Tag Archives: DVD

Easy to Use CD / DVD Label Applicator from Avery

Avery CD / DVD Label Applicator


(5/5)


Pros:

simple to use, small and easy to store, no batteries required

Cons: can only apply one label at a time


I have two of these Avery CD / DVD Label Applicators. One is at home and the other is in the office.

Description

This Avery label applier is a simple device. The round platform measures about 6 1/2” x 6 1/2” x 2”. There are three parts to this device: a black base with a non-skid bottom, a center spindle that the disc fits onto, and a removable piece that slides over the spindle to rest atop the disc for centering the label. No batteries are required.


My Experiences

The two Avery Label Applicators I have are about eight to ten years old and still going strong. One is located at home, and the other is in the office. The plastic is durable and has held up well. The applicators still look like new.

It is an easy device to use. I set the applicator on a flat surface, such as a table or desk. I then place the disc needing a label over the spindle until it rests flat on the base. (The burned side of the disc faces down toward the base.) Take the printed label (sticky side down) and slide it over the spindle. The spindle helps center the label. Finger-smooth the label onto the disc, running fingers from the center outward to eliminate any airspaces between the label and disc.


The non-skid bottom on the base keeps the applicator in place while the label is being applied. This device is meant to affix one label at a time.

I use software on my computer to design the labels. I prefer Microsoft Publisher, which has a basic template design I can customize. But there are quite a few software programs that offer CD / DVD label templates. Plus, if you are designing your own labels, you will need to buy label stock. Avery sells the labels, but Staples also offers an inexpensive alternative.

Summary


This Avery CD / DVD Applicator is a great little device. In a few simple steps, I can apply a label to a disc. I much prefer applying a label rather than using a marker and writing on the disc. A label presents the info in a customized fashion. I can add graphics, bold text, and include a variety of information that is easy to read. I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy the day,
Dawn

http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2014 Dawn L. Stewart

The Verdict Don’t Look So Good…FMW’s THE JUDGMENT

FRONTIER MARTIAL ARTS WRESTLING: THE JUDGMENT

See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5)

Pros: Tanaka vs. Fuyuki in an electrified cage

Cons: Highly-touted main event fizzles and the undercard is truncated to the point of incomprehensibility

By 1999, Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) had begun a transition to become more like what American organizations like the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were doing: in short, FMW was becoming based more on entertainment. This was quite a contrast to how things were when FMW was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a “garbage wrestling” promotion: where weapons, stipulation matches, and extreme violence were common place while rules were mostly thrown aside. In 1995, Onita sold the promotion to businessman Shoichi Arai, who toned down the violence (partly due to the fact that FMW was getting beaten at its own game by rival promotion Big Japan Pro Wrestling who sanctioned the most insane stipulation matches in history, including ones involving piranhas, scorpions, spider web barbed wire matches, and more) and set the company off in a new direction, though I’m not quite sure that focusing on pure wrestling and entertainment value was the way to go. Frankly, though the roster of FMW wrestlers was capable and many performers were undoubtedly willing to work incredibly hard during their matches, they didn’t have the “pop” or overwhelming technical prowess that would be needed to sell the promotion as a WWF-like organization.

ontia - singh
Atsushi Onita, on right, taking on one of the least talented, yet most famous wrestlers in Japan: Tiger Jeet Singh.

November 12, 1999 saw FMW mark its tenth anniversary with a show taking place at Yokohama Stadium. This event (billed as “Judgment Day”) would showcase numerous feuds that had been brewing in the organization over the previous months and in some cases, years. Unfortunately, the focus on entertainment value means that this whole card of action (featured in the TokyoPop DVD release entitled The Judgment) seems quite gimmicky. While I can appreciate technical wrestling if it’s done well, I’ve never been overly impressed with the technicality on display on any FMW DVD I’ve seen. Frequently, I might have described FMW wrestling as being downright sloppy.

NOT
NOT how you land a boot to the face…

I (and probably many other fans) first became interested in FMW due to the proliferation of violent stipulation matches: these were the types of matches that were usually avoided in the United States and, having grown up with Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling, a promotion that often focused on more hard-hitting and violent action, I probably was more blood-thirsty than the typical fan of World Wrestling Entertainment. Honestly, the stipulations contest and graphic violence were what put FMW on the map – and how the promotion was sold in the United States by TokyoPop. For Judgment Day to seem rather tame by the sometimes excessive standards of Japanese wrestling is a definite disappointment, but more damning is the fact that this DVD features heavily truncated matches that really weren’t all that great to begin with. These matches wrap up a few major soap opera-like storylines sure, but the overall program lacks punch.

barbed wire
Kanemura swinging a barbed wire bat that’s on fire. Now THAT‘s FMW.

