Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos, Valerie Trapp, Rex Ryon, and John Fujioka
When Drew Collins (Bradley) was just a child, he was in a plane that crashed in Japan. Like what would happen to anyone in that situation, he was then raised in the ways of the Samurai by a Japanese Master, Sanga (Fujoika). After reaching the highest levels of Samurai school, Master Sanga bestows upon him the treasured family sword. However, his son from birth, Kenjiro Sanga (Dacascos) feels anger, betrayal and resentment about that fact. So much so, he joins the Yakuza. Later on, Drew becomes a reporter in L.A. He ends up traveling to Istanbul with Janet (Trapp) for an assignment - at first they don’t get along and then they end up in a relationship! - but naturally Drew gets roped into illegal, underground “live blade fighting”, and guess who the reigning champ is - none other than Kenjiro. So now the two half-brothers must face off in the ultimate duel to the death: the honor of the Samurai vs. the evil of the Yakuza. Who will slice and dice their way to the truth?
In American Ninjas 3, 4, and 5, David Bradley was the American Ninja. Now, he’s the American Samurai. We know Cannon recycles plot ideas all the time, but come on. A transparent word change from one well-known aspect of Japanese culture to another is pretty obvious. But what this movie really is, is practically a remake of Bloodsport. Even the DVD touts the fact that “It’s Bloodsport with blades!” There’s even an amazing facsimile of that movie's Donald Gibb character in Harrison (Ryon). But there are plenty of meatheads with weapons on display, and many of them seem to take on well-known personas. For example, there’s a guy who’s strongly reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Harrison resembles Indiana Jones (and his name is Harrison...coincidence?). The situation is sort of a cross between Ring of Steel (1994), Best of the Best 2 (1993), and Bloodsport (1988).
Dacascos puts in an energetic performance as the angry brother, and Trapp is decent as your classic reporter who bickers with Collins and then inevitably falls in love with him. She even calls him “Samurai Hunk.” Ugh. But a lesser-known fan favorite gets a pretty decent “slice” of the action here - Ron Vreeken, of Hurricane Smith (1992), Rage and Honor II (1993), Deathfight (1994), and Under the Gun (1995) fame. He looks extra-meatheady, and we mean that as a compliment (?), but then again, it’s hard not to when you wear a wrestling singlet for the entirety of the movie and you have long blonde hair. But it is nice of the “Arena” captors to provide their fighters with their own weight room.
Sadly, American Samurai is the victim of overly-PC editing. By that we mean, in days gone by, during the death and dismemberment scenes (which are undoubtedly the highlights) they would either show the blood or perhaps gore, or release the movie in two versions: cut or uncut. In the PC 90’s, they just released a jaggedly cut version. The Swedish DVD is uncut, but extremely hard to find. It’s a real shame. In the DVD era, American fans should be given what they want. There’s no excuse for it, and the only “cuts” we should be seeing are the ones administered by David Bradley and Ron Vreeken!
Perhaps interestingly, “American Samurai” is an alternate title for Paper Bullets (2000), and “American Samurai 2” is what the Jerry Trimble outing Live By the Fist (1993) is called in Germany. It all gets very confusing, but all you really need to remember is that this American Samurai is yet another underground fighting movie that is okay, not bad, but could have used a tad bit more originality.
Also check out write-ups from our buddies The Video Vacuum and DTVC!
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty