• Six-String Samurai (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 29th 2021.
    Director: Lance Mungia
    Cast: Jeffrey Falcon, Justin McGuire, Kim De Angelo, Stephane Gauger, The Red Elvises
    Year: 1998
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Six-String Samurai – Movie Review:

    Directed by Lance Mungia, who co-wrote the script with leading man Jeffrey Falcon, 1998's Six-String Samurai opens place in an alternate 1957 to the one our world experienced. In this reality, the Russians dropped and atomic bomb on America and turned it into a desert wasteland. In this post nuke desert landscape, all that’s really left of Americana is rockabilly culture, and Elvis Presley is king.

    Sometime later, after Elvis passes, it’s time for what is left of society to crown a new king. Enter into this mess a man named Buddy (played by Falcon), a man with broken glasses, a dirty black suit, a hollow body guitar and a katana (if you’ve never seen Samurai Cop, well, it means Japanese sword). He’s making the long, hot walk through Death Valley to what’s left of Las Vegas where he intends to claim the throne for himself. This would be King Of Rock n Roll winds up saving a recently orphaned boy (Justin McGuire) from the group of murderous bandits that killed the poor kid’s mother (Kim De Angelo).

    Buddy isn’t interested in adopting the kid, he’s got his own agenda, but the boy has no one else and as he now sees Buddy as his savior, he’s bound and determined to follow him wherever his journey may lead him. This is both a help and a hindrance as on his way to Las Vegas Buddy has to fend off a trio of lunatics with bowling pins, a gang of maniacal musicians (played by The Red Elvises), a small army of Russian soldiers and then finally the literal physical manifestation of death itself (Stephane Gauger)!

    Six-String Samurai often feels like an exercise in style over substance but even if there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the movie it’s a really entertaining film (and isn’t that what matters the most?). The movie features much better fight choreography than you’d probably expect, with Falcon’s real life martial arts training clearly coming in very handy in these scenes, and there’s some impressive bouts of sword play on display in the picture that should please fans of some of the vintage samurai pictures that clearly inspired this in the first place. The movie also pulls from spaghetti westerns, frequently using visual compositions that harken back to films like those made by Leone, Corbucci and countless other Italian filmmakers in the sixties and into the early seventies. The cinematography is top notch, the whole thing looks great from start to finish, the film’s (presumably) modest budget never interfering with the quality of the visuals.

    As to the acting, Falcon is really solid here. He doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue here, so it’s the physical side of his performance that really matters and on that level, he makes it work. The guy has some serious moves, jumping about throwing punches and kicks aplenty and using that aforementioned sword like a natural. Stephane Gauger looks great as death, though credit where it’s due, a lot of that has to do with the costume, while Justin McGuire does a fine job playing the annoying kid who, of course, occasionally saves Buddy’s ass.

    Six-String Samurai – UHD Review:

    Six-String Samurai comes to UHD from Vinegar Syndrome on a 66GB disc “newly restored from its 35mm original camera negative” framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in HEVC/H.265 encoded 2160p with HDR. The picture quality is really strong, the colors popping like never before and the black levels basically reference quality. The upgrade in detail over the long out of print DVD release is almost immeasurable, there’s just way more for your eyes to take in here, it’s very impressive. There’s great depth and texture here as well and the image, while naturally grainy, is pretty much spotless when it comes to any visible print damage. Skin tones look great, colors are beautifully defined and the image always looks like film, showing not digital anomalies at all. This is, in short, a great looking presentation.

    As far as audio options go, the film gets a 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound mix in English. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. Most of the surround activity comes from the score though there are some directional effects noticeable during some of the fight scenes. The track is nicely balanced and very clean, there are no issues with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. The score has good depth to it and the dialogue is always easy to understand. This sounds really strong, no complaints here at all.

