• Martial Law 1 & 2 (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 27th, 2020.
    Director: Steve Cohen, Kurt Anderson
    Cast: Chad McQueen, Cynthia Rothrock, David Carradine, Jeff Wincott, Paul Johansson, Billy Drago
    Year: 1991/1992
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Martial Law 1 & 2 – Movie Review:

    The two movies that put the mighty Cynthia Rothrock, arguably the greatest American female action star in history, on the map, are now on special (and limited!) edition Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome!

    Martial Law:

    When the first film opens, a kung-fu cop working for the L.A.P.A. named Sean Thompson (Chad McQueen – son of the great Steve McQueen!), nicknamed ‘Martial Law’ for reasons never properly explained, has disguised himself as a Domino’s Pizza delivery guy to make his way into a jewelry shop where the bad guys currently holding people hostage inside are… hungry. Sean, who is a cool cop with a motorcycle, kicks the shit out of them and calls it a day, heading back to hang out with his girlfriend, a vice cop named Billie Blake (Cynthia Rothrock).

    Soon enough, Sean works a case where he finds a familiar mark on the body of a murder victim – the mark of "Dim-Mak," also known as the “Death Touch” – a deadly martial arts punch known by only a few highly trained masters. This ties into a string of car thefts orchestrated by Dalton Rhodes (David Carradine), a mobster type who, with some help from right hand man Wu Han (Philip Tan), runs a ruthless organization out to get their hands on a cache of illegal weapons that have made their way into the city.

    Meanwhile, Sean’s younger brother Michael (Andy McCutcheon), who has always had trouble holding a job, gets involved with Dalton, which puts his family in danger. The only one Sean trusts to help him out here is Billie – but will the two of them be enough to take out an entire gang?

    You’re goddamn right they will be.

    Everyone in these movies has terrible hair but that doesn’t matter when there’s as much ass-kicking on display here as there is. The movie might be light on plot and full of martial arts and action movie clichés, but it delivers where it counts and hits all the right notes at all the right moments. Director Steve Cohen keeps the action moving quickly and the fight choreography on display in the movie is excellent, with the fight scenes understandably being the highlights in the film. Chad McQueen makes for a solid lead here, he handles himself well and looks ‘cool,’ but it’s Rothrock who makes the biggest impression, and that’s with her getting less screen time than her male co-star. Fresh off of a stint kicking ass on screen in the Hong Kong film industry, she shows why she became a box office sensation overseas in this picture, moving with the right mix of grace and ferocity in such a convincing way that you’ll forgive the massive shoulder pads and bad early nineties attire!

    Carradine makes a decent bad guy here (though he’s clearly doubled in some of the fight scenes in the movie) and Philip Tan, who played the sinister Tanaka in Showdown In Little Tokyo, is pretty killer as his lead goon.

    Martial Law 2: Undercover:

    The second film actually improves on the first one. This time around, Sean Thompson is played by Canadian martial arts superstar Jeff Wincott, with Rothrock reprising her role as Billie. Again, the plot isn’t deep but it does a great job of bridging together fight scenes that are even more impressive than those featured in the first movie.

    Spencer Hamilton (Paul Johansson) is a jerk, but he's a jerk with money who runs a nightclub. He's used to getting what he wants, when he wants it, and Tiffany (Deborah Driggs) is the kept woman who makes sure he's taken care of. When it turns out that Spencer is up to no good, Billie goes undercover and gets a job as a bartender in Spencer's fancy nightclub, hoping to get the inside scoop on what he's really up to. Spencer also has some hired muscle in the form of Tanner (Evan Lurie), a giant guy who kicks ass on his behalf. It all ties into a scheme that involves blackmailing Sean and Billi's boss, Captain Krantz (Billy Drago), scooping up the sports promotion business of a guy named Jones (Conroy Gedeon) and some other stuff that doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

    Once again, short on plot but high on action, this one gives us more of what made the first one so much fun. More action, more stunts and more Rothrock! It starts off with a great fight scene where she and Wincott bust up a weapons ring at a park (why these bad guys would do this in broad daylight in the middle of a populated park isn’t really addressed) and it just goes from there. Rothrock gets to ‘act’ a bit more here than in the first one, and she proves no better or worse than most DTV action stars, but it’s in the fight scenes where she really shines. Wincott is also solid here, the guy’s got some very impressive moves and getting into an impressive bar brawl around the halfway point that is a blast to watch.

