Film Torments: Samurai Cop (1991)

THE FIRST Torment of the New Year is, coincidentally, the final film I watched last year. Samurai Cop, a 1991 film directed, written and produced by Z-grade auteur Amir Shervan, is exactly what it sounds like: A Lethal Weapon buddy-cop rip-off featuring questionable martial arts masters, terrible wigs, deadpan horny nurses and “son of a bitches”. Tell me you hear the words “samurai cop” in conjunction and don’t think, “Well, best leave that one for later.”

Samurai Cop is everything you’d expect it to be and then some. It’s a monumental trainwreck, cobbled together on a shoestring budget and held there with sellotape. The actors are lost, vacantly staring out into the ether beyond the frame – some, no doubt, Brandoesque in their search for cue cards. The script is nonsensical at best, looping around casual racism, incomprehensible one-liners and slug-slow action sequences that feature busted old bangers vrooming as if they were driving in treacle. With glue sprinkled on top.


The plot – what plot there is that isn’t awkward snuff-standard sex scenes – revolves around Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon), “trained by the masters in Japan”, getting transferred to San Diego from California to deal with a growing Yakuza problem lead by Fujiyama (Cranston Komuro) and the distinctly Not-Japanese Yamashita (Robert Z’Dar). He receives a Not-Danny-Glover partner (Mark Frazer), whose only real purpose is to grin like a buffoon at Marshall’s sleazy pick-up lines.

It’s hard to describe the levels of flatlining awkwardness that pervade every scene of the film. The restaurant scene in which Marshall confronts the Yakuza face-to-face opens with the immortal words, “Are you Fu-… Fujiyama?” Hannon’s blank, slab-eyed expression reflects his contempt for the material, as he has espoused in several interviews following an announcement that (no, really) he is still alive. Rumoured dead for years in the wake of Samurai Cop – his only major film – Hannon only last year announced that the reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

This right here is why I watch these goddamn movies.

This right here is why I watch these goddamn movies.

Thank heavens too – how could the world be beautiful without his luxurious tousled mane? Much of the hilarity of Samurai Cop comes not only from Hannon’s unrelenting failure to give a single shit, and not only from an insistence on cutting back to him in his Speedos; what further catapults the film into the cult stratosphere is the fact he cut his hair halfway through production, thinking the shoot was finished.

Shervan disagreed, and so a horrendous wig was installed to double for Hannon’s surfer-dude locks. This caused problems when it fell off during fight scenes, as is shown in an actual scene in the movie. They left it in. The final duel between Hannon and Z’Dar’s considerable (cherubism-inflicted) jawline proceeds with the plodding grace of a sloth in hibernation.


Z’Dar – an accomplished B-movie mainstay in his own right – might have been intimidating if he didn’t have to partake in delivering absurd lines like, “He speaks fluent Japan-eese.” This ‘fact’ is later rendered hilarious when Marshall is asked what ‘katana’ means. His response? “It means ‘Japanese sword’.” Uh huh.

Marshall gravitates from horny blonde to horny blonde with such velocity that it’s impossible to treat his settling down with horny blonde church-goer Jennifer (Jannis Farley) as anything other than a brief stint. His rampant laddishness and problematic (to say the least) treatment of women only makes sense in the context of Shervan’s desire to make a manly-men-MAN film for men, which is why we’re continually treated to muscular men in figure-hugging Speedos.

There's also this limp-wristed waiter who makes no sense.

There’s also this limp-wristed waiter who makes no sense.

Even more joyous are the scenes featuring Captain Rohmer (Dale Cummings), a hard-bitten near-parody of every line-toeing police captain in every cop movie since Dirty Harry. Cummings plays this role with astonishing conviction; he’s the only actor who emerges with any real credibility, even when he has to deliver spectacular lines like: “I feel like someone’s stuck a big club up my ass, and it hurts; I gotta figure out a way to get it outta there.”

To its credit, the film features a fantastically 80s-tastic synth soundtrack. Composed by Alan DerMarderosian (apparently the music man on Final Destination 2 and Hobgoblins 2), the score is driven by CHAKACHADUNNNs in dramatic moments and sleazy sex-sax in, let’s say, tender moments. It’s a cheesy joy to listen to as the ineptitude unfolds.

Wig or not-wig? Them's the bones.

Wig or not-wig? Them’s the bones.

From the infamous “horny nurse” scene to the infamous restaurant scene to the infamous sex scenes, the production has a cult status of abject infamy that only continues to grow. With Hannon’s recent reappearance, the Kickstarter campaign for Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance has shattered its $50,000 goal and is set to star much of the original cast. Along for the ride are George Lazenby(!), Seymour Cassel(!!) and, gloriously, Tommy Wiseau himself(!!!).

Whether this sequel can live up to the hallowed anti-reputation of the original remains to be seen; either way, Samurai Cop is a Z-list treat that keeps on giving.

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