    The UHD contains a brand new commentary track with director Lance Mungia and cinematographer Kristian Bernier, who geek out about the new 4k transfer they're watching. From there, they give a pretty scene specific talk and cover the opening text and its importance in getting the film financed, using a Wolfman Jack impersonator in the intro, shooting the opening sequence on the first day of shooting, how they couldn't track down a few people involved in the film to participate in the extras, some of the symbolism in the film, choreographing and shooting the fight scenes (some of which required 50-60 setups in the same day), the film's score, the use of The Red Elvises in the movie, how Jeffrey Falcon has vanished since the movie was made, how Falcon studied martial arts in Beijing on a scholarship alongside Jet Li, how almost everyone involved in the film had to wear multiple hats on the production, the use of day for night photography, when and where Mungia's influences really show in the movie, shooting a scene that was supposed to have twenty extras in it with only twelve people and lots more. It's a fairly technical track but quite an interesting one.

    Also included is a brand new commentary track with director Lance Mungia flying solo. He talks again about how hard he tried to find Jeff Falcon for this movie but came up empty before then going over how the film came to be. He talks about how he wanted to get a new HD master from a release print that he stole until Vinegar Syndrome came along and made this UHD release happen. As the track progresses he covers how he met Jeff Falcon and worked with him to make the movie work, how making the film was hard and not cheap to do, using his earlier short film as a springboard to make this feature, how the film was never meant to be taken too seriously and was made just to be a fun watch, working with the different cast members, finding different props and costumes simply by walking around prop houses and seeing what was available, how his priorities have changed since making this movie and becoming a father, wanting to get back into narrative film lately and loads more.

    The included region free Blu-ray carries over those two commentary tracks and also includes quite a few additional extra features, the first of which is Vegas Needs A New King: The Making Of Six-String Samurai. This is a brand new four part making-of documentary directed by Elijah Drenner and Lance Mungia that runs just over seventy-six-minutes. Mungia gives us a tour of his studio before then talking about revisiting Six-String Samurai and bringing on cinematographer Kristian Bernier, composer Brian Tyler, The Red Elvises, producer Leanna Creel, first assistant director David Riddick, former Panavision Marketing Executive Tracy Morse and Executive Producer Michael Burns. The cover what it was like shooting on location in Death Valley, the way that the film blends so many genres, the use of music in the film, how Mungia connected with some of his crew through film school, the importance of collaboration on the film, shooting Mungia's first film Garden Of Rio, casting the Six-String Samurai, Panavision's involvement in the production, Jeffrey Falcon's presence and the importance of casting him, how Falcon also helped out with the costume design, the lighting and camerawork in the film, the film's score, the influence of spaghetti westerns and samurai movies and quite a few other topics. It's a pretty interesting look at how the movie was put together and worth checking out, it’s very extensive and makes great use of some nice behind the scenes photos as well.

    Also included on the disc is Garden Of Rio, a short film that Mungia directed in 1996 that runs fifteen-minutes. In it, an aging man named Rio wakes up after having a dream about working in a field of roses. He then goes out and walks to a produce stand where he buys some roses and brings them back to his wife, Maria, who is upset that he spent the money on them. He then goes to work in his field, falls asleep and has the same dream and squabbles with his wife some more. We then see things through his eyes and her eyes as they discuss what is magic and what isn't. It's a nice, charming short film presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in 1.33.1 with DTS-HD Mono audio and English subtitles.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is still gallery, some menus and chapter selection options.

    Vinegar Syndrome has also done a beautiful job with the packaging on this release, putting the discs inside a black keepcase with reversible cover sleeve art and a slip cover that in turns finds inside their VSU sub label’s exclusive (and patented!) ‘ultra’ high-end magnet clasp box which is adorned with some great new artwork designed by Tom Hodge of The Dude Designs. Also included inside the box is a full color forty-page book featuring essays by director Lance Mungia

    Six-String Samurai - The Final Word:

    Even if it doesn’t deep, Six-String Samurai is a lot of fun. It’s a quirky and entertaining mix of martial arts action, rockabilly style and quirky characters brought to life by some excellent camerawork and a strong performance from its lead. Vinegar Syndrome has knocked it out of the park with their UHD/Blu-ray combo pack, presenting the film in absolutely gorgeous quality and with a host of extras that really pull back the layers behind the film and its history.

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

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Damn, do I hate that kid lol.