Samurai Cop is the movie Loaded Weapon 1 should have been. It’s so gloriously bad spoof writers must have been fearing for their jobs, or at the very least taking notes. As we can surmise from the mountains of Zucker/Abrahams knock-offs committed to the creative landslide, spoof movies are a tough ask. Even with the inimitable Leslie Nielsen at the helm, an actor with impeccable comic timing and an almost unprecedented ability to play it straight in the midst of so much slapstick mayhem, stinkers such as Spy Hard and Dracula: Dead and Loving it fell unceremoniously by the wayside, the latter proving so bloodless even Nosferatu would have given it a wide berth.
Samurai Cop isn’t a spoof. It’s too hopelessly inept to be classified as one, but it’s the closest thing to a spoof I’ve witnessed that has no such aspirations, a cinematic catastrophe with such little self-awareness it’s positively awe-inducing. There’s intended humour, but where it exists it’s presented so cluelessly it falls into a kind of fourth dimension, a crudely inhabited void where laughter beyond laughter resides uncomfortably, resting like an ill-fitting wig on an actor forced to undergo belated reshoots having had his locks chopped off — and yes, that happened to the movie’s equally clueless star, a man who has garnered a much deserved cult reverence based entirely on the demerits of one film.
To be fair to star Matthew Karedas, this was only his second acting role following an even lower key production by the name of American Revenge, which in the actor’s own words was the brainchild of “some coked-up drug dealer named Angelo or something,” and Samurai Cop‘s undisclosed budget hardly gave the young upstart a fighting chance. One-time Sylvester Stallone bodyguard Karedas was cast on the spot having been introduced to director Amir Shervan, who was looking for a buddy cop pairing in the Lethal Weapon mould at a time when the innovative franchise was at its hottest. The similarities are obvious in a superficial sense, but everything that makes Gibson and Glover such an endearing duo is totally absent in a film that is the complete antithesis of Richard Donner’s slick, high-octane blend of action comedy. Partner Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) is black and wears a suit and Karedas is the highly skilled ‘lethal weapon’ of the Mel Gibson variety, but that’s where it ends.
It’s unfair to draw such comparisons for the most part, but Samurai Cop also fails where it should succeed. Though credited with an actual martial arts background, Karedas looks completely out of his depth in the battle department, the considerably smaller Gibson making for a much more believable bad ass. “My training with the bodyguard work was more like what MMA is today,” Kaderes, who was more than aware of his lack of suitability for the role, would explain in a conversation with Red Letter Media. “When it came time for the movie, I told [Amir Shervan], I don’t have any weapons or Samurai training. He said ‘Oh, don’t worry. I will make it look good’… some of the guys who I did fight scenes with… whoever was there, we would just come up with something real quick. There was literally 15-20 minutes rehearsal and then we’d put it up there. That’s why it looks so[sarcastically gives the thumbs up] fantastic.”
Karedas was referring to one of several priceless battles with a rabble of goons who look like they’ve crashed into a flea market and stumbled out wearing whatever happened to fall on them. The scene in question is everything the actor lamented in a microcosm, a hopeless mess with all the logic and organization of a gang of kids playing cops and robbers on a school playground. One particularly clueless dude points a revolver square at Joe’s face. “What are you going to do, kill me?” our hero asks. “Maybe later,” the man replies. The fact that someone yelled something along the lines of, “cut, that was great!” without even considering another take never fails to leave me in stitches. I’ve seen infants swing bats more convincingly.
According to Karedas, actor/aikido master/Samurai Cop fight choreographer Gerald Okamura, a B-movie regular who had minor roles in such movies as Big Trouble in Little China and Mortal Kombat, was disconsolate as scene after scene stumbled to an insufficient end before his very eyes. He clearly didn’t want such a shambolic state of affairs on his Hollywood CV, and who could blame him? You wouldn’t even consider hiring him based on the outcome of this film. Karedas even admitted to purposely sabotaging scenes so that a second take was absolutely necessary, which ultimately makes the film even worse/better. It’s like every star in the universe aligned to produce a creative black hole with an insatiable appetite for self-sabotage. Some productions are just destined for greatness I guess.
