Showdown in Little Tokyo

Showdown in Little Tokyo is a 1991 American action film directed by Mark L. Lester and produced by Lester and Martin E. Caan. The film stars Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee. It was Brandon Lee's first American film role. The film was released in the United States on August 23, 1991. Showdown in Little Tokyo was Dolph Lundgren's last Warner Bros Pictures film until 2018's Creed II.

Showdown in Little Tokyo
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMark L. Lester
Produced byMartin E. Caan
Mark L. Lester
Written byStephen Glantz
Caliope Brattlestreet
Music byDavid Michael Frank
CinematographyMark Irwin
Edited byRobert A. Ferretti
Steven Kemper
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • August 23, 1991 (1991-08-23)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million
Box office$2.3 million[1]


Los Angeles cop Chris Kenner (Dolph Lundgren) is an American who was raised in Japan. He is given a new partner, Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee), an American of partial Japanese descent. Kenner does not appreciate American culture, while Johnny does not much like Japanese culture. One thing they both enjoy are the martial arts, of which they are both experts. The two are assigned to L.A.'s Little Tokyo, where they break up some criminal activity in a Japanese restaurant, and an arrest is made.

While Kenner and Johnny are questioning the suspect, Kenner loses his temper and rips the suspect's shirt, and the tattoos that Kenner sees on the suspect remind Kenner of when he was 9 years old, a time when he witnessed his parents being killed by a member of the Yakuza. The tattoos are the trademark of the Iron Claw Yakuza clan. However, before Kenner or Murata can get any information out of the suspect, he kills himself in the interrogation room by breaking his own neck.

On the other side of town, the leader of the Iron Claw, Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), kills the owner of a popular downtown nightclub called the Bonsai Club by crushing the owner, Tanaka (Philip Tan), in a car compactor. To celebrate "gaining" ownership of the Bonsai Club, Yoshida throws a party at his house with all of the club staff.

One of the girls at the party, named Angel (Renee Griffin), is revealed to have warned Tanaka about Yoshida behind his back, and this infuriates Yoshida. Yoshida questions Angel about her loyalty, and she attempts to appease Yoshida by offering her body to him. Yoshida then drugs Angel and strips off her clothes, and then fondles her from behind before beheading her.

When the coroner runs an analysis on Angel's body, it is revealed that she was forced into ingesting a large amount of methamphetamines in her system which would have led to her death anyway. This discovery of drugs, together with the suspect having Yakuza tattoos, cause Kenner and Johnny to go to the Bonsai Club in search of information. There they meet lounge singer Minako Okeya (Tia Carrere), who was a good friend of Angel's. Before they can get any useful information out of her, they are ambushed and taken to see the nightclub's owner and Kenner recognizes Yoshida as the man who killed his parents. Yoshida is now a drug manufacturer using a local brewery as his distribution center. He uses smaller gangs such as the Hells Angels, Crips and Sureños to peddle the drugs for him, in return for a percentage of the profit.

Kenner and Johnny escape from the nightclub. Later that night, Yoshida rapes and kidnaps Minako and vows to kill Kenner. Kenner and Johnny set out for Yoshida's heavily guarded home, where they rescue Minako. His pride wounded, Yoshida sends his men out to get Minako back. He has Kenner and Johnny stripped, captured and tortured, but Kenner and Johnny manage to escape, leading to a protracted battle in which Kenner and Johnny emerge victorious.



Development and writing

An earlier draft of the script (104 pages) by Steve Sharon had a more serious tone to it, less tongue in cheek, and a slightly different outline.

The shooting script was 95 pages and included a longer opening scene that was filmed, featuring Kenner's former Japanese partner Eddie Yosuto. There was also an omitted chase scene that was not shot, after the Japanese bath scene where Dolph and Brandon go after the fleeing yakuza, it ended up in an action scene set in a shopping mall.

In the US, around 13 seconds were cut in order to avoid an NC-17.


Showdown in Little Tokyo is set and filmed in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California in 53 days, from January 14 to March 8, 1991.