Commentary on this DVD was provided by the pairing of John Watanabe on play-by-play and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski doing color commentary. I suppose the announcing is passable, but neither of these two guys really “sells” the wrestling in a manner to benefit what’s being seen. A good announcer (ECW’s Joey Styles comes to mind) can make even a dud match seem exciting and much better than it actually is. The somewhat lethargic commentary of Watanabe and Lovranski doesn’t heighten the excitement of any of the matches here, and having Lovranski scream and holler every once in a while makes the program annoying rather than compelling.

ah yes
But wrestling’s fake…

The first six matches on this DVD (out of the eight total) are presented only in highlighted form, edited down to being only a few minutes in length. This, to me, is highly irritating: it disrupts the ebbs and flows of the match, making it almost impossible for a viewer to determine if the match really was worthwhile at all. With that in mind, here’s the match rundown:

1. Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. “Choco Ball” Mukai, “Flying Kid” Ichihara and Ricky Fuji – A ladder match for the World Entertainment Wrestling six man tag team title, in which the title belt is suspended above the ring. A wrestler must scale the ladder and grab the belt to win the match for his team. Considering that Mukai is better known for his porno movies rather than his wrestling ability (you don’t wanna know how he got his nickname) says about all one needs to know here, and speaks to the fact that FMW was more interested in spectacle and sensationalism than athletic ability by this point in time. High point of the match arguably occurs when two females at ringside perform competing strip routines, thus distracting the male performers, and eventually get into a catfight. Yawn. One and a half stars (out of a possible five).

Choco ball mukai
“Choco Ball” Mukai – not a wrestler.

2. Kaori Nakayama and Emi Motokawa vs. Miss Mongol, Jazz, and Maria Hosaka – 2 on 3 womens handicap match for the Womens Tag Team Title. ECW performer Jazz joins the mix here, which pits obvious “babyface” team of Nakayama and Motokawa versus the more rough’n’tumble Mongol and Hosaka. This match seems fairly fast-paced but again, it’s impossible to judge this since we’re only seeing match highlights. There are some slick technical moves here and it appears to be a decent but unexceptional contest. Two and a half stars.

nakayama
Kaori Nakayama (for better or worse) became the face of FMW Women’s wrestling upon the retirement of Megumi Kudo.

3. “Bad Boy” Hido vs. Willy Williams – Here’s a rather bizarre event on a fight lineup that was already somewhat wonky. It’s basically a mixed-martial arts fight, with pro wrestler Hido taking on famous boxer/martial artist Williams in a match in which both fighters wear boxing gloves. There’s a combination of pro wrestling moves and traditional martial arts seen in the match, with Hido being on the receiving end of some extremely stiff kicks and strikes coming his way. Certainly an interesting contest, though it’s not exactly a barn-burner. Two stars.

Hido
Hido, here utilizing what appears to be the ring bell hammer, in my mind was one of the least talented performers in the promotion.

4. Naohiko Yamazaki and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. The Funk Brothers (Terry and Dory Funk Jr.) – For the first time since 1987, the legendary Funk brothers make an appearance in Japan as a tag team. Unfortunately, by this time Dory (who had to be in his mid-to-late 60s at the time) doesn’t seem all that interested in being in a match in the first place: moving very slowly and performing the same move over and over during his limited in-ring time (“…and another forearm…”). Terry does most of the work here, taunting his opponents with trash talk and doing the patented Funk “stumble ‘n’ bumble” like only he can. Always great to see Terry Funk in action, even in a somewhat iffy contest like this. Three stars just because it’s the Funks.

funks
Unfortunately, this picture of the Funks was taken almost thirty years prior to their 1999 reunion.

5. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Balls Mahoney – Kanemura, a wrestler famous for his violent, hardcore wrestling style takes on ECW’s own “chair-swinging freak” Mahoney in this “anything goes” match for the WEW Hardcore Title. Fight goes outside the ring and into the parking garage, where a parked sedan is positively destroyed by the two performers. Watch out for the powerbomb on the roof of the car and use of the broken windshield to slice up Mahoney’s face. Despite the rowdiness, this isn’t as bloody as one might expect, though it does have a punctuation mark finale involving the ring entrance set and scaffolding. Wild stuff, though not a classic. Three stars.

car
There’s something you don’t see everyday: a powerbomb on top of a car.

6. Tetsuhiro Kuroda and Hisakatsu Ooya vs. Tommy Dreamer and Raven – Renegade Japanese wrestler Kuroda and seasoned veteran Ooya take on the unlikely pairing of American wrestlers Dreamer and Raven, who had a ridiculously intense feud in the mid ‘90s while wrestling in ECW. This match is for the WEW Tag Team Title, and is pretty hard-hitting and wild, as might be expected from the ECW team. Dreamer gets abused particularly badly during the match, taking shots with a ladder and even a piece of the guardrail that’s thrown into the ring. Also, ECW valet Francine (wearing an extremely revealing outfit) gets involved in the contest, if only for a brief moment. This match was OK, but nothing spectacular – one might have expected more from the usually reliable Dreamer and Raven. Three stars.

dreamer & raven
Dreamer and Raven had some outrageous matches in their ECW days, including this steel cage war.

Finally, we reach the co-main event, which is presented in its entirety:
7. Kodo Fuyuki vs. Masato Tanaka for the WEW Heavyweight Title. This match, billed as a “Loser Leaves FMW, Thunderbolt Cage Match” takes place inside an electrified steel cage: get sent into the metal and a wrestler gets a jolt of “15,000 volts.” Yeah, I don’t believe it either, but the spectacle is “sold” well through the use of explosive charges and neon-like visualizations of flowing electricity. Match itself is easily the best on this card: these two veteran fighters had feuded extensively leading up to this match, which showcases the pure power each man brought to the table. Tanaka is arguably one of the legit toughest wrestlers I’ve ever seen step in the ring: this guy gets dropped directly on his skull several times, then gets right back up and continues fighting. I realize wrestlers know how to take “bumps,” but there’s a point where one simply can’t fake gravity. A very effective build up to the finale means that this match is quite exciting and tense to watch, especially since (if you believe the storyline) “the future of FMW hangs in the balance.” Yeah, OK – I’m just glad there was at least one, definitively worthwhile contest on this DVD. Four stars.

tanaka
That’s what you call absorbing a chair shot – Tanaka’s head emerges looking better than the chair.

