From my little experience in Japanese cinema away from their Samurai, and Yakuza movies. Japan film industry gives a general impression they have a disinterest in producing action movies. The closest Japan gets to producing their equivalent to action blockbuster is either a live action anime/manga adaptation, or their monster/Kaiju movies. I don’t know the reasoning behind this, but I do know for certain that Blood Heat (aka Muscle Heat US Title) wanted to hang with the best in the action genre, and be influential in its country. Obviously that didn’t happen because it barely left a mark even as a footnote in action cinema history.
Blood Heat is set in the futuristic year of 2009 following court martial ex-Navy Seal Joe Jinno (Kane Kosugi) in his assignment to put an end to the circulation of super steroid drug Blood Heat. When the movie started I was mostly on board with the story. Things were to easy follow, and were developing nicely. It was focus, and contained itself in it simplicity for thirty minutes. After those first thirty minutes the film issues of convoluted plot points, thin characters, and by the number storytelling deteriorate a passable action movie into a chore. Choosing to grasp more than it can actually achieve burying anything it actually does well in terms of writing. This is primarily due to the fact that it sets up plot points, but doesn’t expand on them. Plot points like Joe protecting a little girl, the underground people calling themselves “sewer rats” starting a revolution, and Joe seeking vengeance remain flat in the overarching story. This wouldn’t be an issue if Joe Jinno desire to take vengeance was fleshed out at all. Joe gets the entirety of one scene showing Joe, and his partner bond before Joe’s partner bites the dust. Before that, the only scene Joe, and his partner share is Joe getting recruited into his current assignment. Just simply stating through dialogue Joe, and his partner have become good friends won’t generate investment like the movie think it will.
The drug itself, Blood Heat, main function is basically acting like a super steroid. Established in a newsreel it is revealed Blood Heat can increase the physical capacity of the user five times over the normal limit, and the user becomes depended on it after a single dose. You might think that user would be able to punch a hole in a person face with that much boost in physical strength, but it doesn’t. Blood Heat, the drug, is mostly used for blood combat in the Muscle Dome (a death combat arena), and its effects are pretty lame when in sight. This also creates a numerous amount of logical gap within the film establish universe; like why doesn’t the film villain provide Blood Heat for all his henchman if it can enhance their physical abilities. Since the film doesn’t clearly get across much negative side effects in using Blood Heat it’s questionable why the villain doesn’t do this. Another issue would be the lack of impact the drug is shown to have in civilians. It’s stated that Blood Heat is spreading rapidly, but hardly shown being consumed when the film’s villain isn’t around.
Biggest faults of the writing comes from director Ten Shimoyama inability to hide his budgetary shortcomings. It’s established in the first five minutes that Japan had been in a depression for over two decades, yet decides to show aerial shot of a nice looking Japan. Adding to the disservice he does to the writing is not displaying a more economically broken Japan. in its set designs There’s not much dirt on the actors playing the Sewer Rats gangs, and is too nice looking in the environments to visually get across a economically depressed Japan. Simply making the background a little ugly, or filled a little trash isn’t too much to get the setting correct. There’s also his overblown direction at times to scenes that don’t need it. When actor Kane Kusogi sees his partner getting killed, instead of letting the sight of Kane Kusogi being depressed in the rain do its job. Here comes Ten Shimoyama choosing to insert a cheesy Spanish guitar, and violins instrumental to the sequence. A simple moment of seeing Kane Kusogi down in the rain is made cheesy by the inclusion of music. Creating a unintentional cheesy nature during the film’s most serious moments. Especially the crucifixion of actor Show Aikawa was pretty heavy handed in the many contrived monologues trying to make itself appear deeper than it actually is. Adding onto the list of issue is Shimoyama pacing. Portions of the movie felt longer than they actually were, while portions that should have been longer feel to short. Resulting in a movie, and story that feels underwhelming on all front. There’s no raising action in narrative to make things feel like they’re escalating, and without engaging characters you’re left with what eventually becomes a chore to watch after the first thirty minutes.
