Genre mashups have been pretty big business for a while, but in all the zombie-comedies, scifi-westerns and war-werewolf movies, no-one apart from the makers of “Manhattan Chase” thought of creating the kung-fu / super-intense family drama combination, and now you can watch it too.
This represents the nexus of three of the ISCFC’s favourite review subjects – Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock and Godfrey Ho. Yes, the king of splicing two mostly unrelated films together had a go at making a real movie, under the name Godfrey Hall, and this was amazingly his last movie before retiring to teach filmmaking (whether his course notes were just notes from two different courses, thrown together mostly at random, is sadly unknown). If you’ve never heard of this movie, don’t be surprised because it was barely released anywhere – Ho failed to sell it in either the US or Hong Kong, and now Youtube is basically the only place you can get hold of it.
Loren is Jason, a Mob hitman who is caught, just as he’s about to kill someone, by cop Cynthia Rothrock and locked up for 6 years. When he gets out, he just wants to re-establish his relationship with his son, so despite being asked to resume his old job, he says no. His old cellmate offers him a place to stay, and all seems well; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jenny, who steals some drugs from her stepfather in order to sell them and make a new life for herself, only to witness her stepfather beat her mother, before Jason’s old crew pop in and and start shooting, looking for the drugs (Jenny escapes, everyone else dies).
You’re then assaulted by the first of a hefty pair of coincidences that bring the characters into each others’ orbit. Jenny, as she’s running from the assassins, literally falls over Jason’s car as he’s just driving his son around. He offers to help her; at the same time Jason’s ex-wife comes into town, looking to see the son she abandoned just after he was born. The ex-wife’s sister? Cynthia Rothrock. If you can swallow those, then…nah, still not sure you’d stomach the reveal of just who the main villain is.
If I had to guess, I’d say Godfrey Ho never bothered with any shooting permits, because there’s no way he could have afforded them for where he filmed. He’s definitely in New York, and films in real locations – Central Park, busy Manhattan streets, a public monument in Queens, and lots of filthy broken-down side streets with famous landmarks in the background. If you want to see what a city’s really like, look at its low-budget films, and “Manhattan Chase” will definitely show you that.
Despite Rothrock being top billed, she’s not really in it too much – Godfrey Ho took two scenes with Avedon and Rothrock sharing the screen, a few Rothrock-and-sister scenes and some of Rothrock chasing criminals, including one amazing scene where she kicks a bad guy through a table, which is just sat in the middle of a filthy alley; he sprinkles them throughout the main plot, Jason and Jenny vs. the Mafia, and hey presto! That Ho magic is in full effect.
Due to the use of natural light, and perhaps the cameras, everything feels cold and miserable in this movie. This isn’t helped by the tone of the conversations, which are about loss and family breakdown and honour and death – given its pedigree, I have to assume most of this tone is accidental, the result of a script by someone for whom English was not their first language (the credited writer, “Lisa Cory”, has this as her only credit, which leads me to believe it’s Ho under a pseudonym).
Weirdly, Loren Avedon stands out like a sore thumb – not a wild overactor like the Mafia guys or a calm underactor like Rothrock and his former cellmate, he has the look in his eyes of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time, that his dreams of a happy family future are fading fast. Given that he’s previously excelled at fighting and light comedy, this is a pretty impressive turn from him, and is probably his best performance in anything we’ve seen of his so far.
As we take brief detours to see perhaps the fakest fake boobs of all time, a truly bizarre gunfight in Central Park, and a very fast-developing romance, we move towards an ending which is both very downbeat, followed immediately by the least likely coda I think I’ve ever seen. Good old Godfrey!
It’s absolutely worth watching, although not for many positive reasons. The fights are too few and far between, but it’s just so strange! Watch it and be sad that Avedon never got that bigger budget role he thoroughly deserved.
Rating: thumbs down