Tag Archives: brandon lee

Showdown In Little Tokyo

Showdown in Little Tokyo

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Today’s feature is a b-grade buddy cop classic: 1991’s Showdown In Little Tokyo.

The plot of Showdown in Little Tokyo is summarized on Rotten Tomatoes as follows:

Dolph Lundgren stars as police detective Chris Kenner, an American raised in Japan. He is given a new partner, Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, making his Hollywood debut), a Japanese raised in America. The two are made for each other — Chris doesn’t appreciate American culture, while Johnny doesn’t much like Japanese culture. One thing they both enjoy are the martial arts, of which they are experts. The two are assigned to L.A.’s Little Tokyo, trying to nab the notorious Yoshida (Carey-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a drug manufacturer using a local brewery as his distribution center.

Showdown in Little Tokyo was directed and produced by Mark L. Lester, who was also behind movies such as Class of 1999, Class of 1984, Commando, Roller Boogie, and Firestarter.

The two writers for the film only have a handful of other credits between them, most notably a couple of episodes of Dragnet and a television adaptation of The Watsons Go To Birmingham.

The cinematographer for Showdown In Little Tokyo was Mark Irwin, who shot Scream, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Class of 1999, RoboCop 2, New Nightmare, Kingpin, and Steel, among many, many other well-known features.

A total of four editors wound up putting in work on Showdown in Little Tokyo: Michael Eliot (Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence), Robert A. Ferretti (Tango & Cash, Rocky V, Die Hard 2, Gymkata), Steven Kemper (Face/Off, Timecop), and Stuart Baird (Demolition Man, Lethal Weapon).

The musical score for the movie was provided by David Michael Frank, whose other credits include Poison Ivy, Suburban Commando, Out For Justice, Hard To Kill, and Best of the Best II.

The cast for Showdown In Little Tokyo is primarily made up by Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, The Punisher, I Come In Peace, Johnny Mnemonic), the late Brandon Lee (Laser Mission, The Crow), Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World, Kull The Conqueror), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Vampires, The Phantom).

littletokyo3Showdown In Little Tokyo suffered from a significant amount of studio interference, primarily in the form of mandated edits to the final product. Likewise, even before the movie was shot, the screenplay went through a number of different forms. The experience burned director Mark Lester out on working in the studio system, leading him to take on smaller, self-funded projects.

The public reception for Showdown In Little Tokyo was generally negative. It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 29% from critics and 51% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 6.0. Likewise, the movie certainly didn’t set the box office on fire: it brought in well under $3 million in its theatrical release, on a estimated production budget of $8 million.

I was introduced to Showdown in Little Tokyo pretty recently. For whatever reason, it has never been on my b-movie radar, and I have absolutely no idea why. As far as cheap, b-level action movies go, this is about as good as it gets. Not only does this movie showcase a classic buddy-cop formula, but the fights are entertaining, the antagonist is more than sufficiently hammy, and all of the players seem to be having a great time with the material. I’m a huge fan of this particular era of Dolph Lundgren, as he took on some damn entertaining projects, and gave performances that I think easily out-class contemporaries like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, and Showdown is no exception.

littletokyo2There is one aspect of Showdown In Little Tokyo that definitely makes it stand out from the field of similar action flicks: outside of perhaps Tango & Cash, it is the most homoerotic entry into the buddy cop genre.

Showdown in Little Tokyo doesn’t bill itself as a gay action film. And like most action movies, that doesn’t do much to disarm just how amazingly queer it is. I mean, we’re talking about a movie where a muscular blonde guy spends entire scenes clad in nothing but black leather hot pants and men compliment each other on the exquisiteness of their dicks

Teleport City

That excerpt is no exaggeration, either. In one particularly notable moment in the film, Brandon Lee tells Dolph Lundgren that he has “the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man,” and the script and performances are both laden with slightly more subtle references to the two men having a potential attraction.

Much like with Tango & Cash, it isn’t totally clear if this angle was intentional on the part of the writer/director team (though the penis line seems pretty blatant). Regardless, the chemistry of the subtext adds a lot of entertainment value to what is already an amusing, saturated-with-machismo buddy-cop feature.

I can’t recommend Showdown In Little Tokyo highly enough. Not only is the action good, but the performances are memorable, the plot is over-the-top, and even the costuming got a few chuckles out of me. This is the pinnacle of a specific type of b-movie film-making, and it’ll take you on a time-traveling trip to a bygone era. The comedic performance of Brandon Lee brings up a lot of questions of what might have been if the fates had taken another turn, and Lundgren is still in his top form here. The homoerotic angle of the films adds a whole extra layer of entertainment value, whether it is read as intentional and subversive, or just hilariously oblivious on the part of the creative team. Either way, I think it is hard not to find something to enjoy on a re-watch of Showdown in Little Tokyo.

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Laser Mission

Laser Mission

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Today’s flick is Brandon Lee’s “Laser Mission,” an odd little low-budget action movie with more ambition than sense.

