By: John M Jerva
I’ve been around a long time and I’ve been an action cinema lover since I was in my early years so I think I know a thing a two about this marvelous genre. With that in mind, I know talent when I see it and I remember the day I first saw action phenom Gary Daniels do his thing on screen in a little film called Ring Of Fire which starred the iconic Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Daniels only had a small role in it but he did enough to make me want to see more and when I finally saw him in the spotlight, I was a fan for life.
Daniels essentially paved the way for the current crop of martial arts action stars like Scott Adkins and he may have never headlined a big budget film but he sure as hell cemented himself as one of the genre’s premiere talent with films like Riot, Bloodmoon, White Tiger and more. Daniels’ insane kicking skills are a thing to behold and when he executes them on screen, audiences are always in for a real treat.
I’m here today to talk about one of my favorite films in Daniels’ arsenal and that’s the live action adaptation of the Japanese Manga Fist Of The North Star. In it, Daniels plays the role of Kenshiro who is the only remaining hope of a ravaged future besieged by a warlord intent on enslaving what remains of planet Earth. There are essentially two rival martial arts schools which are Southern Cross and The North Star and while Daniels’ Kenshiro represents the North, Mandylor’s Shin is the poster boy for the South who rules the land with an iron fist. Shin takes Kenshiro’s one and only true love Julia, who he has a thing for, played by Isako Washio and holds her hostage in his fortress while leaving our hero for dead. Now, of course, that doesn’t sit well with Kenshiro and after roaming the wastelands, the stage is set for Kenshiro to finally accept that he is the true Fist Of The North Star and the salvation that the people need. An epic showdown of flying fists and feet are the result and it is essential viewing.
I feel that this is one of Daniels’ films that doesn’t get enough love and I can see why as it is not your typical action fare. The film actually takes a while to get going and Gary doesn’t really let loose until past the halfway mark but when he does, man, oh man is it ever brutally beautiful. There are a few brief brawls throughout but the finale alone is a 20 minute non-stop barrage of extreme fisticuffs with Kenshiro taking on an army and eventually going one on one with the film’s main villain Lord Shin played by the great Costas Mandylor.
The fight choreography is handled by Winston Omega who just happens to be Daniels’ real life martial arts instructor so he knows how to make the British ass kicker look his best on camera. All of Daniels’ trademark moves like his signature helicopter kick are present and accounted for and he puts on an aerial display of phenominal kicks that are poetry in motion.
The one vs. many sequence near the end of the film is breathtaking to say the least and Daniels puts on a clinic on how to take on mass assailants at the same time. There’s a funny behind the scenes story in that the production didn’t have a lot of extras for that scene so they basically just sent in the same stuntmen over and over again to make it look like there were more than there really were. It worked because the final product looks like a massive mob attacking Kenshiro who expertly fights them off with his lethal skills.
For a lesser budgeted B martial arts flick, there is a pretty impressive cast with the one and only Malcolm McDowell making an appearance as the leader of the North who is brutally executed by Shin who wants all the power for himself. He may not be in the film for long but his presence is felt. I’ve already mentioned Mandylor but there is also Melvin Van Peebles. former MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown and Dante Basco who many of you will know from Jeff Speakman’s The Perfect Weapon and Blood and Bone with Michael Jai White. The late, great Chris Penn (Best Of The Best) is delightfully sleazy as Shin’s right hand man Jackal who suffered a rare injury from Kenshiro’s power and would like nothing more than to see him suffer.
I remember when this film was released as an HBO world premiere movie back in 1995 and when it first came on, I must have watched it like 20 times in one week alone. Some fans were put off by this film as they felt it didn’t really represent the source material and that it wasn’t as ultra violent as the animated version but the stunningly put together action set pieces more than made up for all that. I also remember Gary taking about the director of the movie, Tony Randal, and saying that he wasn’t a fan of the fighting aspect and that’s why there wasn’t more of it in the final film. The ending is trully an action fan’s dream if you like fight scenes though and you’ll see that below in the videos that I share. They really save the best for last and Daniels is at the top of his game here.
All in all, Fist Of The North Star may be an acquired taste for some people but if you’re an action and martial arts fan and most importantly a Gary Daniels fan, then this film is worth checking out if you haven’t yet. The fight sequences are jaw dropping and Gary Daniels proves that when it came to action cinema then, he was one of the true kings of the mountain. It may not be a true representation of the Manga but as a standalone film, it excels with brutality and power and it demonstrates why Gary Daniels is one of the best. The bad ass apocalyptic hero the action genre needs!
Watch the glorious finale in the videos below and see Gary Daniels do what he does best!