The problems facing Iranian director Shervan were so copious it’s amazing they were able to finish the movie at all. Shervan had relocated to California following the Iranian revolution after the government began “purifying” movies that weren’t considered pro-Islamic, which as I’m sure you can imagine didn’t leave him much room for error, but moral sensibilities aside, the actual filmmaking process wasn’t any easier on US shores.
The cost of shooting at night meant that the entire film was shot during the day time, which was the death knell for plausible continuity barring a sub-plot involving reverse vampires. Wardrobe and props were mostly provided by actors, which of course wreaks havoc with our ability to easily delineate. The majority of the footage was shot without sound in single takes, voices dubbed in post-production. The fact that many of the cast were unable to recommence filming months after the initial shoot meant that other actors were brought in to provide that dubbing, which again is a hot mess, especially when those voices are recognisable as belonging to other characters in the movie. There are also copious inserts filmed way after the fact that simply don’t match up. Remember the scene from the Radioactive Man episode of The Simpsons where the film’s editor is unceremoniously fired for attempting to piece together random footage? That was Oscar-worthy compared to this.
Samurai Cop‘s truly shambolic end product tells its own story. It has all the ingredients of an early 90s action movie: a black and white buddy cop pairing, a treacherous gang leader and his no-nonsense henchman (here played by Maniac Cop‘s Robert Z’Dar in one of many gloriously one-dimensional turns), gorgeous dames, copious fight sequences, prolonged car chases and death-defying shootouts, but it’s the way in which they’re handled that makes the film such a uniquely rewarding experience. Those ingredients may seem cheap, poorly prepared and haphazardly presented to those with a strictly cultured palate, but this is lobster and champagne for bad movie connoisseurs.
The plot is a simple, familiar, yet utterly erratic one, events quickly becoming lost in a blood-soaked circus of cinematic faux pas. Teaming up with a police helicopter which never appears to leave the ground, Marshall and Washington intercept the most conspicuous drug deal the LA sunshine has ever bared witness to thanks to a wardrobe that makes Miami Vice seem understated. This puts our duo in direct conflict with mullet-wearing, renegade Yakuza gang the Katana, fearsome villains who love nothing more than to cry “Leave him alone!” like scared children whenever their cohorts find themselves in trouble. This leads to a wonderfully inept fight sequence full of crappy sound effects, firecracker explosives and actors struggling to put handcuffs on their co-stars as shots linger excruciatingly. Watching them fumble around and miss their cues and basically balls-up whole scenes is a rare joy. There must be at least a minute of footage wasted on extras trying desperately to load their guns.
For an action movie, I struggle to recall a single display of passable combat. Usually you would have one barely adequate leading man compensated by a whole host of high-kicking extras. Not here. In fact, for a man who’s supposed to have learned the ways of the Samurai from the ‘masters of Japan’, Joe struggles to throw even the most basic of punches, driving aimlessly around shouting, “Get him! Shoot Him! Kill Him!” like an Outrun sidekick on a 16-bit arcade machine. The deaths are also gloriously naff. Men are shot with the kind of bright red paintballs that make Blaxploitation films look like Fede Álvarez’s remake of The Evil Dead. Some fall so awkwardly it’s a miracle they didn’t break their necks, while others stagger around or roll down hills for so long you think you’ve stumbled upon an absurd Monty Python gag. One woman has her throat cut with a samurai sword in such an unconvincing way it’s impossible to feel anything for her. She’s spitting blood before the blade has even touched her neck. And as for the unlucky goon who has his arm chopped off… words cannot express.
