Fearless Tiger (1991)


Fearless Tige
r (1991)- * * *

Directed by: Jalal Merhi 

Starring: Jalal Merhi, Monika Schnarre, Lazar Rockwood, K. Dock Yip, Bolo Yeung, and Jamie Farr

"Tell me about Fish Food!!" - Lyle Camille

Lyle Camille (Merhi) seems to have it all in life: he's engaged to the beautiful Ashley (Schnarre), and is poised to take an important position in the family business, which is led by his father Sam (Farr). His charmed life is about to be derailed when his brother overdoses on a new drug called Nirvana, which clearly was the only thing with that name to become popular in 1991. (The drug also seems to have a code name on the streets: Fish Food).

Naturally, as any good brother would do after such a tragedy, Lyle flies to Hong Kong, studies with Martial Arts Master Do Man (Yip), meets the mysterious Master on Mountain (Bolo), and enters a King of the Kickboxers-esque fighting tournament. Lyle then returns to his native Canada after an undisclosed amount of time, and proceeds to use his newfound skills to get revenge on the baddies, and his main target is the dastardly Saalamar (Rockwood, not to be confused with the Jody Watley and Soul Train-affiliated singing group with a similar name). Will Lyle Camille reach his newfound lifelong goal of becoming a FEARLESS TIGER?

Fearless Tiger is probably one of the better Jalal Merhi movies we've seen to date, because it's full of enough silly and amusing moments to keep the whole thing afloat. Some scenes are genuinely well-shot and lit, and there's usually a fight or an explosion coming soon.

Because Merhi's real accent is so thick, Jamie Farr probably thought he needed to keep up with that, so his accent seems to get thicker as time goes on. The rise of Lyle Camille (how do they come up with these names?) was a bit like if Latka from Taxi trained hard to beat people up. What they should have done back in '91 - though it's not too late still today - is have Jalal Merhi and Bronson Pinchot play twin brothers who team up to get revenge on a drug cartel. Perhaps the cartel could operate out of the island of Mypos and their last name could be Bartokomous. It's too good of an idea. We'll keep waiting.

Anyway, Bloodsport (1988) and Kickboxer (1989) were very popular at the time, so here comes Fearless Tiger. What those classics don't have, however, is the hero fighting an overweight man wearing rainbow suspenders while on the back of a moving dumptruck. Lazar Rockwood, who plays the main baddie, looks like an Asian Billy Drago. We were happy to see Monika Schnarre here, in her first cinematic role. She later went on to be in The Death Merchant (1991). Like a lot of similar outings, a lot of time is taken up by the baddies looking for "the disk". It's a classic cliche we all know and love.

Co-writer J. Stephen Maunder went on to direct Tiger Claws II (1996) and Tiger Claws III (2000), as well as Shadows in Paradise (2010). He also wrote a lot of other titles we're all familiar with, such as Expect No Mercy (1995). With Fearless Tiger, we have something with enough absurd or entertaining moments to keep it all moving forward.

Featuring a quality end credits song, Face of Fear by Britton, Fearless Tiger is indeed recommended if you like those early-90's video store actioners, and we all can't get enough of those.

Comeuppance Review by Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!


Lethal Ninja (1992)


Lethal Ninja
(1992)- * *

Directed by: Yossi Wein 

Starring: Ross Kettle, Karyn Hill, Norman Coombes, David Webb, and Ken Gampu

Joe Ford (Kettle) is some sort of cross between an art teacher and a yoga instructor who teaches "creation by meditation". Naturally, he lives in San Francisco. When he gets word that his wife Dominique (Hill) has been kidnapped, he goes to see his buddy Brannigan (Webb), and the two men go to Lake Oduba in Africa where she's being held. Kray (Coombes), the man who took her, claims he needs her for her "microbiology skills". Because her scientific encampment was besieged by ninjas, Ford and Webb decide they need to fight ninja with ninja and they become ninjas themselves, which is apparently something you can do overnight. Somehow tied into all this silliness is a Nostradamus prophecy. Will things get salty as Kettle chips away at the baddies?

The Ninja Boom meets the Africa slog in this lackluster outing. At first, we were excited to see a man named Ross Kettle be the imposing LETHAL NINJA that we see on the Vidmark box cover. Very quickly, disappointment set in when we saw how boring and lifeless it all is. It's like a lot of Yossi Wein/Nu Image movies. There are no interesting characters, dialogue, plot developments, or ideas - except for one, which we'll mention shortly. Even the time-honored barfight (at a place called New York Disco) is only about 30 seconds long.

