Sabbath Reviews: Six-String Samurai (1998)
Sit down and let me teach you about the Birds and the Bees. You see, when a film genre loves pop culture and then decides to love another film genre, you get a Quentin Tarantino movie. Most of the time. Every once in a while you get something along the lines of the low-budget ($1,000,000 USD) apocalyptic samurai rocker film Six-String Samurai.
A little bit of self-publicity here. I make independent films — and by independent, I mean seriously independent, low budget movies. I’m a long way away from making a million dollar budget film, but regardless, since my next film in the pipeline is what I’ve dubbed an Elvisploitation, the word that another film exploiting The King was made on a low budget got my ears ringing. Now, I’ve watched Bubba Ho Tep and no, I haven’t seen 3000 Miles To Graceland though I’m sure I should. However, I really had no idea what I was getting into with Six-String Samurai. Part of me kind of worried that something similar to my script had already been done … in 1998. Honestly, with a name like Six-String Samurai I figured the less I knew about this film the better.
I ordered it on Netflix and read the blurb on the disc cover:
After the Russians lob an atomic bomb at the United States in the late 1950s, survivors flock to the neon lights of “Lost Vegas,” where Elvis Presley is a bona fide king of music and men, but when His Majesty dies unexpectedly, the city’s shiny throne is up for grabs. Armed with a six-string in one hand and a samurai sword in the other, rock ‘n’ roll hipster Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon) vows to make it to Sin City in time for his coronation.
Uh … yeah. No. Not my film at all. I discovered that quickly. I popped the DVD in and decided to see what it had to offer.
The opening text provides some back-story that the above blurb mentioned. This is some sort of revised American history where the Russians bombed us, America is some Mad Max-like apocalyptic world and Elvis is the King of ‘Lost Vegas’. The King is dead and now people from all over are trying to claim the throne. Enter Buddy.
Buddy looks a bit like … well … Buddy Holly. He’s a hipster with a guitar and a samurai sword and at least from what we see in the beginning, he’s good with the latter. The world is full of savages that he has to cut down by the sword on his way to get to his ‘gig’ in Lost Vegas. Unfortunately, while slicing down post-apocalyptic cavemen, he picks up a nasty disease.
And by nasty disease I mean a really annoying child sidekick. After saving his life kind of inadvertently, the kid follows Buddy. Our hero realizes this is a plot point that can go nowhere but down and tells the kid to stay fucking put. The kid being a kid doesn’t listen. He’s in for the long haul. Shit.
The kid doesn’t even talk. All he does is let out this whine/scream whenever he wants to get Buddy’s attention. Now, Buddy wants nothing to do with this little puke … but he’s our protagonist. Our gruff protagonist. Are you thinking I’m setting you up for the whole ‘He’s rough around the edges … but he’s got a heart of gold!’ movie cliche … well, let me tell you something.
Yeah. He is.
Now, to be fair, Buddy does try leaving the kid with the cannibalistic version of the Waltons, ditching him on the road with a broken down car and post-apocalyptic caveman approaching, leaving him with a Mexican midget … the works. Buddy just keeps having last minute changes of heart and goes to pull the kid out of the fire at the last minute. I know convention dictates it, but this kid really is damn annoying. And I know what you think we’re setting you up for. ‘He’s going to have a moment of bonding with the kid which will lead to him taking on a shine/protective role to the kid’, and boy let me tell you …
If you don’t stop getting ahead of me right now, I’m not going to write this review.
Yeah, they have that moment in the sand dunes where Buddy is practicing some spiritual martial arts stuff and the kid mimics him.
But here’s the curveball I’m going to throw you: this movie is pretty fucking awesome. Snotty kid aside, I really dug this movie. Buddy is just over-the-top cool, like the Fonz except with top notch martial arts skills and he’s a samurai sword wielding boss. The post-apocalyptic setting is a homage to obvious movies of it ilk, but I love the classic samurai film cliches. Even the whole samurai becoming protective of someone/something weaker is a cliche of the genre to itself and even though I find the kid annoying, I understand and appreciate the connection. The swordplay is also done in classic Japanese samurai film fashion and by that I mean both the choreography and the lack of bloodshed when the sword slices through a person. Yeah, I know, it’s also a budgetary thing but … it’s how things were done.
The marriage of the samurai film with 1950’s rock is also done really well. Throughout the film, Death himself — a Slash look-alike — with archer henchmen is eliminating the competition on the way to Lost Vegas. Buddy is obviously his top rival. Before the final fight, they have a musical duel of sorts and if the imagery didn’t do it enough for you, the music lets you know this is in part an allegory to the death of the classic Rock ‘n’ Roll of an era and the emergence of hard rock and heavy metal. It’s kind of like Don McLean’s American Pie with swords.
Six-String Samurai is definitely a niche film that’s going to have its fans and its detractors. It’s not a perfect film — it has its flaws. The child sidekick who just grates on my every nerve is chief amongst its biggest. The other — and this is completely bias — is that I’m not too sure where $1,000,000 went. I’m not saying the locations aren’t good, the costumes are great, and everyone (even the kid … but ONLY because he’s a kid) earned their paychecks. I just can’t help but think I could have stretched the money further. I don’t know. Once again, that’s just me.
What Six-String is though is … a really cool film. Cool is the word to describe it. Buddy is able to pull off the 1950’s hipster look, perform martial arts, swing a mean blade, and pull off a bad ass guitar solo. If you want to know my opinion musically? He kicked Death’s ass. He made me realize just how sweet a good blues riff could be and how even a mean electric guitar riff just cannot match its beauty.
Lance Mungia later went on to direct the much critically panned Crow installment, Wicked Prayer. I haven’t watched Wicked Prayer and it’s on my ‘To Do When I Really Want To Hate My Life For About 2 Hours’ list. I know that doesn’t bode well and might turn some people off to giving this a view, but I definitely say do it. If nothing else, it was a brave attempt to join a lot of different aspects of genre and cultures and the final result was enjoyable in my opinion.
Oh, and there was pretty much zero Elvis in this so any fears I had were squashed. In case anybody cared.