Showdown in Little Tokyo may immediately invite you to think of Big Trouble in Little China, and boy, is that a mistake on its part. Think of everything great about it, then remove that and think of what’s left. It’s nothing, because everything about Big Trouble in Little China is great. Almost nothing about Showdown in Little Tokyo can be called great. “Sucks” is more accurate. Or maybe “shitty,” if it’s an adjective.
Dolph Lundgren is a cop raised in Japan who hates the Yakuza, a Japanese organized crime family, because a random ninja murdered his parents. I’m not sure why. The late Brandon Lee co-stars as his younger partner in an early role in his brief career. It’s very early because he hasn’t much matured as an actor yet. His lines are delivered in a stilted, awkward manner, like he’s trying hard to remember them. Lundgren is just as stiff but not from a lack of experience. He’s just still projecting that silent, Ivan-Drago-like badass character, though sometimes he just looks sleepy.
Here, I don’t blame him. Showdown is an incredibly lazily constructed film. No cliché is left unexplored in this film, from the very beginning. Cops Lundgren and Lee even fight over a case of mistaken identity when they first meet. We’re unfortunately denied the screaming captain who thinks they are a couple of loose cannons because, as you will see, Dolph and Lee are the only two cops operating anywhere near Little Tokyo. Actually, a couple of police cruisers show up after an enormous disaster, but the boys flee them… for some reason. I guess to avoid paperwork from the havoc they wantonly caused. They do blatantly break any and all police procedure (and barriers of logic) in their quest for… let’s call it justice.
I watched this again because I remembered liking it as a kid of around 17. It had two things going for it at the time of its appearance on cable: a nude scene from then unattainable Tia Carrere (I should be too aloof to mention this, but what the hell. It was shortly after Wayne‘s World. If you were around for that then you understand.) and some pretty good fight choreography. The first was before I knew about body doubles. The wig on Carrere’s is horrendous. It looks like a witch fright wig you’d get at Party City. It just envelopes her double’s face and looks nothing like Carrere’s hairstyle prior to its appearance. The second I was flat out wrong about back then. The fight choreography is even worse. Both Lee and Lundgren, each incredibly accomplished martial artists on his own, move like mud in the fight scenes. If you knew nothing of their backgrounds you would think they were one belt above Rudy Ray Moore in the Dolomite Self-Defense System. Except that they don’t have a belt above Rudy Ray Moore, because he the MASTER, you rat-soup-eating MOTHER- I’m getting off track again.
The choreography is bad up until the final sword fight, which is inexplicably pretty good. Why katana work was better for these guys to stage than kicking and punching I’ll likely never understand. But it is and Dolph faces down the head of the Yakuza, who has played along with Dolph for the bulk of the movie rather than be as smart as one of the heavies from Beverly Hills Cop or something and get him thrown off the case for harassment. Instead he fights him to the death and, oh, what a death he gets. It makes it worth sitting through the rest of this terrible movie to see it. It involves a dragon themed parade, a katana as a pushpin and a spinning, exploding fireworks wheel that must be seen to be appreciated. All of the laws of physics parted like the Red Sea unto Moses to make this finale possible.
I wish I could call this a bad movie lover’s paradise, but it’s largely too dull for that. And it’s not an unsung classic in Brandon Lee’s oeuvre. It was a learning exercise for the young actor at best. Nor is it a shining moment for, by this point, veteran action star Lundgren. Mostly it’s a movie that’s best left forgotten, a direct to video (?) 1990s buddy cop movie that aspired to little and achieved less. But seriously, look up that death scene at YouTube. It’s amazing. 2 stars.