A review requested by STinG, with thanks to supporting Alternate Ending as a donor through Patreon.

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The path that Samurai Cop has taken through history is close enough to the path of Miami Connection that it's hard not to want to compare and contrast the two of them. Both were made by outsiders to the "real" film industry, both are marked by profoundly amateurish filmmaking technique, both are far more ambitious than that technique could ever hope to support, both latch onto east Asian martial arts at a point when American pop culture was feeling particularly receptive to those martial arts. Both only exist in modern cult film consciousness because they were rediscovered more or less completely by accident: Samurai Cop was given only the smallest release when it was new, and not in the anglosphere, and even its much-delayed 2004 direct-to-DVD release didn't do much of anything to make any audience aware of it. It wasn't until a 2013 re-release by a different company that bits and pieces of it started going viral online. And the contrasts: the shaggy, goofy blissed-out vibe makes Samurai Cop as necessarily a "shot in Los Angeles" movie as Miami Connection could only have come out of the grotty world of Florida independent filmmaking, which even in the late stages of its decline, was still one of the most distinctive of all North American regional filmmaking industries. And unlike Miami Connection's starry-eyed visionary amateurs, Samurai Cop is the work of a filmmaker with quite a full career behind him. Writer-director-producer Amir Shervan was involved in the Iranian film industry as an actor at least by 1949, and he made several films in that country before the 1979 revolution sent him back to America, where he'd studied in his youth. Here, he ended his career on a series of no-budget action epics, of which Samurai Cop was the last.

There are no end to the astonishing facts about Samurai Cop, but in some ways, the fact that its director had been doing this professionally for over 20 years by this point is quite possibly the most astonishing of all. Nothing about the film suggest it was made by anybody but a dazzled in-over-his-head kid who loved samurai swords and loved action movies and was by Christ going to make one of his very own, no matter how little he or his crew knew about the most basic fundamentals of the filmmaking craft.  And I do mean fundamentals: fundamentals like, "use the same film stock for two shots in the same location that are going to be cut together, so the color temperature doesn't suddenly lurch in between shots", or "discourage your actors from staring directly into the camera lens" or "in editing, try to cut out the pauses before actors start to react to the line they've just heard, so there aren't massive long stretches of people standing still, glaring at nothing offscreen".

It takes the film extremely little time to demonstrate that these are going to all be at play, for the record. Within the first minute of the first scene, we've already gotten multiple actors looking right into the camera and at least one hellaciously bad cut that makes it feel like we've gone to a new location right in the middle of an ongoing conversation. Truth be told, I was so mystified by what was going on at the level of basic filmmaking that I had to keep re-watching the opening five minutes of the film, no fewer than four times, before I was actually watching the film - not to try and parse what was going on, but because my eyes simply kept sliding right off the film, and without even realising I was doing it, I was spending thirty seconds just staring at the wall and listening to dialogue without paying attention to it. It is a film that rejects you as a viewer more than you reject it as a narrative or visual art object.

All of which is also to say: I'm at a bit of a loss to explain what the hell actually happens in Samurai Cop, other than that calling him a samurai cop is generous. Part of the reason that policeman Joe Marshall (Matthew Karedas, understandably hiding behind the name of "Matt Hannon") has been called down from San Francisco to take on the case - a Japanese gang has taken over the LA cocaine trade - is because he has been trained by "the Japanese masters", and as a result speaks fluent Japanese. Despite this, he has to take a running jump in order to pronounce the name "Fujiyama". Also, the katana that he carries around as proof of being a samurai (it means "Japanese sword", he angrily translates at one point) gets trotted out...  twice? Maybe a third time when I was busy staring at a wall? The reason for this, at least, is that the film obviously couldn't afford a fight choreographer, or perhaps just didn't think it needed one; either way, the action scenes are illegible smears of non-movement and bad cutting and actors moving v-e-r-y deliberately though some very basic poses. The reason for the rest is at least possibly that Karedas and Shervan got along very poorly, and the actor later admitted that he was deliberately sabotaging takes in the hopes of getting more than one take per shot. This hope was not realised.

Anyay, Joe Marshall, samurai cop, gets into various scrapes with his '70s-throwback black cop sidekick Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), while being egged on by the alarmingly bloodthirsty Captain Roma (Dale Cummings), who looks like a five-and-ten version of Lee J. Cobb, and has a motif in dialogue of talking about things being violently shoved up his and other people's asses. This is, barely, enough to make him the most loathsome character in a film that seems to have been built around making the most unsympathetic population of barely-recognisable humans that Shervan could whip up. Joe himself is an unabashed smarmy creep, looking at the world with obnoxious self-amusement that seems to be the only mode Karedas can reliably hit, while sporting an astonishing back-length rag of hair (at times played by a singularly unconvincing wig), and frequently parading around in tight black Speedos, both of which contribute to the unyielding impression of a sex offender who knows the law will never catch up with him. And that feeling isn't helped out by the film's signature scene, in which Joe and a nurse exchange some of the filthiest one-note "flirtatious" dialogue that would feel a bit too on-the-nose in homebrew pornography, as she stares at his dick in a bafflingly poorly-blocked eyeline "match", and declares that his dick is too small.

Basically, the film has confronted us with one of the most jaw-droppingly unsympathetic protagonists imaginable, in behavior and performance and visual appearance. While people are brutally tortured on his behalf, he fucks the villain's mistress. While he's getting yelled at, he smirks with the indifference of a college drunk who knows that his dad is rich enough to get anybody fired. He slimes his way through the movie, making sure that it's scummy and unpleasant on top of being so bad that it's like a hallucination of filmmaking: arrhythmic editing that stretches moments out till the whole movie is as slow as drowning in tar, ugly cinematography with shitty color correction and , the whole nine yards. It's a pretty comprehensive failure of everything but ambition and nerve: this wants to be so much movie. It succeeds at being basically no movie at all, barely managing to form shots into cohesive scenes, and scenes into a cohesive narrative; at times it doesn't manage this at all, especially in the early going, when it's trying to put out exposition, and can't just rely on the flow of a clichéd action movie to cheat its way into something like storytelling logic. Still, there's giddy joy here, the kind that makes any worthwhile so-bad-it's-good movie; Samurai Cop is so unbelievably confident in its own sense of what's cool about movies, about samurai, about cops, and so proud of itself for assembling all of those into one place that it seems churlish to point out that it makes no sense and is just as off-putting as it is adorably hapless. Though my God, is it ever off-putting and hapless.