Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)

I have seen many attempts to celebrate the influence different decades and genres have had modern movies.  There have been successful - or at least semi-successful - attempts at bringing back exploitation films, slashers and even '40s film noire.  The one thing current filmmakers have not been able to do is bring back anything like the action films of the 1980s and first half of the '90s.  There was a brave attempt with The Expendables, but even though it and its sequels brought back the stars of the time and were full of great action set-pieces, they still felt like modern movies with an older cast. 

This is because action movies of that time are the complete antithesis of what the younger demographic, the main target of Hollywood, wants.  They had ridiculous plots, scenes in which the hero would have been dead in seconds, cheesy music and women in roles that ranged from damsel in distress to sexpot.  They were loud, silly, often sexist and absolutely reveled in the fact that critics hated pretty much all of them.  These were movies that were for young males with an afternoon to kill, and whether intentional or not they featured enough shirtless, musclebound men to entertain its audience no matter which way the swung.  

Showdown in Little Tokyo is a prime example of this.  Dolph Lundgren manages to show off his physique as much as possible, even fitting a butt shot into the brief proceedings.  Brandon Lee makes a number of awkward wisecracks, depending on the fact that he is a Japanese-American cop with no understanding of his own culture to be the big running joke in the film.  There is plenty of female nudity - although Tia Carrere used a body double - and women being treated largely as possessions.  In between there are some great action sequences that, although not based in any type of reality whatsoever, are over-the-top and highly entertaining. 

Sgt. Chris Kenner (Lundgren) is a Los Angeles detective in the Little Tokyo area.  One night he busts into an illegal fight just as it is attacked by the men of yakuza boss Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).  Kenner of course runs afoul of them, and again the next day while eating at one of his favorite restaurants.  It is there that he meets his new partner, Johnny Murata (Lee).  While Kenner spent his childhood in Japan and is well-versed in the culture, Murata is a mixed-race American who grew up in the suburbs.  The only part of his culture he knows is martial arts. 

Luckily, this helps Kenner, especially when he finds out that Yoshida has ties to his past.  While Kenner is willing to step over the line, Johnny wants Yoshida to be arrested and face proper justice.  In order to do this Kenner rescues Minako Okeya (Carrere), a singer that Yoshida has imprisoned in his home, and who can also testify that Yoshida murdered a prostitute named Angel (Renee Allman).  Kenner and Murata must protect Okeya while holding back his own urge to take revenge on Yoshida.

In typical Hollywood style Lee, who is Chinese-American, is tasked with playing a Japanese-American.  In this case something good came out of it, because he got a starring role in Rapid Fire, which led to him being cast as the lead in the adaptation of the comic book The Crow.  Although that ended in tragedy, Lee was on his way up in Hollywood, while Lundgren had peaked and was finding himself in b-movies such as this one.  That's not really too much of a jab at him, since he is enjoyable to watch, especially since when bad guys go up against Lundgren they look like they're hitting a wall.  It seemed as if parts of the script had Sgt. Kenner purposely forget how to fight just so there could be a little bit of a question about if he would survive the movie.

Showdown in Little Tokyo had a whole group of writers, and the story outline was done by director Mark L. Lester, who had already made a name for himself as an action director with Commando, Firestarter and the cult classic Class of 1984.  That wasn't enough to prevent Warner Bros. from hiring someone to reedit the movie down from 90 minutes to its current 79, cutting out bits of the plot that helped the movie make more sense and rearranging things so that characters that had died showed up again in later scenes.  After this Lester decided to produce his films independently, but unfortunately this turned out to be one of the last he made that was worth seeing. 

Even in butchered form it is definitely worth the look.  Much of it doesn't traditionally work as a good film, and its hard to laugh with it when the jokes are so corny, but it is definitely one that can be laughed at while still enjoying what it has to offer. 

Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
Time: 79 minutes
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Tia Carrere, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Director: Mark L. Lester



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