Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fist of the North Star (1995)

Title: Fist of the North Star (1995)

Director: Tony Randel

Cast: Gary Daniels, Malcolm McDowell, Melvin Van Peebles, Clint Howard, Chris Penn, Downtown Julie Brown, Dante Basco


Was 1995 the year of the post apocalyptic movie and nobody told me? Let’s see…Tank Girl, Waterworld, 12 Monkeys and Fist of the North Star were all filmed that same year! Not only that, but Malcolm McDowell starred in two of these, Tank Girl and the film I’ll be reviewing today, Fist of the North Star, just don’t expect a mind blowing performance from McDowell on this film. He just cameos on this one. Now this here film is based on a Japanese anime series which I have never seen, so I wont be judging this film based on if it’s a good adaptation of said series or not, I’m going to be judging  Fist of the North Star on it’s own merits. Now how was it?

Fist of the North Star tells the tale of Kenshiro, the chosen one who carries the knowledge and the power of the ancient martial art known as ‘Fist of the North Star’. Kenshiro wanders the post apocalyptic wasteland looking for ‘Lord Shin’ the dictator who’s destroyed his school, killed his master and stole his woman; so revenge is certainly in the cards. The real problem is that Kenshiro doesn’t want to accept his fate, he doesn’t want to be The Fist of the North Star, he doesn’t want to save the people, he doesn’t want to be the hero. Will he accept his status as ‘the chosen one’? Along the way, Kenshiro befriends a blind girl known as Lynn and her brother Bat. Kenshiro’s mission is to rescue his beloved Julia from the clutches of Lord Shin, and release the people from Shin’s oppressive rule while at it.

In the world of post apocalyptic films, there are the really expensive ones like The Postman (1997), Waterworld (1995) and The Terminator and Mad Max movies, and then there’s the other half, which really composes the vast majority of these films, the low budget half. I was listening to the films audio commentary with director Tony Randel and on it he mentions that the films budget was something around the vicinity of 2.5 million dollars; but on the IMDB page it says 7 million dollars, so I don’t know who to trust, but ultimately be it 2.5 or 7, were talking about a low budget film here, the kind that really ha s to stretch those dollars! I’d say that the film looks pretty decent for such a low budget film. Director Tony Randel decided to shoot the film in soundstages, and not on the dessert. I guess that was a stylistic choice, he probably wanted to give the film a purposely campy look (achieved) while at the same time working in a more controlled environment. As a result, the film looks like those old Kung Fu movies with the fake sky backgrounds, not a bad look if you do it right. I think they did a good job with this film on that regard.

As a post apocalyptic film I’d say that Fist of the North Star works very well. The world created for this film looks old and filled with the remains of a previous civilization. We have people running from acid rain, people fighting over canned goods, little kids trying to survive amongst the chaos and a new yet oppressive form of government which is a recurring theme in most post apocalyptic films; someone is always trying to regain control over the world, someone is always hungry for that power and that someone is always evil incarnate. Following rule #557 of post apocalyptic films, we have a loner wandering the wastelands; he’s a mysterious figure who wears hooded shrouds and talks very little. Like Mad Max Rockatanski, this films protagonist is the reluctant hero. I also liked the look and feel they achieved for the film, especially when we take in consideration how little it cost. I’d say they achieved something of a miracle for the money they had to make it with. Still, a cramped atmosphere is felt through out the whole film. There’s lot’s of extreme close ups to hide the fact that they filmed in small sets.

This might be a low budget film, but there are all sorts of recognizable character actors on this film. First off we have Clint Howard who always manages to put a smile on my face, there’s just something about the way the dude looks that’s hilarious to me. On this one he doesn’t say much, but he sure shoots a lot of people! We also get Chris Penn as ‘Jackal’, one of those characters that does everything for the lead villain, basically, Penn plays the lead henchman. His character wears these restraints on his head that stops it from exploding. Dante Basco a.k.a. ‘Rufio’ from Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) plays Bat, a sort of comedic sidekick for Kenshiro. Downtown Julie Brown and Melvin Van Peebles play the leaders of a small community of survivors of the apocalypse. We also get an actor called Tracey Walter whom some of you might remember as Conan’s comedic sidekick in Conan The Destroyer (1984), remember? The crazy little guy who swallowed diamonds? That’s the guy. So the film is peppered with actors who thrive on playing smaller roles and that you’ve probably seen in other movies.