The main event here was a match between Eiji Ezaki (the original Hayabusa, the most popular wrestler in FMW, billed here simply as “H”) and Masashi Honda (known in the ring as “Mr. Gannosuke,” and here billed as “Hayabusa II” after adopting the Hayabusa gimmick in a story angle). These two “former friends gone wrong” had been feuding in FMW for years at this point – a match between the two also featured as the main event of FMW’s Yokohama Deathmatch program. Immediately previous to this match, they’d also taken part in the infamous “Anal Bomb Match” in which the loser had a firecracker inserted into his bum and exploded. Yes, that’s about as insane as Japanese wrestling has ever gotten.

anal bomb
The infamous “anal bomb” match.

Their “Judgment Day” match was officiated by none other than WWE superstar Shawn Michaels (“I wanna make sure Michaels can even count to three…do we know that for a fact?”), who (unsurprisingly) found himself getting involved in the contest at various points. After the insane lead-up to this fight, one might have been expecting something phenomenal…but that’s simply not what we got here. This match actually is rather sluggish; it’s much more about psychology than dazzling moves even if both guys show off their trademark superior wrestling technique. It’s not that the match is awful: it’s perfectly acceptable, and demonstrates the chemistry these two performers have with one another. Still, compared to the absolutely ridiculous main events that viewers expect to see in the world of pro wrestling, this is just a bummer, most notable for what occurs post-fight. I’m giving it three stars.

blood feud
Gannosuke caught up in one of Hayabusa’s submissions.

To be completely honest, The Judgment is one of the most painfully mediocre FMW DVDs in the TokyoPop home video series. There’s plenty of talent on this card, but the fact that so much of the card is truncated to the point of no return makes it iffy, with the somewhat sketchy main event only further sinking the overall program. I suppose the point could be argued that this tenth anniversary event was more about settling up various FMW storylines and not necessarily focused on delivering the best matches the promotion has ever seen – but that’s about a asinine statement to make: why wouldn’t one expect the bar to be raised to a high level at this much-anticipated show? It’s almost as if this card proved that FMW simply was expecting a bit too much from its performers in trying to compete with the WWF: there’s no way this semi-bootleg Japanese promotion could rival the classic Andre-Hogan feuds or any number of other classic American (or for that matter, Japanese) wrestling moments. In the end, The Judgment might be worth a look to fans of Japanese wrestling, but it wouldn’t at all impress those accustomed to the larger-than-life approach that’s frequently taken in regard to American wrestling. I’d only moderately recommend it.


TokyoPop’s DVD is presented full screen; decent picture quality transferred from the original VHS masters. Extras included a selection of trailers, a gallery of wrestler profiles, two minutes of backstage footage taken following The Judgment‘s main event (even more lines of b.s. from the two performers!), and two highlighted bonus matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Jado, and Kintaro Kanemura – 1 on 3 handicap match, mainly establishing the Tanaka vs. Fuyuki angle. Funny that Jado and Fuyuki all but vanish from this match at a certain point, at which time FMW president Mr. Arai shows up at ringside to aid Tanaka. All in all, the match seems very gimmicky, and since we only see clips of the action, it’s somewhat pointless. One and a half stars.

2. H, “Flying Kid” Ichihara, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. Hayabusa II, “Choco Ball” Mukai, Koji Nakagawa, and Gedo – A more fast-paced match; it should be considering there’s eight guys involved in this contest. Having said that, it’s really bizarre that at a certain point in these match highlights, this contest turns into a 4-on-1 match, in which the Hayabusa II team assaults Flying Kid’s valet. Match is interrupted by Kuroda, who storms the ring on a motorcycle – despite the fact the contest takes place at the crowded and cramped Korakuen Hall. As expected, it boils down to a slugfest between H and Hayabusa II, with stiff kicks being delivered by H. Has it’s moments, but the truncation doesn’t help. Two and a half stars.


5/10 : Some weapon spots, a few instances of blood, and violent wrestling action. The most brutal thing here is easily the Tanaka-Fuyuki cage match, and honestly, that’s nothing compared to the worst/best Japan had to offer.


4/10 : Intermittent profanity (usually delivered by the American stars appearing in the program). Gotta love that Terry Funk trash talk…


2/10 : A catfight breaks out at one point, and there are more scantily clad women than usual on this FMW DVD.


6/10 : Fans of Japanese wrestling would probably want to check this out, though it’s far from being the best compilation out there.


Shawn Michaels on FMW: “This is the reason FMW is the number one promotion is Japan – excellent athletes and one hell of sportsmanship.” Um, Engrish much? Also, your check can be picked up in the back office. Now go home.

FMW vs. ECW – Witness the Mediocrity : INTERNATIONAL SLAUGHTERHOUSE

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: INTERNATIONAL SLAUGHTERHOUSE

(2.5/5)

Pros: Perhaps the most accessible FMW DVD; recognizable ECW talent

Cons: Poor representation of either promotion featured here

Featuring matches from a stretch in 1997 and 1998 when wrestlers from Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling traveled across the Pacific to tour Japan, International Slaughterhouse is probably one of the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) DVDs I was most looking forward to watching. ECW was (and still is) my professional wrestling promotion of choice – this despite the fact that the promotion declared bankruptcy and closed up shop in 2001 – and featured much the same type of violent, hard-hitting wrestling action that FMW had first originated years earlier. Thus, one might imagine that a combination of the talent rosters of these two legendary promotions could only produce greatness…and he would be absolutely wrong in thinking that.

cactus
If only this DVD had more action of this variety…Cactus Jack spills into a bed of barbed wire and broken glass. Ouch.

