MVD showers love on forgotten gems
Neither My Samurai or Showdown are particularly great films — but both have heart and represent the pure 1990s independent action cinema spirit… which makes them perfect candidates for MVD Rewind Collection’s high definition love letter treatment. These films are strictly for the devotees. Those who adore action cinema and crave delving deep into the back catalogs, watching the hard work of unknown and undiscovered talents who were trying to break out with a signature film all their own. If you’re the kind of action fan I’m describing, then read on.
My Samurai (1992)
Oddly titled for a film that has a Korean hero and no detectable samurai, My Samurai is a tonally inconsistent showreel film for star Julian Lee. Just about every 1980s action film trope crosses over here into the early 1990s.
Peter (John Kallo) is unhappy about his neglectful workaholic father (Lost’s Terry O’Quinn) and feels forced to take Taekwondo lessons from Master Young Park’s (Lee) school. When he witnesses a gang of dirty cops dumping a body in the alley behind the school and one of the cops ends up dead in a clear self defense situation, Park, Peter, and his father’s executive assistant Deborah (Lynne Hart) end up on the run in a Warriors-like urban hellscape complete roaming gangs of punks and a weird homeless shelter run by Police Academy’s Bubba Smith.
Crooked cops and gangsters (led by Mako) will stop at nothing to kill this kid who witnessed something he shouldn’t have. It’s one of those movies where they commit like a hundred more blatant crimes that would expose them far more than the kid ever could in their attempts to silence the kid. While on the road, Lee will win the heart of the girl and convince both Deborah and Peter about the wonders of Taekwondo.
Ascribing to the school of “more martial arts is better”, My Samurai strings together a whole lot of fight sequences designed to showcase Lee’s prowess. There’s really not much to the film beyond a bunch of fighting, the walk on roles given to the “known” actors, and a barebones plot getting us from one battle to the next. Lee does the wise trainer bit ala Karate Kid, and he’s pretty good at on screen fighting (he was apparently a world champion in real life). But unfortunately he doesn’t have much of a star presence or the acting talent or charisma to really pull off leading man status. And the script really muddies the waters in terms of whether young Peter is the main character or Young Park. Mr. Miyagi totally rules and even got the Oscar nom for best supporting actor… but that was clearly Daniel Larusso’s story. Here Park is kind of the main character but most of the action revolves around his connection to this bratty kid Peter.
There’s enough silliness and colorful flourishes to recommend My Samurai to those who love a good Karate Kid knockoff or a frivolous martial arts romp. Nothing here will blow your mind except perhaps Bubba Smith’s shenanigans.
MVD absolutely makes these discs worth a purchase by packing them out with bonus content featuring new interviews with the stars and collectible packaging. I love how they treat these C-list forgotten films like royalty.
Shockingly thematically similar to My Samurai, Showdown also exists in the post-Karate Kid landscape as an R-rated version of the coming of age martial arts tournament film. Ken Marks (Kenn Scott) is the new kid at school [that looks 30 years old] who runs afoul of the gang of kids who, he’ll later find out, are part of an evil underground dojo in which high school kids are fighting for money. It’s a crazy scenario, but ex-cop and current school janitor Billy Grant (none other than the legendary fitness guru and B-action icon Billy Blanks) takes it upon himself to train Ken up in martial arts. Soon Ken will be fighting to win the girl (the now very famous Christine Taylor), take down the bully, and save the day. But, the Karate Kid formula gets taken up a notch when it’s discovered that evil dojo master Lee (amazing cinematic villain Patrick Kilpatrick) was involved in the incident that took master Billy off the force, so the good and evil masters must also face off in the ring to get ultimate action cinema satisfaction.
Probably the more satisfying and entertaining of the two films presented here, the tournament element of Showdown allows it to feel a little more iconic than My Samurai. You get training montages and ridiculous high school drama all in the same package. Billy Blanks, bless his soul, really was not a good actor. But he’s got a phenomenal screen presence when fighting and acquits himself very well here. The bonus features reveal star Kenn Scott was desperate to become the next Van Damme and trained hard as such. His physique is almost hilariously pristine for what is supposed to be a newly trained high school kid. But Scott really didn’t have that star power charisma to launch him to a larger career.
Showdown actually feels far glossier and more polished than My Samurai (as directed by Rob Radler of Best Of The Best and Best Of The Best II fame), but still comes nowhere close to the lightning in a bottle that something like The Karate Kid was able to capture. It’s a C-list film inspired by A-list tropes and will totally get your blood pumping if you recognize any of the names or films referenced here or if you, like me, have a very healthy appreciation for the filmography of Billy Blanks.
Again, MVD Rewind Collection loads their discs with such treasured bonus material as to make purchasing their product easy to recommend. There’s basically a feature length documentary on here… for a movie that just about no one has heard of. It’s glorious action cinema purists would do well to check out for themselves.
And I’m Out.
My Samurai and Showdown are both now available on Blu-ray from MVD Rewind Collection