But of course, the real star of the show is Gary Daniels as Kenshiro. Gary Daniels has a background in kickboxing, Taekwondo and other martial arts. He participated in various tournaments, at times being disqualified because his style was deemed too aggressive. He then took a stab at acting, where he has remained. He’s one of these actors whose career thrives on straight to dvd features like Bloodfist IV: Die Trying (1992) and American Streetfighter (1992). Every now and again a theatrical release comes his way like his appearances in The Expendables (2010) and Tekken (2010). In Fist of the North Star he displays some cool martial arts moves; you kind of get the idea that this guy could definitely kick Van Damme’s ass any day of the week, blind folded. He comes off as a likable hero on this film; he even heals little blind girls with his powers! Speaking of muscular oiled up dudes, this film is filled to the brim with them.

Ultimately, Fist of the North Star is a film with loads of ideas and an epic storyline that was obviously held back a bit by its limited budget. But it has style and attitude to spare. It’s a comic book of a movie loaded with everything from zombies to kung fu masters with the power to make your head explode by touching you in the right places of the body. The kung fu fighting in the film isn’t all that spectacular when compared to today’s films, but it isn’t bad either. I’ve also heard that the movie isn’t as gory as the anime, but still, there’s some blood spraying on the film, we’re talking about characters that can impale you with their own fingers! This film didn’t please fans of the anime, to them this film is a travesty, but it’s also a film that many like, and those that liked it never heard of the anime, I know cause I’m one of those. I dug the movie for what it ultimately achieved with so little and because it’s an entertaining post apocalyptic flick. Kudos go out to director Tony Randel, the guy behind Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) and  Amytiville 1992: It’s About Time (1992) for pulling off a better film than they had any right to, you can tell they did as much as they could with what they had. I am now interested in checking out the anime movie, which I will undoubtedly do, so expect a review for it in the near future.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5  



RVChris said...

I actually saw the animated Fist of the North Star movie recently and liked it. I've heard from others to that the live action version was bad but after your review I'll have to check it out sometime as I do like post-apocalyptic films and it doesn't bother me that this differs from the anime.

Franco Macabro said...

RVChris: Hope you enjoy it, the audio commentary track is with director Tony Randel, and actor Gary Daniels, they go into some interesting details about how the film was made; recommend it. At one moment he speaks about how certain moments and images were taken directly from the anime film which I hope to be checking out soon.

I've seen some clips of the animated Fist of the North Star film, it reminds me a bit of that Street Fighter animated film which was really good.

Jack Thursby said...

I've seen a fair bit of the Fist of the North Star animated series from the 80s. Despite the change in ethnicity of several characters and the very streamlined plot it's not a bad film adaptation. It keeps the gory violence and stylised look and feel.

Daniels, though I love him as an actor, doesn't really suit Kenshiro - his British accent really takes you out of the film. But he is an excellent martial artist. You're right the commentary with him is very enlightening and honest.

Just got my hands on Christopher Stone's score which I think is excellent for such a low budget film and really helped to give it an epic feeling.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, that accent was thick!

Totally agree with you on the music for the film, it gave it an epic feel, it made the film feel bigger than it was, it had lot's of "grandeur" to it.

Jack Thursby said...

Another little thing that ruined it, is that I watched back to back with Cannibal The Musical and Gary Daniels and Trey Parker look virtually identical in these two films.

Anonymous said...

I hope the other guys will make NORTH OF THE FIST STAR 2, 3, and 4 soon.


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