In a sea of faux masculinity brought forth by the likes of numerous B-movie action heroes, namely Steven Seagal, one lone figure attempted to make his own mark on the quickly tiring genre. 1991's "The Perfect Weapon" sought to introduce a waning audience demographic to Kenpo through Jeff Speakman one of the leading practitioners of the art who already had a few B-movies under his belt. On a personal level "The Perfect Weapon" was held as a fond memory and against all odds, has finally made its debut on DVD, providing an ultimately mixed-bag for all audiences.
The biggest strength of "The Perfect Weapon" apart from its use of Kenpo is its "who's who" cast of genre staples: Speakman, Mako, James Hong, Carey Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Professor Toru Tanaka, Dante Basco (Rufio from "Hook") and a very young Mariska Hargitaty (fans of the actress be warned, she has 2-minutes of screen time without a single line). The familiar faces on paper should make "The Perfect Weapon" a hard to disappoint film, but before the first act is over, it becomes apparent that the bulk of the film will be shouldered by brothers Jeff (Speakman) and Adam (John Dye), with the biggest names filling out bit parts, but whenever familiar faces on screen, the not-so-polished dialogue flows a little more smoothly. Mako plays Jeff's childhood mentor Kim, while Wong plays Yung a local gang boss; the film takes a little too much time in setting up Jeff's motivation for unleashing hell on the city's underworld after Kim is killed by one of the four area gangs. The film clumsily ties this to Jeff's back-story setting up an eventual reunion with his father, the police chief and Adam, now a detective. This would be all fine if it actually went somewhere in the film, but in the long-run it's filler and what does come back to be important later in the film is painfully obvious from the first frame.
Once Jeff hits the streets and is allowed to unleash his Kenpo skills, the movie gets legitimately exciting. Kenpo is a very exciting martial art based on speed and quantity of striking blows and while Speakman may be a limited actor, he's the real deal when it comes to fighting. What makes "The Perfect Weapon" such a breath of fresh air from the over-produced Steven Seagal fights and Van Damme highlight reels, is Speakman is in constant motion and not afraid to have his character take a beating at the hands of even low-level thugs. One of the more exciting fights is when Jeff challenges three local hoods to a full-contact sparring match for information in Kim's death; the sheer odds initially overwhelm Jeff who tries to play nice, but eventually his temper (an established factor) takes hold and bones do get broken. The film tries to keep the balance of action and exposition even, but the finale gets bogged down with a bland car chase and a final showdown between Jeff and the film's deadly henchman Tanaka (Toru Tanaka) throws out all logic and reality for what boils down to be a super hero vs. super villain showdown, complete with an over-the-top death scene.
The last time I actually saw "The Perfect Weapon" I was in high school and I remembered it being "a lot more cool" than it seems now. Its flaws don't make it a horrible film by any stretch of the imagination. It suffers largely for a very cliché, very poorly crafted story (heck, you have a hero and lead villain who use their own real names as character names) connecting truly outstanding American fight scenes. I don't fault anyone who enjoys the slightly more "refined" tales woven in a Seagal movie, but for my money, I watch a B-movie like this for the fights and I'll take Jeff Speakman and his Kenpo over Steven Seagal and Aikido any day of the week, but like many just merely 'ok' B-movies, the lasting appeal of "The Perfect Weapon" remains its biggest obstacle.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks quite good for a 21-year old lower budget action film. There's a natural amount of grain/noise that doesn't obscure any of the detail, which itself is well above average. Colors are on the warm side, slightly but still noticeable on skin tones, while contrast is more than adequate. It's not reference quality (there's some very minor print damage) but for a genre entry is a standout.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track has much more life than one would expect. A mid-film fight that takes place in a dance club has much more kick than I expected it to have, while dialogue is never muddled nor overpowered by general effects. Like the video quality, it's best described as impressive given its origins.
If you're looking for an older B-movie that delivers and then some in the action department, "The Perfect Weapon" is definitely worth checking out; while the plot is nothing new, it's at least tolerable due to a solid but slightly underutilized cast. Jeff Speakman may not have been a master thespian, but his work here solidifies the fact he should have had a bigger career than others who followed, because at the end of the day he put on a thoroughly convincing action performance. Recommended.