Newest Review: ... up the martial arts element more, which, when you think about it, makes sense. In easily the best DVD treatment a 'B' picture has ever r... more
Fist couldn't make it's leading man a Star
Fist Of The North Star (DVD)
Member Name: Wolfzilla
Fist Of The North Star (DVD)
Advantages: Sets, some performances, soundtrack
Disadvantages: Some acting, Randel's ineptity at shooting fight scenes
Based on the incredibly popular Manga and Anime, Fist of the North Star was made in 1995, and was set to be the movie to catapult lower-grade action star Gary Daniels to bigger and better things. Sadly, as with the previous year's Streetfighter and Jean Claude Van Damme, things didn't quite work out that way, and Daniels has been confined to the Straight-to-video wasteland since.
While this may immediately lose a lot of face for me with the anime crowd, I was never really a huge fan of the anime, it got really repetitive, really fast, and the only saving grace was the cool fight scenes, and even they started to get repetitive after a while. A lot of fans of the anime absolutely loathed this movie, basically because it didn't recreate the cartoon scene by scene, lost a few characters and, you know, made a transition from long anime series to live action motion picture.
The movie is set in a post-apocalypse future where water is scarce and the majority of the Earth is a wasteland. The main character is Kenshiro(Gary Daniels), his father Ryuken (Malcolm Macdowell) was killed at the hand of his friend Shin (Costas Mandylor). Ryuken was the 'Fist of the North Star', which means that he was the greatest fighter of his Martial Art, Shin is the 'Master of Southern Cross', and takes it upon himself to rule the world, he cannot fight Ryuken, because the teachings say that North Star and Southern Cross should never fight, so he simply guns down Ryuken, which makes Kenshiro the Fist of the North Star. While this is happening, Kenshiro is with his girlfriend Julia (Isako Washio) and Shin and his men launch a surprise attack, leaving Kenshiro for dead and kidnapping Julia.
Years later, the City of Southern cross rules the land, with Shin watching from the top of his mighty tower with Julia prisoner, while his men, lead by Jackal (Chris Penn) are terrorising the nearby village of Paradise Valley.
Kenshiro happens upon the valley, and encounters a blind girl named Lynn(Nalona Herron) and her wannabe hero brother Bat (Dante Basco). After he cures Lynn's blindness, the pair share some sort of link, because she is charged with opening his eyes to his destiny, which he is in denial of. The locals are trying to fight the 'Crossmen', as Shin's troops are called, but they cannot offer much resistance, and it isn't long before the Southern Cross flies above the Valley.
But Lynn sends Bat to find Kenshiro, and despite his initial reluctance to help, despite the great distance between them, Kenshiro hears Lynn's screams of horror at what is happening clearly, and the pair sneak back into the Valley via the sewers, before launching an attack that leads to the demise of an army of crossmen, but Bat is also killed saving Kenshiro from Jackal, whom Kenshiro instructs to go to Shin, and inform him that his time is up.
Taking one of the crossmen's motorbikes, Ken sets off to the City of Southern Cross to fulfill his destiny, and take back his girlfriend.
Fist of the North Star is part Martial Arts movie, part Post-Apocalypse movie and part love story. It's an incredibly frustrating picture, it looks brilliant, and has a lot of things going for it, but it also falls down at a pretty key element.
Ironically, the thing that most detractors seem to miss, are the actually flaws of the movie itself. Too concerned with running off how it doesn't represent the anime, they miss out on all the good things the movie has to offer, but also hilariously manage to never cite the actual probelms the movie faces. The film suffers from 2 conflicting forces trying to make it. Director Tony Randel, famous for his work on Hellbound:Hellraiser 2, wasn't really keen on the martial arts side of the story. Which is a pretty crappy development for a movie where the two main characters are martial arts masters. Randel wanted the emphasis to be placed firmly on the love story angle of the movie.
Gary Daniels however, a fan of the anime and kickboxing champion, was quite the opposite, and wanted the movie to play up the martial arts element more, which, when you think about it, makes sense.
