Today, I am going to take a look at a cult favorite in the realm of bad movies: 1991’s Samurai Cop.
The plot of Samurai Cop is summarized on IMDb as follows:
Joe Marshall and Frank Washington are two police detectives who must stop the ruthless activities of the Katana, a renegade Yakuza gang composed of violent and sadistic killers who want to lead the drug trade in Los Angeles.
Samurai Cop was directed, written, produced, and co-edited by Amir Shervan, whose other features include the similarly low-budgeted Hollywood Cop, Killing American Style, and Young Rebels.
The cast of the film includes Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3, Tango & Cash, Soultaker), Mark Frazer (Samurai Cop 2), Mathew Karedas (Samurai Cop 2, American Revenge), Melissa Moore (Sorority House Massacre II), Gerald Okamura (Big Trouble In Little China), and Cranston Komuro (Samurai Cop 2).
The ridiculously catchy music for Samurai Cop was provided by Alan DerMarderosian, who also composed music for the equally infamous Hobgoblins, as well as Killing American Style, Mind Trap, Terror In Beverly Hills, and Vice Academy.
In 2015, due to the film’s raised profile and cult status, Samurai Cop received a fan-funded sequel in the form of Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, which featured a number of the cast members from the original movie.
Initially, Samurai Cop did not receive any kind of theatrical release. However, Rifftrax simulcasted a screening of the movie to numerous movie theaters for a live show in April of 2017.
Matt Hannon, who plays the titular character, cut his distinctly long hair as soon as he wrapped shooting for Samurai Cop. However, the production ultimately required reshoots, for which he had to wear an ill-fitting and not-at-all convincing wig, which stands out notably in the few sequences where it appears.
Samurai Cop received its initial DVD release in 2004, but gained a significantly higher profile after an additional DVD release in 2013 by Cinema Epoch, which was followed up by a blu-ray release in the subsequent year.
As with many cheap productions, the team behind Samurai Cop didn’t record any sound on set. Thus, nearly all of the dialogue was recorded after the fact as ADR (automated dialogue replacement). This is at times jarring, thanks to the lack of any ambient noise or music beneath many of the vocal tracks, as well as the awkward line readings from the actors. On top of that, a number of the actors didn’t return to record lines, leading to their characters being dubbed by other voices, or exact lines of dialogue being used multiple times.
It is hard to conjure up any positive traits of Samurai Cop, given it is one of the most incompetently crafted movies of all time. However, I will say that the music, when it decides to show up, it pretty damn catchy. Unfortunately, the baffling editing leaves the majority of the movie in silence.
Speaking of which, this may be the worst edited movie I have ever seen. Not only are there plenty of jarring cuts, but events don’t cohesively tie together, dialogue doesn’t line up with mouth movements or on-screen actions, reaction shots pop up at random in the middle of sentences, and trying to figure out what exactly is going wrong in any given scene is a lost cause.
That is not to say that all of the problems of Samurai Cop boil down to editing. These are, without any doubt, bad performances from the top of the cast to the bottom. However, what really makes the performances in Samurai Cop uniquely bad is the awkward ADR recording: the line reads are stilted and weirdly emphasized, and when that is combined with the bad syncing, the result is down-right comedic.
That said, it is hard to put all of the blame on the actors: they have to have something to work with, after all. In the case of Samurai Cop, I would be fascinated to see a copy of the screenplay, if one ever existed. If the editing comes off as confusing, I can’t imagine how perplexing it was to read this material on the page.
Overall, Samurai Cop is a sort of perfect storm of “doing it wrong.” Most bad movies have redeeming qualities: Samurai Cop is a rare flick that is bottom-of-the-barrel in every perceivable category of storytelling and filmmaking, and that makes it something unique. However, somehow, the result isn’t painful in the slightest. Samurai Cop is an absolute delight, and never fails to entertain me on a re-watch. It manages to really get cooking in the action sequences, and the weird performances manage to keep even the lulls in the screenplay oddly captivating.
For bad movie fans, I think Samurai Cop is a staple of the genre. For even casual audiences, I think this is a movie worth checking out, just for how surreal its awfulness is.