Movie: I've enjoyed Kung Fu movies and television shows since the original Kung Fu television series, starring David Carradine, aired in the early 1970's. Over the years, I've resigned myself to accept that most of the very best titles in the genre look rather weak in terms of technical quality, a fact not lost on most fans. As a group, we've come to expect the worst and always hope for something better; a release that looked good but maintained the quality of the fighting styles that draw us in to watch the movies in the first place. Keeping this in mind, many companies have tried to cash in on us with releases like Invincible, which was long on look and low on content, or, when we were lucky, Princess Blade, which had a bit of interesting fighting going on, but most of the time, we get stuck with titles like Samourais, the subject of this review.
Samourais is a movie made in France that combines a weak story with a handful of fairly lame fighting scenes. The basic story dealt with a family that had to deal with a demon curse. Apparently, hundreds of years ago, an ancestor summoned up a demon to save his royal family from defeat by a superior force in Japan. When it came time to deal with the demon, the warrior was unable to overcome him (no kidding, considering the demon single-handedly defeated the army his entire forces couldn't stop, you'd think this might have come up) and the family has had to somehow exist with the knowledge that the demon, who has become a crime lord of sorts over the years, was their responsibility.
The matter comes to a head when the demon is ready to be reborn, using the female heir to the family as a receptacle. The movie follows her father, under orders from his ghostly ancestor to kill his daughter, trying to kill her, a male friend who tries to save her (with a bumbling fool of a friend provided for comic relief), and the demon himself, not the nicest entity in the Universe. I'm wondering if the plot lost a whole lot in translation or if it was always lame since so much of the story seemed to be missing pieces. I know a lot of martial arts fans are probably thinking: "Don, we only care about the fighting, not the story." To them I would say that the fighting scenes were reminiscent of Popular TV, where in may cases the opponents don't even bleed when slashed straight on with a katana. The jumping and flying action was the kind that had no internal consistency either, often enough, a character could do some feat of magic in one scene but not in another (with no explanation as to "why"). In short, I wanted to like this one but there wasn't any reason to do so.
The characters were stereotypes, the plot incomprehensible, the fighting lame, and the themes handled so poorly as to make me think Blade was high art. To make matters worse (yeah, it gets worse), the major plot device centered on a videogame for the Playstation 2, Dark Bushido 2. Several times, the characters play the game, see displays for the game (and the system itself) and even become controlled through the game. It's one thing to parody product placement but this was so blatant that I felt the MSRP should amount to a "shipping only" charge at times.
By now, you know I'm going to rate Samourais as a Skip It as well as why I'm doing so. The concept might have worked as a single episode to a Sci-Fi Show (I've seen it done many times over the years) but without any creative input and weak fighting scenes to differentiate this one from the pack, I'm telling you to save your hard earned money and pass this one up.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, not the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. For the most part, any visual flaws appeared intentional, although a bit of grain, edge enhancement, and video noise popped up from time to time. It "looked" better than most kung fu movies from outside of Hollywood but it lacked the content quality so many of those films have. While I saw no compression artifacts, it looked more like a television movie than anything else.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital with an English dub, not the original French track. Further, the region 2 DVD has a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track that is reportedly far superior to this one. The separation between the channels was minimal and the dynamic range about what you'd expect from a low-budget release in all but a few cases. The dubbing was pretty fair compared to other releases but that comment deals solely in terms of timing, not accuracy to the original script (which I don't have to compare it to).
Extras: There was a trailer for the movie but nothing else. The website for the movie indicates several solid extras for the DVD but those too are only on the foreign version of the DVD.
Final Thoughts: The technical aspects of the Region 1 release were weaker than other releases, the story blew chunks, and the fighting (the number one reason we buy martial art movies) stunk so you'd be hard pressed to find a movie in this genre as limited as this one. With no real extras or other reason to check it out, you'll be better off sitting home and watched the fireplace.