Simply put, International Slaughterhouse contains some of the most sloppy wrestling I’ve ever seen from either of the two wrestling promotions featured here – considering some of the previous FMW DVDs (and some ECW matches I’ve seen, for that matter), that’s saying something. Most every match here has numerous, immediately obvious “blown spots” or botched moves, and the climax of nearly every contest, precisely when a viewer would hope the action would be reaching a fever pitch of intensity, is typically when the biggest mistakes occur. To be truthful, this isn’t entirely surprising – for one thing, the Japanese wrestlers and referees spoke next to no English, thus communication between the FMW and ECW personnel would have been difficult if not impossible. Still, as great as it is to see my favorite ECW stars in their heyday – ECW was at its peak in the period from around 1996-98 – it’s a bit disconcerting to see how downright shoddy the individual performances on this program truly are.

As with the previous pair of FMW DVDs from TokyoPop, commentary here is provided by play-by-play man John Watanabe and color commentator Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski. This pair does a decent job of covering the action – but when wrestlers obviously blow moves, I would have hoped these two would at least acknowledge the blunder. Instead, the duo seems to assume a viewer isn’t smart enough to notice faults in the wrestling, which is probably a bad decision – there’s a reason why wrestling fans hip to the game are known as “smart marks.” A further problem with this particular volume of TokyoPop’s FMW series is the fact that the native Japanese language commentary present in the video footage is very noticeable under the English, making the entire audio track kind of muddy. Combined with the fact that almost all the matches here have been hacked to smithereens by the video editors, a viewer is faced with a strictly mediocre compilation that simply isn’t the slam-bang wrestling DVD he would have hoped for.

funk dreamer
Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer make their way to the ring.

After starting off with an in-ring introduction from ECW founder/president Paul Heyman himself, the program continues with this lineup of matches:

1. Terry Funk vs. Buh Buh Ray Dudley vs. The Sandman : A fairly typical ECW 3-way-dance, pitting tag team specialist Dudley against the rough and tumble Sandman and living legend Funk. A ladder is introduced at some point in this match (watch for the moment when Funk does his usual spin-o-rama move with the ladder), but the general flow of the contest is different from what I’d expect this match to be like in the states – Funk was so popular in Japan in the 1990s that it was exceedingly rare that he would lose or even get manhandled in a wrestling match. This is the first of the matches here with a sloppy conclusion, and in this heavily truncated form, I can’t give it more than two stars out of a possible five.

sandman
Sandman’s typical ring entrance – it wouldn’t be complete without a cigarette, a beer, and a Singapore Cane.

2. Gedo and Jado vs. The Dudley Boyz (Buh Buh Ray and D-Von) : An even more worthless tag team match that has precious few highlights even after much of the contest has been lost in the editing room. It’s instantly apparent that there’s virtually no way for the Dudleys (easily, the best tag team in ECW at the time) to communicate with their Japanese opponents. Thus, even if their cooperative moves are pretty impressive, the contest is an absolute trainwreck, ruined by an obnoxious, exceedingly lame ending. One and a half stars.

3. Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer, and The Sandman vs. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome, Mr. Ganosuke, and Kintaro WING Kanemura : More heavily truncated wrestling, this time featuring the ECW team of Sandman, Funk, and Dreamer versus the Japanese team of Awesome, Ganosuke, and Kanemura. Mainly, this is an out of control brawl that takes place both in and out of the ring. Gotta love the slugfest that a bloodied Funk gets into with Kanemura at one point while cleaning house in the ring, but I’d only give the contest two stars.

dudleys
The Dudley Boyz – most hated tag team in the world circa 1997.

4. Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer vs. “Bad Boy” Hido and Mike “Gladiator” Awesome vs. The Dudley Boyz : Six-man tag match in which the tag team rules have basically been tossed out the window – all six guys are in (or out of) the ring, slugging it out the whole time. Nice to see gorgeous valet Beulah McGillicutty at ringside, but she doesn’t figure much into a match that sees blatantly dumb spots (the six-man chain headlock is absolutely ridiculous) and more messy move combinations (the attempt at the Dudley’s finishing move, the “3-D”, is downright pathetic). Highlight of the contest: Japanese wrestler Hido, quite obviously the “odd man out” in this contest, taking a cymbal (yes, a cymbal) to the dome and being eliminated very early on. It’s also funny to see the lengths the Americans are willing to go in order to “get over” in the eyes of the Japanese fans. Can we say GOOFY! Two and a half stars.

5. Gedo and Jado vs. Ricky Fuji and John Kronus : Gotta feel sorry for Kronus (one half of the legendary Eliminators tag team) in this contest which features him performing with three Japanese wrestlers. The guy just frequently looks lost, never quite getting into any sort of rhythm even if he does get to, with the help of Fuji, pull off the signature move “Total Elimination.” There’s really not much going in this heavily edited match; a waste of tape. One and a half stars.

tajiri
Tajiri’s Tarantula submission.

