enerally speaking, blending genres is a good
idea, and while it requires a delicate touch to pull off, when properly
handled the result is a film that appeals to the viewer on several levels,
as well as being more rewarding as a result of the blending. However, when
handled in a ham-fisted fashion, the result is a lot like
"Samurai," an unsuccessful attempt to blend Japanese folklore,
Hong Kong action and French offbeat style. The result is a jumbled and
clumsy train-wreck of a film.
Directed by Chilean Giordano
Gederlini, "Samurai" opens in feudal Japan, where a Samurai
warrior is chasing his own pregnant daughter through a bamboo forest. Just
as the Samurai is about to lop off his daughter's head, a quartet of
swordsmen appears and subdues the Samurai. At that moment, the girl gives
birth. This is our first clue as to the quality of the film, because the
baby is born wearing leather briefs and encased in what I can only describe
as the fat mesh that is used to wrap large pieces of meat in certain dishes
of French cuisine. The baby grows to manhood in a few seconds (leather
briefs expanding with him) and turns out to be a demon with a spider-shaped
welt on his head.
Fast-forward to present day Japan, where
tough-as-nails detective Fujiwara (Yasuaki Kurata, from "Fist
of Legend" fame) is investigating a murder linked to a decrepit,
wheelchair-bound crime boss named Kodeni (Santi Sudaros) and a new Mortal
Kombat-style video game. We realize Kodeni is no ordinary crime boss at
about the same time he flips out of his wheelchair and lays waste to the
police interrogation room. Fujiwara manages to kill Kodeni, but not before
the cop is warned that his daughter Akemi (Maï Anh Le), currently living
in Paris, will be Kodeni's next victim. It's at this point that Kodeni
bursts into flame and vanishes.
Pretty weird, right? It doesn't stop there. Fujiwara
is then visited by a ghostly Samurai who informs Fujiwara that he is
Fujiwara's ancestor, and that Kodeni is in fact an ancient demon
originally summoned by the Fujiwara clan for the single purpose of
defeating their enemies. As a result of their meddling in the
supernatural, the clan was cursed to have Kodeni periodically be reborn
through a female member of the clan. The only way to end the cycle for
good is for Fujiwara to kill his daughter.
Oddly enough, Fujiwara doesn't seem too broken up
about all this, especially the idea of having to snuff out his daughter's
life. You'd think a guy would at least do a double take when told that his
daughter is carrying a demon baby and he has to kill her in order to save
the world. Not tough-as-nails Fujiwara. No sir. He flies straight to
Paris, where his daughter has, by now, immaculately conceived Kodeni v3.0,
and is hiding out from Kodeni's Earthly henchmen at her new boyfriend's
place. The boyfriend, if you were wondering, is played by French model
The rest of "Samurai" doesn't really
improve on this crackpot setup. What follows is an uneasy mix of martial
arts action and painful French slapstick. This combination of brawls and
brouhaha was tried recently in the mildly entertaining Jean Reno vehicle
Both films use culture clash as the backdrop for the action and comedic
elements, and both films share a stone-faced cop, sinister organized crime
figures, a pretty girl in danger, and an annoying buffoon for a sidekick.
"Wasabi" succeeded by reveling in its silliness, whereas
"Samurai" actually tries to take itself seriously, and as a
result, fails miserably.
Of course it doesn't help that director Gederlini
doesn't seem to have much of an imagination. Given the wealth of thematic
material available from the various genres he was drawing from, Gederlini
seems satisfied with churning out yet another formulaic chop-socky affair.
Most of the usual trappings for this kind of film are accounted for: the
pretty girl, the underdog fighter who proves himself with a showdown at
the end, the fighter's good-hearted but imbecilic buddy and, of course,
the obligatory big Kung-Fu fight which is always held either in a bar or a
dojo/boxing studio (the latter in this case). That last contrivance shows
up in virtually all second-rate martial arts films, from "Best Of The
Best" to Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Kickboxer" (and all of
the two film's various sequels). The trope serves no purpose other than to
pad out the running time and display the shoddy fight choreography.
I will give Gederlini a bit of credit, though. The
way he ties in the aforementioned video game to the final showdown is
fairly clever, and good for a few chuckles. Unfortunately, when he's not
busy showing off his unimpressive workman-like skills, Gederlini tries to
be hip. From the infuriating and annoying hip-hop addled sidekick to a
cheeky reference to John Woo, the film's stabs at hipness are handled as
ineptly as possible. As it were, subtlety is not a part of Mister
Worse yet, Gederlini doesn't even throw us a bone by
creating an unlikable bad guy. Hell, Kodeni barely has any screen time,
and when he does bother to show up at all, he's not particularly menacing.
And how exactly Kodeni intends to rule the world through an interactive
video game still escapes me. In fact, if Kodeni was as bad as the ghost
Samurai claims he is, why hasn't he already taken over the world?
But I digress. Such questions are irrelevant when
considering this particular class of film, especially since
"Samurai" is a weak film on the level of "Best Of The Best
II." Despite two or three nifty fight sequences in the entire movie,
there isn't much here to elevate the film above direct-to-video fodder.
The characters aren't engaging and the bad guy isn't scary. Without those
two things, the viewer isn't left with very much at all.