Fist of the North Star (1995) — Fixing the apocalypse one punch at a time

“What are you trying to do, tickle me to death?”

Kaleb’s rating: Heads will pop for this outrage!

Kaleb’s review: Not too long ago, I held another little contest on the forums. The object: Guess the six robot girl anime titles I own, plus the bonus seventh title. The prize: A review request, natch.

As far as contest I host go, it was a real groundbreaker. I think I may have had as many as five people participating at one point! Five! That’s four more than usual!

Still, the contest ultimately boiled down to a hot pillow fight of anime knowledge between Eunice and Heather, and while the latter called down enough thunder to dispel any doubts I may have had regarding her anime geek pedigree, victory would ultimately go to the proverbial dark horse (I had no idea Eunice was anime-anything!). This, due in large part to her three-point peelout right off the starting line. Let’s see if I can remember how that conversation went…

“But wait! There is a seventh entry, not technically beholden to the criteria of the other six, and guarded by three devices of such lethal cunning, that only through the careful rumination of the hints I provide, can one possibly hope to–”

“Elfen Lied.”


So, here we are. When I first saw the Netflix link Eunice sent me, I was like, “Hey! Fist of the North Star! I’ve always wondered about that one!” followed closely by, “Oh, the live-action version. Girls are mean.”

Or are they? I get that this was supposed to make me cry brown gravy with its awfulness, and yeah it was bad, but it was kind of likeable at the same time. You know the harmless affability Heather mentioned in her Hercules in New York review? Something like that.

The first thing you have to consider is that the setting is post-apocalyptic, which means big time leniency on my part. Also, it’s a martial arts flick, which means it doesn’t have to do much to please me. I don’t need dialogue that works or special effects that aren’t laughably odious; as long as somebody’s getting roundhouse kicked in the face, I’m good.

Granted, its being an hour-and-a-half movie with about a three minute plot does lead to some frustration on my part regarding the main character, Kenshiro. It’s made apparent early on that he could totally liberate the oppressed peoples of Wastelandland, and wail any number of the thuggardly devotees of Southern Cross (the antithetical opponents of North Star; they aren’t supposed to ever fight each other, and therefore do all the time) and their big-chinned leader without breaking a sweat (does do a fair amount of bleeding, though), and his entire rationalization for waiting so long to do so seems to be “Hey, I’d love to help, but these wastes aren’t going to wander themselves, you know!”

You know how sometimes, there are so many things you want to say, that you end up not saying anything? Yeah.

I’m reminded in particular of one of the film’s odder scenes, in which Kenshiro has a conversation with his deceased father Ryuken’s dessicated corpse. Ryuken is like, “You’re in default of your destiny, boy!” and Kenshiro responds with, “My destiny is hate and revenge!” and then Ryuken says, “Nuh-uh! Your destiny is to restore balance to the blah blah yackity shmackity blah!” Which isn’t exactly verbatim, but you get the gist.

Now, I don’t presume to tell anyone how to be a good undead father, but if it were me, as soon as Kenshiro said the hate & revenge bit, I would’ve said, “Fine! Your destiny is hate and revenge! Just do something already! Rub your hate and revenge together and see if you can light a fire under your ass!”

I mean, the whole idea is that Kenshiro needs to kill Shin to make everything nice again; are his motives really that important? Some may spout off about battles being won by attitude, but anyone with any sense knows that battles are really won with weird pressure point crap that makes people’s heads explode.

That aspect of Kenshiro’s technique is really cool, by the way (much better, in my opinion, than Shin’s equivalent Fiery Flame Bad Special Effect Palm Strike of Elbow Squirt). Not too fond of the sissy rabbit punches that lead up to it, but whatever. It is a little bit annoying that we never actually see anyone’s head explode, though. Especially when one of the head-explode victims spends the entire movie establishing how great it would be if his head exploded. I mean, I’m not trying to be a gore-monger or anything, but if we’re going to have some exploding heads, let’s have some exploding heads.

So the question remains, would I recommend this film to anyone else? In the immortal words of Will Smith, ah hell naw. But for me, it’s some tasty cheese.

Justin’s rating: Apropos of nothing, I can still remember how to do all of Ryu’s special moves in Street Fighter II. Does that qualify me to combat the apocalypse?

Justin’s review: From a rather distant vantage point on the subject of live action adaptations of Japanese manga and anime, I’ve observed that it’s incredibly easy to botch the transition and let down the built-in fanbase — especially if the movie is made by a western studio. For every Alita there are two or three The Last Airbenders or Cowboy Beebops or Ghost in the Shells stinking up the joint.

For many Fist of the North Star fans, the ’95 adaptation was a slap to the face (or so I garner from reviews). The manga and anime series rose to popularity in the ’80s with its over-the-top martial arts and post-apocalyptic theming, only to be let down by this live action attempt. But was it really that bad, and is there something here for the viewer who has no connection to the franchise itself? That’s what I wanted to answer as I went into this flick.

