Not My Samurai

My Samurai uses a running gag in which Deborah (Lynne Hart) disparages Taekwondo. “It’s too violent,” she says to instructor Young Park (Julian Lee). To defend his art, Park kicks a guy from a fifth story window. He kills a cop with a throw, and lays into a bunch of gang members. That’ll convince her otherwise, certainly.

Deborah wasn’t alone in her thinking at the time. After Hollywood ran a gauntlet of guns and explosions, martial arts bled into the culture. Or specifically, kid-driven material, spawned by Karate Kid, then ballooning as Ninja Turtles took off. Some parents bemoaned the violence. In came the knock-offs to exploit controversy, from 3 Ninjas to this dud.

A few names appear in the cast, notably Mako as a nondescript Asian mafia leader and Lost’s Terry O’Quinn. Hardly anyone else is notable though. It’s amateur hour (or, hour and a half actually) in this routine lark.

My Samurai is better off wilting on VHS

It’s passable only for a few laughs, notably the street gang made up of 30-somethings who wear colorful wigs. My Samurai seems lost in time, as if hung up on ‘80s era stuff like The Warriors, but desperate for any sense of cool.

With Mako and his crew, My Samurai bounces around some social anxiety of the time, that of Japanese companies taking part in American business. The same year My Samurai pushed its way into video stores, Nintendo purchased the Seattle Mariners, inciting worries that America’s pastime was losing its identity.

So here, the Korean Lee battles Mako’s thugs and inspires a young boy (John Kallo) to concentrate, the closest thing to an actual martial arts lesson anywhere in My Samurai. Mostly, this is all filler with Lee on the run from corrupt cops through urban ruins. Yes, that means an abandoned factory too.

Micro subplots about an absentee dad plus a dorky lawyer who won’t help his girlfriend matter not; the performances can’t create authentic drama. Action is so low budget and sloppily staged as to show every whiffed punch (all of them, really). Short of nostalgia for the time, My Samurai is better off wilting on VHS.

Video

This is an oddball transfer. Parts of My Samurai look wonderful, showing broad contrast and rich depth. It’s loaded with range, equally splendid in drawing out color. Goofy ‘90s wear produces great visual energy, and Lee spends a chunk of the movie in a Freddy Krueger-like sweater with outstanding reds.

Plus, My Samurai looks sharp. Resolution catches firm lines. Facial detail in close shows off, while exteriors bring out the city’s (Denver, FYI) texture.

The grain is where things fall apart. It’s heavy and thick; that’s fine. My Samurai’s low budget likely meant a cheaper film stock. Yet it’s corrosive, buzzing around the screen with an odd intensity. That means battling detail, and at its worst, losing to miserable compression. For whatever reason, this is especially prominent in the dojo scenes. Elsewhere, mosquito noise surrounds characters or fills shadows. Bummer.

Audio

Imagine watching this movie in a theater while someone vacuums the lobby. Then imagine recording that, transferring it to a Blu-ray, and releasing it to the public.

My Samurai rates as one of the worst audio presentations on this format. PCM or not, the persistent static buries fidelity, and dialog is echo-y enough to be rendered unintelligible. Add in strong accents to necessitate the use of included subtitles.

Every high is strained or dulled, while there’s no low-end to speak of. Awful stuff.

Extras

Actor Jim Turner is the best thing about this disc. He gives a 24-minute interview where he watches his scenes (playing one of the lead gang members) for the first time – he never saw the movie before. His reactions make this all worth it.

Other interviews include a lengthy pairing between Julian Lee and stunt coordinator/actor Mark Grover that runs 45-minutes. They discuss careers, and Lee’s story of leaving Korea needs heard. Another interview with Christophe Clark runs 28-minutes.

Some loaded image galleries follow, as does a shorter VHS cut of My Samurai. Note the runtime is longer, but this only because of trailers that run beforehand.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

My Samurai
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
1

Movie

Patterned after (or just plain ripping off) Karate Kid and Ninja Turtles, My Samurai lacks zest, energy, or logic.

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