the supporting characters sound like confused Iranian robots. Shervan may also have used his considerable improvisational abilities during this post-production phase as much of the dialogue abounds in brilliant Dadaist poetics (as Okamura faces off against Joe Walsh he tries to crush the Samurai’s spirit by telling him “Your cinnamon always gets in the way of your intelligence!”). Some of the best dialogue comes during scenes where the Samurai Cop is flirting with the ladies, including fellow officer Peggy (Melissa Moore - Sorority House Massacre II (1990) and The Feminine Touch (1995)). When Joe and Frank visit a burn victim at the hospital, Joe and the on-call nurse quickly engage in some sultry banter that puts the best of Ben Hect to shame. Note the following exchange (dutifully stolen from the Samurai Cop IMDB quotations page, which is most definitely worth perusing in full):

Nurse: Do you like what you see?
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: I love what I see.
Nurse: Would you like to touch what you see?
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: Yes. Yes I would.
Nurse: Would you like to go out with me?
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: Uh, yes I would.
Nurse: Would you like to fuck me?
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: Bingo.
Nurse: Well then let's see what you've got...
[investigates his bulge]
Nurse: Doesn't interest me. Nothing there.
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: Nothing there? Just exactly what would interest you, something the size of a jumbo jet?
Nurse: Have you been circumcised?
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: Yeah I have, why?
Nurse: Your doctor must have cut a large portion off.
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: No uh, he was a, he was a good doctor.
Nurse: Good doctors make mistakes too, that's why they have insurance.
Joe Marshall, the samurai cop: [getting closer to her] Hey... don't worry. I got enough. It's big.
Nurse: I want bigger.
[walks away]

Did I mention we also get to see Joe walking around in a thong? Twice? Good stuff.

 Samurai Cop is what many consider a “cult classic” or a “it’s so bad it’s good” type of film but there are some genuinely amazing things about it. It is a complete mess, from start to finish, but it is made with a lot of passion and it has a bizarre kind of innocence to it that I really loved. The film represents a lot of the best elements of B-films. It’s silly and ridiculous and no one involved took it very seriously, obviously, but that being said all of these people nonetheless showed up every day and managed to put this thing together in spite of the fact that it was bound to be a giant pile of aesthetic shit. Someone actually woke up, put on some pants, and brought coffee and donuts for the cast and crew of Samurai Cop. Someone offered to bring their beat-up ’87 Ford Escort so Shervan could shoot his one (amazing) chase scene. Hannon offered to wear his own thongs. What is missing from most big-budget Hollywood films is this lovely feeling of collaboration and misguided dedication. B-movies have such a cool carny element to them where you feel that the film was made by a band of coked-out pirates who would probably be robbing a liquor store if they weren’t channeling their energy into making a film about a Samurai Cop. So many Hollywood movies seem like the soulless product of a completely mechanized corporate process maintained by the evil aliens from Carpenter’s They Live. Films like Samurai Cop may not be great works of art but they are wonderful trash and I wholeheartedly prefer that to the Timberwolves* asininity of a great deal of proper “art” simply for the fact that Samurai Cop has a soul and heart (and katanas and thongs and Robert Z’Dar). I thereby salute this film and unreservedly award it seventeen Goldblums.

Seventeen of these!

 Verdict: Amazing. Terrible. A lot of fun. 

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