• Samurai Cop (Blu-ray)

    Released by: Cinema Epoch
    Released on: November 18th, 2014.
    Director: Amir Shervan
    Cast: Matt Hannon, Robert Z’Dar, Melissa Moore
    Year: 1991
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Directed by Iranian ex-pat Amir Shervan during his producing/directing stint in California that took place in the late eighties through the early nineties, Samurai Cop became a cult hit when Media Blasters released it with a Joe Bob Briggs commentary as part of their Guilty Pleasures line back in 2004. Though that disc was a lot of fun, it left something to be desired in terms of quality. Cinema Epoch brought this turkey back from the grave re-mastered and in its original aspect ratio for the first time on DVD last year and now, with the sequel in production, the original film gets its first ever Blu-ray release.

    The story revolves around a tough guy cop named Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon) who has been trained in the ancient art of the samurai by some presumably very wise Japanese guys. Joe’s cop partner is a black guy named Frank (Mark Frazer) – why point out his race? Well, because Joe is basically Mel Gibson, Frank is basically Danny Glover and Shervan is basically borrowing very heavily from Lethal Weapon.

    At any rate, if there’s one thing Joe hates, it’s crime. Mr. Fujiyama (Joselito Recober, who barks each line of dialogue like an angry dog) and his Yakuza thugs, the Katana Gang, have been committing crimes all over the place. Joe busts up his gang and is instantly on his bad side. As if Fujiyama himself weren’t enough, he’s also got a right hand man named Yamashita (Robert Z’Dar) who also happens to be a samurai, albeit a very large and heavily bearded evil samurai. Yamashita wants to take Joe out of the picture permanently, demanding the cop’s head be placed on his piano, so that he can prove once and for all that he’s the better samurai – but in order to do this, he’ll have to pry Joe off of all the hot, horny ladies who seem to be taking up so much of his time.

    Samurai Cop is completely deserving of its reputation as an absolutely horrible film in every regard but at the same time it’s pretty much impossible not to have a complete blast watching this movie. Edited with a butcher’s knife by someone obviously not paying very close attention and shot in the grand ‘point the camera at it and roll!’ tradition, it’s as technically inept as it is completely devoid of artistic merit. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about this movie turns out right, which somehow makes it transcend the very standards by which ‘right’ is defined. Shervan’s direction is so wonderfully clueless that plot lines meander in and out of the movie seemingly at random – we’re told Joe speaks Japanese and is a master samurai but we never hear Joe speak Japanese or do much in the way of samurai related chores. Instead we see him hit on anything with two legs and make racial jokes at his partner’s expense. Nobility, a big deal in samurai culture, is not a concern with Joe. Not in the least.

    And then there’s the acting. Matt Hannon furrows his brow to express anger, confusion, danger and arousal – in fact, he furrows his brow at pretty much anyone and everything. His shaggy mullet and penchant for running around in black bikini briefs might be charming in its unintentionally homoerotic way but the guy simply cannot emote. Though the fact that his mullet is sometimes more mullety than others (he has a wig that seems to disappear then reappear at random intervals – which is detailed quite extensively in the extra features) helps to distract from this, he doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of the fight scenes either. Robert Z’Dar runs around overdoing it too, torturing women by pouring hot oil on their chests and boasting about his abilities. We do learn that Z’Dar can fit quite handily inside a hospital laundry gurney though – you wouldn’t think he could, he’s a pretty big guy, but he does. He looks comfy in there. Mark Frazer just sort of sits around and looks confused and/or like he's passing gas most of the time. The reason for this is, according to Frazer in an interview, that Shervan would periodically just point the camera at him and tell him to ‘make a face’ without telling him why or giving him any context for it. This explains why Frazer’s character comes off the way he does in the movie.