The director for “Laser Mission” was BJ Davis, who is an accomplished stunt worker with experience on movies like “Fatal Games,” “The Hand,” “Darkman,” and “Army of Darkness.” He also directed a handful of other smaller pictures, such as “White Ghost” and “Forget About It.” The two writers of “Laser Mission” were Phillip Gutteridge and David Frank, neither of whom have any other screen credits.

lasermission5The producer and cinematographer for “Laser Mission” were the father and son duo of Hans Kuhle, Sr. and Hans Kuhle, Jr. The latter of the two had previously worked on films like “City Wolf” and the BJ Davis movie “White Ghost.”

The music for “Laser Mission” was interestingly provided by David Knopfler, who is best known for being part of the band “Dire Straits.”

The effects team for “Laser Mission” included Debbie Christiane (“River of Death,” “Gor”), Debbie Nicoll (“Gor II,” “Lethal Ninja”), and Jannie Wienland (“The Order,” “Cyborg Cop,” “Sweepers”).

The three credited editors for “Laser Mission” were Bob Yrtuc, E. Selavie, and Robert L. Simpson, who received an Academy Award nomination for 1940’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” “Laser Mission” was his last credited picture, and was released an astonishing (and suspicious) 12 years posthumously.

The cast for “Laser Mission” includes a number of vaguely familiar faces, specifically Brandon Lee (“The Crow”), Ernest Borgnine (“Small Soldiers,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “McHale’s Navy”), Graham Clarke (“Space Mutiny,” “The Evil Below”), and Debi A. Monahan (“Night Court,” “Shattered”).

The story of “Laser Mission” centers on a freelance operative is sent into an African nation by the CIA to rescue a kidnapped expert laser scientist. He is running against the clock, as communists are hoping to force the kidnapped expert to build a devastating laser weapon.

lasermission3Reportedly, David Hasselhoff was at one point considered for the lead role that ultimately went to Brandon Lee. I’m honestly not sure if that would have been an upgrade or a downgrade, but Lee is certainly one of the stronger aspects of the film.

Robert L. Simpson’s editor credit absolutely baffles me. As far as I can tell, he was long dead before any shooting ever even happened. It could just be an IMDb error, or a weird tribute by the filmmakers. I’m sure someone out there knows the story, but I wasn’t able to dig it up.

lasermission2The reception for “Laser Mission” has been generally negative, as it has accrued a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 25% and an IMDb rating of 3.4. I couldn’t dig up any financial details, but there is no way that this was a particularly expensive production. I assume the went straight to video, but who knows? It might have had a limited theatrical run somewhere. In any case, it has a bit of a following now as a good-bad classic, and is considered by some to be the platonic ideal of a low-budget schlock action movie.

As far as issues with “Laser Mission” go, it is hard to rank them in terms of severity. The first thing I noticed is that the film quality is just awful, which isn’t surprising for this sort of small production. Still, it just looks awful, in a way that you just know how terrible the movie is going to be out of the gate.

Brandon Lee’s acting is probably one of the few mildly positive aspects of the film, but the rest of the acting is atrocious. There is no romantic chemistry at all between Lee and his partner, Borgnine’s accent is all over the place, characters rotate nationalities, and the comic relief bits are just unbearable. The writing is obviously at least partially at fault here, as the unnecessary and clunky attempts at humor certainly don’t help anything. The title of the movie is even awkwardly wedged into a bit of dialogue, which is just spectacular.

lasermission6The unnecessary comic relief cop duo, who don’t really serve a purpose for the overall story, make for some of the most unbearable moments in the film. All of their bits boil down to “Women can’t do _____!” / “Yes I can!”, with the occasional interspersed physical comedy routines. It feels like they wandered in from an entirely different movie, and all of the plot progress has to grind to a halt to make room for them.

During the first few sequences of the film, Brandon Lee’s character literally wears Clark Kent glasses as a disguise, which was worth a legitimate laugh. However, it was one of the few that the film pulled from me.

lasermission4The cinematography on “Laser Mission” is nothing short of awful, to the point that it is hard to tell what is happening in any given shot. Shots are constantly too far away from the action, off-center, and linger far too long, which is just weird to look at.

As far as positive things go, there are certainly some good stunts throughout “Laser Mission,” which isn’t a surprise given the director’s professional background.

“Laser Mission” has a few good moments here and there, including a ridiculous conclusion and a laughable diamond heist, but overall it is pretty slow and uneventful. The clunky acting and dialogue are front and center if that is your thing, but I generally consider this a deep cut only fit for hard core bad movie fans. I just don’t see it working for a mixed audience of casual movie watchers.

Bargain Bin(ge), June 2014

Howdy loyal readers! Unfortunately, I’m going to have to take some time off from the blog over the next couple of weeks due to a bunch of work conferences and a cross-country move. I’m going to try to keep putting out a couple of IMDb Bottom 100 entries weekly through the end of July before I get cooking daily again.

In the meantime, here is another quick sampling of features I’ve dug out of bargain bins in recent months. We have a DeCoteau version of “The Wolf of Wall Street” from 2002, a notorious Ted V. Mikels flick about cat food, Roddy Piper in an urban dystopia, old Dolph Lundgren doing something involving casinos, and more! Check them out!

Snowbeast (1977)

Galaxina

Laser Mission

Paper Dragons

Wolves of Wall Street

Jungleground

The Corpse Grinders

Missionary Man