Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
By: Devon B. on July 28, 2013 | Comments
Warner Bros | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 76 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Mark L. Lester
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Tia Carrere, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Screenplay: Stephen Glantz, Caliope Brattlestreet
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Rotten YouTube
Once when I was sick, a friend of the family popped 'round. I was couch-ridden and so she asked if I'd like any movies to watch. Never one to turn down that offer, I said yes, and she furnished me with a copy of the hot new release Showdown in Little Tokyo. The movie kicked through my fever induced sleepiness and was so good it made me think cinema must have peaked. The film cemented Dolph Lundgren as an icon to me and introduced me to Brandon Lee, who would soon play a role even more iconic than Dolph's own debut in Rocky IV. I was probably 13 at the time, so what I now view as the film's dumb charm was then perceived as absolute awesomeness. It's still awesome, but maybe not quite the way I remembered.

Showdown in Little Tokyo is basically a buddy cop flick. Dolph is a cop that's very into Eastern culture, a Western Samurai. His new partner, Lee, is a wiseass. Yes, the Swede is playing the samurai and the guy of Eastern heritage is a normal cop (who knows kung fu), because this movie is just that great. Not only that, the Swede has to explain Japanese culture to Lee, who is playing an American of Japanese descent. I know not everyone of Asian descent is well versed in Asian heritage, but I still struggle to accept Dolph explaining these things to Lee. And why was the son of the most famous Chinese star ever cast as a Japanese guy? Anyway, the Yakuza are trying to introduce ice to the local drug trade, plus Dolph's parents were killed by the Yakuza leader so Dolph's on a quest for vengeance. You'll know he means business when he starts taking dress tips from Daniel Larusso.

While it has plenty of buddy cop flick clichés, the interesting thing about this buddy cop movie is rather than have the standard period where the two cops dislike each other before finding out that they're really best friends, Lee pretty much falls for Dolph right away. They have a brief skirmish when the first meet, but shortly thereafter Lee helps Dolph like they were lifelong pals. Lee starts to like Dolph very quickly after Dolph wears a singlet, and I think what's going on here is Lee is meant to be gay. Sure, he talks about women, but he's otherwise very gay. The gayness is so extreme that Lee actually compliments Dolph on his penis! Showdown throws in some female nudity to throw viewer's off the scent of the man crush that Lee's character has, but when Dolph strips down and tools up a la Commando, then tries to keep his shirt off for the rest of the movie, I figure Lee's character had to fight the urge to reach out and touch those glistening muscles. Lee's character wasn't the only one that had a hard-on for Dolph, because the hero worship in this one is something else. In the first scene, Dolph swoops in, knocks a guy out of a boxing ring with one punch, then jumps over a speeding car. It seems Lee's character and the movie itself is in love with Dolph, so it may come as no surprise that Showdown was directed by the man behind the greatest homoerotic action movie of all time: Commando. Yes, these are both films by Mark L. Lester. I know it's claimed that the gayest element of Commando, Vernon Wells' tight fitting vest, was a happy accident caused by his replacing the much smaller actor that had been originally cast to play Bennett. After watching Showdown in Little Tokyo again, I'm thinkin' that Lester probably created this story as an excuse for why Bennett was so flamboyantly gay, but his cover is blown now. I don't even know that Lester is gay, but I think he's making subversively gay movies in a genre that normally tries to be overtly hetero, and that makes Lester cool. People thought Brokeback Mountain was groundbreaking, but really Showdown in Little Tokyo got to the idea of a man falling for another man much earlier. Plus, I bet Kevin Smith was watching this when he was writing Chasing Amy.

Gay frivolity aside, Showdown is not the best scripted, acted or directed movie I've ever seen. The movie's short and the story moves at a good clip, but serious analysis finds it lacking in areas that most would consider critical in terms of making a good film. Almost everyone, Dolph and Lee included, is a bit wooden, and unfortunately the stiffness can carry over to the fights. The fights are usually decent, but some parts are poorly shot or choreographed, diminishing their impact. There's an abundance of unintentional (I think) and genuine humour, and some wonderfully bizarre lapses in logic. However, this is one of those movies where the awkwardness starts to become part of its fun, and honestly, aside from a pretty insensitive portrayal of rape victim recovery, I wouldn't change a thing.

Speaking of altering the film, the US DVD is slightly trimmed for violence and nudity, but this extra footage isn't exactly extreme, so this is just a reminder that in the early 90s the MPAA were ridiculously strict. The UK edition has an even worse cut, censoring a fight scene to remove a butterfly knife. I guess that's not as bad as removing the nunchaku scene from Enter the Dragon, but still it's a fight that's been cut and that's a no-no in action movies. Thankfully the Australian DVD is the uncut version of the film. Advance Australia fair!
The Disc
Strangely, Showdown in Little Tokyo looks like a lower budgeted action movie. There's some edge enhancement, a few spots and grain can be heavy at times, but really it's not a bad transfer. Audio is available in English, French and Italian 2.0 mixes. The Italian track seemed to be missing some of the bass, but the English and French tracks seemed similar to me, though the French Dolph voice sounded funny. On all the tracks the score is repetitive. The English track is fine, with a few minor touches of distortion being the only flaw I noticed. A trailer is the only extra feature.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
It's stupid and camp, but I love it. While the DVD is pretty basic, it is the only English territory release that is uncut, and it retails for about $6 so it's hard to work up much indignation over any flaws with the DVD. I am perhaps being overly nostalgic in my scoring of this classic of action cinema, but I don't care because it's the best movie of all time and someday everyone else will realise that.
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