The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pray for Death (1985)

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When this thing turned up on Hulu as I was looking up Shô Kosugi during my Ninja Assassin review, I figured it was a good idea to make it happen. Of course, it had been maybe 20 years since I'd seen it last, and I had this odd sense that it wasn't good, or that I didn't quite like it, but I couldn't remember why.

Pray for Death has Shô Kosugi as a Japanese businessman trying to leave behind his ninja past. He has an American wife and two kids, and when the wife suggests moving back to the States, he's all over the idea. When he gets here, though, he finds out the property they bought is in a bad part of town, and even worse, some local baddies hid an expensive necklace in a boarded up section of their new place, and when it goes missing, they take it out on Kosugi and his family. Kosugi wants to do things by the book, but the cops are little help, so he has to take matters into his own hands to protect his family.

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Now I remember why I didn't like this. It was ten kinds of awesome in terms of great ninja action, and Kosugi brings it. What killed it for me was the film makers killing off Kosugi's wife. It's like, first the baddies kidnap his son, so he rescues him. Then they run over his wife and son, so he goes and threatens them to leave his family alone. Finally, after all that, they then kill off his wife. Jesus, why not burn down his house and send the IRS after him too while you're at it. And that made for an awesome last scene too, with Kosugi and his two sons at their mother's grave. That's what I want out of an action flick, a somber ending. Maybe they could mix in Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" while they're at it. Good work, guys.

We always talk about not wanting the plot to get in the way of the action in the sense of lowering the overall action quotient, but here what happened was the bad plot killed any fun the movie should've had. They wrote themselves into a corner to start with, when Kosugi invades the baddie's party boat, but then he leaves the head baddie alive, warning him not to mess with his family, because they really had nowhere to go from there. They also needed to kill off the wife to give us the baddie's ultimate death of getting sawed in half, which I guess we wouldn't buy if the head baddie just kidnapped the wife I guess. The thing is, we didn't buy it anyway because they didn't show it. What we needed was for the wife to be kidnapped from the hospital, Kosugi saves her, and the end scene is the family at their restaurant. Keep everything else, and this would be one of the best films of all time.

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And a big reason for that was how awesome Shô Kosugi was, yet again. The martial arts were spot on, and his ninja costume was sweet as all get out. I think the biggest impediment to his overall success here in the States is his poor command of the English language. It's not an indictment on him, just a point of fact. Now he's 62, which puts him in that wise sensei category, which worked fine in Ninja Assassin, so maybe we'll get more of that from him. In this film, it was some of his best stuff, which makes it all the more annoying that his character couldn't get a break. I'm surprised after killing off his wife they also didn't have his fledgling restaurant destroyed by an earthquake or something.

I should probably get together a list of my rules for action films, because I got another one right here: kids look silly doing martial arts. Pray for Death features Kosugi's kids yet again, and when they're fighting bad guys, it looks too ridiculous for words-- not to mention, it takes away from time we could have of Kosugi's great martial arts skills. I mean, when we sign on for a Shô Kosugi film, we're signing on to watch him fight, not his kids. If I wanted that kind of thing, I'd rent 3 Ninjas.

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One of the best parts of the film comes when Kosugi jumps over a truck. Real or not, it was great in an 80s 90s DTV action sort of way. The truth is, the film was more parts like that, and collected together make for an awesome film. Unfortunately, by killing off Kosugi's wife and his kids' mother, all that fun goes out the window. Sometimes these film makers just take themselves too seriously. Had this been made by Golan-Globus, you know it would've been much more fun.

And there you have it. This is great in terms of Shô Kosugi and his action; but the whole thing took a weird turn for me because the film makers just had to keep sending Kosugi's character through the ringer, ultimately killing his wife. I'm surprised they didn't also have him buy a winning lottery ticket, only to have it fly out of his hands when he finds out it's the jackpot.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089835/

10 comments:

  1. I rather liked the downbeat ending it was sort of like Avenging Force (Written by James Booth) despite the fact Dudikoff wins, his friend, friend's family (including the kids) as well as the grandfather are all slaughtered by the white supremacists. Ergo PFD's downbeat ending gave it a Death Wish styled theme. Plus the action was great (kids aside) and I really rooted for Kosugi's quest for revenge. Also they do show the ending in the unrated version which is gory. The MPAA really murdered this film as a lot of the cuts were taken out which deprive the revenge angle. (The R rated version is on HULU) Still even in R rated format I still say it's a great flick.

    In my mind, this is the best U.S Ninja movie of all time. Kosugi's bad luck is true and torn and perhaps the movie is downbeat, that just means it does a good job of having us care for Kosugi's character and stuff. The character development adds depth and the ninja action counteracts it, as such skills are employed to get revenge.