In 1992, when Lethal Ninja came out, the American Ninja series was still very popular in video stores. But Wein and Nu Image failed to recreate that Cannon magic. Getting a guy who looks like Michael Pare (Kettle) and a guy who looks like Steve James (Webb) - not to mention a baddie that looks like Malcolm McDowell (Coombes) just wasn't enough. 

Like in a lot of other Africa-shot movies, they got Ken Gampu, which is usually a good thing, but his screen time is extremely limited. Unfortunately, the main star and lead of the movie, Ross Kettle, is a charismaless personality vacuum. He looks almost exactly like Michael Pare, but makes Pare look like Regis Philbin by comparison in the energy department. You might say Kettle is sub-Pare. It seems the filmmakers made every wrong decision. Except one...

There is exactly one good idea in Lethal Ninja. I've got the two words you've been waiting your whole life to hear: rollerskating ninjas.

That's right, at one point Joe (the same first name as Dudikoff in the aforementioned American Ninja series) goes into a warehouse and is encircled by a gaggle of dudes in ninja pajamas skating all around him. Their skates have blades that jut out from the sides. Think Xanadu (1980) meets ninjas. Amazingly, even this fantastic innovation isn't really capitalized upon. They just skate around him for a few minutes and there's no big blowout fight. They even managed to screw that up. But for a while it was really cool.

Throughout the film, things perk up whenever there is a ninja attack. I'm not sure why they didn't think of this at the time, but there should have been more ninja attacks. Besides the brief barfight, other cliches include some exploding huts and a Prerequisite Torture scene of the heroes. Interestingly, this time around, Kettle is held above a rectangular vat of boiling oil. Just like you would do with a potato chip. Could this be a coincidence?

Not to be confused with the David Heavener outing Lethal Ninja (1991) AKA For Hire, this Lethal Ninja is basically the same movie as Danger Zone (1996)...but with ninjas. The whole thing is very plain and lacks excitement or thrills. It's ultimately an empty kettle. We doubt Lethal Ninja will be your kettle of fish.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out reviews from our buddies, DTVC and The Video Vacuum!


American Tigers (1996)


American Tigers
(1996)- * *

Directed by: David Worth 

Starring: Sam Jones, Don Gibb, Todd Curtis, Joe Estevez, and Cynthia Rothrock

Terrorist Riley Hooker (Curtis) gets the idea to gather all the other terrorist groups from around the world and assemble them on his boat in a Los Angeles harbor. When the military, especially General Clay (Estevez) gets wind of his plan, he gets Sgt. Major Ransom (Jones) to enact an equally crafty response. They gather together a ragtag bunch of death row convicts and train them for three weeks to become a fighting force against the baddies. If they die, well, they were going to die anyway. 

If they survive, they can go free. While most of the prisoners are quite obnoxious, thankfully Ransom's buddy Dan Storm (Gibb), a biker and non-prisoner, wants to help as well. Will our heroes defeat the evil lying in wait for them? They do have a special guest star waiting to train them in Martial Arts, so their odds of becoming AMERICAN TIGERS are looking better by the day.

Well, we had to watch American Tigers. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to see something with fan favorites Sam Jones, Cynthia Rothrock, Donald Gibb, and Joe Estevez all together. It also features Paul Logan and Matt McColm in small, uncredited roles. So how could it go so terribly wrong? Stultifyingly stupid dialogue, dull, lifeless, amazingly repetitive training sequences, and just an air of generalized dumbness that is impossible to deny. The endless meatheaded monotony of it all tends to grate on the viewers' nerves.

Now, there are a couple of bright spots that act in sharp contrast to the morass of stupidity that surrounds American Tigers like a cloud. First off is the brief but incredibly welcome presence of Rothrock. Inexplicably, she plays herself as a Martial Arts instructor for the prisoners. Why it had to be her, and not a character, remains unknown. It's very bizarre to have Sam Jones say to his charges things like, "Say hello to Cynthia Rothrock!" in a non-documentary context. It was just very strange. Despite her front-and-center positioning on the box art, it's really a glorified cameo. Still, why Rothrock individually beating up each prisoner in the ring is part of their training is pretty strange too.

Donald Gibb almost saves the movie, because his character is personable and likable. None of the other characters are. American Tigers, if it needed one thing - and it needed a lot of things - it would have been more Gibb. If the filmmakers were really smart, they would have made Gibb and Rothrock partners that were fighting the terrorists, and they dispatch wave after wave of goons, and forget everything else. But no, director David Worth thought it extra-necessary to have a long, drawn out tournament between a group of Navy SEALS and the ragtag misfits. Incidentally, the group is named "Tiger 525 Tiger Team", a name that's as repetitive as the movie itself.

