NOVEMBER 12 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : LA STREETFIGHTERS (1985)
When it comes to a low-budget martial arts film, I’m willing to overlook just about any problem with the script, acting, and overall lack of filmmaking craft as long as the fight scenes are exciting and well-choreographed. Unfortunately, L.A. Streetfighters has worse than usual problems when it comes to the factors I’m usually willing to turn a blind eye to. On top of that, the fight scenes range from awkward to competent to only occasionally exciting.
Tony (Phillip Rhee, better known from the Best of the Best films) is the new kid at a Los Angeles area high school. Threatened by Chan (James Lew), the leader of a multi ethnic gang of snarling thugs, Tony falls in with another gang led by Young (Jun Chong). Young and his gang love to fight, but never go after the defenseless like Chan’s gang. When the owner of a personal security firm sees Young beat Chan senseless, he hires the gang to work security at clubs and private parties.
This barebones plot is just an excuse for Young, Tony, and crew to engage in several fight scenes with different aggressors. These scenes should be the reason to watch the film, but more often than not, the stuntmen that are brought in to get kicked around by Chong and Rhee are not very skilled at martial arts. This is probably attributable to the low budget, as is the pedestrian direction by Richard Park (an alias for veteran Korean action film director Woo-sang Park) that is unable to cover up the obvious inexperience of the stuntmen portraying hapless victims. Two fight scenes between Young and Chan, one between Tony and Chan, and one between Young and a thuggish assassin (Bill Wallace) have moments of impressive choreography, but they are the exceptions to the very sloppy rule.
The only other entertainment value to be drawn from the film comes in the form of camp value. The actors are all far too old to be playing high school students (Chong was reportedly 40 years old at the time of production), lending a surreal feel to the film. At the same time, the attempts to add depth to the characters are ridiculously laughable: Young has an alcoholic mother who comes home with different men all the time; Tony falls in love with Lily (Rosanna King), Chan’s sister; a member of Young’s gang who had approximately two lines through the first forty minutes of the film is suddenly given a soliloquy about how he used to be homeless. Along with the terrible dubbing (characters say entire lines of dialogue without opening their mouths), there is comedic value to be found in the melodramatic moments.
But a film can only cruise by on unintentional laughs and camp value for so long. Lacking even the most basic of interesting stories and, more importantly, consistently good fight scenes, L.A. Streetfighters fails to entertain for more than a few minutes at a time.
Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.
NOVEMBER 12 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : LA STREETFIGHTERS (1985)
When NYAFF organizer Grady Hendrix took to the front of a theater in a cutoff baseball tee and asked the assembled audience if they had ever counted bananas last Saturday night, he wasn't just drunk- he was also introducing an amazing slice of early '80s Tae Kwan Doe-sploitation, Richard Park's L.A. STREETFIGHTERS a.k.a. NINJA TURF. Apparently one in a long line of Park films where bizarre, semi-coherent plots include scenes of people counting bananas, L.A. STREETFIGHTERS is one of those B (or C or D) movies that actually transcend the whole "so bad it's good" attribute. What you are watching on screen is nothing less than outsider art, a collective hallucination produced not by one or two auteurs but by a sizable number of people, apparently none of whom ever realized how weird this damn movie is.
The plot isn't that bizarre at least- new kid in high school Tony (Phil Ree) befriends grizzled teen gang leader Young (a 41- 41!- year old Jun Chong) and they're soon working security and whooping ass through a large swath of comical ethnic gangs. But when Young steals a suitcase of dirty money from a drug kingpin, the entire gang is in trouble.
See? It's not too nonsensical, and at times you'll be almost convinced that you're watching a reasonable facsimile of an actual movie. But then you'll watch a couple of kids menace a liquor store owner with a didgeridoo, or watch Young give a banana to some random naked guy showering outside his house, or view the silent pajama'd majesty of the actor nicknamed "Chinese Orson Welles". I'd say that this would be a perfect drinking game movie except none of the high weirdness of the film comes from repetition- something bizarre will happen and the movie will then gallop off to something else equally bizarre. The best L.A. STREETFIGHTERS drinking game might simply be "DRINK".