    I guess I can see some of your points but color me surprised that you didn't care for this. This is one of my all time faves.

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  2. Let's not get carried away here. I think it was a tad beyond this film's paygrade to be able to make me care about its characters, which is fine, as long as they know that, and they didn't. They should've stuck with what they were good at-- awesome martial arts-- and left the story writing to people who know what they're doing.

    Second, I have no problem with something being downbeat, but this was downbeat the lazy and depraved way. First they kidnap his son, then they run over his son and wife, then they kill his wife. One of those would've been sufficient, but all of those were just piling on in the name of being downbeat. It's the same principal as throwing kids into a Lifetime movie and calling it sentimental. I guess I'm surprised you're surprised that I was put off by that aspect.

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  3. It was done in the Death Wish formula. (I reviewed it by the way, see my update, along with some other goodies) I think the kids in peril as well as wife dying while being under guard, was meant to be like a Ninja's Death Wish. Because the Death Wishes are like that. I would also say that the sequence where Kosugi tells the police off "BRING ME TO MY WIFE!" to which he vows to avenge her death as well as how sorry he was their dreams ended up this way. I'm not saying this was care about the characters but it had more substance than usual. I think one flaw that I will grant you is the kids fighting, as well as it revolving around a priceless necklace but Kosugi gives such a strong performance. I personally loved his "Land of free, but free what, free to kill women and children, if we are free to do whatever than those animals will pay, and don't try to stop Mr. Policeman!" It's right out of the Death Wish playbook and all movies like such are downbeat because of the Death Wish rule.

    I do notice you don't like movies that kill of likable characters but I still cite this as one of the strongest in the genre. Perhaps we may have to agree to disagree on this but I assure you, the action is so good, Kosugi is such a strong performer and the Death Wish angle works well.

    This was actually written by the guy who wrote Avenging Force (James Booth) and both films are brutal but deliver hard edged action.

    I love this movie and you know we agree on things 80% of the time so it was a matter of time before we had such a disagreement. However unlike Gene Siskel who caved on his Broken Arrow review, you shall not get me to cave. Especially on a film that I worked extremely hard to get on DVD.

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  4. Well your definitely not going to like Spoiler then, that film also relentlessly piles on in the name of being downbeat and depressing, and unlike Pray For Death, Spoiler dosen't have enough action to soften the blow, and what little action it does have is incredibly half-assed and amateurish, (which pretty describes the whole film actually)and top it all off, it dosen't even have a satsfying ending.

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  5. It's not even a matter of liking or not liking that kind of thing, this was just done in a lazy and clunky fashion. Maybe it was meant to be in the Death Wish style, but to be Death Wish, that kind of thing has to be 100%, because when they do it all the way the way the Death Wish films did, it comes off so much better.

    Spoiler could be a little ways down the road, so let's not worry about it yet. Firepower is next up for Daniels.

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  6. Clinky perhaps I can see...Not sure where you see Lazy. This film is the apex of trying something new and trying to have depth.

    I liked Spoiler and I think you won't like it either cause it is downbeat and the action is lame but I still found somewhat interesting even if it wasn't always successful. And it's better than Firepower for sure.

    Pray For Death is certainly the better movie between this and Spoiler as well.

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  7. Indeed where I understand why someone might not like Spoiler, Pray For Death is one of those that I'm prepared to argue over.
    Note how I could care less when disagreed on Epicenter and Snakeeater III being better than 2 (I still stand by that) However this one also has nostalgic pull so hence me being up in arms. I will go record and say this is the best Ninja movie of Kosugi's career and in the U.S This movie also holds its own and like Death Wish pulls no punches to skimp on the downbeat ending (1,2,5 and especially 4 are almost shakespearean in how downbeat they are.) Actually I can't wait for your takes on the Death Wish films...Those will be good reviews.

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  8. Yeah, i'm surprised you haven't gotten around to reviewing the Death Wish films yet.

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  9. Most of the Death Wish movies were in theaters. I'm still working quite a bit to catch up on DTV movies, let alone theatrical films I'm including due to the new Wild Card post, so again, Michael, I'm surprised you're surprised. By the way, Death Wish 3 was reveiwed during Golan-Globu week.

    I can see where you're going Kenner, but I just felt like Pray for Death did it poorly. For instance, I would've been fine with killing the wife, if it was just killing the wife. Remember, the old guy also bought it early on, so those two things together, plus an injured son in the process, would've been perfect. If you're going to kill the wife off, do it in the car accident scene, and then it's not piling on.

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  10. The latter two Death Wish movies made a comined total of 7 mill so such needs doesn't need a wildcard post. Indeed DW5 made 1 mil. I can see Death Wish 1 is a wildcard post but the other ones are really a stretch to consider mainstream.

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