The main terrorist has some entertaining dialogue, and the opening sequence is like a junkier, lower-budget version of Megadeth's Symphony of Destruction video. Then there's a silly chase, and we're off and running into the "no intelligence allowed" zone. If you watch American Tigers, you may have to hold on tight to your brain cells, as depletion is a serious concern here.

Should we be surprised that the director of all this is the aforementioned Worth, director of Kickboxer (1989), a movie with a lot of training sequences? The man must really think audiences want to watch men train and train for things.

The release history for American Tigers is spotty, perhaps unsurprisingly, but it did receive VHS and DVD releases in Germany, and was put out here by York Entertainment. That release is now rare. Whatever you do, don't confuse this with American Tiger (1989) AKA American Rickshaw. That's a great movie that's well worth watching. American Tigers, sadly, is not.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!


24 Hours To Midnight (1985)


24 Hours To Midnight
(1985)- * * *

Directed by: Leo Fong

Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Stack Pierce, Juan Chapa, Leo Fong, De'Ann Power, Myra, and Brinke Stevens

Harry Grady (Chapa) was a former mobster who changed his ways and is now about to testify against infamous crime lord White Powder Chan (Pierce). Before Chan has him whacked, Grady helpfully made a tape describing who Chan's gang consists of and where they can be found. He also includes a picture - a posed group shot of the gang (don't all criminal organizations do this?) and he leaves it for his wife Devon (Rothrock) (Power) (Stevens). Don't worry, we'll explain all those parenthetical names in a minute.

So, like any grieving widow would, Devon dons a black ninja outfit, breaks out a variety of different weaponry, and systematically begins killing off the entire gang. Meanwhile, there have been a rash of unrelated drive-bys going on in the streets. Detectives LeAnn Jackson (Myra) and Lester McQueen (Pock) are trying to clean up the crime, but they are then assigned to the White Powder Chan case. Naturally, it all comes to a head when Chan is last on the list and Devon is out for blood. It must be midnight, because it's now...24 HOURS TO MIDNIGHT.

Ya gotta love Leo Fong. Only he could come up with a jumble like this and make it as entertaining as it is. At film schools across the country (and world) they should show 24 Hours to Midnight to students who want to become editors. There's actually a very interesting user comment on imdb.com by the guy who assembled all the footage together into what we see today.

When you watch the film, you may notice that they had about three minutes of actual Cynthia Rothrock footage, and they just looped what they had over and over again. Meanwhile, they got De'Ann Power to do all the scenes in the ninja suit. On top of that, they got Brinke Stevens to be the voice of Rothrock both in and out of the suit. So it took - count 'em - THREE actresses to play the role of Devon Grady. I think most people will be able to understand the entertainment value of that alone.

As they say in the world of infomercials, but wait! There's more! The great Stack Pierce plays White Powder Chan. As you may know, Pierce is Black/African American. Why is his last name Chan? Hell, why is his first name White Powder? (well, we know it's because of drugs, but no other name is ever given). There are also a handful of funny shootouts, one of which is amongst the repeated footage. We get to see Rothrock crying in a car several times throughout the film, and at one point she goes to Juarez, Mexico to meet with Master Tanaka (which we see more than once).

Then the characters of Jackson and McQueen show up. McQueen is your classic 80's coolguy, and Jackson likes to work out in the weight room while wearing suspenders. Her voice is simultaneously flat and very soothing. This mysterious woman is credited solely as "Myra" and never appeared in anything else. What ever happened to Myra? Anyway, McQueen and Jackson have a classic WYC (White Yelling Chief) that they must answer to.

But even White Powder Chan must answer to someone as well, and in his case it's Mr. Big (Fong). Yes, Leo appears last-minute in an uncredited role as the boss of bosses.

The whole thing is a labor of love: handmade and stitched together like an old quilt. Watching it as viewers in 2020, we found it to be very enjoyable but you have to know what you're getting into. It won't be for everybody. But you can honestly say they don't make 'em like this anymore. We're not even sure they made 'em like this back then, usually.

24 Hours to Midnight is definitely an oddity, and quite rare these days to find. The U.S. VHS states "Look out Seagal! Watch out Van Damme! Here Comes..." over a huge name of Cynthia Rothrock. While her name is completely deserving to be amongst those others, perhaps 24 Hours to Midnight isn't the very best exemplar of her skills? Nevertheless, it shows that the action boom was in full force back then and even a movie like this, with all its quasi-unfinished issues, could get a nationwide VHS release.

In the end, 24 Hours to Midnight is quite unique, and while its appeal to the masses may be limited, fans of underground/weird movies and under-the-radar action will surely appreciate it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!