Although L.A. STREETFIGHTER is best seen in the company of inebriated cinéastes, it's now available on Netflix and Netflix On Demand. You really have no excuse.
NOVEMBER 12 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : LA STREETFIGHTERS (1985)
It's your old boy Alan Trehern here with another review of a good movie. And by "good movie", I mean "pretty bad". And by "pretty bad", I mean "pretty bad ass". L.A. Streetfighters was exactly what I thought it would be, for numerous reasons. And as usual, I'm going to tell you those reasons, whether you like it or not. So let's begin!
L.A. Streetfighters (1985)
Starring Jun Chong and Phillip Rhee
Produced by Jun Chong
Directed by Woo-sang Park (as Richard Park)
The plot of this film follows a high-school group of kids who must band together and work as bodyguards to survive the dangerous streets of inner-city Los Angeles. Young (Chong) and Tony (Rhee), become tight friends within the first thirty seconds when the bully and self-appointed ruler of the high school, Chan (James Lew), starts trouble. The movie continues from this awkward cold-opening and manages to throw in every stereotype and cliché in the book.
Young and his crew begin getting work as protection at clubs, parties and Mexican fiestas, all the while running the night away on the dark and dingy streets. The best aspect of this movie is that there are literal "street fights" in almost every scene. Whether the guys piss off the Mexican gangs, or Chan's gang or the coke dealers, the movie is over the top action through and through, and for that, I give it 25 Branzys.
However, the movie also shines in the drama department, depicting a troubling life for these young ruffians. Young and his mother have a delicate relationship, and while he strives to improve their mother-son demeanor, she would rather have strange men plow drinks into her in a smoky club. Tony, who has a well-structured family life, spends more time with Young, learns more about his past and the two become like brothers; the kinship portrayed in the movie between Young and Tony, as well as within the Young group, is pretty believable and doesn't seem forced like most movies I see.
For the most part, though, the overall tale has alot of loose ends. Numerous sub-plots were attempted but never resolved, so you're left with six or seven unfinished stories. The movie doesn't actually have a recurring storyline until the very end when they steal the coke dealers' money and the coke dealers come after them; it was the first instance during the film that a plot took more than two scenes to complete.
The lowest point of the movie? The acting. The entire movie was over-dubbed in post-production, even though the damn thing was clearly filmed in English. Not only that, but it seemed like every single sentence of dialogue was recorded by the actors separately with no context to the scene, causing each scene to lack the fluidity and substance you expect from any other movie. I mean, seriously, who watched the final cut of this and said, "Well, there's nothing more we can do to it. Let's ship it out." This movie could have met the ranks of A Better Tomorrow or any other "low-quality but good" martial arts movie, but the producers just didn't give a rat's ass. **grumble**
Most of the time, everyone speaks at the same time, but the actors' mouths aren't moving, so you really don't know who's saying what. Further, on occasion a character will ask a question, but no one will answer it. It's like the screenwriters just wrote random lines of dialogue with no real structure in mind. It's utter bullsh*t.
You probably still don't believe how bad the dialogue is. Well, let me give you another example. At one point in the movie, Chan attempts to rough up young Tony and his girlfriend. Each over-dubbed insult is met with an awkward pause, followed by some forced laughter from Chan, like he really burned Tony with that one-liner. The only thing that soothed my temper was the knowledge that the inevitable street fight that would break out within seven seconds. Ahhhh...
As I said before, the fight scenes were pretty good considering the dialogue is pure elephant diarrhea. The fights had what the other scenes lacked: fluidity, quickness, substance, structure. I mean they were no
Protector or John Woo fight scenes, but for an hour and 22 minutes, I was thoroughly pleased.