    The movie is filled to the brim with random moments that do not make any sense whatsoever, as the director (who spoke English as a second language) insisted the actors read the dialogue exactly as he wrote it. As two cops are about to burst into a house to catch some criminals, the female police officer offers to bone her male partner. Undercover cops trail thugs as covertly and nondescriptly as possible… using a giant noisy plainly marked police helicopter. Joe impresses Jennifer (Jannis Farley), the girl he’s trying to bang and steal from the Katana gang after meeting her, but before then chats up a gay Puerto Rican waiter who jokes about her father’s suicide – and not before he delivers a completely off kilter but very patriotic speech about America… the land of opportunity. Joe’s boss, the foul mouthed police commissioner who yells at everyone, is basically sanctioning his cops to execute any gang members they run across. And then there’s that horny nurse who just cannot get enough but who is shocking unimpressed with what Joe has to offer – goodness, gracious… what were they thinking?

    All the other bad, low budget eighties action movie clichés are on hand here too – random softcore sex scenes that have nothing to do with the plot, amazing bad gore scenes, a horrible score composed entirely by one guy with a synthesizer and tacky fashions galore. Throw in loads and loads of horribly dubbed dialogue, a scene where Robert Z’Dar bangs porn star Krista Lane (whose only purpose, aside from nudity, is to announce the arrival of “the boss” – but she does it well, and she does it often), a gratuitous supporting role from Gerald Okamura (who plays a character named… Okamura and who also gets a sex scene!) and, well, the movie is just amazing. From the opening scene, that seems to start in the middle of something we’ll never understand, through to the big fight between Z’Dar and Hannon shot with the actors moving slowly and then obviously sped up poorly for effect, this is one beautiful disaster of a film.


    Samurai Cop arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Those familiar with the film will no doubt remember that the color timing in this movie is all over the place – that’s just how it looks and that particular ‘quirk’ stems from how the movie was shot (which is detailed quite well in the extras). Because of this, color reproduction is… odd. Some scenes look nice and natural, others look a bit too bright while others look a little faded – but this is how Samurai Cop looks, so you just sort of accept it for what it is and move on. As to the improvement over the already very nice looking 2013 DVD release, you’re definitely going to notice a fairly substantial uptick in increased detail and more realistic looking textures. It does look like some noise reduction has been added here to smooth the picture out a little (more than was probably necessary, detail does sometimes take a hit for this reason) bit but this is not a waxy, messy nightmare at all. The movie is given a pretty decent bit rate here even if it is presented on a 25GB disc, and as such there aren’t any obvious compression artifacts to note, nor are there any edge enhancement issues. Most of the issues here are source related, and quite honestly Samurai Cop generally looks pretty good on Blu-ray, all things considered.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound mix, in English, is the exact same audio mix that was on the last DVD. It sounds okay considering the source material. Levels jump around a bit so keep the remote handy. There are also some traces of hiss present throughout. It's a pretty safe bet that most of this is source related but the issues are there. The dialogue is easy enough to understand and the score sounds decent enough too, or at least as decent as it can, given how goofy it is.

    The extras for this release are surprisingly extensive, starting with the three commentary tracks. The first track features leading man Matt Hannon and is moderated by Mark Edward Hueck. This is a fun track, it starts off with Hueck quizzing Hannon about where he’s been for the last quarter of a century since this movie was made and how the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated. They talk about the film’s actual release date, how shooting started in June of 1990 and worked on it for quite a few months afterwards, what was scripted in the movie versus what wasn’t, how the aerial shots of downtown L.A. were done and the importance of helicopters in the movie. Hannon talks about who shot what, how there was a cameraman stuffed into the back of the car during the chase scene early in the movie, and how Shervan would pretty much always use the first take regardless of how well it turned out. Hannon laughs at himself a lot during this track, he’s obviously well aware of how this movie is regarded and why, and he sums up his experience here as ‘paying your dues’ in that he hoped this starring role in a low budget picture might lead to more respectable work. They also talk up the film’s cult status, the love scenes in the movie and how they were shot slowly and softly, and quite a bit more.

    The second track features Hannon’s co-star, Mark Frazer, again moderated by Hueck. Frazer talks about how the resurgence of the movie as a cult oddity all these years after it was made, how he got started in acting working on a soap opera in New York called Another World, what it was like taking direction for Shervan and how he enjoyed working with Hannon on the picture. Frazer basically confirms what Hannon says here – that they just went for it, one take, no rehearsals – and notes that working on a soap opera actually helped him to prepare for that. Of course, he also talks about his facial expressions featured throughout the movie. There are times where Frazer goes a little quiet but when he does, Hueck chimes in and gets him back into the swing of things. He shares some details about life post-Samurai Cop, how he lost touch with Z’Dar after the shoot and then Hannon as well, and then how the revival screenings got him back into touch with a lot of the people he worked with on the picture decades later.

    The third and final track is a ‘fan commentary’ that lets the guys from the 80's Picture House podcast do their thing. This is a more observational track, as they open by comparing the score to video games of the time, the note the appearance, disappearance and reappearance of the wig throughout the movie, the different speeds that the vehicles run at during the chase scene and more. This track has a lot of joking around on it and they poke good natured fun at the movie for most of its running time. The levels are pretty low and uneven though, at times it’s a little hard to make out what’s being said.

    From there we move on to the featurettes, the first of which is a seven and a half minute piece called Remembrances that is an on-camera video interview with Hannon and Frazer. This is fun talk, the camera basically rolls and just lets the two guys talk about what it was like working with Amir Shervan, his directorial style (or lack thereof), the importance of putting someone out when they’ve been lit on fire and more. Hannon flies solo in a second interview, running just over eighteen minutes and conducted by two guys from Red Letter Media who are obviously very enthusiastic fans and know the movie very well. They ask Hannon a lot of great questions and cover everything from the locations used (and reused) in the film to how and why he wound up wearing that terrible wig (which actually come off at one point – see screen cap #14) in the film to where the infamous lion’s head featured in the film came from. If you’ve got questions about this movie, and if you’ve seen it you probably do, a lot of them are likely answered in this very amusing and genuinely interesting talk. Hannon appears in another solo interview that runs just under fourteen minutes. Here he talks to an off camera interviewer (Samurai Cop 2 director Gregory Hatanaka) about the rumors of his death and his triumphant return via youtube, his thoughts on the film’s enduring cult appeal and what it’s been like reuniting with some of his co-stars now that the sequel is underway.

    Also included on the disc is a seven minute interview with Rob Schrab and actor Edwin A. Santos. These guys don’t appear to have anything to do with Samurai Cop’s history but they offer up their thoughts on the movie and an appreciation for all that Samurai Cop entails. The eleven minute long Music Score Excerpts is just what it sounds like – eleven minutes of highlights from the film’s score. Rounding out the extras on the disc is a still gallery, a two minute clip documenting a promotional photo shoot for Samurai Cop 2 (with Hannon and Frazer), a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    Note: the Media Blasters DVD had a Joe Bob Briggs commentary and the Cinema Epoch DVD reissue had interviews with Robert Z’Dar (who is TRAGICALLY absent from all of the extras on this new Blu-ray), Gerald Okamura and cinematographer Peter Palian – none of those extras have been carried over to this Blu-ray release, so the hardcore Samurai Cop collector’s out there may want to hold onto those older discs for that reason.

    The Final Word:

    While it’s a shame that not all of the previous extras could have been ported over to this disc and that the movie hasn’t been given a lossless audio option, Cinema Epoch’s Blu-ray release of Samurai Cop is a pretty solid effort. The picture quality is surprisingly good and the new extras are really extensive. As to the movie itself? It’s an undisputed trash classic!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark C.'s Avatar
      Mark C. -
      Man that transfer looks awesome, This will be hard not to pass on a double dip of Z'dar in hi-def.