Archive for the Professor Toru Tanaka Category

Review: The Perfect Weapon (1991)

Posted in Al Leong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Hong, James Lew, Jeff Imada, Jeff Speakman, Professor Toru Tanaka with tags , on June 19, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jeff Speakman, James Hong, Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (CHT), Professor Toru Tanaka, James Lew, Jeff Imada, Al Leong

Fight Choreography by Ricky Avery

Directed by Mark DiSalle

In the early 90’s Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme ruled the Hollywood martial arts film world, and there seemed to be no one who could break out of B-movie hell to challenge them, until a kenpo master trained by Ed Parker came to the fore named Jeff Speakman, and even though this would be his only real “big” Hollywood film, he made a first film that really did challenge the Big Two…

Jeff Speakman stars as Jeff Sanders, an otherwise normal looking construction worker who, as we see in flashbacks, grew up a troubled kid after the death of his mother, trying to live with a stern father and a little brother who idolized him. Family friend Kim (Mako) tells Jeff’s father about a “special” school where he can channel his anger and find focus, and before long Jeff becomes a badass kenpo practitioner until he jacks up a football player and sends him to the hospital, and is cast out by his father. Now Jeff returns to see his old mentor Kim, but things aren’t well in happytown, where the local Chinese Mafia families are at war with each other, and Jeff finds himself in deep trouble when he intervenes, causing a chain of events that leads to Kim’s death. Along with his little brother, now a police officer himself, Jeff takes on Yung (Hong), the man who ordered Kim’s death in an effort to get his revenge. The question is whether Jeff’s truly learned how to control himself…

The story is a by the numbers story except for one thing that I thought was pretty original: Jeff’s an idiot. Really, a grade-A fool whose fists are deadly weapons. He’s a simple guy who reacts first and thinks later, making him easily manipulated by Yung and  constantly trying to control his anger to the point he can’t think too terribly much about anything else. I actually like the fact that he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and rather than finding easier ways to do things, he runs into everything and wrecks house, but somehow finds a way to move ahead in his quest. Jeff Speakman does a good job of portraying Jeff for his first starring role, and has some screen presence. Mako is…well, Mako, and does a good job as he usually does playing Mako. James Hong chews up the screen as Yung, but CHT is woefully underused as henchman Kai. But no self respecting action film would be complete without the greatest henchman who ever lived, the great Al Leong. Professor Toru Tanaka gets the lion’s share of the bad guy scenes, and it’s not hard to see why. Tanaka’s imposing frame gives him such a screen presences as an unstoppable baddie that it feels a little cheap how Jeff finally takes him down, but I’d stick Toru Tanaka up there with Bolo Yeung: two dudes I wouldn’t want to mess with unless I was inside a very large tank about a mile away.

The fight choreography was well done for a Hollywood martial arts film, and the director had the good sense to let the action speak for itself rather than editing it to hell or doing too many close-ups. This film is the only real film to showcase kenpo karate, and does so admirably. The best fight really comes in the middle of the film as Jeff takes on James Lew and two others. They are the only characters other than Jeff who know martial arts, so it good to see Kenpo versus other styles, however brief. The other fights rock on as Jeff uses his feet, fists, escrima sticks and knives in a showcase of his style. I’ll say this, Speakman had some of the fastest hands I’ve ever seen onscreen.

Jeff Speakman didn’t make too many more films after this, but he’s become one of the best martial arts instructors in the country, and youtube is full of his seminars and demos. He may not have become a superstar, but he did make a great 90’s film, and when you can perform katas to Snap’s The Power, well, that puts this film into classic territory for me:

That and the coat. That’s the baddest ass hero’s jacket I’ve ever seen. I need one.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) This film shows off kenpo better than any I’ve ever seen, and it keeps things fast but coherent, and Jeff looks fantastic. The end fight was a little disappointing, but the gym fight and the warehouse fight more than make up for it.

STUNTWORK (7) Well done, but nothing to write home about. Outside of a flipped car the stunt men really didn’t do anything special.

STAR POWER: (7) Jeff’s star never really took off, but this film is a who’s who of Hollywood Asian mainstays such as Mako, James Hong, James Lew, Al Leong, and Jeff Imada. The biggest star would turn out to be the one person with the least amount of screen time in the film: Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU.

Final Grade: (7.5) A fun filled martial arts film that showcases the style of kenpo karate and introduces Jeff Speakman as well as featuring one of the best early 90’s songs of all time!

NEXT: Jet Li and Donnie Yen go fist to fist in Once Upon A Time In China 2!


Review: Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

Posted in Kane Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Professor Toru Tanaka, Reviews, Sho Kosugi with tags , , on December 7, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Sho Kosugi, Kane Kosugi, and Keith Vitali

Fight Choreography by Sho Kosugi

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Ah yes, another ninja movie from Cannon films. This time, however, they decided to go and get a real ninja to play one! Golan and Globus are getting smarter all the time! All kidding aside, why the hell does Sam Firstenberg get these films to direct? He’s not a martial artist in any way I’m aware of, but his filmography is full of martial arts flicks. Of course, they are all Cannon films, so perhaps he’s a friend to Golan or Globus (I love saying their names. They sound like James Bond villains!). I have to say I truly miss Cannon films. They cranked out martial arts and action flicks by the dozen, kinda like Saw movies.

