SAMURAI COMMANDO: MISSION 1549 - A significant release in Japan, Samurai Commando is given UK shelf-space courtesy of Momentum Asia. This is their first Japanese release for over a year, with their main focus having been Hong Kong and Korean action (including a stuttering Shaw Brothers campaign). Based on Sonny Chiba's G.I. Samurai (1979) this remakes a cult film with the added thrills of a bigger budget, which certainly means bigger explosions!
What do you do if you send a military unit back 456 years in time? Send another unit two years later to save or eliminate them! That really is the entire film, beginning to end. oh, and they only have 74 hours to complete their mission!
Within Samurai Commando there is a mish-mash of classic cinematic themes that drive throughout the feature. There are some references to the Samurai lifestyle and ethical code, there is the Shakespearian notion of power being the great corruptor of man, there are time travel questions of how past actions will change the future and there is also the world of guns, explosions and modern military warfare.
The most significant problem with Samurai Commando is that it tries to be too many things at the same time. Ultimately, the Samurai characters seem undercooked and largely inconceivable whilst the ideas of time travel and corruption are only skimmed upon. The film's saving grace is the decent level of action and violence. This is not jaw-dropping in scope or scale, but there are enough armour bound samurai, military units and explosions to keep all but Peter Jackson and James Cameron satisfied.
Samurai Commando is another extremely disappointing release from Momentum Asia. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen print is adequate yet mildly muted, but once again we are only offered Japanese language and subtitles. This is always my preferred option, but surely alienating some part of the UK buying population. The extras are ok, including interviews and cast screenings but nothing exceptional.
The main reason for my disappointment is because this is a hugely edited version of Samurai Commando to make sure us Westerners don't get bored by scenes with dialogue. Samurai Commando runs at 119mins but we have had 32mins cut to take this down to 87mins. That's right, anything that even slightly resembled dialogue was left on the cutting room floor to make sure that we get to see an hour and a half of explosions and fighting without any discernable character development. Is it any surprise that people turn away from these films due to their lack of plot / character / engagement? Once again, the lunatics are running the asylum.
I find it hard to say much in favour of a mediocre film that has since been butchered for the needs of the popcorn munching brain-dead bunch of teenagers that are clearly the target market for this release. Anything that would engage a viewer who is looking for more than cheap thrills will find little on this disc. Momentum should have steered clear of this cut release, it has very little to offer. I can only commend the production team and director for bringing some enthusiasm and enjoyable action sequences to the screen, but I struggle to go far beyond that. Perhaps here are a few helpful pointers: