Generally 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 (MaÃ¯ 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 Cyril Mourali.
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 “Wasabi.” 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 Gederlini’s vocabulary.
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.
Giordano Gederlini (director) / Matt Alexander, Alexandre Coquelle, Giordano Gederlini (screenplay)
CAST: Cyril Mourali …. Marco
MaÃ¯ Anh Le …. Akemi
Yasuaki Kurata …. Morio
SaÃ¯d Serrari …. Nadir
Dara-Indo Oum …. Nakatomi
Santi Sudaros …. Kodeni
Yusuke Hirayama …. Katezo