6. Super Crazy vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri : A perfect example of why wrestling matches should never be edited down to highlights, this match features two of ECW’s most technically gifted, fast-paced performers, yet it’s completely impossible to judge how good or bad this match is: we can never appreciate its flow due to the starts and stops in the video editing. Sure, it’s cool to see Tajiri pull off the Tarantula submission (in which he wraps his opponent up in the ring ropes much like a spider would trap a fly) and Super Crazy demonstrating the surfboard hold, but the match seems inconsequential. I’d be shocked if this match wasn’t great, but these highlights simply don’t do it justice. Two and a half stars.

7. Sabu vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura vs. One Man Gang : Gulp! Any match from the late 1990s featuring One Man Gang (a legendary wrestler who made a name for himself in the late 1980s) has the very real possibility of being scary – the man was simply out of shape and unable to really perform at any sort of acceptable level. Here, a rather portly Gang faces the rugged Kanemura as well as Sabu, a wrestler who takes more positively absurd risks in the ring than just about any performer I’ve ever seen. This pretty much is a recipe for disaster. OK, so Gang (huffing and puffing like crazy) gets to use his trademark chain – but once he’s eliminated from the match, this one can really get going. Sabu, per usual, performs some jaw-dropping moves, at one point dumping Kanemura from the top rope through a ringside table, but I was less than impressed by a springboard splash in which he obviously misses the landing. Kanemura, being the pro that he is, sells the move anyway – but the video producers provide a slo-mo replay, making the mistake all the more obvious even as the announce team plays off the move like it landed. Just awful. Overall though, this match is better than the average on this DVD; a grueling contest loaded with weapon spots and brutality. Three stars.

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Sabu vs. Terry Funk in a 1997 barbed wire deathmatch – one of the most gruesome matches the wrestling world has ever seen.

8. Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Masato Tanaka : FINALLY – a match shown IN ITS ENTIRETY! It’s a good thing too – both these guys are top-notch performers and really put on a show here. Bigelow, a legend of the sport who’s wrestled big-time matches all over the world, manhandles Tanaka early on, but the popular and extremely resilient Japanese wrestler mounts a comeback and eventually gets to pull off some power moves of his own. After brawling all over the arena – including the backstage area – Bigelow demonstrates his strength by bench pressing the extremely stout Tanaka over his head, then unceremoniously dumping him outside the ring. Tanaka responds by powerbombing the 350 pound Bigelow off the top rope. Wow – these moves are demonstrations of pure, unadulterated power! This match is downright exciting with back and forth action…until Tanaka doesn’t quite take the finishing move properly, ensuring that this is another contest with a dud ending. A shame really, still I’ll give it four stars.

Video Bonus Match 1. Sabu and Rob Van Dam vs. The Dudley Boyz : A match for the ECW Tag Team Championship, this is about as wild a contest as would be expected from this group of wrestlers. At the time, Van Dam was probably the most gifted and precise technician in ECW, and when paired up with the almost suicidal Sabu, the results were dynamite. Tag champs The Dudleys on the other hand, were arguably the most hated tag team in pro wrestling history, and no slouches in the wrestling department themselves. Quite a bit of action in this contest and a fine display of teamwork from all the combatants – the Japanese referee wisely just stands back and lets these guys go at it. Though exciting as it builds to climax, the bout has some laughable elements – not the least of which is watching Buh Buh Ray Dudley overselling all the moves that come his way in increasingly ridiculous fashion. The Japanese announce team calling this match is constantly on the verge of cracking up laughing. No English language commentary here, but the match is shown in its entirety; I’d give it three and a half stars.

tripp
Left to right: Bam Bam Bigelow, Francine, “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, Chris Candido. Sad fact: half the people pictured here died way before their time.

DVD Bonus Match 2. Tommy Dreamer vs. “The Franchise” Shane Douglas : ECW World Heavyweight Title match between two longtime stars of the promotion. Douglas performs the match essentially one handed: apparently, he had a broken wrist/arm at the time and his arm is in a cast. Dreamer takes full advantage of this injury, but the match almost works in a manner that suggests the “less in more” approach used (famously) by Jerry “The King” Lawler throughout his career. There are some rough moves, with Dreamer in particular taking some nasty shots (many, as is often the case in his matches, to the groin). Douglas’ manager Francine frequently interjects in the match, and the most enjoyable aspect of the contest is listening to the Japanese commentators start to lose their minds whenever Francine (wearing a short skirt with a thong underneath) bends over as she gets in and out of the ring. Highlight occurs when Dreamer applies the “vaginal claw” to Francine: not the most politically correct thing I’ve ever seen in a wrestling match, but the announce team positively goes bonkers. I’m not sure I’d call this match a classic or even great, but it’s certainly entertaining. Again, no English language commentary, but the match is shown complete. Three stars.

Sad to say that even though, given the presence of recognizable American wrestlers, this is the most accessible FMW DVD, in no way, shape, or form is it a solid or even good representation of the best either FMW or ECW has to offer. A viewer would almost need hipwaders to get through the awful early matches on the disc to reach the solid main event and worthwhile bonus matches – the only ones here shown in their entirety. All in all, I probably wouldn’t recommend International Slaughterhouse except to the hardcore wrestling fans who would probably watch it irregardless of the overall quality. Casual wrestling fans need not waste their time.


“Uncensored Version” DVD from TokyoPop contains all the violence intact and is full-frame format; decent quality taken from VHS masters. Aside from the two aforementioned bonus matches (presented only with their original Japanese language commentary), the only extra is a gallery of wrestler bios.


4/10 : Given the reputation of these two promotions (to say nothing about the name of the DVD itself), I would have expected worse. This DVD actually focuses more on hard-hitting technical wrestling than any of the “violent crap.” Brief, relatively minor bloodshed and some extreme wrestling action.


5/10 : Some strong, four-letter profanity in both the promos and the matches themselves.


2/10 : Judging from the Japanese language commentary tracks, SOMEBODY was getting pretty excited during moments when valet Francine got involved with the action. This program may be a little risque, but it’s still nothing much.


5/10 : Each of the wrestling promotions represented here has their admirers, but I don’t think anyone is particularly well-served by this mediocre compilation of matches.


Explanation of ECW’s roster of talent: “They get in there. They battle. They brawl. They drink their beers. They eat their cheeseburgers, but they are fierce competitors.”

The Sandman in action (Possible NSFW):

Hayabusa, the “Bird that Never Dies,” featured in FMW: THE FLYING ASSASSIN

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: THE FLYING ASSASSIN

(3.5/5)

Pros: Hayabusa vs. Tanaka is crazy

Cons: This isn’t a well-rounded chronicle of the man’s career from start to finish

For the eighth volume of their series of compilations showcasing Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW), TokyoPop decided to adopt a bit of a different format and focus specifically on one of the promotion’s most popular performers. Eiji Ezaki, better known as the masked, high-flying wrestler Hayabusa, got his start in the wrestling business in 1991 and for the next ten years would perfect a style combining high-flying and fast-paced Mexican Lucha Libre technique with the more hard-edged and technical Japanese style of wrestling. After a brief stint in FMW, Hayabusa cut his teeth during some time spent in Mexico, and returned to Japan in 1995, quickly becoming a sort of poster boy for the FMW promotion – much loved by fans both for his incredible athleticism and in-ring abilities as well as for his mysterious yet emotional persona. Though I find that Hayabusa’s mic skills are pretty atrocious – every time he gets on the mic, it seemed like he was either sucking up to the audience (“I promise I will win!”) or weeping about one thing or another – the Japanese fans obviously bought into his character, and honestly, the entire FMW promotion was carried on the back of Hayabusa. Sadly, in 2001, just after Tokyopop’s chronicle of Hayabusa’s career The Flying Assassin was released, Ezaki was paralyzed when he cracked two of his vertebrae after botching a springboard moonsault. This effectively ended his in-ring career prematurely, but Ezaki has continued to work within the wrestling business while trying to overcome his injury. (As a side note and an indication of how much Hayabusa meant to the promotion, following Ezaki’s career-ending injury, FMW would quickly sputter out, and fold within a year’s time.)

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Hayabusa vs. FMW Founder Atsushi Onita in an “Exploding Cage Match.”

As would be expected, The Flying Assassin focuses on the good parts of Ezaki’s career as Hayabusa, and is one of the better FMW video releases. One really gets a sense of what made Hayabusa special in watching this program: he comes across like a slightly less “homicidal, genocidal, suicidal” version of the legendary Sabu, using an unending array of acrobatic aerial maneuvers to beat down his opponents. The Flying Assassin also spends some time letting the viewer see “behind the mask” of Hayabusa, providing a brief biography and even footage of a journey to Thailand in search of traditional martial-arts training. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this release is that only three matches are included. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice that (for once on these FMW DVDs) we’re seeing complete matches that haven’t been hacked to smithereens by the producers and editors, but I think most fans picking up a wrestling DVD would like to see more than just a trio of matches that maybe run for an hour total.

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After his career-ending injury, Ezaki has continued to appear at wrestling shows, and has even begun a singing career.

Commentary here is provided by Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski and John Watanabe, who don’t quite have what it takes to send their announcing to the next level. Sure, Watanabe can repeat the names of the moves he’s seeing in the ring more times than necessary just to hammer points home to the viewer, but these two don’t really provide much excitement during the matches they call. Again, I have to point out that the Lovranski/Watanabe duo is much preferable to early FMW video releases which featured Watanabe, paired with Eric Geller, rattling off awful jokes and dispensing false information throughout the programs. I guess we have to take what we can get, though it doesn’t stop me from wishing we had better.

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Laying in a pile of chairs at the Korakuen Hall, 1996.

Regardless, here’s the rundown of matches:

1. Hayabusa vs. Masato Tanaka (3.13.1998) : A preliminary match in a tournament to determine the number one contender for the FMW world title belt, pitting two of the most popular wrestlers in the promotion against one another. Honestly, this is the kind of match I would always be down to watch: a solid, hard-hitting contest in which the performers display technical skill as well as a ton of grit and determination. At times, we perhaps get too many armlocks and submission holds, but I doubt most people will be caught up in that when these two start trading finishing moves like there’s no tomorrow. Tanaka takes some vicious suplexes right onto his skull, and comes right back to deliver numerous stiff forearm and elbow smashes as well as several running Death Valley Drivers that are just brutal. Hayabusa displays his usual, dazzling aerial moves, and the entire match builds up to a fever pitch by its conclusion, with back and forth pinfall attempts and near escapes. It’s pretty classic and pretty crazy. Four and a half stars out of a possible five.