Editor Michael Eliot was brought in by Warner Bros. for substantial re-editing to make the film faster after WB were unhappy with an early cut. He had performed the same job on Warner's other 1991 action film, Out for Justice. Scenes cut included a different introduction to Kenner, and his former partner Yosuto, more of the Nelson character, played by Ernie Lively, more dramatic scenes between Lundgren and Lee and a scene after the opening gunfight at the underground boxing match where Kenner is chewed out by his superiors for all the mayhem he has caused. Kenner's training scene before final showdown was originally in the deleted, possibly 10 minutes longer opening. Theatrical trailer shows some extra shots from this scene.

Stuart Baird, another editor who would often re-edit original cuts of Warner Bros. movies when they were displeased with them was also hired to re-edit Showdown in Little Tokyo, but he is uncredited in the movie.

Director Mark L. Lester's final cut came in at 90 minutes, but Warners didn't like the film, and cut it down to 79 minutes.[2]



David Michael Frank[3]

Release Date: December 11, 1991, Formats: CD, Cassette

  1. Main Title
  2. The Iron Claw
  3. Brewery Battle
  4. Noble Quest
  5. Death And Dishonor
  6. Private Moment
  7. Slippery When Wet
  8. Yakety Yakuza
  9. Saving Minako
  10. Kenner And Johnny
  11. Brewery Bust
  12. Haydn Seek
  13. Little Tokyo
  14. Heavy Metal Sushi
  15. Into The Vat
  16. Death And Disfiguration


Box office

Warner Bros. was not happy with the film and re-edited it, only to give it a limited theatrical run in the United States, Mexico, Italy, Israel and Hungary. Except for these markets, the film was released direct-to-video in 1992.

In the US opening weekend, the film grossed $455,192 from 140 theaters which was an average of $3,251 per theater. This accounted for 20% of the film's total gross.[1][4][5]

It ranked #9 in Hungary's Top 10 of 1992 Overall Box Office Grosses (according to the 1994 Variety International Film Guide), grossing $197,590 in Hungary.

Critical reception

The movie faced largely negative reviews from critics.[6][7][8][9] Vincent Canby of The New York Times described it as "violent, but spiritless."[10] It holds a rating of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 9 reviews, with an average score of 4.3/10.[11]

Contemporary reviews

Upon its 2015 DVD release DVD Talk reviewer Ian Jane wrote that it was a shallow but highly enjoyable action film of its time. He found it fast paced, action packed, and funny. He felt it had good photography, nice locations, and that Brandon Lee shined in his role.[12]

Contemporary critic Chris Coffel of Bloody Disgusting praised it for being a well-made action film of its time, and that both leads delivered their roles well. He also praised the lead villain Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Finally he felt the movie fell flat on the humorous side of things, but was great fun for its genre.[13]

On writer Chris Bumbray considers it to be an underrated gem and a cult classic. He thinks that Lee steals the show from Lundgren and that the film showcases the range of the early departed actor. His final thought was that it was a fun B actioner.[14]

Home media

After Brandon Lee's untimely death while filming The Crow, his movies such as Showdown in Little Tokyo saw a surge in video sales.[15]


  1. "Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)". Box Office Mojo. 1991-09-10. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  4. Daly, Steve (1992-02-14). "Box Office Upset". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  5. "Showdown in Little Tokyo". Deseret News. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  6. Fox, David J. (1991-08-27). "Weekend Box Office : List-Toppers Are Listless". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
  7. Thomas, Kevin (1991-08-26). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Showdown in Little Tokyo' a Class Martial-Arts Act". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  8. "Showdown in Little Tokyo". Variety. 1990-12-31. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  9. Fox, David J. (1991-08-27). "Weekend Box Office List-Toppers Are Listless". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  10. Canby, Vincent (1991-09-22). "Review/Film; 'Showdown In Little Tokyo'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-14.
  12. "Showdown in Little Tokyo (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  13. Coffel, Chris (2016-03-11). "[Blu-ray Review] Dolph and Lee Take On the Yakuza In 'Showdown In Little Tokyo'". Bloody Disgusting!. Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  14. "The Best Movie You Never Saw: Showdown in Little Tokyo". 2018-12-07. Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  15. Hunt, Dennis (1993-04-09). "A Resurgence of Interest in Films of Brandon Lee". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
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