There is a virtual smorgasbord of crap films involving foreigners and Japanese culture. Before I get started, I’d like to set a few ground rules about the films that will be included in this list:
- The film must be set in Japan or be about Japanese culture
- Some Japanese language must be spoken during the film by non-native speakers
Just so we’re clear, I am not opposed to actors being in roles that don’t necessarily match their ethnic origin. That’s pretty much what acting is about, pretending you’re something you’re not. What I am against is those who cannot do it competently. If you happen to be someone like Takeshi Kaneshiro who can speak Japanese, Taiwanese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and some reasonable English and Cantonese, I say all bets are off.
We’ll start this series off with what has to be one of the worst films of all time, “Showdown in Little Tokyo.” It stars Dolph Lundgren and features a lot of actors in a typically 80s Hollywood manner. It does have some actors of Japanese origin (the villain is portrayed by the ever villainous Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) but lead Brandon Lee (of obvious HK origin) is detective Johnny Murata whilst Filipina Tia Carrere portrays Generic Hot Asian Chick Minako. Tagawa and Carrere get the chance to work together again in the truly awful “Rising Sun”, but more on that in another article.
Lundgren is hilariously cast as being able to speak Japanese, and it’s the linguistic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to listen to. In one of the funniest scenes, he (supposedly fluently) says “seppuku” as “seppoko” and Brandon Lee repeats what he says as “seppaka.” His chat at a Japanese restaurant with the aging matron is particularly painful, as although she could speak not completely awfully, it was clearly not native. Generic 80s bad guy/stuntman Al Leong makes an appearance, giving it an 80s martial arts Hollywood official seal of approval. I guess he made a living, but man, all those years studying martial arts so he could whore out his ethnicity to make a few bucks. The guy was born in St. Louis, for crying out loud.
Bizarrely Tagawa has almost nothing to say in Japanese, despite being native level. Carrere, thank the spirits, never has any Japanese dialogue despite supposedly being of Japanese origin and has all her dialogue with Tagawa in English. Tagawa in turn speaks with his lead henchmen in English, despite being a hard-core yakuza.
Throughout the film Lundgren wears a leather jacket with a rising sun on the back that any chinpira would be proud of. What really takes the biscuit is during the end of the movie (with obligatory workout scene featuring as much beefcake footage of a topless Lundgren as possible) where he parades through the streets of the fictional Little Tokyo in some sort of bizarre getup supposedly samurai in nature with a machine gun. He wears a hachimaki headband which says 闘魂（とうこん）”fighting spirit”, get yours here:
The most likely person to wear one of these is some nerd cramming for his university entrance exams in the hopes of cracking Todai so he can be a salaryman for Mitsubishi.
I’d suspect that this film was made for the ladies, given the amount of shirtless scenes that are in it. Since your average woman is not a huge fan of 80s martial flicks, I can only surmise that it was a poorly made ode to homoeroticism. Being only a mildly trained Shotokan karate player, I can’t speak to the skills of the main characters, but Brandon Lee is the most exciting to watch. It’s kind of sad that his Hollywood debut was in this crap-tastic film, but he went on to some better things before having his career literally snuffed out.
It is perhaps the epitome of an 80s action film.
Martial arts? Check. Every yakuza knows kung fu, as opposed to a Japanese martial art or just knowing how to brawl.
Women as represented by breasts and no actual role in the film? Check. And how. Take a look at the scene in the Japanese sushi restaurant.
Naked heroine? Check. Minako drops her robe to take a bath with our hero.
White guy gets asian chick? Check. Minako can’t keep her little hands off of Detective Kenner’s abs (he sleeps with no blankets on his back) only hours after wanting to commit suicide. And of course, after being scared to sleep alone, there is a hilariously bad sex scene. The only way it could have been worse is if there had been someone playing the shakuhachi.
Let’s not forget generic Asian chick being cast as a specific ethnicity (Japanese) which she in no way resembles. Check.
Pump up scene with hero posing, flexing, and beating on a bag? Check.
Hero who nails villain after villain with lethal accuracy with a large handgun at distances exceeding 25m? Check.
Asian guy as supposed humorous sidekick? Check. Perhaps one of the most homo-awkward moments in film history as Brandon Lee utters the immortal line “you have the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man.” As opposed to… a shemale?
Villains who pour withering gunfire down on the heroes and simply can’t hit them at any distance, including automatic weapons at distances of less than 5m? Check.
A hero who gets wounded before the final fight scene? Check. Dolph takes a round in his left pectoral. Um, isn’t that where the heart is? Doesn’t slow him down at all.
Bizarre death scene for villain, involving spinning wheel? Check.
And yet, this movie is still a guilty pleasure for me, probably because of all the 80s memories that it brings back. I’m not saying don’t watch it, because it’s a laugh and a half, just don’t take it seriously.
Did I use the worst example for my first one? Or is there even more toilet to follow? Watch this space.