The biggest surprise in the movie is a good chunk of the dialogue in Blood Heat is spoken in English, Japanese, Cantonese, and a little bit of Korean in the film just for added measure. More surprising is the acting in the movie is pretty solid. Kane Kosugi is the film leading action star. Doing all his own stunt he more than has the physical abilities to carry a movie. Looking proficient in his fight sequences, and being able to perform his fight scenes with ease like many famous onscreen martial artists. His commitment on the action makes it a shame he hasn’t gotten many opportunities to take the leading role. Although, that could be do to his middling acting abilities. He’s able to make awkwardly written English dialogue sound when he delivers it, and his Japanese dialogue he’s able to put a bit anger in his delivery. He simply lacks range in his acting ability always looking angry in nearly all of his scene. Kane Kusogi also lacks charisma explaining his lack of comedy scene, or long takes during dramatic portions past a certain point in the movie.
Most disappointing performance is easily from Show Aikawa who can’t do anything in his role because of his limited time. Best he could provide for his character is simply putting on sunglasses, and looking cool. Caring about him, or his character he’s unable to do anything on that front. Same with Misato Tachibana who who plays Show Aikawa sister isn’t in the film much either. Both of these actors lack of screen time make is made very evident in sequence that meant to be the dramatic height of those two character arcs, but nothing emotion is gained from it. Masaya Kato is enjoyable over the top as the film’s main villain. His line delivery are simply blissful when spouting out ridiculous English dialogue you simply can’t take him seriously. When speaking in their native language the Japanese actors are okay to mediocre, but when speaking English it’s pretty rough at times. Although, some of it is to blame on the awkward, and at times grammatically incorrect English dialogue.
The fight choreography is handled by Jackie Chan’s stunt team regular Ming-Sing Wong. Creating Hong Kong style action with the look of Japanese cinema. For the first half of the movie, the action sequences are on par with Hong Kong action cinema. Choreography is creative in its limited setting, typically in tight corridors with little room for error. Kane Kusogi fighting a dozen men in a hallway is the obvious highlight with slight usage of wire work. This fight sequence is tight being able to actors in the background waiting for their que to attack. Hiding the background actors expertly as the choreography has Kane tossing henchman like rag dolls to the people in the hallways. When someone attacks Kane, the cinematography keeps anyone in the background out of frame placing the focus on Kane, and the single person he’s fighting in that moment. This is one smooth, and seamless looking action sequence.
Making it a shame the remainder of the action sequences are lame. The cinematography isn’t as tight with Kane fight against Joe Lee is the sleepiest fight in the movie. Having some sparse shots where contact isn’t made when trading blows. Joe, and Kane Kusogi fight in the Muscle Dome suffers from one sided nature. At first Kane Kusogi is pummeling Joe Lee, but than the reverse happens once Blood Heat kicks than Kane Kusogi gets beaten without using any counter maneuvers. This is a boring fight since both actors are clearly capable of doing complex choreography, but the baffling decision to not show Joe Lee, and Kane Kusogi on some kind of even ground makes the long fight sequence dull. Then comes the climax which is also disappointing, and the slowest fight sequence in the movie. All to this point all the previous action sequences had actors performing them at normal speed. In the climax, Kane Kusogi, and actor Masaya Kato fight with sledgehammer, and it’s slow moving. Revealing the setback of having two actors fight with sledgehammer as both simply trade blows, and dodge without doing anything impressive in the matter. Once both actors drop the sledgehammers, both knee cap each other before throwing a single flying kick ending the fight. You don’t get to see the final blow in the fight as it cuts to black! Talk about anti-climatic.
Blood Heat is the definition of brainless action cinema, and on some level it can be enjoyable on that front. It’s tries it hardest to be a Hollywood level action blockbuster, but without the budget it falls more in line of B-movie with some competent production values, some competent action sequences, and a competent enough lead in Kane Kusogi to carry the film. Bad aspects are obviously the poor writing unable to develop anything engaging, and bad direction that’s unable to visually tell its story, nor pace it properly. If you’re ever in the mood for brainless entertainment that’s somewhat watchable Blood Heat is not a bad choice, but otherwise you ain’t missing much in this little film that couldn’t cut it for the big leagues.