Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sword of Honor (1994)

Flex somewhere else, man. You're
messing up the reception.

This Direct-to-Video actioner revolves around two cops, Johnny (Steven Vincent Leigh) and his partner Alan (Jeff Pruitt). The two of them are martial arts enthusiasts, as demonstrated during an aborted convenience store robbery where they deliver some high-kicking beatdowns to stick-wielding street thugs. On their off-time they give martial arts demonstrations to youngsters at a dojo belonging to Alan's sister Vicky (Sophia Crawford), an activity that Alan likes so much he has decided to quit the force and start teaching martial arts full time. Unforunately his retirement party is interrupted by news of an auction-house robbery, perpetrated by dozens of machine-gun and rocket-launcher wielding thugs. Alan has a bad feeling about this, so Johnny advises him to stay behind. He doesn't.

We've seen this set-up dozens of times, so it's pretty clever for the filmmakers to subvert this cliche by... nah, I'm just kidding. Alan totally dies. He takes a bullet for Johnny, which is noble but a little misguided since Johnny is wearing a bullet-proof vest and Alan isn't. Whoops. The murderer escapes and the cigar-chomping Angry Chief (tm) gives the case to a couple of seedy vice cops Frank (writer/director/producer Robert Tiffi) and Dogger, both world-class assholes with a shocking lack of respect for the death of a fellow cop. Johnny decides to team up with Alan's grieving sister and bring in the killer himself.

It turns out that the stolen artifact is the Sword of Honor, a mystical weapon that enabled a Ming warrior to defeat the entire Mongolian horde (which amounted to about a dozen guys, according to the flashback sequence that opens the film). The robbery was arranged by mafia boss Rudy Anthony (Jerry Tiffi) and his right-hand-man Richie (Angelo Tiffi, and yes, Robert Tiffi put his entire family in this film), who intend to sell the sword to the highest bidder. The first potential buyer is a Japanese business-man named Yoshimo. Rudy invites him to his nightclub and has a pretty weird conversation with him about his enormous curly-haired bodyguard:

"You appreciate beauty. Look at my man. [To bodyguard] Take off your clothes. Look how beautiful he is. See how powerful he is. Power is a beautiful thing, isn't it, Yoshimo?"

"[Nervously] I'm only a businessman. I don't know of such things."

Wow. Thankfully this is just a sexually-charged preamble to a fight between Rudy and Yoshimo's bodyguards. Rudy's bodyguard wins handily, and with that ultimately pointless display of power out of the way, Richie leads Yoshimo to the rooftop for the exchange. Yoshimo gives them the million dollar asking price, but the only thing he gets in return is a bullet to the eyeball and an unceremonious burial in one of Las Vegas' fine dumpsters. Rudy figures that they might as well kill off all the potential buyers and take their money, keeping the sword for themselves. What a fucker. Bet he scams people on eBay too.

Meanwhile, Johnny and Vicky's investigation isn't going too well. Johnny's snitch gets killed and he accidentally fucks over a federal case by busting into an unrelated drug deal at a strip club and shooting a couple of dealers. To make things worse they are constantly interrupted by random kickboxers looking to start some shit, whether it's some street punks loitering around Vicky's car for no reason or a couple of roid-raging gym junkies who really want to use the lat pull-down. The fights may be an annoyance, but they give Johnny some serious investigative success in the area of Vicky's pants.

Johnny's post-coital martial arts exercises (which he performs in front of a stack of staticky TVs, a mystery that goes unexplained like Vicky's British accent) are interrupted by a phone call from a fellow police officer, asking to meet him at an abandoned warehouse. Vicky follows him and when the cop turns out to be an assassin she becomes the second character to take a bullet for Johnny, landing her in intensive care for the rest of the movie. It's turns out that the assassination attempt was engineered by the Angry Chief, who gets a bullet to the head for botching it.

Not knowing who he can trust (even a hot dog vendor turns out to be an assassin in disguise), Johnny seeks the help of Frank and Dogger. While Johnny heads to the wrong address in a Silence of the Lambs inspired fake-out, Frank and Dogger get into a car chase with some hand-grenade wielding goons, providing flimsy yet adequate justification for a huge explosion. Meanwhile a feud between Rudy and Richie comes to a boil amidst the dealings with another potential buyer, a buffoonish Russian mobster who eats everything in sight, including the scenery and eventually a bullet. In the end Johnny, Frank and Dogger storm Rudy's mansion and there is a final battle in which the titular sword plays part in Richie's extremely goofy death. Victorious, Johnny returns the legendary sword to it's rightful place (at an auction house to be sold off to rich assholes) and decides to take his partner's place at the dojo, teaching whiny little kids to kick eachother in the head.

The action in this film is okay, for what must have been a very limited budget. Punches often noticably miss their mark, but there is some decent Hong Kong inspired choreography, plus a little bit of John Woo acrobatics. Pruitt and Crawford have had long careers in stuntwork so they do a good job and Leigh is decent fighter, though not the most charismatic leading man. Crawford does get her kit off at one point if you're interested, although she's so toned and muscular it kind of scared me. I can't say this is a great film, but it isn't memorably horrible either. It's a functional and utilitarian Direct-to-Video that gets the job done.

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