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Hayabusa in flight

2. Hayabusa vs. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome (3.17.1998) : Semifinals match in the tournament to determine the number one contender for the FMW world title. These two wrestlers had a lengthy feud in the years prior to this contest, so I was expecting another slobberknocker here. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near the best performance from either man – or even their best match against one another. That said, it’s unbelievable to watch the much smaller Hayabusa (just four days removed from the previous, punishing match with Tanaka) pull off some of his slams and suplexes on the 6’5”, 300 pound Gladiator (known for his appearances in all the major American federations). One would expect that Hayabusa would just be manhandled by the physical specimen he was facing here, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Both men get their chance to shine in this match, but the cumulative effect of all the power moves didn’t impress me for whatever reason. I’ve never thought that Mike Awesome was all that great of a performer (despite the fact that his fights in ECW with Masato Tanaka were mind-blowing – probably a reflection on Tanaka’s ability more than anything else), and though it’s impressive to see a guy that size fly around like he is able to, he simply isn’t able to captivate an audience. The ending here seems abrupt and lousy; in the end, I can definitively say that I’ve seen better. Three stars.

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With the world title.

3. Hayabusa vs. Mr. Ganosuke (4.30.1998) : Title match for the unified championship of the FMW Brass Knuckles (Heavyweight) Title and FMW World Independent Title. Another match in the ever-expanding feud between these two competitors who had trained together in the early 1990s. Hayabusa, as expected, is the more technical, more graceful of these two performers, while Ganosuke is the prototypical “dirty player,” using whatever means he has to in order to win. Ganosuke perhaps oversells a knee injury, though Hayabusa’s focus on this joint with his choice of maneuvers at least makes it seem like the injury may be legitimate. While this match isn’t bad, it’s precisely what one would expect from a title belt: the “feeling out process,” the back and forth technical holds, the “scientific wrestling,” and the exchange of finishing moves. Oddly though, the excitement level of the match never builds above a certain point: though the two combatants trade power moves as the match goes on, the contest seems, frankly, dull, with a lame finish that simply doesn’t seem satisfactory considering everything we’ve just seen. The fact that the announce team push Hayabusa as the “face” (good guy) in the match to the point of absurdity doesn’t help matters either. Three stars.

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Hayabusa (sans mask) and Ganosuke in happier times – hard to believe these two would battle in the notorious “Anus Explosion Match” during 1999.

It’s rather strange that the match quality on this DVD actually goes down quite a lot over the course of the program. I could probably almost be persuaded to call the bout with Tanaka a classic, but the other two contests here seemed inconsequential. I can understand that this DVD was trying to chronicle Hayabusa’s road to the FMW title (oops, did I give something away?), but I could easily make a much better showcase of the man’s abilities (and a better chronicle of his career) than was exhibited in the sum total of these three matches. What coulda/shoulda been a genuinely excellent FMW DVD then falls back into the realm of being barely better than average. Certainly, The Flying Assassin disc would be worth a pickup for fans of the promotion since it shows off the main attraction that existed in the promotion for the better part of a decade, but I can’t help but wonder at this point (eight discs into an undeniably mediocre FMW video series) if TokyoPop was ever interested in producing genuinely outstanding wrestling releases. It’s of course cool to see this Japanese wrestling at all, but one would hope they could have constructed better individual programs than what we’ve been given with the series.


“Uncensored Version” DVD from TokyoPop Home Video is more lame than usual, full-frame, decent picture quality, but the only extra (aside from the usual, same array of wrestler bios and text-based history of FMW) is a three-minute video in which Hayabusa applies his trademark makeup. Yep, that’s it. Boo!


2/10 : Fleeting images showing some of Hayabusa’s more extreme matches. Probably the most alarming thing here is seeing the sheer number of scars adorning Hayabusa’s body.

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0/10 : Lots of wrestling hype, no profanity.


0/10 : Not a single female to be seen.


3/10 : Sure it’s Japanese wrestling, but this is pretty standard stuff.


“What Michael Jordan is to basketball, Hayabusa is to professional wrestling.” Yeah…I don’t think I’d got that far…

“I Don’t Have a Vendetta, She Just Pisses Me Off…” FMW – TORN TO SHREDS

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: TORN TO SHREDS

(2/5)

Pros: The positively brutal Kudo vs Shark match
Cons: Near-worthless undercard

Torn to Shreds, the sixth volume in TokyoPop Home Video’s series of Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling compilations, takes a different approach than that of the previous entries, standing as an entry that could either be a highlight of the series or a definitive low point. The FMW promotion was started in Japan in 1989 and quickly became infamous for its habit of sanctioning violent stipulation matches involving barbed wire, various weapons, and even explosives. This style of “garbage wrestling” brought the promotion instant notoriety, and was mimicked by several other organizations, perhaps most notably by the renegade American promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) which popped up in the mid-to-late 1990s. Though FMW was mostly unknown domestically and extremely obscure for years, TokyoPop’s video series (released in the early 2000s) allowed American viewers to experience what separated this promotion from any of the well-known American federations, but even if the levels of violence seen in FMW matches was unheard of in the 1990s, the actual wrestling on display frequently seemed sloppy and tiresome. Generally speaking, though these FMW DVDs were frequently eye-opening, they wouldn’t appeal to those interested strictly in scientific, technical wrestling.

Torn to Shreds focuses exclusively on the FMW women’s division, featuring seven match illustrating that Japanese female wrestlers did in fact wrestle and weren’t simply on hand to provide a T&A show for the viewer. Having said that though, it’s safe to say that most of these women wrestlers are not what I would call skilled technicians. A few of the big name performers in FMW clearly knew their way around the “squared circle,” but the women featured on the undercard look buffoonish as they perform repetitive, underwhelming moves and craft matches that barely sustain a viewer’s interest. Six matches here are from a December 22, 1995 card at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, with the final one from a September 1996 show at the same venue. Combined with the atrocious commentating (provided by John Watanabe and Eric Geller, who still pull out the worst, most puerile “jokes” imaginable while making up blatantly inaccurate stories about the wrestlers featured in the program), the lackluster wrestling action ensures that overall, this program is perfectly forgettable, with only one match that could definitively be labeled as being outstanding.

