Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Unseen #11: Lightning Swords Of Death

Why’d I Buy It?: Given to me during the last days of the Insomniac. Also cause it’s called Lightning Swords Of Death which has to go on the short list of greatest titles ever conceived by man.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Admittedly I can be a bit of a movie snob about some things. The Shogun Assassin Series is one of them. For those who don’t know, The Shogun Assassin Series is the American dubbed version of the Japanese Lone Wolf And Cub series. They’re heavily cut, (the first is actually the first two movies in the Lone Wolf And Cub series) in order to feature the maximum amount of violence and the minimum amount of sense.

Thanks to the fact that these films where available in The US long before the unedited Lone Wolf And Cub Series was, these films gained a reputation and are now considered to be true cult classics. Still with the original seven film Lone Wolf And Cub series readily(ish) available I see no reason to watch the mutilated cuts. I enjoyed owning Lightning Swords Of Death (or as it’s know in Japan Baby Cart At The River Hades) as a collectors item and not much else.

How Was It?: Just what you’d expect, as a blistering showcase of hardcore Samurai action it’ virtually unparalleled. As a movie I can never quite get it out of my mind that there’s a better version out there. Which isn’t to say that it was anything less then a great time at the movies.

Lightning Swords Of Death follows the further adventures of existential Samurai Ogami Itto, whose wife was murdered by the mad Shogun, and now travels the country with his infant son ending the lives of various mother fuckers unlucky enough to cross his path. In this particular case he’s hired to kill a corrupt governor. The twist is just after accepting the job, the governor attempts to hire Itto. Though Itto refuses the job, he does go to meet the governor, just so the poor bastard can realize what Itto’s been hired to do. That’s cold. The governor throws an army at Itto and as the taglines say he throws em back, a piece at a time.

For fans of Samurai films this film is just about perfect. The trademark of The Lone Wolf And Cub series, has always been the quick brutality of the fights. They seem real, not expertly choreographed sequences but desperate scrapes. Even when Itto’s fighting against multiple opponents the battles rarely last over a minute. There’s one great “Oh dick move!” scene in which Itto tricks an assassin into “saving” his infant son from drowning, and then rises out of the water like Jason Voorhese and strikes down upon him with great vengeance and terrible anger. For variety the film puts together one hell of a climax, in which Itto takes on a Lord Of The Rings sized army, employing just about every weapon you’ve ever seen used in a martial arts movie, it’s jaw dropping.

The Lone Wolf And Cub movies are unlike any other action movie ever made. Like I said, the films have a weird existential vibe to them. Itto doesn’t really have a larger plan, he’s just going to kill people until he dies. When he is moved to help someone he does it in his own way.

In one of the movies best scenes, he’s moved to save a woman from being sold into prostitution. Surrounded by the brothel’s bodyguards and the madame demanding the woman, you think you know how it’s going to go, namely Itto’s going to make the world short a few brothel guards. Instead he allows himself to be taken away and tortured just to prove a point.

I can’t think of another movie where anything remotely like that would happen. I mean sure sometimes the hero will fail, get captured, and then tortured to prove that he can take it and prove what a big badass he is, but to get tortured just to show he don’t give a fuck? Now that’s impressive.

It should be pointed out before you run out and grab these that there are not one, but two unnecessary rape scenes, that are surprisingly graphic and nasty. Both are to say the very least, deeply unpleasant.

But that’s just how things go in the world of Lone Wolf And Cub, the darkest craziest action movies known to man.

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