Samurai Cop - Video CoverSamurai Cop (1991)
Directed by: Amir Shervan
Starring: Matt Hannon, Mark Frazer, Robert Z’Dar, Jannis Farley, Dale Cummings, Melissa Moore, Gerald Okamura, Krista Lane, Joselito Rescober

Matt Hannon and Mark Frazer
My fists are weapons and… oh, you shot him. That’s cool.

Persian director Amir Shervan only had about 10 films to his name, but in the universe of bad cinema, he has amassed quite a following. After the Iranian Revolution, he moved to Cali and directed some astonishingly bad action films from 1987 to 1992, some of which are not available anywhere (yet). One of these films, Samurai Cop, has recently been released in a restored version for DVD. (Thanks?) Samurai Cop is your basic ripoff of Lethal Weapon, except that the Mel Gibson role goes to a non-acting slice of beefcake named Matt Hannon and Danny Glover’s part is filled in by a guy named Mark Frazer, who was good enough that he landed the part of “Young Technician” in the Lois & Clark pilot and an uncredited bit in Red Dwarf. Hey, that’s better than the awkward, bug-eyed Hannon, who never landed anything after this (I can’t imagine why). Oh yeah, the rest of Samurai Cop is a laugh-a-minute cheesefest where every single thing – from car chases to shootouts to sword fights to comedy bits to sex scenes – is done in the most inept manner possible. Think about the acting in a typical 80s porn movie; this film ranks slightly below that. Reader, you are warned.

As the movie begins, we are introduced to Yamashita, played by the Z-movie favorite, aggressively chinned Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop, Dragonfight, and many other bad films too numerous to list here). Yamashita is part of the Katana gang, making a name for itself in Los Angeles. The movie hits the ground running with the hilarity, as adult film star Krista Lane (masquerading here as “Cameron”) stands there awkwardly, announcing the entrance of the boss, Mr. Fujiyama (announcing his presence and hopping in the sack with Bob Z’Dar is all she does in this flick – but that’s gotta be at least as humiliating as anything she does in Captain Hooker & Peter Porn). When this mustache-wearing, mullet-sporting Japanese man enters the frame, you would be forgiven for thinking he’s simply another henchman. Well, surprise… he’s actually the gang’s boss. By the way, Fujiyama is played by… just a minute, I know I have the cast list here somewhere. Hmmm, nothing on IMDB… nothing in the beginning credits… nothing in the end credits either. Certainly he should get top billing on a poster or something… nope, not there. That’s right folks, nobody knows who he is. I have seen articles stating that Fujiyama is played by Joselito Rescober, who does get a mention in the opening credits of the film, but all evidence points to Rescober (who is an M.D. by the way) playing only a small part – the effeminate restaurant waiter (who tells our leads about a guy’s suicide and seems to find it funny).

Many Faces of Mark Frazer
“I am perpetually amused by this crazy caucasian partner of mine!”

Anyway back to our story: Joe Marshall (Hannon) is recruited from the San Diego police force to bring the Katana gang down. His nickname is “Samurai” and apparently he studied with the masters in Japan. He speaks fluent Japanese, despite his inability to correctly pronounce Fujiyama’s name upon first meeting. The first action sequence is a horribly done car chase scored to a really bad approximation of one of Harold Faltermeyer’s themes used in Beverly Hills Cop. Officer Peggy (Melissa Moore), piloting a helicopter, is called in to help spot the bad guys as they make a drug deal by the docks, but she never actually seems to do anything worthwhile. In fact, if you pay attention to the scenes on the dock, you’ll notice that there’s no chopper for miles. Where did she go? In any case, Joe seems to be on good terms with her, as evidenced by this little nugget of dialogue:

Peggy: “Keep it up!
Joe: “It’s up and ready, you just keep it warm!
Peggy: “Its warm and ready!

After a (thankfully brief) sex scene between Moore and Hannon, we are back with the gang again:

Fujiyama: “So they call him Samurai, huh?!
Yamashita: “Yes, his name is Joe Marshall. They call him Samurai.

