What better way to kick off the year than with a fantastic piece of Hollywood-imitating, Japanese-culture-appropriating, nigh-unreleased cinema, by an Iranian writer-director with an American Dream? Samurai Cop is in many ways the cherry on top of Amir Shervan’s bumblingly patriotic and highly clichéd oeuvre. The film has only recently been given a proper international release, thanks to Cinema Epoch, despite technically ending production around 1991 after a lack of funding tragically forced Shervan out of the business entirely. Gone but not forgotten. In the mean time it has gained a following through various VHS clips popping up on YouTube, ultimately leading to a 25th anniversary sequel starring the one and only Tommy Wiseau. Yes, you heard right.
The film centres around Joe “Samurai Cop” Marshall, played with gusto by Sylvester Stallone lookalike (well, sort of) Matt Hannon, now known as Mathew Karedas. In a weird coincidence, Karedas was apparently once a bodyguard of the Italian Stallion’s. Samurai Cop is an SDPD officer, trained in the art of combat by unnamed masters in Japan, transferred to the LAPD to help take down the Katana Gang. This wannabe Yakuza is run by the terrifically mulleted Fujiyama, Cranston Komuro, actually an LA City Planning Department worker plucked from Chinatown on his lunch break by Shervan. You almost wouldn’t know he’s not a trained actor, almost.
For some reason Samurai Cop has only one week to accomplish his monumental task, so fortunately he has the help of partner Frank Washington – Mark Frazer, the man with the best facial expressions in the business. Attempting shamelessly to emulate the Lethal Weapon formula, Shervan’s script sees the two take to the streets to get the job done, by any means necessary. We are taken on a wild ride, complete with shootouts and fist fights aplenty, flamboyant Costa Rican waiters (Shervan regular Joselito Rescober), and Samurai Cop making passes at any pretty woman within 100 yards. Mention should be made of Gerald Okamura (the guy who’s been in everything from The Octagon to Big Trouble in Little China) as deputy of the Katana Gang, and the prolific Robert Z’Dar as the Katana Gang’s resident samurai, who somehow manage to seem like a respectable actors amidst all this monkey business.
The thing that’s so endearing about Samurai Cop is the utter lack of quality on offer. Shervan is clearly not technically proficient in the craft of directing, despite a fistful of American credits under his belt by this point. Nor does he seem to have any clue how to write a passable English script, despite a clear love of Hollywood action films. According to star Matt Hannon, Shervan never allowed actors to make adjustments to the script and were instructed to recite lines word for word. You’ve got to admire Shervan’s dedication to his craft, however misguided. The rather absurd cocktail of nationalities and influences, combined with ridiculous mouthfuls of expositional dialogue is truly an experience to savour. Did I mention the killer synthesizer soundtrack, so cheesy it’ll have you salivating?
Plagued by budget woes, Shervan cut many corners to keep his beloved project from dying, the effects of which have marked almost all stylistic aspects of the film. For example, there was no money for lighting so shooting was done exclusively on sunny days – a problematic thing for a thematically dark and moody film. Also thanks to the lack of funds, a large portion of the film had no live sound and required overdubbing. Combined with the script’s already terrible dialogue, the dubs make the acting seem even more awkward. It also means we get fantastically embarrassing moments, like during a fight scene where multiple henchmen run on to screen all “yelling” the same sound bite – presumably a recording of the director himself. Money troubles frequently caused production to completely stall, taking well over a year in total, which makes even more of a testament to all the actors for sticking it out. You’ll also notice a wonderfully dodgy (and rather effeminate) wig on Karedas’s Samurai Cop pop in and out of the film, because after one particularly long break in shooting, he believed the production was over and cut his flowing locks.
Samurai Cop is a truly unforgettable film, just don’t go in expecting the cool fight scenes or clever dialogue of a typical cult action movie. Actually, don’t expect anything but shoddy production and a criminally rubbish script, which the actors impale themselves on against their will. Please do spare a thought for them, especially the first or second timers whose careers were stopped dead here. I mean all this in a good way, of course, because this film is an absolute treasure trove of bad overdubs, poor special effects, silly facial expressions, and awkwardly long sex scenes where the underwear stays on. Those last two things are unrelated, or perhaps not. This film was the last hurrah for Amir Shervan and his American Dream career, and killed those of many other would-be stars. So I’m telling these son of a bitches you’d better enjoy it!