During a lunar eclipse, the earth’s atmosphere can bend red sunlight into our planet’s shadow and scatter out blue light. The result gives the moon an orange or reddish appearance. Lunar eclipses occur at least twice a year and present excellent opportunities for night photography, stargazing, and killing martial artists, as demonstrated by 1997’s BLOODMOON.
The nameless homicidal martial artist in this film (Darren Shahlavi) is a practitioner of several fighting styles and also has many hobbies. Among other activities, we see him strolling through a park snapping photographs with a professional camera and later, he admires the onstage talent at the local topless dancing bar. But there’s one particular pastime that’s giving the NYPD absolute fits (other than his serial murdering). It’s his robust set of advanced computer skills. He sends cryptic, taunting emails to the police station. He live streams a murder and sends the cops a link to watch it in real-time.
Following in a long line of martial arts stars playing characters of the same first name, Chuck Jeffreys (SUPERFIGHTS, POOTIE TANG) plays Detective Chuck Baker. The time on the job that he doesn’t spend cracking awkward dad jokes is used to perform magic tricks like sneezing out flowers and producing flames from his hands. Almost nobody is impressed by these distractions. His lack of focus is also exemplified by the dozens of karate magazines covering every square inch of his office desk. It’s hard to say whether the magazines are there for legitimate research, but the excessive clutter suggests the police department budget has a smaller line item for filing cabinets than it did in years past.
Collecting back issues of Blackbelt magazine and doing sleight-of-hand on the city dime aren’t Baker’s biggest offenses. The department is much more concerned over his inability to turn over a clue in the serial killer martial artist case. His superior, Chief Hutchins (Frank Gorshin) is catching plenty of heat from the press for the lack of progress. I’m not sure if someone replaced all of the periods with exclamation points in Gorshin’s copy of the script, because he ends almost every line reading with an angry scream. Then I remember that his top detective sneezes flowers, so I guess he has every right to be pissed off most of the time.
As a result of their stalled progress, Hutchins sends Baker to entice retired detective and profiler Ken O’Hara (Gary Daniels) to join the investigation. Due to a traumatic past and his fragmented family situation, O’Hara is initially resistant. He softens his stance because you can’t have Gary Daniels in a movie and contain his natural instinct to fight people and pursue martial arts killers. It’s in his blood!
Initially, Baker and O’Hara don’t get along well. Baker likes to make jokes, O’Hara is uptight. Baker carries a gun, O’Hara hates them. Baker sounds a lot like Eddie Murphy, O’Hara sounds like Jason Statham’s kid brother. In time, they discover mutual interests and are able to work together. Surprisingly, their practice of the martial arts is not the common ground that brings them together, but rather the fact that they’re both bad husbands who work too much. And much like my grandparents, they’re both completely confused by the concept of email.
When they’re not showing off their prowess during impressive fight scenes, Baker and O’Hara walk through a number of scenarios common to police procedural films. They play “good cop/bad cop” with a hacker, analyze wounds on dead bodies with a medical examiner, and pore over every scrap of evidence for clues. Through it all, they’re also trying to deflect involvement from the daughter of a slain martial artist (Brandie Rocci), who wants nothing more than to take vengeance for her father’s death. Considering the established buddy cop dynamic, this subplot wasn’t especially useful but it did lead to a pretty cool fight centered around some “refrigerator and cramped NYC apartment kitchen” fight choreography.
The action in BLOODMOON ranges from solid to fantastic as Daniels, Jeffreys, Shahlavi, and company are utilized to great effect by director Siu-Hung Leung. A member and former vice chairman of the Hong Kong’s Stuntman Association, Hsiung’s fight choreography is tight, crisp, and fast, and his performers are up to the task. While Daniels and Shahlavi are both seasoned vets of Hong Kong action films, Jeffreys brings equally valuable experience as a fight choreographer and stuntman on Hollywood sets. There’s some visible wire-work during the climactic fight, but nothing outrageous and the rest of the choreography during this stretch more than makes up for some occasional technical missteps. We also get a very cool Kendo-influenced swordfight, complete with metallic sparks and sword sound effects. Most important, we get wrestling star Rob Van Dam dry-humping his girlfriend on top of a pinball machine.
Action aside, the film is not without its narrative flaws. Most, if not all, of the story’s focus on computer technology comes off as clunky and half-baked. The killer’s apparent omnipresence is never fully explored and despite a very cool look (steel-tipped boots, cape, mask) he spouts off some pretty cringey villain cliches (among them: “Welcome to hell!” and “The end game has begun!”) There are some lazy stock characters as well — the angry chief and the hacker-as-gross-pervert are the worst offenders — but in pointing them out, it’s equally important to acknowledge that we’re watching a mid-90s American martial arts film that went direct-to-video, not a Michael Mann crime thriller.
Not to be confused with Jess Franco’s 1981 Spanish-German slasher film, BLOODY MOON (though it might make an enjoyable double feature).
— This content was originally posted on Fist of B-List