They were low budget, not especially well acted most of the time, but always a hell of a lot of fun, not unlike a less crazier and larger budgeted Troma film, or a less expensive Luc Besson production. One thing about Cannon: you always knew what the hell you were in for, and this time Sho Kosugi jumps into action from the guys who would soon bring you American Ninja.

The film opens with a daytime ninja attack on the family of Cho Osaki, and the family is massacred Troma style except for Ninja Auntie and Cho’s baby son Kane. Holy shit, that’s a badass name. I now want to name my first son Kane. Who would jack with a kid named Kane? Doesn’t “Kane” sound like an Old Testament ass-whupping can be in your future if you mess with someone with that name? But I digress. Cho returns home with his American business partner Braden to see everyone dead except for Ninja Auntie and Kane. He barely has a chance to see the body of his dead wife when Ninjas come out by the dozen to kill Cho, and they needed every one of them as Cho turns on the ninja juice and starts slicing and dicing them in a good fight scene that is not particularly well shot, but does just enough to get the fight scene across. Note to all future ninjas: if three of you are going to launch arrows at a dude like Cho, it might be a good idea to fire your arrows AT THE SAME TIME. Three jackasses fire their arrows one at a time, allowing a badass like Cho to catch two in the hand and one with his teeth, and use two of them to skewer their ninja buddy trying to kill Cho from just under the bridge Cho’s standing on. After the ninja population is severely depleted, Cho, Ninja Auntie, and Kane go to the USA on the advice of Braden, but of course Ninja Auntie has to bring the whole party down by mentioning that the ninjas would follow them to the USA and find them eventually.

Fast forward six years later and Ninja Auntie walks seven-year old Kane home from school, and he gets ambushed by a group of bullies who decide to kick his ass for some unknown reason, but his name is Kane, and they should have known better. Hell, even Ninja Auntie sat back to watch the epic asskicking these kids were about to receive, and did they ever! He beats the crap out of these kids, all of whom regret having things like testicles that can get punched or kicked in, and Cho shows up just in time to a) stop Kane from showing him up. After all, this is his flick, and b) he was proud of the beatdown his son gave, but doesn’t want his son to be arrested by the police, ‘cause he’d probably kick their asses too.

Once again Ninja Auntie takes all the fun out of it by reminding them that the ninjas are out there, and he needs to teach Kane how to be one. We next meet Braden’s lady, Cathy, who is learning from Cho, and even trying to turn him on by fighting wearing only a small top, and flesh-colored hose to cover up everything else. Their sparring beats just about every fight in American Ninja.

We come to find out that the Japanese art exhibit is a front to smuggle heroin into the United States and wherever, and Braden is the lead dog on it, having a deal fall through with the local mafia. So Braden goes screw it, and becomes Ninja Braden, and starts wasting mafioso’s like a slasher flick. This brings the police into it, and one of Cho’s friends, Dave Hatcher (Vitali). Cho and Dave have a pretty good sparring fight as well. They team up to defeat Ninja Braden, who kidnaps Kane and Cathy in order to draw Cho out for a final fight.

The film is full of good, solid ninja moments. The fight scenes are well done, but I’m not so sure about the shoddy camera work. They chose some funky angles to show the action from. Sho brings the fight and the pain, and anytime he or Kane are in the film it get exciting. There’s even one scene where he’s engaged by remnants of the Village People and after a bit remembers that he’s a freakin’ ninja! He then dispatches the shit out them really fast. One baddie got away, because he hit Sho with a van. Keith Vitali has too few scenes, and his final fight with Ninja Braden really sucks. Speaking of which, Braden has a chef played by Professor Toru Tanaka, who has like two scenes before he gets killed for inexplicable trying to rape Cathy and is killed by Braden.

Favorite Ninja moment: Ninja Braden arrives at the mafia’s headquarters and starts to pick a lock. One of the guards sees him from down the hall, and starts making his way to Braden, who tosses some ninja caltrops behind him, and without looking then tosses some metal balls. Guard slips on metal balls and falls face first on the caltrops and dies painfully. Very, very cool scene.

2nd Favorite Ninja moment: Cho infiltrates mafia headquarters to find Ninja Braden, and has a guard remove his mask, and he blows steel spikes into the dude’s face! Never take a ninja’s mask off!

I have to say a word about Kane. At the time he had to be the best martial arts kid in film, and I’ll say even better than Ernie Reyes Jr. was at the time. He has convincing fights versus adults and kids alike, and his sword kata scene is awesome.

This was Sho’s second film and first starring role under the house of Cannon Films, which he would never really leave, and was able to turn out a pretty good starring role for himself. The productions values weren’t much better than American Ninja, but Sho elevated the material with his excellent fight choreography.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Sho showed up and brought excellent ninja fight choreography with him. The fights were fast but well done, and was able to show off quite a few ninjitsu moves. The final fight did leave a bit to be desired, however.

STUNTS: (7) The stuntmen did a good job, and even the stunt kids and Kane did a good job holding their own with the adults.

STAR POWER: (8) Sho Kosugi is synonymous with the word ninja, and his son Kane has starred in few films of his own, but he’s still looking for a star vehicle worthy of his skills. Keith Vitali would be one of the baddies in Wheels on Meals and kick the crap out of Sammo Hung. Professor Toru Tanaka didn’t have much to do, but it’s always good to see him.

FINAL GRADE: (8) A fun first starring film for Sho Kosugi, who wouldn’t star in too many more films, but made his presence felt in the martial arts film world. Not even the shoddy directing could mask his greatness.