In easily the best DVD treatment a 'B' picture has ever recieved, the UK DVD of the movie, Fist of the North Star recieved a 2-DVD special edition release, which boasts numerous insights into the movie from Daniels, where he declares that while he was happy with Randel's look of the movie, he was disgusted with his shooting and editing of the fight scenes, which is often noticeabley bad. In an excellent audio commentary, Daniels even highlights the movie's faults, something you rarely hear in an Audio commentary, usually pointless re-tellings of the movie's story full of lots of back patting. This commentary discusses the problems, and Daniels doesn't try to disguise the fact that there was some friction involved with the making of it.
His comments about the fight sequences are completely true. While some of them were changed to have him fighting less opponents(Randel apparently didn't want him to seem too strong), a lot of the fight scenes could have been improved greatly via the simple act of better editing and camera use. Some fights, as Daniels points out, don't show you exactly who or what Kenshiro is up against, and sometimes the camera stays stationary for far too long, and others is too close to be able to tell that Daniels can actually fight. Some of them do allow him to shine and look pretty good, and his showdown with Shin at the end of the movie is better than it has any right to be, given that Mandylor isn't much of a fighter, but on the whole, with better editing, I would have given this film an extra star.
It's a shame, because on the plus side, while the movie has it's share of annoying characters(ie Bat), it's also pretty damn good fun as far as post-apocaylpse movies go. It's heroes are likable, and it's villains suitabley nasty, especially in the scene of them attacking the village, and with the excellent action scenes that Daniels can produce, it could have been very good.
The fights aren't the only problem mind, some of the acting is pretty bad. While I like Daniels, and at times in this movie he comes accross as perfect for the role, in a few scenes...he just seems devoid of all character...like he is trying to be Jet Li or something.
Costas Mandylor really isn't very convincing as the murderous Shin, and Daniels reveals on the DVD that the role was originally intended for Julian Sands(!) who would probably have been more suited, given his villainous turns in the entertaining Warlock and it's sequels.
It's hard to tell if Dante Basco is bringing the annoying element to Bat, or if he is just written that way, and 'Downtown' Julie Brown, who apparently hosted MTV or something should have stuck to it.
On the plus side of the acting, Isako Washio seems to be trying single handedly at times to salvage the film as a serious venture. Her English isn't perfect, which is actually quite sexy, and she is probably the true highlight acting wise. Chris Penn does pretty well with his role also, coming away with the memorable "it ain't easy being sleazy", and generally seeming to love this nasty villainous character.
The film does feature some nice support from Ron Howard as a crazy Crossman and Melvin Van Peebles as a rebel leader to try and bolster some quality.
The special effects in the movie are actually pretty good. The wasteland may not be overly original, but it's well created, and Shin's art deco obsessed city is actually a really nice set, and also realised with some excellent miniatures. The overly gory scenes of violence, such as Kenshiro getting his scars, do something to recall the cartoon, and they are fairly well done. Along with the really awesome and atmospheric sets, the film has a bizarre habit of giving every character some form of leather clothing to wear. Seriously, Leather shop owners need not worry if there is an apocalypse.
Another aspect in which the movie comes off very well is the soundtrack. Christopher L. Stone creates an epic and heroic theme for the movie, and his soundtrack is excellent, and along with the sets and effects goes to show that this movie had the production values to be something very special.
And that's the worst thing about the movie, it had the potential to be great. Had Randel allowed Daniels, or basically anyone with any experience in working with martial arts scenes, authority over the Martial arts based aspects of the film, chances are this would have been a genre classic. Hell, the fight scenes are usually the only bits directors get right in Daniels' movies.
As it stands, Fist of the North Star is either one of the best B-Movie action movies, or a frustratingly mediocre A movie. Personally, while I acknowledge that it's lack of success in a fundamental area of a Martial Arts movie, ie the fight scenes, hinder it quite a bit, personally I still found the movie enjoyable enough to watch it more than once and not regret it.
For fans of Daniels, this is a must see, fans of the anime who are open minded should give it a look, and those looking for a fun Post Apocalypse Martial Arts mix with good production values and a great score should also have a look at the movie. It's pretty entertaining, and it's just a shame it wasn't handled a little better, or it could have been truly great, Sci Fi classic. It's certainly not the horror-show anime purists make it out to be.
Summary: Fist of the North Star is entertaining, although thoughts of what could have been spoil it.