So, they call him “Samurai.” Is that what they call him? Anyhow, Fujiyama doesn’t like his henchmen getting captured alive, so he sends Yamashita to the local hospital to take the injured guy out. Krista Lane pretends to be a nurse, just “changing the trash” but hiding in that cart (somehow) is Yamashita, who collects the henchmen’s head by “sawing” it off with his katana blade. By the way, in case you are wondering:

Frank: “What does ‘Katana’ mean?
Joe: “It means ‘Japanese sword.’

So now you know. And knowing is half the battle, the “battle” being to keep from dying of laughter as you sit through this cinematic disaster.

Samurai Cop has a decent following, as is the case with many so-bad-it’s-good movies. A few key scenes show you why. The first one takes place in the hospital, where Joe flirts with a nurse. Why don’t we just let the scene speak for itself:

While you are digesting that, take a look at this other “classic” scene from Samurai Cop, taking place in a restaurant where Joe and Frank harass the gang:

“Precious millions deposited in secret Swiss bank accounts!” That’s comedy gold.

A few things occurred to me while watching Samurai Cop. The first was that every character (hero or villain) is incompetent. After the harassment in the restaurant, Yamashita actually follows Joe and Frank outside, and sends thugs armed with swords and guns to kill them, right in the parking lot! Then Yamashita pulls out a machine gun – remember, this is broad daylight behind a restaurant – and fires upon our heroes (he also takes out his own wounded men). So, first off, your gang isn’t going to last very long if you keep killing off your own men! That’s not really good for morale or recruitment, if you know what I mean. But it seems to me that Z’Dar takes out more of his own gang than the cops that are his mortal enemies. The other problem is that at this point, Yamashita has made himself a wanted man and every cop in the city should come down on him and the gang, but nobody does a damn thing. Instead, Joe and Frank go back to headquarters to get chewed out by their captain (Dale Cummings) who is just sick of their shit (with all the dead bodies piling up) and is very close to having a coronary. (Cummings’ performance is quite funny.)

Jannis Farley and lion head
Wall-mounted lion head stares into your soul. (Cue Moonlight Sonata)

Then beefcake-with-hair visits Fujiyama’s blonde girlfriend Jennifer (Jannis Farley), tries to pick her up, and fails miserably. The scene between them is so very awkward, and the extremely strange lion’s head on the wall next to her (staring straight into the camera) doesn’t help matters. She resists his advances (“I’m busy with my restaurant… I have church on Sunday!”) and at this point Mr. Samurai Cop is looking like a creepy stalker (he confirms it when he actually shows up at her church).

From then on, Samurai Cop turns into a series of action set pieces, where the cops take down a gang member, and the gang tries to take out the cops, and the cycle repeats. There are gunfights after gunfights, and each successive one has a curious effect of inducing more ennui rather than excitement. You should understand that everything done in this movie – chase scenes, dramatic scenes, martial arts, shootouts, 80s electronic score – are done in the most amateurish way possible. Shervan basically takes an action scene – like a car chase or sword fight – and speeds it up in post to make it look exciting. He also has a curious habit of editing character conversations to make it look like a character is by himself, talking to the camera. It’s bizarre… and funny.

Robert Z'Dar in Samurai Cop
Can you smell what Z’Dar is cookin’?

Speaking of dialogue, here are some classic lines:

  • Joe speaking to Frank during a car chase : “Shoot! Shoot him!” and “Shoot! Shoot him!” (ad infinitum)
  • Joe: “Are you Fuj…. Fujiyama?
    Fuj: “Yes I am.. who are you?
    Joe: “I’m a cop!” (Cue dun-dun-dun score!)
  • Guard: “Hey, wait a minute, nurse!” (Nurse and Yamashita run off)
    Another Guard (to Yamashita): “Hey, wait a minute! I want to talk to you!
    (Yamashita disables him)
    Another Guard (to Yamashita): “Hey, wait a minute!
    (Yamashita disables him)
    Another Guard (to Yamashita): “Hey, wait a minute!
    (Yamashita disables him)
    Another Guard (to Yamashita): “Hey, wait a minute, doctor!
    (Yamashita disables him)
  • Police Captain: “I’m gonna lose my pension.. but you know something? I dont give a f**k. I want you to find that motherf**king japanese gangster! I want you to turn his house into a bloodbath! Dont leave anybody alive! Then all 3 of us will turn our badges in.
    Joe: “Now your talkin!
    Frank: “All right!
  • Joe (after Frank crawls under a fence): “Why did you come under?
    Frank: “Cuz I’m an undercover cop!
  • Thug: “We want information!” [remove’s Frank’s bath towel]
    Frank: “Information about my butt?

