18 Fingers of Death!
Screen Media Films // PG // $19.98 // April 11, 2006
Review by John Sinnott | posted April 10, 2006
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The Movie:

James Lew started out as a stunt man on the TV series Kung Fu, and went on to have a very successful career as an actor and stunt man as well as a stunt coordinator.  He has worked on such shows diverse shows as Alias, Babylon 5, and Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, as well as being the stunt coordinator for John Carpenter's cult classic Big Trouble In Little China.  Lew makes his directing debut with 18 Fingers of Death, a spoof on martial arts films and the workings of Hollywood that the actor also wrote and stars in.  As Edmund Gwenn famously stated as he was on his death bed "Dying is easy.  Comedy is difficult."  Lew learns this the hard way as he does more dying in this film than being funny.  Though the premise is funny and the idea looks good on paper, this movie really never gels and the laughs just aren't there.

Buford Lee (James Lew) has started in such classics Kung Fu films as "I Kill You Until You Die" and "Crouching Chicken Hidden Duck", as well as the TV show "Bong Fu".  He's never had that one break out role though that would make him a star.  Until now.  He's now stated to star in 18 Fingers of Death, a film that has a lot of potential, but no backers.

Ronald Mack (Maurice Patton) is a huge Buford fan. ("I've seen all of his movies at least once!") Fresh out of public school, this young inner city youth takes on the task of documenting the creation of Buford's latest film.  Through interviews with other famous action stars, such as Jackie Chong, and clips from Buford's classic movies, Ronald documents the star's life.  When it's discovered that there's no money for Buford's film though, Mack convinces Lee to have a garage sale to raise the funds and steps in as director himself.

There's a lot of comic potential in this film, but unfortunately it never emerges.  The opening scene, a clip from a film where Lee has to fight "Deadly Thug" numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 (#3 was at home with the runs), was the high point of the movie.  Things just went downhill from there.  Instead of setting up jokes and then giving the punch line, many of the jokes were just the stupid name changes that they gave to the celebrity impersonators.  If seeing people with names like Chuck Snorris and Steven Seafood tickles your funny bone, than this is the movie for you.  Otherwise, well....there's not much there.

There were several jokes in the film that border on being tasteless too, making fun of people who stutter or have accents.  In one scene Patton asks Pat Morita, the proprietor of a restaurant, if they have any Chinese Jews.  Morita answers that they have "apple jews and orange jews" but no Chinese jews.  Boy make sure you've got the remote in your hands so you can pause it until you stop laughing.

That's not even the low point of the film.  That moment is an overly long fight sequence were everyone battles with farts.  Yep, I kid you not.  When they aren't using flatulence as a weapon, people are farting every time they get hit.  And they get hit a lot.

The script really needed a lot of work.  Not only do the jokes fall flat, but the film lasts too long.   After the climax of the film, when 18 Fingers of Death is released and we get the reaction, the movie drags on for another 10-15 minutes for no apparent reason.

More than a little of this film probably came directly from James Lew's experiences in Hollywood.  Though some of the bit would have made a great story for James to tell after dinner (like the scene when his manager says that he can get him a job on Power Rangers and though he'll have to wear a mask, the exposure will be great for his career) they just don't work in the film.  I really wanted to enjoy this film, but there just wasn't anything there to laugh at.

The DVD:


This film has a stereo English soundtrack that fits the movie well but is unspectacular.  Several lines were dubbed in after filming was completed, as it's pretty easy to tell where this was done, but other than that there are no real problems with it.  An average sounding disc.  There are no subtitles.


The anamorphic widescreen image looked average for a recent release, though it was cropped from the original 1.85:1 to 1.78:1 for this release.  The image was a little soft but the level of detail and black levels were fine.  The colors were good, though large red areas had a tendency to bloom a little.  Overall a standard looking release.


This disc also has a five minute Behind the Scenes featurette that consists of some candid footage of the cast clowning around on the set.  It looks like it was more fun to film than watch.

There is also a four-minute Pat Morita Tribute where the late actor is interviewed and talks about his character and the relationship between children and their parents.  It was a nice monolog.  I especially liked his advice to young Asian actors: "Don't be Asian, be an actor first."

There are also three deleted scenes that didn't make it into the final film.  'Nuff said.

Final Thoughts:

This was a low budget picture (very low budget...they reused several actors and didn't have the money for extras.  No only that, but the producer was also the post-production supervisor, costume designer, supervising sound editor, and casting director) but that isn't what causes it to fail.  The almost total lack of funny parts in this so called comedy is what kills it.  Skip it.

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