As might be expected, after civilization collapsed due to World War III, the survivors coalesced into 108 martial arts schools vying for supremacy. I mean, it only makes common sense. And in Fist of the North Star, fighting between these schools — time and effort which should’ve been spent farming, water purifying, and making amusing kitten videos — has narrowed down the forces to two: Southern Cross (aka Cobra Kai) and North Star (Miyagi Dojo).

North Star’s looking a little worse for wear these days, too, as the evil Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor) all but wiped out or kidnapped its members. The only guy that’s left is Kenshiro (Gary Daniels), a scarred nomad who’s wandering around the wasteland until he can get that grudge match going.

The battle for this future will take place around the ironically named Paradise Valley, where twee blind orphans and Melvin Van Peebles dwell… at least until Clint Howard (playing a character named “Stalin” and how funny is that?) and a mummified Chris Penn (as “Jackal”) show up to be jerks. Will a wandering hero blow into town and save them all? That beats actually having to protect themselves, so why not wait!

Aside from any particular loyalty to the source material, Fist of the North Star holds two points of interest for geeks. The first is the post-apocalyptic setting, which is done as generic and washed-out as possible here. So much of this movie looks like it was filmed during a smog-ridden day at a shanty town. Apart from cameos of acid rain, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the setting. Where are my mutants and giant combat mechs already!

I mean, there is a brief but awesome scene where Malcolm McDowell shows up as a zombie who literally digs himself out of his grave, but apart from that this is pretty straight-forward “we’re all fighting over a dusty junkyard.”

So that just leaves the other big ticket attraction, which is the anime-styled martial arts that all-too-infrequently appear. They should appear more often, too, because Daniels is a really good martial artist, the fight scenes are easy enough to follow, and there are some wonderfully over-the-top brutal moves. We’re talking guys getting their jaws punched sideways, people’s heads exploding, bodies burning from the inside-out, and all of those other things my Tae Kwon Do instructors never taught me.

These things are pushing against a lot of cheesy moments that I can’t determine are the filmmakers’ guidance or an effort to stay true to the stranger quirks of the manga. Now I like me some good cheese, but it helps if there’s an actual plot on which to serve that gouda. Fist of the North Star constantly feels like it’s biding its time before the inevitable final showdown with too many close-up action scenes and moments that it wants you to take as serious right after the movie does something completely goofy.

And don’t get me started at how pointless each and every one of the innumerable scenes with Julia, Kenshiro’s captured fiancé. Thank you for rescuing me, Mario, but your generic princess is in another castle!

The scales of entertainment came down in favor of this movie — at least for me. The bad guys are particularly energetic and memorable, and I couldn’t wait for Kenshiro to stop his road trip pity party and start delivering justice, one tiger spin kick at a time. It gets pretty good when that does happen, as does any scene when random “Hey I know that guy” character actor appears. Fist of the North Star is, in my book, a good companion piece to Double Dragon and Street Fighter. So let’s get out there and blow up some heads already with this flick!

Didja notice?

  • There exists a Japanese dub of the film which features the cast of the 1980s series reprising their roles.
  • A pretty corking main theme!
  • There’s someone in this movie whose real name is “Downtown Julie Brown” and another person who’s credited with the middle name as “Vader” in quotes
  • It’s Rufio from Hook!
  • “I remember the death of my body”
  • Ha, the bad martial arts guy up and shot the good guy with a gun. A GUN.
  • The Crossmen have really groovy-looking motorcycles with cages around them
  • About time Clint Howard showed up gunning people down indiscriminately
  • Did he just kick that guy’s jaw completely sideways?
  • You can lightly punch a guy a whole bunch of times to make his head explode
  • They started out with 108 martial arts schools? Did they all spring up from strip malls?
  • I can make my hand all glowy!
  • You can go blind from seeing your parents healed and cured with martial arts magic
  • I, too, dream of floating Malcolm McDowell
  • And then his dad appears as a zombie, why not
  • If you’re a man, you should be able to hug a boulder to death
  • “Today we ride on the back of a tiger, and that tiger is hungry!”
  • Being lit on fire AND dragged around by a car is the pits
  • Bad guys don’t respect brown-nosers
  • “Welcome to the future!”
  • About time we had a guillotine scene
  • The origin of Jackal’s head trauma and the straps to keep his brain from going kablooey
  • If two legs kick each other, lightning bolts result
  • The bad guy (who looks like Sloth from Goonies) surrenders and promptly gets killed by his own side. bummer.
  • Always obey the random floating ghosts dispensing advice
  • Yeah, release the angry rapist back to go watch over your fiancé…?
  • That’s one way to take off a face mask
  • Any well-meaning anime fans concerned that I claim to be the same and yet have not seen the Fist of the North Star anime: Let not your hearts be troubled, nor your mouths be griping at me. I watched Evangelion all the way through–a handful of posies held over my mouth and nose to stifle the auture stench–and the way I see it, that catches me up on my must-sees pretty much for the rest of my life.
  • At least… I think I watched it all the way through. The last two episodes are kind of a blur, which is a pretty good indication that I watched them.
  • Shin… Chin… that can’t be coincidence.
  • Actually, if my Five Words of Japanese That I Know(tm) is up-to-date, “Shin” means “Devil”.
  • Ru-fi-oooooooooo!!

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