Not to mention Joe’s entire restaurant monologue, the nurse flirting, his conversations with Jennifer, basically anything that comes out of his mouth.

Matt Hannon Birthday gift
“Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous.”
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Road to Madness

What other pleasures can be derived from Samurai Cop? How about:

  • attractive girls who have to shoot nude bed scenes with unattractive guys
  • two scenes of serious violence – a cop’s wife’s death, and another cop being tortured – that don’t have any place in a film this cheesy
  • a lady cop (Melissa Moore) who only seems interested in having sex with any able male nearby
  • almost all characters have mullets. Seriously, were the late 80s/early 90s that blatant with the mullets?
  • agonizing sex scenes, including one between Hannon and Farley that is just cringe inducing, and another one involving a semi-nude Gerald Okamura that is amusing because it’s Gerald Okamura, and another one involving Z’Dar that… well, you get the idea.
  • hilarious soundtrack/score that showcases everything goofy about 80s scores. Attention keyboardists: if your name isn’t Harold Faltermeyer or Jan Hammer you probably shouldn’t attempt this.
  • equally silly ADR; but atrocious dubbing is par for the course for this stuff
  • Endless series of surprisingly-tedious gunfights
  • the effeminate Costa Rican waiter (Joselito Rescober) who giggles at everything – especially the idea of a guy committing suicide. That’s some funny shit!

A few parting thoughts: Mark Frazer is actually not bad for what he has to do here (basically, play a version of Roger Murtaugh without the family trappings), and props to the movie for allowing him to survive. (Not only does the black character survive, but he actually kills the main bad guy!) Also entertaining is Dale Cummings as the captain, who constantly curses out our heroes (and anybody else who wanders into his office). When he doesn’t get the results he likes, he basically says “Screw it” and orders his men to kill everybody, and then turn in their badges! This is what it means to be an L.A. cop, I guess. Z’Dar is entertaining because… well, he’s Bob Z’Dar. As for Matt Hannon, his deer-in-the-headlights, bug-eyed reactions are one for the books (he’s basically Gowron as a human). He doesn’t have the charisma of a Reb Brown (God, did I just say that?) and I could have gone without seeing him in that speedo. (the eyes! they burn!) Anyway, I recommend Samurai Cop because it’s like watching one of those horrible Turkish or Bollywood films, except all the actors speak English (some, barely), they’re (mostly) from L.A., and there aren’t any musical interludes (but that probably would have helped).

– Bill Gordon

Samurai Cop (Special Edition DVD)
Samurai Cop DVD

Matt Hannon and Robert Z'Dar
“Your katana is bigger than I anticipated!”
  • IMDB, Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes, etc. say that this movie was made in 1989. I agree that the film looks the part, but the end credits say (c)1991 Hollywood Royal Pictures, and if you look closely at the scene in the secretary’s office when the “New York gang” arrives, the calendar clearly reads January, 1991.
  • Some of those involved with Samurai Cop are dead. Director Amir Shervan died in 2006, Matt Hannon died in 2012 at the relatively young age of 56 (not sure how), Dale Cummings also died in 2005. As for some others – Jannis Farley, Mark Frazer – it was their careers that died.
  • Melissa Moore apparently kept this film off her resume, presumably so she could make room for movies that she was actually proud of, like Angelfist, Vampire Cop, The Invisible Maniac, and Sorority House Massacre II.
  • Krista Lane briefly went back to adult movies, where the acting was more professional.
  • Shervan has left behind some other examples of his special director’s touch, like Young Rebels, Gypsy, Killing American Style, and Hollywood Cop.
  • Robert Z’Dar still makes movies (thank the B-movie gods!)
  • As for the guy who plays Fujiyama… I hope you are well… wherever (and whoever) you are.

The Cinema Epoch DVD Special Edition of Samurai Cop has interesting interviews with Robert Z’Dar, Gerald Okamura, and cinematographer Peter Palian. There is another version (this one?) that is supposed to have a commentary track by Joe Bob Briggs on it.

Bonus: Samurai Cop Drinking Game
See also: Keeping It Warm – The Lost Films Of Amir Shervan