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Fist of the North Star (1995)

Hokuto no Ken

Directed by:

Tony Randel

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 88 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

The moment Mel Gibson donned bike leathers, mumbled a few monosyllables, and reluctantly defended the last vestiges of human hope against hordes of marauding neo-fascist punks, a whole new subgenre was sent hurtling on a collision course with the law of diminishing returns. For ever since ‘Mad Max 2′ (aka ‘The Road Warrior’), we have all been repeatedly doomed to a future which looks like a heavy metal video from the 1980s. The rigid aesthetic of ‘post-apocalyptic’ movies has, paradoxically, failed to keep up with the times, so that the dystopian wastelands depicted in these films inspire not horror at what is to come so much as nostalgia for what is long past. The cinematic post-apocalypse, you see, harks back to a naff world where the mullet is king, where Kevin Costner can save civilisation with his mutant gills (Waterworld) or a punctual mail service (The Postman), and Mel Gibson gets to play at being a rebel Jesus (well, no change there, then).

If you cannot wait for the long-rumoured ‘Mad Max 4′, then relive all the daft tropes of the genre with ‘Fist of the North Star’. No, not the ‘Mad Max’-inspired graphic novels by Boronson and Tetsuo Hara, nor the animated TV series which ran from 1984-1987, nor Toyo Ashida’s cult animé feature from 1986, but an American live-action film loosely adapted from all of these ten years later – and while it is hardly the last word in manga-based cinema (that would be The Story of Ricky or Ichi the Killer), it still packs a mighty punch.

In a by now familiar future of dwindling supplies and rapacious gangs, Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor), aka the Master of the Southern Cross, rules over his new world order with an iron fist – or, to be more precise, a fiery fist whose impact causes opponents to spew blood from orifices they never knew they had. As Shin dreams of rebuilding an art deco metropolis, with the reluctant Julia (Isako Washio) as his queen, his army of ‘Crossmen’, led by Jackal (a show-stealing Chris Penn), proceeds to rape, gouge and brutalise their way through the innocent citizens of nearby Paradise Valley. Yet no-one expects the return of Kenshiro (Gary Daniels), aka Fist of the North Star, to set things back in balance with his big hair and permanently haunted stare.

Back seemingly from the dead, Kenshiro wanders in the wilderness, converses with his otherworldly father (played by Malcolm McDowell!), bleeds from stigmata, restores sight to a blind girl and brings salvation to the human race – in fact, all that prevents him from being a bona fide Christ is his propensity to kick ass and make people explode. Equally surreal is the film’s bizarre sexual subtext, with Kenshiro depositing his ‘bag of seeds’ with Julia so that they might one day be planted in (her?) Paradise Valley!

Tony Randel, best known as a horror director, does a good job with the gore, even if at times he seems to be holding back like he never did in ‘Hellraiser 2′ – but the all-important fight sequences prove beyond his abilities. They are shot so close that none of Gary Daniels’ fancy manoeuvrings can be properly seen, making you wonder why he was cast in the first place, since we can assume it was not for his acting skills.

Still, for all its shortcomings, ‘Fist of the North Star’ is a hilarious throwback to the eighties (made in the nineties!), and any fan of ‘Mad Max’-clones who misses it would simply be denying their destiny.

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It's Got: A zombie-like corpse (with Malcolm McDowells voice), a complicated raid on Paradise Valley shot in one fluid take, lovely art deco sets and costumes in Shins palace, and Chris Penn declaring "It aint easy bein sleazy".

It Needs: More outrageous violence (in keeping with the original comics), and the fight sequences to be shot and edited by someone who actually cares about them.

DVD Extras This is a two-disk set with loads of extras. Animated menus; scene selection; optional sdh subtitles (English); promotional material for other Hong Kong Legends/Premier Asia titles; full audio commentary by star Gary Daniels (moderated by cult director Ross Boyask), including his love of Bruce Lee, his disappointment with the action scenes, and his hope that one of the many scripted sequels will get made. Disk 2 includes: North Star versus Southern Cross: the Making of Fist of the North Star (55min), complete with upbeat synth track and Japanese voice-over full of hilarious insights ("American sets are full of girls, and they are all very beautiful, even when theyre dressed in tattered clothes and sleep-deprived"); animated photogallery (mostly Gary Daniels in action poses, sans mullet); trailers (original and UK promotional); half an hour of behind-the-scenes footage (including a deleted torture scene) and four minutes of Daniels home camera footage on set; Art Imitating Life, a 45-minute interview with Gary Daniels about martial arts, his film career, and how disgusted he was with Tony Randels cut of the fight scenes; Warrior in Motion, 4½ minutes of Gary Daniels training. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

Ichi the Killer, Mad Max 2, The Story of Ricky

Summary

If you miss this daft live-action merger of manga and Mad Max, you will be in default of your destiny.

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