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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Showdown in Little Tokyo' a Class Martial-Arts Act

August 26, 1991|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Showdown in Little Tokyo" (citywide) is the smart, fast-moving martial arts action-adventure you would expect from director Mark L. Lester, stylish and witty maestro of exploitation genres. Heroic Dolph Lundgren and humorous Brandon Lee are well-teamed as a pair of L.A. cops zeroing in on the Iron Claw, a Japanese yakuza (gangster) outfit about to flood the area with a lethal methamphetamine while using a local brewery and nightclub as a front for the operation.

Screenwriters Stephen Glantz and Caliope Brattlestreet clearly know their way around martial-arts territory. They write tightly yet inject some substance and even some comedy along with the requisite mayhem. In an amusing twist, it is Lundgren's Chris Kenner, an American raised in Japan, who's steeped in Japanese culture, while Lee's Johnny Murata, a Japanese-American, is a self-described Valley boy who knows only "malls, MTV and driving dad's car on Mulholland." However, he was trained in Japanese martial arts from the age of 4 (which to Kenner makes him a late starter). Kenner has a highly personal reason for wanting to nail Iron Claw chieftain Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa): He executed his parents, his father having been with the U.S. Army of Occupation.

In short, Lester has plenty to run with, and the result should please action fans. Considerable care has been expended to evoke the yakuza culture with its rigid samurai clan structure, whose members customarily cover their bodies with magnificent uniform tattoo designs (which in this instance were provided by Reel Creations, originators of realistic yet removable tattoos). Indeed, Lester drew his inspiration for the film from a Times account of the discovery of a pair of yakuza corpses in the Los Angeles River.

There's been no corner-cutting right down the line: Craig Stearns' production design is handsome, resourceful and carefully detailed, Mark Irwin's camera work clean and first-rate, and David Michael Frank's electronic score properly pulsating. Lundgren is more at ease with each new film; Lee, son of the late Bruce Lee, handles comedy with the ease of his kung-fu moves, and Tagawa has lots of fun with his hissable villain. Tia Carrere is the film's intelligent and lovely leading lady.

"Showdown in Little Tokyo" (rated R for language, standard exploitation film violence, some sex and nudity) is a class act.

'Showdown in Little Tokyo'

Dolph Lundgren: Chris Kenner

Brandon Lee: Johnny Murata

Tia Carrere: Minako Okeya

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa: Funekei Yoshida

A Warner Bros. presentation. Director Mark L. Lester. Producers Lester, Martin E. Caan. Screenplay Stephen Glantz & Caliope Brattlestreet. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editors Steven Kemper, Robert A. Ferretti. Costumes Robyn Smith. Music David Michael Frank. Production design Craig Stearns. Running time:: 1 hour, 18 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (strong violence, language, sensuality and drug use).

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