Monday, April 27, 2009

Roaring Fire (Hoero! Tekken) (1982)


Let’s see if I remember everything important: Juji is a Japanese cowboy who knows Kung Fu. Then there’s Spartacus, played by pro wrestling legend Abdullah the Butcher. And Sonny Chiba plays a magician. Who does ventriloquism. But actually works for Interpol. And Joji’s blind sister-in-law (at least I think that’s the relation) can fight like Zatoichi. And also there are Nazis, ninjas, car chases, a helicopter, bananas stuffed with heroin, a Russian boxer, a melee on the top of a moving bus, trap doors, and some other improbable stuff that I’m sure I’m forgetting. This is some wild shit right here. Seriously, Norifumi Suzuki’s Roaring Fire (Hoero! Tekken) is the movie you had playing in your head when you were a twelve year-old boy hopped up on Pixy Stix and Tab; even back then you never thought someone would be stupid enough to make it, but you always hoped they would.


Joji (Hiroyuki Sanada) is the long lost twin brother of the heir of a wealthy Japanese businessman. He was kidnapped as a child, and raised as a cowboy. Joji is told this by his (adopted) father, the kidnapper, who begins the movie on his deathbed. Then we get a montage of Joji riding his horse, lassoing stuff with cowboys, and throwing hatchets with Indians (the types of Indians that only exist in Westerns, but whatever). We, the film-going audience, realize that during the duration of the film Joji is going to have to ride a horse and lasso something and throw a hatchet at someone, and we are pleased by this development. Also, he has a pet chimp. I should probably mention that.

Joji returns to Japan, to discover that his twin, Toru, has been killed by the Hong Kong mob, that his parents are dead, and that his family’s home is currently occupied by judgmental bikini babes who take umbrage at the sassy pranks played by his chimp. So they call Spartacus (Abdullah the Butcher), who tries to beat up poor Joji. But Joji’s too quick, and he escapes! And Spartacus, thus bested, decides to become his best friend. Or something.


Through a series of events too baffling or forgettable to explain, Joji runs into Mr. Magic (Sonny Chiba), an Interpol agent, posing as a magician (for some inexplicable reason) who does a bewildering ventriloquist act (for some inexplicable, yet awesome, reason) and who tries to clue Joji in to the fact that his uncle is evil. We, the audience, know that Joji’s uncle is evil, because when Joji’s not around he has sinister conversations, shot at sinister low angles, and is usually framed by a conveniently-placed Nazi flag or a swastika. Any connection he might have to the National Socialist movement is unclear--in fact, I think this is just a shortcut to establish that he’s evil. Nazis are evil + he likes Nazis = he’s evil.

Soon Joji becomes hip to the fact that his uncle had his parents killed so that he can take over the family. Then, having gained this prestige, he intends to buy his way into politics, using the money he gains from selling the family jewels to drug lords, who will help him smuggle bananas filled with heroin into the country. And then maybe he’ll use his connections to help the Nazis (?). But that's just speculation.


To thwart his uncle, Joji has to involve himself in some of the craziest shit every seen on film. He fights a bare-chested Russian boxer, and battles ninjas disguised as monks in a scene clearly intended to mimic cartoons rather than reality. He is aided by Mr. Magic, his Zatoichi-esque sister-in-law, and Abdullah the Butcher, each of whom get at least one kick-ass fight scene in which to show of their chops. Hiroyuki Sanada is no slouch either, and at several times during the film he does acrobatic stuff that reminds you just how cool kung-fu can be.


The director, Norifumi Suzuki, is primarily known as a talented sleaze-meister, with some popular pinky films to his name, such as School of the Holy Beast, Sex & Fury, and the Girl Boss series. Suzuki is not unlike Lone Wolf & Cub director Kenji Misumi, in that he’s incredibly talented at what he does, and what he does is make violent genre films that most serious critics and movie goers would turn their noses down at. He is, however, a real artist, and it shows in a film like Hoero! Tekken, which may remind you of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, if that film was even more bizarre and action-packed. In the hands of a lesser director, this would come off as a terrible mess, instead of what it really is: an amazing mess.

To the best of my knowledge, there’s no official, English-friendly DVD out there of Hoero! Tekken, and I sure wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one. This film attracts a select few--those who enjoy Kung Fu, camp, puppets, and subtitles--and so I doubt anyone’s clamouring to make it available. However, if anyone has read this far and thinks “Hey, this is right up my alley!”, it probably is, and you should seek it out. Now.

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