“Youth is wasted on the young,” said George Bernard Shaw, a man I once believed to be a know-it-all curmudgeon. It wasn’t until I turned into one myself that I discovered he was totally right! Young people have boundless energy and opportunities but spend most of their days finding ways to screw it up. The bubble of youth is the best time to make those mistakes, though. AMERICAN STREETFIGHTER, a 1992 Silver Screen International production starring Gary Daniels, explores this idea of youthful indiscretion and the relationships that suffer as a result. It also answers the age-old question: is a funeral parlor a good setting for a climactic sword fight or not?
As evidenced by his leather tassel jacket, acid wash jeans, and poor decision-making, Jake Tanner (Gary Daniels) is a young punk mixed up with the wrong crowd. After he and his fellow gang member, Ito (Roger Yuan), rig up a jukebox with explosives to damage a local business, they realize innocent people were inside! They run back to save them, but the hapless potential victims are packing heat and open fire. Jake escapes with his life, but Ito is shot dead. To be more accurate, Jake drives off after Ito is shot, but still alive. Because Jake drove off, Ito is shot again and then dies.
Years later, Jake has moved on to bigger and better things in a new life in Hong Kong. Leather jackets and unkempt locks have given way to power suits and a greasy ponytail. His shitty getaway car has evolved into a shitty office with a drop ceiling and poor lighting. Dead business deals have replaced dead friends. During a late night at the office, he receives a disturbing phone call from his mother: his younger brother Randy is in serious trouble.
Randy (Ian Jacklin), is a rising star in the world of underground fighting. When Jake finally arrives after his latest fight to discourage his choice in occupation, Randy rejects the advice. After all, Jake ran away from home following his own transgressions and left his younger sibling alone to fend for himself during those critical formative years.
A shrewd businessman if there ever was one, Jake approaches the fight circuit’s ringleader, Ogawa (Gerald Okamura), and asks to buy out Randy’s contract. When Ogawa rebuffs the opening offer, Jake counters and agrees to take Randy’s place as a fighter-by-proxy. For reasons known only to screenwriter David Huey, Ogawa agrees to the se arrangement. In his first competitive fight, Jake gets his ass handed to him — even suffering the unique indignity of being repeatedly whipped with a car antenna — and retreats to the home of his sensei’s daughter, Rose (Tracy Dali), to lick his wounds. While there, he goes through a rigorous rehabilitation program under the supervision of Rose’s adolescent son, whose martial arts knowledge is informed by nothing other than his rabid TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES fandom. Once he’s fully healed, Jake is joined by his martial arts sensei, Nick (Kent Ducanon) and they take the fight to Ogawa’s gang to unleash Jake’s newfound “Turtle Power!” and dismantle the fight ring once and for all.
Yikes — where to start?! As a lower-rung direct-to-video production, this film lacks technical polish — the soundtrack appears to have been lifted from a mix of 1980s adult films and an old 16-bit fighting game — and the story pacing is quite wonky. Fight circuit backdrops include plastic sheeting and gaudy light colors. The action is occasionally competent but weirdly edited and choreographed. We can forgive some of thisgiven the budgetary limitations. This film nips around the edges of some solid and trashy action, but it comes in sporadic drips and drabs. The underground fight scenes are comical — Ian Jacklin’s youthful arrogance is characterized by him flexing his muscles with exaggerated grunts after he strikes, but it’s also slow and awkward. The same can be said of the stunt work. During a climactic scene involving henchmen on dirt bikes, we see one of the most disproportionately cruel and protracted retaliations by a hero in the history of cinema. After a snazzy dirt bike entrance, a henchman is tossed from his bike, pummeled to the ground, covered in gasoline, and then set ablaze via Zippo by the grizzled, eyepatch-wearing sensei Nick. The whole scene transpired over what felt like several hours, and it would be right at home in a sleazy VIDEODROME telecast. There’s also a climactic sword fight in a funeral parlor, which is plodding despite the inspired mise-en-scene. Remember y’all: not even a samurai sword can make a short-sleeve shirt and tie combo look cool.
AMERICAN STREETFIGHTER is a fight film made on the cheap and punctuated by occasional quirks. The choreographed violence is frequent and over-the-top (see: aforementioned funeral parlor sword fight). There are curious character ticks galore, a totally ham-fisted subplot about dead kickboxers, and there are more socially awkward moments than the buffet line at a food packaging convention. (I have no proof, but I’ve always assumed this industry is full of weird folks).
— This content was originally posted at Fist of B-List