I love 80s music; I really, really do. And this movie delivered. The trashy streets of L.A. mixed with the synthesized/urban feel of the instrumentals hearkened back memories of Robocop, The Terminator and any other 1980s urban films. For some reason these types of movies make me feel good, and it's something I can't explain, but when I stumble across a movie that fits the criteria, I get so damn excited. Call me a freak, see if I care, but I feel like music can make a movie 50-60 percent better, and L.A. Streetfighters is a perfect example of this.
Now, I have accepted the fact that my taste in movies is far from anything socially acceptable or in any way thoughtful or intellectual. I get persecuted time and time again for the sh*t that I watch and declare as "remarkable". But believe me, if you enjoy a good "bad movie" every once an a while, this film probably isn't for you.
Is it an artistic film? No. Is the story worthwhile? Not by a long shot. Does the dialogue speak to a generation? No, it's god-awful.
This movie is an action-packed Korean martial arts film with themes of friendship, love, family and honor buried somewhere deep among the travesty that these guys call a script. It's a genuine movie made with hardly any budget, and if you watch movies like I do, you'll get a kick out of how bad but terrific it is. Any martial arts fan (Ben included) should check it out, and any pretentious, arty cenophile (Ben not included) should stay far away, lest they defecate all over this film's redeeming qualities with their pompous, analytical poppycock.
COMING SOON: Trehern reviews Miami Connection and the Robocop Trilogy.
UPDATE: Miami Connection is regrettably no where to be found. If you have a copy of it, let me know. Until then, witness this sweet 1980s music video from the movie. Until I find a copy, that's all I got.
NOVEMBER 12 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : LA STREETFIGHTERS (1985)
PLOT: Rival teenage gangs of martial arts street toughs rumble over territory and bragging rights. When one gang tries to go legitimate as a private security team, and one gang member starts dating the sister of a rival gang member, and someone steals drug money, and another guy comes from a broken home, things get really convoluted. And awesome.
Director: Woo-sang Park
Writer: Ji-Woon Hong, Jaime Mendoza-Nava
Cast: Jun Chong, Phillip Rhee, James Lew, Bill Wallace, Loren Avedon
Bear Republic Brewery’s Racer 5 might be my favorite IPA of all time. You sudsy connoisseurs are probably chuckling at my naivety on the subject, but I had it for the first time recently and gave it immediate and favorable judgement. Taste is like that, so is smell: in analyzing the respective properties, you usually know immediately whether you like something or not. Movies are more slippery. The 1985 Woo-sang Park film L.A. Streetfighters is one that often popped up when researching the filmographies of Loren Avedon, James Lew, and Phillip Rhee. Digging deeper into some random reviews, I found a lot of “so bad it’s good!” reactions and added it to my Netflix queue. I watched it. I probably shrugged. I moved on.
It was added as a “midnight movie” selection to last year’s edition of the New York Asian Film Festival and due to time restrictions, I failed to attend. With fresh eyes, I just revisited the film last week and have concluded this: in terms of cinematic gut reactions, 2009 Karl Brezdin’s guts don’t know shit. This movie is incredible.
Phillip Rhee stars as Tony, a charismatic and likeable high school student. The only problem? He’s the new guy in town and doesn’t look quite tough enough to not be fucked with. Part of it is his affable demeanor but most of it is that he wears the same gray argyle sweater to school every day. (Unless it’s a Members Only jacket, wearing the same clothes on consecutive days is not a cool thing to do.) As a result, the school’s bully, Chan (Lew) and his gang of thugs target Tony for a beatdown, unless he can pay the fee: five dollars. Luckily, the rebellious Young (Chong) sticks up for Tony and challenges Chan to a duel under the cover of night. While his ample mustache might suggest he stayed back a few years, Young is a tough customer and has the leather jacket, black fingerless gloves, and occasional flowy scarf to prove it.
The bo staff is the weapon of choice for the rumble between Chan and Young, and it’s a legitimately well-choreographed fight scene that puts over Young’s skills very effectively. He dominates the contest and Chan’s gang goes scurrying. A casual observer to the proceedings notices that Young is a formidable physical specimen capable of quickly disarming his opponent and immediately offers him a wad of cash to work as private security. We then get the first of several WTF moments, as Young grips the cash in hand, turns his head toward the camera, and begins laughing maniacally before it abruptly cuts to the next scene. Incredible.
