Pray For Death
directed by Gordon Hessler
starring ShÃ´ Kosugi, James Booth
I’ve worked with more than a few Japanese over the years, and to the man or woman they have always gotten from place to place by walking, or if in hurry, running. In this weird mix of Kung Fu action and film noir fisticuffs and thugs, our hero Akira Saito (ShÃ´ Kosugi) walks when he’s calm, but when you get him pissed off he back flips around like a cicada on a hot tin roof. When we meet Mr. Saito he’s a good Japanese salary man and ex-action movie star, but his half American wife Aiko Saito (Donna Kei Benz) wants to move back to the states and start a restaurant. So they pack up the kids and head to Houston, Texas, land of opportunity and crime. They buy a building in an iffy part of town from Sam Green (Parley Baer) but he neglects to tell them it’s also a drop-off for the mob. The mobsters, led by a great Mafioso actor Lime House Willy (James Booth), go after Akira, blackmail him, then rape and murder his wife. Soon we are in an exhilarating battle of cars, guns, bad assumptions, crooks who can’t shoot straight, and a one man ninja army out to rectify all the injustice presented in act one. Bits of every crime movie from The Godfather to On the Waterfront appear, and the ridiculous ninja scenes we see Akira act in the opening sequence get re-enacted in the climax.
I’m torn here; some elements of this film are brilliant, some are manipulative, and some make you want to pour iron filings in the directors VCR. Let’s do some math on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Both Akira and Aiko are respectable, earnest and loveable, and you want them to do well. Lime House Willy and crooked cop Sgt. Joe Daley (Matthew Faison) are believable and well-acted. The kids are great as kids, and the fight scenes over the top but in a kind way. Best lines in the dialog : “Please kill me. Kill me you bastard” and “Gangland killing solve us a lot of police work.” As to the bad; the plot is hackneyed, the injustices piles on the Saito’s are painful and manipulative, and the crooks seem more intent on moving the film along than solving their own internal fights. And the Ugly? There’s a stalking scene in a room full of sexually suggestive mannequins, Akira has Wonder Woman bullet deflecting gauntlets, and the amount of back flipping is beyond belief. With a 70’s “Made for TV” feel this is a hit or miss action/revenge flick made at the end of the golden age of Kung Fu action adventure. Your mileage may vary, but I’ll suggest a drinking game: When Akira grunts, everyone takes a sip. When a physically improbable fight occurs, everyone chugs. But make sure you have a designated driver.