Retro Review: ‘Samurai Cop’
The Los Angeles Police Department is under siege by a gang known as the Katana and their leader Fuji Fujiyama. At their wits end they turned to an officer from outside of their city to help. This officer was trained by the Japanese masters, is fluent in speaking Japanese (but he can not pronounce Fujiyama), has rippling muscles, skills with a sword, long flowing hair (except when it’s a wig), and a way with the ladies he is Joe Marshall the Samurai Cop! Directed by Iranian filmmaker Amir Shervan 1991’s Samurai Cop was meant to be your standard 80’s buddy cop action flick with some martial arts thrown in, but the level of incompetence from those behind the camera and in front of it ensured it would build a fanbase based on its unintentional hilarity.
I will give credit to the director, this film is certainly not boring, from beginning to end we either have a bad action scene or acting so abysmal it makes vintage porn actors look like Daniel Day Lewis. Many point to the scene in a restaurant when Samurai and his partner Frank Washington first confront Mr. Fujiyama and his gang and we see an entire ensemble of “actors” try to outdo each other in the laughably bad performance category. Though being in the lead role Matt Hannon as Samurai is sure to outshine all of his co-stars, gushing about his respect for Japanese immigrants and (successfully) hitting on Mr. Fujiyama’s girlfriend (played by adult film actress Krista Lane). Personally my favorite moment in the film is when the henchman Okamura (played by prolific stunt man Gerald Okamura) is preparing for a battle with Samurai and lets loose a torrent of martial arts yelps, which would be more impressive if his mouth was actually moving onscreen. But from cringe-inducing sex scenes to hilariously over-the-top battles with the bad guys, Samurai Cop does not fail to deliver the fun in the so-bad-it’s-good department.
In his leading role as Joe Marshall AKA, Samurai, Matt Hannon delivers a performance with incredible gusto, yelling any line he can and letting his crazed eyes burn with intensity. In interviews following the movie he has made it quite clear that he knew this movie was going to fail and really did not put in the effort. Chances are Hannon realized this several months after filming was complete and he was called back for reshoots. To his surprise these reshoots consisted of half the movie, and since he had cut his hair off he was forced to don a women’s wig for these scenes. Hannon may get all the attention, but in true 80’s cop movie fashion he has a wisecracking partner gamely played by Mark Frazer. Despite not knowing anything about the part (according to Frazer he just walked in and was cast before even seeing the script) he does very well as the Murtaugh to Samurai’s Riggs. The villain of the film, Mr. Fujiyama is not very memorable, which is a downer especially in a film genre which thrives on memorable baddies. This kind of performance and lack of screen presence is to be expected from a first time (and only time actor). Luckily his right-hand man is B-action movie staple Robert Z’Dar who proves more than capable of carrying the bad guy portion of things with his magnificent chin. The filmmakers try to build him up as the evil opposing samurai to our hero and he is clearly having a good time being ominous and slicing up people with his katana. Even in a particularly strange scene where he decapitates a man in his hospital bed, Z’Dar plays it with pure seriousness which makes the scene unintentionally genius,
When I discussed this movie on the Aymerich Show, we brought up that is rather difficult to riff on this movie because in many ways Samurai Cop mocks itself. Nobody on any level in making this flick had the competence or the effort to try to make this a solid flick. Strangely this is what the movie benefits from, because if something had gone right it would have fallen into the land of forgettableness along with many other action movies of its ilk which came out around the same time.