UAMC honors the ultimate incompetent police-thriller Samurai Cop (1991).
Some bad action films gain infamy upon the moment they see the light of day. Other bad action films take time to find their audience, gaining traction through internet reviews and private screenings where the laughter (and probably beer) flow freely.
Amir Shervan’s 1991 classic Samurai Cop belongs among the latter. This incompetent police-thriller is the ultimate “so bad, it’s good” movie, even more-so than the more well-known The Room in my opinion. I cannot think of a single competent thing about it.
Samurai Cop and the Katana Gang
A Japanese crime syndicate known as the Katana Gang is causing mayhem in the LA area. Led by the ruthless, mullet-haired Fujiyama (Cranston Kumoro) and his number-one samurai henchman Yamashita (cult favorite Robert Z’Dar – also of Fugitive X fame), they take down anyone who stands between them and the drug megabucks to be found on the west coast.
Time to call out the only man on the LA police force that can stop them: Joe “Samurai” Marshall (Matt Hannon), man of ample hair (true) and great samurai skills (debatable). He and his partner, the perpetually bemused Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), take the case, though their investigation generally just takes the form of yelling at Fujiyama and co. in public, claiming they have a lot of evidence of their evildoing while never pressing actual charges.
Things get complicated when Joe falls for Jennifer (Janis Farley), a restaurant-owning hottie whose family was bailed out of debt by Fujiyama. Fujiyama clearly wants to get into Jennifer’s pants, but Joe plans to beat him to the punch by stalking—I mean, by being attentive to Jennifer’s weekend activities, allegedly as part of his investigation due to her connections with Fujiyama.
As the two of them get it on in Joe’s beach house (which he is able to pay for on a first-time cop’s salary), Yamashita tracks down Joe’s coworkers and slowly tortures them one by one, trying to track down the Katana’s number one adversary.
Will Joe save the day before all his coworkers are toast? Between he and Yamashita, whose subpar swordsmanship will prevail? Watch Samurai Cop to find out!
How Bad is Samurai Cop Really?
Where to begin? The inconsistent color correction? The way the dozens of henchmen are represented by the same handful of actors? The bizarre dubbed voices? The parade of ethnic stereotypes and bad 1980s haircuts? The sloppy sex scenes?
Let’s start with our hero, Joe. Joe comes off as a total goof. We are told he was “trained by masters in Japan” and that “he speaks fluent Japanese,” yet he struggles to pronounce Japanese names and only uses a sword twice. Only twice in a ninety-minute schlock movie called Samurai Cop! I do feel a little cheated, I admit… but this film has other treasures, as we shall see—like the “romantic” elements.
You see, Joe’s also supposed to be a successful skirt-chaser, but this is more challenging to buy than his alleged samurai skills. It’s hard to believe any woman would consider this long-haired meathead sexual catnip, but his creepy come-ons and stilted flirting get him laid every other scene, so what do I know?
The Best Worst Edited Movie Ever
I cannot decide if Samurai Cop is the worst edited movie I’ve ever seen, or a surrealist deconstruction of the concept of time and place in cinema. From the first car chase, the editing is choppy and makes following what’s going on a futile task. The editing tour-de-force has to be the fight between Joe and Katana henchman Okamura (Gerald Okamura). As the two men flail and grapple about, the location changes a whopping four times.
The editing almost makes one overlook how terrible the action is. The punch sound effects are much louder than the weak-sauce punches and kicks warrant. Instead of using blood squibs when someone is shot, they’re clearly pummeling the extras with paintball guns. At one point, Yamashita throws a grenade in a parking lot, and you can hear it explode twice.
Don’t expect ultimate samurai action either. As I mentioned before, we only get one real sword fight (I’m not counting that part in the parking lot where Joe steals a katana and lops a guy’s arm off). It is handled even worse than the gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. You know that one light-saber fight between Obi-wan and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars that everyone mocks for its poor, stiff choreography? That was masterful compared to the way Joe and Yamashita flail their katanas around, sometimes spinning in place with them for good measure.
Ultimate Performances All Around
The performances are a sample platter of how to act badly. Matt Hannon has two moods: dead-eyed stoner glowering or bulge-eyed fury in which his face turns tomato red. Fujiyama shouts all his lines like he’s doing his best Rip Torn impression. Many of the women actors seem to have been cast based on how well they could rock a thong bikini than deliver lines.
While I can’t say anyone gives a good performance, but the two most entertaining are from Z’Dar and Frazer. Z’Dar manages some small level of dignity—well, sometimes— even as he’s doing silly things, like sawing a guy’s head off with a katana rather than just hacking it off in one stroke or using frying pan oil to torture a cop in her kitchen.
Frazer’s character is relegated to sidekick duty, but his goofy reaction shots and line deliveries are so hilarious that he is a joy to watch. My favorite moment in the film might be when Frank crawls under a wire fence and Joe asks him why he doesn’t just bother climbing over it. Frank smiles and responds, “Because I’m an undercover cop,” in this voice strained with the effort not to laugh. It’s amazing.
Most bad movies are dominated by dull scenes and plodding pacing, making them hardly worth the watch. Samurai Cop is one of those holy few which will keep you laughing throughout. I myself will treasure it for years to come!
What are your favorite Samurai Cop moments? Let us know in the comments!