As you can probably imagine, Samurai Cop also serves up plenty of sex. Joe is the kind of odious womaniser who wouldn’t look out of place in a late-80s porno, a man who treats women with such self-serving insouciance you’d think he’d been written as a sleazy pig ripe for retribution. There are at least three needlessly lengthy sex scenes on offer here, each playing out like an intimate soft porn sex guide that completely pulls you out of the action. Even Z’ Dar’s Yamashita shows his tender side in a warts and all smooch with main squeeze Jennifer, negating every last nefarious act committed, and when Joe inevitably beds her after publicly denouncing her beau’s immoral actions, you kind of empathise with him.
This leads Yamashita on a vengeful rampage, one that includes the scalding of fellow cop and true love interest Peggy Thomas with a pan of hot oil, a truly startling act amid so much silliness. Earlier in the movie, Joe promises Peggy that she’s the only one for him. By the time of her torture he’s busy rolling around with his latest conquest, delivering birthday cakes in a pair of skimpies that would make even the most shameless male stripper blush like a schoolgirl. Perhaps ‘Samurai Cock’ would have been a more appropriate title.
Samurai Cop‘s crowning glory is of course the whole wig debacle. The film would have been just as preposterous without it, but it’s like a heaven-sent cherry for a multi-tiered mess. Even in the catacombs of cheaply disastrous productions it’s a precious rarity, the kind of continuity quirk that has propelled Samurai Cop to the heights of cultdom almost thirty years after Polish VHS distributor Demel International took a chance on a movie that never actually received a proper theatrical release. The difference between our protagonist’s actual hair and the barely secured lady’s wig featured in some of those inserted shots is just astonishing, a fact made worse by the scene’s visually erratic nature, which only serves to highlight Samurai Cop‘s protracted shoot and the problems inherent. In some scenes Shervan attempts to disguise the wig by making it into a ponytail and hiding it under a cap, which actually makes it look even more conspicuous. At one point the wig even falls off mid-battle, something the director makes absolutely no attempt to disguise.
Samurai Cop‘s clueless antics proved so popular that fans of the movie raised money for a seriously belated sequel through crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo, though 2015’s deliciously subtitled Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance failed to reach the heady heights of tomfoolery that made its predecessor such a remarkable viewing experience. In a nice touch, the sequel was dedicated to the late Samurai Cop creator Shervin, who despite his professional inadequacies certainly left something memorable behind. Sadly, the movie was also dedicated to Robert Z’ Dar, who was set to reprise the Yamashita role before passing away during production.
Ultimately, Samurai Cop is a film you just have to experience for yourself. Forget everything you ever learnt about bad movies, drop all expectation, abandon every natural instinct and let Amir Shevran’s unlikely monument to cack-handed cinema redefine your terms. It won’t be difficult. Whether it’s men alerting targets through glass doors they can’t actually open or extras accidentally tripping over co-stars during on-foot pursuits, the film is an exquisite hodgepodge of ineptly plotted inanity, an hilarious guide on how not to make movies that people are still discovering to this very day.
There’s also the quite remarkable facial performance of supporting man Frazer, who with increasingly inappropriate slights of expression pushes the boundaries of professional inadequacy in ways that have to be seen to be believed. One of Samurai Cop‘s biggest flaws/strengths is its plethora of unconvincing reaction shots, the kind which barely pass for human. Just watch Joe’s reaction when he and Frank run over a goon during an astonishingly low-velocity car chase. The fact that Shevar couldn’t afford to spring for a dummy, cutting to before and after shots with such sloppiness the whole ordeal seems to come to a momentary halt, is hilarious in its own right, but lordy lordy! As for Frazer, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if he’s frowning, smiling, whistling, or simply as confused as we are.
I’m sure you’ve heard similar claims before about countless films, but trust me when I tell you that Samurai Cop is in a league all of its own. It does for martial arts what Troll 2 did for horror, what Howard the Duck did for comic book adaptations, what Tommy Wiseau did for independent drama.
The sacred code of the samurai is sacred no more.