Taking the worst bits of American Ninja (dopey origin story) and the worst bits of American Ninja 3, 4, and V (David Bradley), American Samurai dishonors those spiritual predecessors even more than could be imagined as it improbably adds scenes shot through strange filters such that I thought I was unwittingly tricked into watching an Alejandro Jodorowsky film.
Things thankfully got back on track though before I could commit hari kari as reporter David Bradley flew off to Turkey to bicker with his woman photographer where the expected reference was made to Midnight Express as well as the unexpected reference to David Hasselhoff.
Bradley plays Drew Collins, one of those white kids who gets orphaned in the Far East and is taken in by a martial arts god (John Fujioka) who teaches him the ways of the samurai. John played pretty much the same part in American Ninja when he taught the orphaned Joe Armstrong some ninjitsu. And while American Samurai never found enough success to merit a single sequel (let alone an astonishing four like American Ninja!), it brings enough martial arts mayhem and melodrama for a film at least half as long as American Samurai!
Distinguishing itself from American Ninja by having Drew not just taught by the same guy, but also giving Drew’s sensei/foster dad Tatsuya his own insanely jealous biological son (I Am Omega‘s Mark Dacascos), American Samurai delivers the much needed “personal grudge match” aspect to the final showdown. After all, it’s always better to see the good guy moping around about the prospect of having to kill his own family member and how he just wanted to be brothers than to just see him slice up an out of shape evil businessman. (Don’t misunderstand me though – Drew still goes ahead and slices up his brother – it’s just that he was kind of tore up about it!)
The stage is set for a battle to the death in an underground Turkish fight club early on, when as young men, Tatsuya chooses Drew over his blood, the glowering and surly Kenjiro, as the samurai stud who will get to maintain the family honor by possessing the family’s holy samurai sword. While Kenjiro had a good argument that as the biological child he should have been chosen, his argument loses a bit of its momentum when he reveals his large ugly shoulder tattoo and announces that he is now Yakuza!
Flash forward years later to when Drew is living in America and has the Sword of Studliness tastefully displayed in a glass case on his apartment wall. At least until a team of Yakuza hitmen break into his apartment, shoot him and steal the sword!
It is while Drew is lying there dying from being gutshot he begins to have his avant-garde visions of him fighting his brother who is wearing some sort of devil mask. Director Sam Firstenberg (Cyborg Cop, Avenging Force, Operation Delta Force) wakes up long enough from his delusions of filmmaking grandeur to have Drew get back to being a samurai bad ass by yanking the bullet out of his stomach! Who needs health insurance when you keep hearing the voice of your adopted father telling you not to be a pussy in so many words?
Months later he somehow ends up on assignment as a reporter in Turkey checking into some deaths involving a very specific style of sword cut. He suspects it is Kenjiro, but won’t know for sure until he falls into his trap and is forced to fight in a martial arts tournament to the death. Before you can get to any of that though, you’ll need to skip though scenes of him first arguing with his female companion (the photographer – sent along to take pictures of what, I don’t know) then him rolling around the bed with her in a martial arts mack session!
Once that’s done, the movie shifts into fighting overdrive with a warm up bar fight (Drew must have used his samurai super senses his master keeps babbling about in annoying voice overs to discover the exact bar where his brother’s fight promoter hangs out) before shifting to the secret arena where a buffet of beat downs await the viewer!
All sorts of fighting styles are represented by the various competitors from “barbarian” to “fat dude with a big knife” to “little Asian dudes who hop around a lot with long sharp implements!” There’s even a brawler who is from the pirate school of fighting and he comes complete with eyepatch! Shiver me freaking timbers!
The film makes up for the overripe set up (Would a guy who turned Yakuza really give a crap what his dad thought about him and some cruddy family sword?) and the overlong scenes between Drew and his obnoxious old lady (try not to snicker when she gets punched in the stomach by the tough French dame holding her captive during Drew’s fights) with all the slicing and dicing violence it serves up during the tourney. There were even a couple of guys who got their hands chopped clean off!
And the way that Drew did his brother (twice!) makes the movie more than worth watching. I also really liked how every time I paused to think about how little actual story there was to the movie (sword stolen, good guy blunders into bad guy’s fight club, movie ends), it would just throw another guy in a crazy costume with weird shaped knives into the arena for another gory bout to the death!
All the over-the-top chaos even served to make David Bradley’s dull whiny monotone that much more effective! While everyone else is completely amped for the fights and even his samurai brother is bugging his eyes out in silly fashion, you could really believe Bradley had entered some zen-like state where he didn’t care about living or dying. Or even being in a movie that only required him to swing a sword around a couple of times every 5 or 10 minutes while wearing his bathrobe!
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