You have to give the independent movie scene credit for trying to ride the wave of Anime’s global popularity during the 90’s. Attacking us with two movies based on The Guyver and one on Crying Freeman, it quickly became apparent that while they carried some charms, reduced budgets and greatly simplified storylines meant that the experience was hardly comparable. However, the stylish eroticism of Freeman and the rubber-suited hijinks of The Guyver looked like Terminator 2 compared to 1995’s Fist Of The North Star, an apocalyptic martial arts movie based on the skull busting 1986 Anime – and the less violent tv series that ran at the same time.
Desperately trying to cram what essentially is Mad Max meets The Story Of Ricky into a production that looks like it couldn’t even handle half that, could this meager attempt even hope to capture even a fraction of the delirious insanity of the original?
After World War III, Earth has been reduced to an inhospitable dust ball that’s regularly lashed by acid rain and is populated by a roving militia of thugs who operate under the name of the Crossmen under the command of the evil lord Shin. Shin is a member of the Southern Cross clan who, with the representative of opposing martial arts school The North Star, was supposed to bring order to a world that’s turned to shit, but instead he murdered master Ryuken and brutalized his son, Kenshiro, abducting his fiancee Julia.
While Shin is playing big man and trying to impose his will in order to rebuild the shattered world, Kenshiro reappears after a self imposed exile and starts using his devastating martial arts skills to defend normal people from the cruelty of their Commander Jackal, a man who’s obviously felt the business end of Kenshiro’s abilities before due to all the straps holding his bulging skull together.
As Kenshiro obliterates more and more of Shin’s forces in his goal to get revenge, he makes friends with orphan siblings Bat and his blind sister Lynn after he uses his skill to enable her to see again, but it seems that the little girl may have a spiritual connection to the martial artist’s dead father. Heeding the advice despite the fact it’s coming from the voice of a glowing child possessed with the voice of Malcolm McDowell – to be fair, that would make me pay attention too – Kenshiro finally makes moves to bring down the arrogant Shin, but the hero doesn’t actually know if his beloved Julia is still alive or not, a detail that Shin will no doubt use to his advantage…
Anyone who’s watched the original 1980’s anime movie probably had a sneaking suspicion that a live action version couldn’t hope to match the sheer insanity of that bone crushing, artery popping extravaganza of violence – after all, in that version Kenshiro gets one of the most over the top introductions I’ve ever seen where he strides into town only for a skyscraper to fall on him – and break off on his fucking head.
While there’s obviously no way an independent movie from the mid-nineties could possibly hope to match up to that level of ludicrous man-flexing, fans may find that Fist Of The North Star still underwhelms when trying to match the gruesome nature of the original.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II director Tony Randal and frequent Hellraiser scripter Pete Atkins do their best to capture even a sliver of the insanity, but fall embarrassingly short despite the occasional spot of exaggerated bloodletting. The ravaged world of the future has the usual features you would expect like bricks, dust and rags; but throwing off the whole look is a painfully obvious backdrop with a grey sky painted on it that wouldn’t fool a six year old that’s only highlighted further with every theatrical flash of fake lightning.
Even the gore (surely a must if your movie is directed by someone who made a freakin’ Hellraiser sequel) is sparsely spread out and while we do get the odd dislocated jaw, popped head and an accurate run though of the bloody, unorthodox effects of Shin’s death blow (fatal, profuse bleeding from the crooks of your arms is a new one on me), there just isn’t enough gore to live up the original’s reputation.
The acting, unfortunately, follows suit with the lead role being taken by martial artist Gary Daniels (essentially the 90’s Scott Adkins) whose thespian abilities unfortunately doesn’t match his talent at booting people in the face – however, whenever he’s allowed to cut loose and wallop the shit out of lumpy stuntmen while being buried under an immense mullet, our Gary shines and even looks remarkably like his animated counterpart. Taking up villian duties is a Fabian-maned Costas Mandylor – best known as the noticably chunkier Matt Hoffman in the Saw series – who does a fair job of exuding menace while Reservoir Dogs’ Chris Penn shows exactly how fast you can fall in Hollywood as he marches round with a gnarled prosthetic bonce as he begrudgingly accepts a paycheck for henchman duty.
However, it’s here where we address Fist Of The North Star’s other, most noticable problem and it’s one that’s plagued almost every live action anime America has ever attempted: that of white washing roles originally meant for Asians. This means we have actors like Daniels, Mandylor and a slumming Malcolm McDowell that all have names like Kenshiro, Shin and Ryuken while the Japanese female lead inexplicably has her name changed from the anime from Yuria to Julia in order to pander to both American and Japanese audiences.
With all that being said, while Fist Of The North Star is admittedly a dud, at least the filmmakers tried to shoehorn in some classic moments, like Kenshiro’s trademark flurry of lightning fast punches or the iconic seven wounds inflicted on him by Shin – although I’m not sure why someone who has the ability to pop heads like over-ripe melons feels the need to use a couple of sticks to beat people up….
Daniels seemed to be happy enough as he enjoyed playing his lethal character so much he actually named one of his sons Kenshiro – but for anyone who wants a far more satisfying slice of super-gory, fantastical martial arts, chances are they’ve already unearthed The Story Of Ricky already.
Consider this particular fist, unclenched.