Pray for Death (1985)
Part 1 of the 3 months of lemons series begins with the 1985 Sho Kosugi film "Pray for Death", directed by Gordon Hessler.
This lemon first premiered during the infamous Ninja Craze of the mid-eighties when martial arts ads were everywhere... Ads like "Ninja Power" or "Art of the Assassins" with pictures of masked caucasians with black masks, dressed like members of the caliphate, holding sharp swords, shurikens, posed beneath 1-800 numbers, next to other ads for weight-sets and muscle gain creams. You saw them in your comic books. You saw them in your Kung-fu magazines. You even saw them Saturday mornings fighting Chuck Norris. Everyone had to have some type of Bandanna or some type of ninja related item to go with their Ninja flicks and "How to Martial Arts at home" videos.
Pray for Death was one of the many films that made Sho Kosugi the first Asian action star in America after the death of Bruce Lee. His more well known films were produced by the infamous GOGO duo of Golan & Globus of CANNON FILMS; otherwise known as "The Bad News Jews" according to Electric Boogaloo: The untold story of Cannon Films by Mark Hartley (2014). This film however isn't' one of those therefore, dare I say it, it might actually be better than a dud.
From the opening title sequence and the first chords of the theme song you will know exactly what to expect, if not the menu screen of a SEGA Genesis game. Or a slight chuckle.
More than a dud but not great. Cool but not amazing. Moments of nostalgic cringe but totally entertaining. It's the kind of movie that you loved when you were young but don't talk about much nowadays because of the lemon zest.
Sho Kosugi is a master of ninjutsu living with his family in Japan and after a dispute with his brother forces the two men to cross swords. Sho is forced to kill his brother and because of guilt swears to never take up the sword again. He moves his lovely wife and two songs (played by real life sons: Kane & Shane) to America. The culture shock is sudden but, with a few adjustments and goodwill they start to acclimate themselves to the possible American dream ahead of them.
Eventually, like all movies of these types, paths are cross with the seedier side of America. And the family is put into a life and death situation that forces Sho to choose the sword in order to protect his family from Limehouse Willie. Limehouse is a mob enforcer played by the films writer James Booth, what a coincidence.
So, do you like kids about to be blow torched (Yes!), do you like evil villains with Mr.Rogers Neighborhood type names (Eh!), a useless police force that's only purpose is to show that they are completely useless (Well!), do you like heroes dealing out justice dressed in cool ninja outfits before you know who ruined it recently (Wink, Wink!)? Well here it is. The first of the three. Prey for Death.
Next Month will be part 2 of 3. Gather your jutsu. Light the incense. Sharpen your swords. and keep your fingers on the rewind button.