Tuesday, August 28, 2012
SAMURAI AVENGER: THE BLIND WOLF
SAMURAI AVENGER pretends to be a lost exploitation grindhouse film from the seventies that has been restored with scratches left in the film that were unavoidable. At the beginning of the film an up tight narrator explains that this is a directors cut and when possible the excessively violent scenes have been restored using the best source material available and that we should excuse the poor quality of certain shots in the film. If you ever watched DJANGO on DVD they have a similar notification at the beginning of the movie minus the narrator. So what we have here is a GRINDHOUSE clone but with Samurai/Italian Westerns instead of horror movies. Hey, at least they don't do that whole "missing reel" thing that other wannabe directors do. That only worked in GRINDHOUSE. Dear young film makers of today, please stop making GRINDHOUSE inspired rip-offs. We get it. We all love Tarantino. You don't need to make movies that do nothing more than copy his style to show your love. Thank you. SAMURAI AVENGER is an exception.
Kurando Mitsutake plays the Blind Wolf who is on a journey to kill the man responsible for murdering his wife and daughter and forcing him to poke out his own eyes with a stick. What a bastard. But he must kill the seven assasins that stand in his way. A mysterious drifter shows up and helps him on his journey. Kurando Mitsutake does a fantastic job playing the playing the Blind Wolf which was heavily inspired by the Katsu Shintaro version of Zatoichi. He has Katsu's facial mannerism down perfectly. Kurando really does look like Zatoichi. The Drifter isn't too bad but nothing too special. Played by Jeffery James Lippold I think his character is suppose to represent the Clint Eastwood mysterious stranger from Leone's "Man with no name" trilogy. He looks more like an underwear model......Acts like one too. The main bad guy played by Domiziano Arcangeli is way over the top but in a good way. He kind of looks like the demon offspring of Klaus Kinski and the Devil assuming that the Devil is really a woman. He is intense and all over the place with his performance savoring every vile and deplorable act. He bites the ear off of Wolf's wife for crying out loud!......Really good stuff. A couple of times they film him with a "fish" lens to distort and widen his psychotic looking grin. I didn't think this was necessary since the actor does a better job of looking crazy without gimmicky camera tricks which do nothing more than distract from his performance. I really liked him a lot.
The film itself is full of cheesy highly exaggerated gore effects. Like the LONE WOLF & CUB movies and other Japanese samurai films from the seventies there is blood spray everywhere. Every wound is a fountain of red stuff. Don't be surprised to see exposed intestines, decapitations, severed limbs, and major impalement issues galore. This film has it all even though some of those shots are made to look damaged to make the film look old and poorly restored. The fights are kind of non-existent with the good guys merely swinging their sword once then cutting to the bad guy spraying blood everywhere. Quick sword fights aren't really a bad thing since in LONE WOLF & CUB Ogami Itto takes down his enemies usually in one or two moves but at least those scenes were better filmed.
The greatest enjoyment I got from the film is recognizing all the nods and homages to the old classics I love so much. You can tell that Kurando who not only starred but directed and partially wrote SAMURAI AVENGER truly loves these movies too. This film is a love letter to them. There is a great scene between Wolf and the Drifter where they get into an argument about killing a witch that is also pregnant. Not caring about losing his honor by killing an evil woman who is the expectant mother of an innocent Wolf wants to kill her right away. The Drifter stops him causing a little bit of conflict between the two. With the swing of the sword the Drifter slashes open the witch's stomach allowing the baby (played by a painfully obvious gore covered plastic doll) to fall into Wolf's arms. A little bit later Amanda Plummer shows up in a van and the Drifter gives her the baby. I guess that is the homage to Tarantino since she was in PULP FICTION. Hurray? Anyhoo Wolf thanks Drifter and tells him that he was right for not allowing him to kill the child and that revenge isn't the only thing left in this world. It's a really great character developing moment that strengthens the friendship of these two master swordsmen and sets up for some greater drama in the last act. Good stuff.
But......SAMURAI AVENGER has some problems.
The writing is probably the weakest aspect of the film with most of the best lines lifted from other movies as homages. While the film gives us unique scenarios and scenes it tries too hard to make our hero sound like a badass. Sometimes a hero should be seen and not heard especially when the hero's wit isn't as sharp as his sword. The film falls a little short when it comes to the Wolf trying to sound tough. He doesn't sound too intimidating when he says things like "Tell me something I don't already know" or "I don't even fear bullets." For a mysterious stranger he sure does like to talk a lot. Kurando should have relied more on his own strong presence in the film and the actions his character takes to emphasise how badass his character is. Remember a badass doesn't have to prove himself to anyone and he sure as heck doesn't have to explain with words how badass he really is. Bad guys should learn how badass a hero is by getting themselves dead by his actions not by being bored to death by bragging.
SAMURAI AVENGER kind of falls into nerdy HIGHLANDER territory focusing too much time on simply sliding a sword into it's sheathe. It doesn't happen throughout the film but it does happen enough for me to complain about it. When a bad guy is dispatched the film just stops to show a slow motion Wolf or Drifter sliding their dang Samurai sword into it's sheathe. It's like sword porn for Nerdos that watch too much Anime. It makes me think the film believes a hero is only as badass as the sword he carries. Just because you are holding a sword in a mean pose does not make you a tough guy. It makes you look like a nerd especially when you are practising your "sword techniques" in the backyard. The only thing you are going to scare off are the ladies.
The narrator's voice could put a meth addict to sleep. From time to time throughout the movie he stops the film to explain what is going on. It is a good addition to the film especially since there is a lot of cultural stuff that needs explained but I do wish the narrator was a little more energetic. The voice itself has a tendency to kill the momentum of the film.
ZATOICIHI, LONE WOLF & CUB, THE WILD BUNCH, DJANGO, THE OUTFIT and one of my favorites THE GREAT SILENCE are all referenced in SAMURAI AVENGER along with many other films I can't recall or just never seen. There are zombies (Luci Fulci?) too with a small touch of science fiction added in at the ending. Stay past the credits is all I can say. Some of the sets are cheap looking but I think that isn't really a negative. I think it adds to the fantastical artistic side of the film. SAMURAI AVENGER isn't meant to be a realistic movie. It is a post-modern film about the many different genres of films. I know there are a lot of films you need to see first before you can fully appreciate SAMURAI AVENGER. If you really really liked KILL BILL then give this one a chance. You won't be disappointed...............probably.