    The rest of the cast? Drago plays Drago, he’s kinda sleazy and weird, but that’s what you want from him. Paul Johansson (who was in Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies!) is a pretty fun villain, keeping up appearances in that he always looks classy (at least by trashy early 90’s L.A. standards) but isn’t above throwing his weight around or having his man kick your ass. Speaking of, Evan Lurie and his amazing hairdo, who would star alongside Rothrock again a few years later in Tiger Claws II, does a great job of beating people up in various ways. Deborah Driggs is also pretty fun to watch here as well.

    This one just works. No one is reinventing the wheel here, they’re not even trying to, but if you don’t need much more than a basic plot when you’ve got as many rad fight scenes as this picture delivers, than you should be all good here. Entertainment comes first and foremost with both of these pictures, and they offer up plenty of it.

    Martial Law 1 & 2 – Blu-ray Review:

    Martial Law 1 & 2 arrives on separate 50GB Blu-ray discs, each “newly scanned & restored in 4k from their 35mm original camera negatives” and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the picture quality here is excellent. Natural film grain is noticeable throughout, just as you’d want it to be, but there’s virtually no print damage here at all, the picture is clean from start to finish. Colors are handled very nicely, all of those garish nineties fashions pop quite nicely, and we get strong black levels too. Detail, depth and texture are consistently impressive and there are no issues to note with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts of note.

    Vinegar Syndrome offers up 24-bitvDTS-HD 2.0 audio for both features. Optional subtitles are provided in English only and optional Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes are also provided, again, in English. Quality is just fine, with dialogue always easy to understand and follow and levels balanced nicely throughout. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note, everything sounds clean and crisp.

    The main extra on the first disc is Declaring Martial Law: The Birth Of A Female Action Star, which is a new featurette containing interviews with director Steve Cohen, actress Cynthia Rothrock and stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt. In this twenty-nine-minute piece, we learn about Rothrock’s background and training, competing against men in weapon's fighting, working on action films in Hong Kong and the importnace of Cory Yeun to her career, working for Golden Harvest, making the shift to American movies with Martial Law, working alongside David Carradine and Chad McQueen. We also how Steve Cohen got into film starting as a production assistant on Night Of The Juggler before making his way to directing and then producing, moving to Los Angeles, his own martial arts training, doubling for David Carradine, casting the film, and Philip Tan's acting and fight choreography. Steve Pruitt goes over background and training, how he got to know Cohen, landing the part on Martial Law, how he was nervous working on this film as it was going to get him a SAG card and plenty more.

    The disc also includes five-minutes of silent outtake scenes from Martial Law, presented with music overtop. There are some bits and pieces with Rothrock throwing down with two armed goons, some shootout footage and some training footage in here.

    Disc two contains Under The Law: How A Hit Became A Franchise which is made up with interviews with the same crew, though this time the producer role is played by Steve Cohen and Jeff Pruitt serves as fight choreographer. This basically picks up where the featurette on disc one left off, running just under twenty-minute and covering how and why Cohen wound up producing, how Kurt Anderson wound up directing, why Chad McQueen’s role was changed from the original, Pruitt’s role as a choreographer, working with Jeff Wincott and plenty more. Both this piece, and the featurette on the first disc, are really interesting and very well put together. Definitely check them out.

    Both discs also include original theatrical trailers for each movie, video trailers for each movie, menus and chapter stops.

    As far as the packaging goes, Vinegar Syndrome offers this release, part of their VSU limited edition line, (limited to 4,000 copies and not to be re-pressed) with a hand numbered bottom loading slipcover, a reversible cover sleeve and a double-sided poster.

    Martial Law 1 & 2 – The Final Word:

    Martial Law 1 & 2 are a lot of fun, perfect B-level action movies made with great casts and featuring fight chorography that puts a lot of what we get in bigger Hollywood pictures to shame. Rothrock is in fine form here and her co-stars are all a kick to watch as well. Vinegar Syndrome brings these two gems to Blu-ray in beautiful shape and with some nice extras as well. Highly recommended – get it while you can!

    Click on the images below for full sized Martial Law 1 & 2 Blu-ray screen caps!