In 2015, a long-awaited, years in the making sequel was released which reunited the stars of a much-beloved film while also introducing new characters into the mix. This film made sure to include callbacks to its progenitor to appease those looking for a hit of nostalgia while also reaching out into new and unexpected directions. And no, we’re not talking Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rather, Gregory Hatanaka’s Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance.
For the uninitiated, the original Samurai Cop is a wonky but lovably entertaining early-90’s action flick directed by the late Iranian director Amir Shervan. It stars Mathew Karedas (then billed as Matt Hannon) as Joe Marshall, the titular Bushido-blade bearing law enforcement agent, and Mark Frazer as his ever-mugging partner Frank Washington. It’s up there in the pantheon of wonderful “bad” movies, and features, among other nuttiness, “Japanese” characters without a lick of Japanese blood in them, a protagonist purported to speak fluent Japanese but never does, and the most egregious example of hair-continuity ever committed to celluloid.
The sequel, shot almost a quarter of a century later, gets the entire cast back together save for one dearly-missed omission: the late Robert Z’Dar who passed away shortly before he was set to reprise his role as Yamashita (or so we assume, since Yamashita committed hara-kiri at the conclusion of the first film.)
The major question going into Samurai Cop 2 is which tone would Hatanaka employ? He could have easily gone for cheap laughs by having Karedas sport a different wig in every scene and other such fan-service. But for the most part, Samurai Cop 2 plays it pretty straight (or at least as straight as any film featuring The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau as the big bad could be – more on that later).
The plot is paradoxically both simple and convoluted. Joe Marshall has been in hiding for nearly 25 years following the assassination of his wife. Frank is still on the beat, with new partner Higgins (Laurene Landon), but is “getting too old for this.” Meanwhile, there’s a turf war ensuing between three rival “Asian” clans: The Katanas, The Fujiyamas, and The Ginzas. As the body count begins to rise, Frank asks his hot-headed Captain (Joe Estevez) to be put back on the “Oriental” beat, and while investigating, discovers his erstwhile partner “hiding out in Buddha land”, toiling as a Japanese medallion maker.
Joe has “foresworn violence” and “no longer lives by the sword”, but after fending off an ambush by Ninjas, Frank convinces Joe to come out of isolation and bring the band back together to solve the murders and possibly discover who it was that murdered Joe’s wife. Frazer and Karedas have wonderful chemistry together. Hence, it’s a shame that they spend a large majority of the film apart, pursuing their own individual strands of the investigation.
Ultimately, Joe has to infiltrate “The Complex”, a mysterious structure with an interior at times resembling the spaceship in Killer Klowns from Outer Space and at others the Millennium Falcon, to take down the baddies in a sort of gauntlet which ends with Linton Kintano, played the mercurial Mr. Wiseau – but more on that later.
Other new additions to the cast include the certifiably insane Bai Ling as another baddie and a bevy of adult film actresses. Frazer hasn’t lost a single step in the past 25 years and is as charming as ever. But the real revelation is Karedas. This is a man who in the original couldn’t act his way out of a parking ticket nor kick his way out of a room made from saran wrap. Twenty-five years later and Karedas is bringing the goods – both as an actor and as a martial artist. And he even utters a few lines in Japanese!
And now to address the 800-pound gorilla in The Room – pun most definitely intended. Wiseau, in his first major acting role since introducing the world to the joys of playing close-quarter football whilst wearing tuxedos – is awful. He reportedly had to be fed his lines off camera, which is bizarre as he’s nigh unintelligible in most of his scenes. Yet, such is the Cult of Wiseau that he commands the audience’s attention. You just can’t take your eyes off of him (nor your ears for that matter, as you strain desperately to figure out just what the fuck it is that he’s saying).
In the end, watching Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance is not unlike shelling out for tickets to a reunion show of your favorite band. You know the faces are going to be a lot craggier, the playing may not be as effortless as it once was, and the experience will nowhere replicate seeing said band in their prime, but damn…It’s great to see them on stage again! And when the notes of the last song fade away, you realize that was a pretty darn good show.
*** (out of five)