Like Chan, Young has a gang of super-tough friends, and also like Chan, he comes from a single-parent household. During a rotating cascade of poorly-lit, ineptly performed, and terribly dubbed scenes of melodrama, Young laments his place in America and his mother’s rampant alcoholism. Will she ever accept him or be a real mother to him? The dilemma frustrates him to no end and he constantly vents to Tony, but his friend seems to think that he should simply concentrate on school, the one thing he can control. Like Bill Gates before him, Young is all “fuck school, I gots to get PAID” and continues to bust heads during the gang’s adventures in private security and random parking garage rumbles.
As Young and friends rush fist-first into the alluring world of working the door at Mexican restaurants and dance clubs, Tony catches the eye of the adoring Lily (King) and they begin to date. Despite their innocent puppy love, this is a highly combustible situation because Lily is Chan’s sister. She attempts to explain away her brother’s dickheaded behavior as the result of their mother abandoning the family. The honesty between them and their mutual love for ice cream only fortifies their romantic bonds, and it seems as if Young is growing resentful. As the gang’s caretaker who took Tony in as a friend, it troubles him to see his friend happy with the sister of his arch-rival. This manifests itself in an awkward scene where Young drives around looking for hookers for Tony, and mistakes non-hookers for actual hookers as Tony shifts nervously in his seat all the while.
There are so many more scenes just like this, none of which can be adequately described in the written word as a means of capturing the same random and off-beat spirit that an actual viewing could. By the time Young steals a drug dealer’s money and the gang is stalked by Bill “Superfoot” Wallace and a samurai-hitman fights a gang member in what looks like an expressionistic art gallery, your head will be spinning with the pure fun of it all. Though, for all the goofiness and technical gaffes, the ending to this movie is bleak as all-fuck which made me love it all that much more.
The action overall is quite good when you can actually see what’s transpiring. While the terrible attention to lighting hurts at times, the choreography is mostly crisp, the movement is framed well, and the editing isn’t overdone. More than the technical components though, the roster of fighters helps these scenes succeed. Rhee, Chong, and Lew are all legitimate taekwondo masters and the inclusion of karate and kickboxing champion Bill Wallace was a cool way to bridge the 1970s and early 80s output of the Chuck Norris era, and the burgeoning talent and work of the 1980s Los Angeles taekwondo scene. I didn’t spot him fighting, but Loren Avedon -- a TKD practitioner -- makes a brief appearance as one of Lew’s buddies. Mark Hicks, who cries over a birthday cake here, has a long history of Hollywood stunt work, just appeared in the action blockbuster Fast Five, and achieved unfortunate Internet fame as Afro Ninja. Also deserving special mention is Danny Gibson, who appears as the leader of the Spikes gang and has one of the most unique looks in a film loaded with questionable fashion sense. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a mustachioed man in a belly shirt yelling “YOU'RE DEAD MEAT MOTHERFUCKER! DON'T FUCK WITH... THE SPIKES!”
The terrible lighting. The dubbed dialogue. The fingerless black leather gloves. The VHS artwork that looks like it belongs on the cover of some obscure side-scrolling Data East beat-em-up for the NES. You get all of this and more in the highly enjoyable gang violence romp that is L.A. Streetfighters. While it will never win points on polish or artistic achievement, the film is legitimately historic for other reasons. It’s a cinematic flashpoint for some of the biggest figures in the American martial arts b-movie scene. Phillip Rhee went on to head up the infamous Best of the Best franchise. James Lew would become one of the most prolific stunt performers in Hollywood. Loren Avedon played prominent heroes and villains for the next 20 years. While Chong never achieved the same longevity cinematically, this is his most consistently entertaining piece of work and a legit midnight movie gem. Highly recommended.
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