March 31, 2013

The Movies of Brandon Lee: Showdown in Little Tokyo

It is hard to believe it has been 20 years since Brandon Lee was tragically killed on the set of The Crow. The movie has gathered a cult following and I consider to be one of my all time favorite movies. It is a shame that his life was cut down at such a young age, just as he was about to become a big star, in my estimation anyway based on his iconic performance in The Crow. In any case, I have decided to revisit his brief filmography.

Following his American debut in 1989's Laser Mission, Brandon got what one would have assumed would be his big break. He was cast in Showdown in Little Tokyo paired up with action star Dolph Lundgren and directed by Mark Lester who permanently etched him name on action history with the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando, surely you know that one? Anyway, this movie seems to have been cut off at the knees, recut by the studio and given a paltry 140 theater release before being dumped to the home video market.

Frankly, I am not sure why it got such a shoddy theatrical release. Sure, it is nothing special, actually it is not very good at all, but it has the action, the random nudity, the witty repartee, all the things you expect in the action flicks of the time. Well, for whatever reason, the movie go dumped and now exists more as a relic of the Lundgren run as a legitimate action lead and as the third step in Brandon Lee's rise through the ranks to stardom.

Lundgren plays Kenner, a member of the Asian Task Force decision of the LAPD, and Lee is Johnny, his new partner. After the two have their initial introductions (during which they fight each other prior to showing their respective badges) they discovers the Yakuza are moving into town, looking to take over the local "protection" racket and the drug trafficking business. Our mismatched duo set about to put a stop to the yakuza plans.

Their investigation, which primarily involves getting in a variety of fights, reveals that the leader of the Yakuza gang is the same man who killed Kenner's parents in Japan years earlier. This adds a little personal involvement for our main protagonist. Anyway, the battle against the bad guys never seems like a police investigation, but I guess that doesn't really matter, there really isn't anything surprising about how the story progresses. This is a by the book formula exercise.

The movie is not without its charms. The action is plentiful and well staged, for example the fight at the Chinese restaurant is nicely done and includes the action movie version of the meet-cute with Kenner and Johnny. Lundgren may not be he best actor but he has a certain undeniable screen presence and he dude knows how to fight. I liked the reversal of the white guy being heavily involved with Japanese culture while the Japanese, well, half Japanese (in reality he is Chinese) is a Valley guy. On it the side of the bad guys we have character actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who brings immediate credibility to his role as boss bad guy, love his guy he.

The main reason I revisited this admittedly lesser entry in the genre is to watch the continued development of Brandon Lee. Here, he is relegated to comedic back up, but he still displays ample amounts of charisma and seemed poised to jump to leading am status after his. I also wonder if the writers were trying to get ahead of he curve and make Lee's character bisexual. He does make reference to the eating of sushi off of naked women and then later has the out of nowhere line about Kenner's manhood. I don't know, maybe. Still, there is no denying Lee as a developing talent

Overall, Showdown in Little Tokyo is entertaining enough but overall pretty forgettable. There are some good fights and Lee is quite good. I also really liked Tagawa, that man is very versatile and brings instant credibility to his performances.

Mildly Recommended.

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Anonymous said...

The infamous line about Kenner's anatomy was a remain of the edits: as written and filmed it was:

"you have the biggest dick I've ever seen on a WHITE man"

It was supposed to be a joke. But then Warner Bros got scared it would be interpreted as being racist...

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