Review: Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)


Starring Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Tia Carrere

Directed By Mark Lester

Fight Choreography by Pat Johnson

Fresh off of a string of flops (one could contend that though a flop, he did the best Punisher movie) Dolph Lundgren made this little film with then unknown but about to be famous Brandon Lee. The testosterone and kicks run high in Showdown, but does it amount to anything?

The film opens with Detective Kenner (Dolph Lundgren) busting up an illegal kickboxing operation single-handedly. Cops in the 80’s used to do stuff like that, because back-up means they can’t kill as many people, and usually wind up as random cannon fodder anyway. In the middle of this a group of Yakuza show up for what seems to be the express purpose of killing indiscriminately. Kenner whips out a giant magnum, and starts shooting Yakuza indiscriminately. If they can do it, so can he! And he does so, even leaping over the escape vehicle just as it’s about to cut him down.

He’s pretty pissed about it, but what the hell, he’ll find them the next day when his psychic powers compel him to have coffee in a random Japanese cafe where those same exact guys show up. They arrive to shake the cafe down for protection money. Between the night before and right at that moment, that shows that yes, even Yakuza have to pull down double shifts once in a while. What can you say? The economy sucks for everyone. Kenner of course has to stop them with the SLOWEST KICKS EVER, and I actually don’t blame Dolph for this, ’cause everyone is slow in this film. Thankfully the fight is brief as Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, who is NOT Japanese) shows up, mistaking Kenner for beating up a bunch of Japanese dudes, and he runs in to fight him, and lo and behold brings a little thing like speed and agility that had just been missing. Brandon vs Dolph went about how you think it would, with Brandon showcasing good martial arts mixed with a little acrobatic flair, and Dolph doing everything big and slowly. Of course they discover that they are both cops just in time for the rest of the Yakuza to arrive and do what they did so well in the 80’s: shoot shit up. What kills me is that the cafe owner, a little Japanese lady, just kinda brushes the whole thing off like it happens a lot. Her insurance must offer Yakuza coverage as well, which is something we should all have. You never know when those a-holes can show up and ruin a good couch.

We are then introduced to the Yakuza lord Yoshida played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (CHT) , the preeminent go-to guy whenever Hollywood needed an Asian bad guy leader-dude in the 80’s and early 90’s. The guy just looks evil. In real life he’s probably the nicest dude in the world. He runs around for a few minutes doing Random Evil Things, such as crushing a guy in a car for really no reason, and chopping the head off of a girl who wants to have sex with him in front of his boys. I mean, you don’t need to kill her. You need to call Vivid Video and run Ron Jeremy over there.

We are then subjected to poorly scripted banter between Kenner and Murata to show us the differences between the two, the japanese guy who is more of a surfer-dude, and the tall blonde guy who is more Japanese than his partner. Soon they arrive at a Yakuza bar and start beating up Yakuza guards quickly, and with poor choreography, which accounts for the entire film. They meet Minako (Tia Carrere) the friend of the girl who lost her head to see what she knows, and then the rest of the Yakuza boys show up, leading to yet another fight-with basically Kenner throwing people and slow punching them, and Brandon gets the best moment in the film to show off a little of his stuff here, but it isn’t long nor particularly well done, though he has one good line during the fight: “Down MF!” Gotta love that. Once trip to Dolph and one strike from behind to Murata by the great asian henchman-guy played by Al Leong (He defined the 80’s for henchmen. He took it to a whole new level. Exhibit 1: the candy bar scene in Die Hard) They are brought before Yoshida, and here we find the connection between Yoshida and Kenner.

After Yoshida has them leave peaceably, they stake out his new brewery, which is a front for smuggling drugs. Yoshida then decides he has some time on his hands and tries to woo Minako-by scaring the crap out of her by showing her the video of her friend getting her head cut off. Kenner, with psychic powers working well, stakes out Yoshida’s house just as Minako is about to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), and in true 80’s action hero form goes in to save her, shooting men with pinpoint accuracy and even turning over a car in true Hulk fashion.

After Yoshida kills the guy in charge of protecting his house, another tried and true evil thing to do, killing your own man to show the audience how evil you are, he decides he needs to relax at the local bathhouse, and with powers in full effect Kenner and Murata go there too, resulting in another badly done fight scene that a 4-year-old would’ve come up with.

After Kenner has the requisite 80’s sex montage scene with body doubles and everything ending with a groaner one-liner, the bad guys show that they too have mental abilities, and show up at Kenner secret hideout and start-you guessed it-shooting shit up. They capture our intrepid heroes, and burn his house down.

After escaping from two Yoshida Traps of Death he found in the James Bond Book of Villany, even to the point of walking away to assume their deaths will go according to plan, they go to the brewery for the final fight-with guns blazing and poorly choreographed fight scenes, with soon to be standard MTV movie editing. Yoshida and Kenner then have what I suppose you can call a sword fight in a Japanese festival, and of course Kenner wins, and with nary a police car in sight the heroes and the girl walk away, laughing, while the festival goers, with horrified children in the crowd, just watched a white dude staple a Japanese guy to a wooden board with a sword and then watched the guy fry when a thousand firecrackers go off all over him. The end.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (2) Sweet lord was this dreadful. I think Dolemite did better fight scenes.  James Lew was in the film, but he couldn’t do a damn thing to save this dreadful choreography.

STUNTS: (3) Meh. They collected their paychecks, except for Al Leong. He always brings it, even if for one scene.

DIRECTION: (2) Mark Lester, like most American directors really hasn’t seen an HK film to see how they do things. But nothing gets him off for a crappy script and poorly acted scenes. You can tell the actors had no help from him.

STAR POWER: (5) Dolph’s star was fading after a string of flops (His last major hit after this would be Universal Soldier)  and Brandon was just getting his career started, and Tia Carrere would fade away until Wayne’s World. CHT is as reliable as always, as is Al Leong.

FINAL GRADE: (3) One of the worst Martial arts films (if you choose to call it that) I have ever seen. Except for one or two lines the acting was dreadful, and the fights were embarrassing. Avoid this one, unless you’re using it to play some sort of drinking game.

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4 Responses to “Review: Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)”

  1. Very good, although for me the film is something of a Guilty Pleasure. It takes the opposite approach to Viggo Mortensen’s American Yakuza: where that film focused on the more “noble” aspects of Japanese organised crime, “Showdown” focuses on the nude-girl sushi bars. It’s a shining example of bad 80s cop movies.

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  2. I haven’t seen this film but sniggered happily all the way through this witty review. So many westerners just don’t GET how to make a good martial arts movie. I always strongly suspect that they have never seen any! Your comments about Lundgren’s slowness are interesting – I have heard Jackie Chan lament the slow and predicatable rhythms of western film fight choreography and stunt men in more than one interview. I think (if memory serves correct) (which it doesn’t often) that Lundgren is set to fight Jet Li in Stallone’s forthcoming movie ‘The Expendables’? Oh dear, I wonder what will happen with the pairing of this behemoth against lithe, elegant little Jet. I must admit I am not looking forward to seeing this film – it doesn’t look like my cup of tea, and I think it smacks of testosterone and menopause.

    Prodigal Son, on the other hand, fascinates me. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on that.

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  3. Best part of the movie–Kenner and Murata bring a Yakuza into the station for interrogation and instead of talking to the police, he snaps his own neck. I know neck breaking in martial art movies are a given, but that was classic late 80’s early 90’s action.

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  4. […] NEXT: Brandon Lee and Dolph Lundgren team up for a Showdown in Little Tokyo… […]

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