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Original Title:

Japan 2002

Action, Martial Arts, Sci-Fi

Shimoyama Ten

Kane Kosugi
Sho Aikawa
Masaya Kato
Misato Tachibana
Noboru Kaneko
Ken Lo

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Muscle Heat

Story: Joe Jinno (Kane Kosugi) is in jail, because he did reject a command when being a soldier. Detective Katsuragi (Sho Aikawa) has the necessary documents to set him free again, but only if he teams up with him. As a secret task force their mission is to take down drug lord Kenjin (Masaya Kato). Kenjin doesn't only control Japan of the year 2009, but also floods the drug market with his new acquisition "Blood Heat". However, Joe and Katsuragi's mission doesn't go the way they planned it. Kenjin escapes and Katsuragi is captured. After seeing his partner getting killed in Kenjin's fighting arena "Muscle Heat", Joe takes actions against Kenjin on his own. He gets unexpected help from Katsuragi's sister Akane (Misato Tachibana), a police woman, and an underground organisation, that is forced to live in the slums, because of Kenjin's reign of terror.

Review: "Muscle Heat" looks like a B-Action-Movie from the early 90s. In fact, it's from 2002, though! The only scenes you can make this out are those in which there are some cool looking action sequences, that concerning their style remind you of "Romeo must die". Apart from that the movie radiates a strong "Direct-to-Video"-flair and has a story, which is so banal, that one has to wonder how one could even consider producing a movie with a script like this one. Nonetheless, if you take a look at the Hollywood-collegues maybe you shouldn't be too harsh with the Japanese...

"Muscle Heat" takes place in the future, more precisely in the year 2009. After a big economic crisis the country is down and the slummy industrial area grows every day. The atmosphere the movie creates is a little bit post-apocalyptic. The orange colour filter, run down buildings and ruins draw a nice picture of omnipresent poverty. Nevertheless, we only get to know how the situation is in the country and most of all what effects the drug "Blood Heat" has on the residents, at second-hand for example from the every now and then inserted newscast. This is most likely because of the austerity budget.
Furthermore, you have to ask yourself why housewifes and office workers can become addicted to a drug that seemingly increases muscle power and reflexes, which seems only to be of use for street thugs.
As already said the plot hasn't much to offer and this also doesn't change in the course of the movie. There are sudden jumps and illogical coincidences that can really make you groan. Some story threads like the one of the underground rebels play only a part in the movie for short and you end up asking yourself if it would have made any difference to just do without them. No one would have cared anyway.

At least the film provides us with some nice action sequences. Apart from some shoot-outs there are some really good looking fights. While the style of most affrays didn't excite me all too much, because they were nothing more than street brawls, the scenes with Kane Kosugari did absolutely make up for it. Kane (son of legendary ninja-movies-mimer Sho Kosugi of the 80s) thrills you with his speed, agility and power. It's just fun to watch him walking through a horde of enemies and with elegant maneuvers, powerful kicks, punches and throwing moves gets his contrahents several metres in the air. At some points you just can't overlook the apparent use of wires, but this somehow makes the whole thing even more fun. The sound effects are very well done, too, making the fights feel even more rough and brutal.
The idea of a fighting arena in which you fight a mortal combat is so uninventive that you just have to yawn, nevertheless at least we get presented some nice fights this way. However, sadly the final battle between Kane and Masaya Kato is somewhat disappointing, even more when you know that Kato is also very well versed in Martial Arts.

In a film like "Muscle Heat" you shouldn't be expecting any efforts of the actors, naturally. Kane Kosugi (soon to be seen in Corey Yuen's video game adaption "Dead or Alive") at least does give a mediocre portrayel of his character, while the supporting cast mostly give a poor performance. I expected something more from Sho Aikawa, but unfortunately he gets as little on-screen time as Misato Tachibana, so that he can't make anything out of his role. Besides it's not a big help for the actors that some of the dialogues are really, really bad. The pseudo-messages the movie wants to convey with its several monologues of the main character feel very contrived and just don't fit into this brainless action flick.
The only light at the end of the tunnel is Masaya Kato ("Fighter in the Wind"), who with his charismatic even though cliche-ridden portrayel of the main villian does give a nice performance and who always manages to get the viewers antipathy.
One question remains at the end, though. Why is there so much English spoken in the movie. Was this supposed to make the movie look more international along with its american style? If so, then one could have at least tried to write some grammatically correct sentences when going through the script. The stuff you get to hear in this film almost will make your ears bleed. By the way, in addition to English one sometimes also speaks Chinese and cantonese. Oh, and they also speak Japanese, of course...

If you want to have some entertaining 90 minutes with "Muscle Heat" you shouldn't make any demands on the story or the actors. Only because of the cool look of the well performed harsh action and Kane's Martial Arts skills the movie is somewhat worth seeing. You won't be bored, but it also wouldn't be that bad to just avoid this flick.
For action fans this means: turn off your brain and have a fun ride.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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