Fist of the North Star (1995) Movie Review

You would think you’re in safe hands with the creative team behind “Hellraiser II” working on the live action version of “Fist of the North Star”, but you’d be wrong. Incoherent and working from a weak script, “Fist of the North Star” is a shadow of the superior anime that inspired it.

The film takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where two schools of martial arts have risen: the North Star and the Southern Cross. As the movie begins, the evil Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor), leader of the Southern Cross, has assassinated the head of the North Star school and seized control over the population. Terrorizing the populace with his marauding gangs, Shin schemes to rebuild a metropolis to rule over.

But all hope is not lost, for a savior walks the wilderness. Kenshiro (Gary Daniels), the son of the murdered head of the North Star, has decided to stop conversing with his deceased father and get on with the business of saving humanity. Armed with a mastery of martial arts and the ability to make people explode, Kenshiro sets out to stop Lord Shin.

Why Gary Daniels was cast as the lead is anyone’s guess. The role requires emotional depth, introspection, and superior athletic ability. Daniels only brings the last part, and as a result spends most of the film looking bland with really bad hair. Costas Mandylor fares better as Lord Shin, but still looks miscast as the villain. Perhaps if they swapped roles, things might have turned out a little better.

Malcolm McDowell is good as Ryuken, the former head of the Southern Cross; the only problem is that since he’s dead, there’s not much for him to do. Chris Penn, as the leader of Lord Shin’s gang, steals most of the scenes he’s in. Penn gives the role a charismatic spin, and is one of the highlights of the film. Former MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown shows up as a feisty rebel and trying to stretch her 15 minutes of fame into something significantly longer. Her efforts aren’t appreciated.

Writer Peter Atkins (the “Hellraiser” and “Wishmaster” films) knows how to handle Cenobites, but can’t seem to get a firm grasp on “Fist of the North Star”. His script is populated with bad dialogue, clich’d situations, and anti-climactic moments. At least he provides a decent amount of fight scenes, so the viewing experience isn’t a total loss. As for the direction by Tony Randel, he acts like he can’t decide what kind of movie to make. Things swing back and forth between martial arts film and post-apocalyptic movie so much that “Fist of the North Star” starts to look like it was made up of two films that got mixed up in the editing room. Randel does spread the gore on outrageously thick, so gorehounds should be pleased.

Unfortunately, between the poorly conceived script and the confused direction, “Fist of the North Star” is very hard to follow unless you’re familiar with the source material. The other saving grace is the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin, which is beautifully done. If there was ever a post-apocalyptic future, hopefully it will look as good as it does here. Under the supervision of Tom Ceglia, the special effects come off well and look authentic enough to be believable. The fight scenes are also well choreographed by Winston Omega, and are full of kinetic energy and realistic brutality.

“Fist of the North Star”, despite some good efforts, is best described as a failed endeavor. Unfortunately focusing on the good is like looking at the bright side of a disaster, and it’s best to forget this film and move on.

Tony Randel (director) / Tony Randel, Peter Atkins (screenplay)
CAST: Gary Daniels …. Kenshiro
Malcolm McDowell …. Ryûken
Costas Mandylor …. Lord Shin
Downtown Julie Brown …. Charlie

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