|Showdown in Little Tokyo|
|DVD Martial Arts|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 10 November 1998|
'Showdown in Little Tokyo' has such modest ambitions that you don't want to rag on it too hard. In its own silly, sadistic way, it's goofily watchable, despite some elements in both production and content that induce the occasional cringe.
Dolph Lundgren and the late Brandon Lee play Keller and Okada, two L.A. cops who "meet cute" during a shoot-out at a diner in little Tokyo, where each thinks the other is with the bad guys. It turns out that they've been assigned to be each other's partners. In a bigger coincidence, Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the new Yakuza drug lord in town, happens to be the same s.o.b. who personally murdered Keller's parents. Keller, a child at the time, witnessed the crime and can't wait to get revenge. Okada counsels keeping a cooler head, but since Keller is the one with the samurai training, he winds up calling the shots.
One of the intended running gags in the script by Stephen Glatz and Calipe Brattlestreet is the notion that the very Anglo Keller is the one who was raised in Japan and reveres the warrior code, while the half-Japanese-American Okada is a California valley boy through and through, except for a bit of martial arts training. The payoff might be larger if the dialogue on the subject were a little more inventive and if Lee (son of Chinese martial arts legend Bruce Lee and his American wife Linda) looked more as if he had any Japanese ancestry. Tia Carrere, who plays the love interest, also looks Eurasian rather than Japanese. All of the Japanese characters played by actors who look authentically Japanese are the diabolical villains, which has the (probably unintentional) effect of making 'Little Tokyo' seem a wee bit racist. On a more positive note, viewers who follow the sexual politics of the action genre may take heart that in this movie, there is life and self-respect for women after rape.
Director Mark Lester has visual fun contrasting the fairy-tale colors of the Little Tokyo streets at night with the gray-brown grungy interior of a boxing ring in Chapter 2, which also brings on the first volley of gunfire. There plenty of energy and inventiveness in the violence throughout 'Showdown': there's a suicide by surprising means in Chapter 4, a vigorous bathhouse brawl in Chapter 12 and a Saturday-afternoon-serial set of perils for the heroes in Chapter 17. Lundgren, Lee and Tagawa are all graceful and physically powerful performers--Tagawa also has a world-class sneer that makes him ideal for this sort of villainy--but 'Showdown in Little Tokyo' should not been seen soon after watching, say, anything with Jackie Chan or directed by John Woo. The fights here are impressive in a realistic, hey-I-couldn't-do-that-myself way, but they look a little slow and cautious compared to Hong Kong product.
Soundwise, dialogue and music are fine, but volume levels in the gunplay seem a little arbitrary. Although the filmmakers mean to indicate that guns of different calibers are being fired from a variety of distances, the effect is more of shots being played back loud-soft-loud in the audio mix. Likewise, climactic explosions have the right kind of snap-crackle-pop we expect from pyrotechnics, but don't have an apocalyptic kick.
A note for film buffs: the intricate tattoos on Yoshida's Yakuza gang were designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who a few years later went on to bigger things by building Godzilla.