Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) – A Review


A review of the 1991 action movie Showdown in Little Tokyo, starring Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Tia Carrere and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Showdown in Little Tokyo 1991 action movie Dolph Lundgren Brandon Lee

Cop Dolph Lundgren is working the beat in Little Tokyo. Dolph knows all about the Japanese culture having been raised in Japan. He’s set on taking down Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa a Yakuza drug kingpin who has killed his way to the top of the criminal underworld.

As is usual with movie cops, Dolph gets a new partner who’s very opposite to the way he handles things. Brandon Lee might be a Japanese American, but he knows nothing of the culture or the dangers that he’s going to be up against in Little Tokyo. He doesn’t like how Dolph handles things, but perhaps these two partners will find some common ground – you think?

After having witnessed Tagawa commit a murder, nightclub singer Tia Carrere’s life is in danger. Lundgren and Lee have to protect her, beat baddies up with their martial arts skills and work to finally stop the villainous Tagawa once and for all.

Showdown in Little Tokyo is a B-Grade actioner with very little to recommend about it. The only thing that makes it slightly enjoyable is watching how poorly put together it is and the unintended laughs it elicits. Everything about it – the dialogue, the wardrobe, the story, the locations, the action, the acting – is so low rent and subpar you’ll wonder if it was a leftover flick Cannon Films had forgotten about, shoved it in a drawer and it somehow got discovered. 

It’s a shoddy put together vehicle for Lundgren and Lee and it becomes such a dull haul, despite bouts of action, when you manage all the way through it you won’t have much to remember from it.

Dolph Lundgren Brandon Lee Showdown in Little Tokyo 1991 action movieDolph and Lee have zero chemistry together. They try to do the ‘cop buddy’ thing exchanging one-liners and banter that’s meant to be amusing repartee between the two, but it falls so incredibly flat you wonder if they – or anyone involved in this movie – were making any effort at all. There’s no wit or humor to anything they have to say to each other.

There’s one notorious exchange where Lee, looking at a naked Dolph, comments he has the biggest dick he’s ever seen.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Admittedly, it is a highlight moment between them because it’s such a head scratching one. It’s probably the one piece of dialogue you’ll remember from the movie.

Based solely on their performances here, I would have concluded neither of them exude enough charisma or zest to be leads in a movie. They might look handsome and buff and could handle the action pretty well, but geez they’re regular planks of wood in this. This was neither actors best outing. Things should have really clicked a bit better between the two, instead they’re two of the most forgettable cop buddies that have been paired up in the genre.

The movie starts to feel awfully strange as it goes on. Dolph and Lee appear to be more vigilantes than cops. Not once do we get the standard scenes of them getting chewed out by their sergeant, they don’t fill out paper work, they don’t radio for help, they don’t talk with other cops. They flash badges every now and then, have one scene in a police station, but for the most part they’re running around Little Tokyo dressed in a leather jacket and a 90’s zoot suit. It’s like there’s different rules in Little Tokyo for the police. 

There’s something very off about all the action scenes as well. Something went wrong with the editing and putting together the exciting scenes. Everything is noticeably sluggish and uneventful about them. There’s shootouts, martial arts fights, sword fights, explosions, but none are particularly satisfying.

You know something is going wrong when Lundgren lifts a car on its side (seriously he does this) hops into his car and as the bad guys try to shoot at him he reels back shoots at the flipped car making it explode taking them out. 

Tia Carrere Showdown in Little Tokyo 1991
Tia Carrere

That should be an exciting moment, but it got no reaction out of me. It played as more blah than a thrilling getaway.

There was something even off about the timing of making this kind of movie. By the time Showdown in Little Tokyo was released the ‘cop/buddy’ movie trend had already started to dissipate and had already started to feel old hat. The movie coming in at the tail end of the genres run feels like leftovers and plays as especially lazy and uninspired with nothing noteworthy to add.

Tia Carrere is a brief highlight. She looks spectacular and fans of hers will be rewarded with some slight nudity by her. Then you also have the fact that some of the silliness is played absolutely straight and that adds some slight amusement to watching this.

By the time the climax rolls around and Lundgren is dressed in his samurai outfit, wearing his headband and carrying a sword you’ll be reminding yourself – “Wait, isn’t he a cop? Is this normal police procedure? Where are all the other cops? Doesn’t any of these people in the crowd seeing this think this is a bit odd? The movie just doesn’t care anymore right?”

Dolph Lundgren Showdown in Little Tokyo 1991 action movieOne person who livens things up a bit is Tagawa who gives off cold deadly stares through most of the movie, has some wild full body tattoos and gets such a crazy outlandish death scene you’ll start to wonder if you’re watching The Naked Gun.

Seriously, he’s stabbed with a sword, gets thrown onto this spinning carnival wheel, it starts spinning around, sparks start to go off until it explodes into a fireball! All this happens by the way in the middle of a street festival with a full crowd of citizens taking it all in. It’s really quite ridiculous. 

This is a completely disposable actioner. Maybe it will give you a slight chuckle at how poorly it’s put together, but it’s not worth it. Just watch a comedy if you want to smile and a better action flick if you want to be thrilled. 



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