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Kudo in what appears to be a barbed wire, baking soda bloodbath match…

Here’s the match rundown and descriptions:

1. Chikayo Nagashima and Chihiro Nakano vs. Aki Kanbayashi and Sonoko Kato – Featuring a plethora of wrestlers either performing in their first FMW match or in fact making their pro wrestling debut, this match turns out to be the amateurish rumble that would be expected. There’s brawling right out of the gate after some extremely awkward pre-match interviews in which most of the competitors looked scared to death. Subsequent repetitious moves (which suggest that each lady here only learned a handful of moves in anticipation of this contest) don’t make it all that exciting. Despite the presence of some rough action late in the going, with women jumping in and leaving the ring continuously, I’d call the bout insignificant. One and a half stars.

2. “Bomber” Hikaru vs. Miwa Sato – As I’ve pointed out time and again, Sato is arguably the least talented feature performer in FMW. This woman found herself involved in serious feuds (mainly with the popular duo of Combat Toyoda and Megumi Kudo), but simply couldn’t handle herself in the ring. Her matches were garbage, and here she flounders through another one with the technically proficient Hikaru. Sato uses a towel to whip her opponent, and (somewhat amusingly) winds up biting Hikaru’s arms and even fingers – that’s the extent of her offense through a large portion of the match. A moment where Hikaru bench-presses Sato and unceremoniously dumps her over the top ropes pretty much says it all, perhaps an indication of Hikaru’s frustration level in performing with an opponent who simply couldn’t hang with her. After a dumb buildup towards the finale (in which, again, Sato utilizes no technical maneuvers whatsoever), the match graciously ends. One and a half stars mainly due to Hikaru’s performance.

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“One dislocated spine coming right up!”

3. Kaori Nakayama & Yukari Ishikawa vs. Hiroumi Sugo & Kanako Motoya – Quick tags and beatdowns all around in this energetic, fast-paced contest featuring some of the more technically sound women wrestlers who weren’t quite up to main event level at this point in their careers. I’m not sure I’d buy the announcers’ declaration that this is a demonstration of the “grace” of women’s wrestling, but there’s no doubt these performers are a step up from what was seen previously on this DVD. As was the case with the previous match, the buildup towards the finale is somewhat weak, butI did like the close-range moonsault performed by Nakayama after she’s launched in the air by her teammate. Nothing special I suppose, but it’s decent. Two and a half stars.

4. “Bad Nurse” Nakamura vs. Chigusa Nagayo – Barely a minute long, this “barbed wire bat match” isn’t so much a contest as a plot device used to detail the ongoing feud between the FMW wrestlers and “invaders” from other promotions. Mainly, the bout consists of a tug of war between the two combatants over the use of the bat, and once this struggle is concluded, the match is over within a matter of seconds – without the use of the weapon. What’s the point? No stars.

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Awkward photo op of the day!

5. Combat Toyoda vs. Kaoru – A sort of grudge match taking place after Kaoru was refused entry into the “Women’s Wrestling School, Class of 1986 Reunion Match” as featured on the previous FMW volume. These two women mainly exchange submission holds throughout the early parts of the match, a style of fighting that’s appreciated in Japan but (especially for those used to American wrestling) seems rather lazy and boring. Lowpoint of the contest involves the women just sitting in a scissor lock for minutes at a time – is this supposed to be a wrestling match or a subliminal attempt at making lesbian erotica? In any case, it’s a grueling contest once it does get going, with the more powerful Toyoda just beating down her smaller, more technically-based opponent. Both these women take some pretty serious abuse to their spine – check out the sheer number of back drops that take place. It’s slower-paced for sure, but this turns out to be a fairly entertaining match if one can sit tight for a while. Three and a half stars.

6. Megumi Kudo vs. Shark Tsuchiya – Here we have a main event, barbed wire death match between two bona fide arch-rivals in which the ring ropes have been replaced with razor wire. The extremely popular Kudo is sort of the glamour queen of FMW, while Shark is a dirty player if there ever was one, using weapons and outside interference to claim victory. Considering Kudo’s reputation, some might be shocked to see her in as brutal and bloody a match as this one: she bleeds profusely from the head after being ripped up by the barbed wire. By the end of the match, her once white costume is stained with blood and listening to her scream as she’s brutalized by Shark is a bit unsettling. Shark, as would be expected, uses a barbed wire-covered baseball bat and even a sickle to assault Kudo, at one point slamming her repeatedly onto a table which refuses to break. Just when all seems lost for Kudo, the cheers of the fans start to give her some life…This match is brutal, and a fine demonstration of what truly separates FMW from most of the “extreme” wrestling one might see in the United States. It’s also worth noting that, unlike some FMW matches where the violence occurred seemingly “just because,” this one features great psychology, buildup and tension. Four stars.

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Aftermath of a Hair vs. Hair match

7. Shark Tsuchiya and Miss Mongol vs. Megumi Kudo and Kaori Nakayama – Occurring some nine months after the previous contest, this technical bout pits the hard-nosed team of Shark and the powerful Miss Mongol against Kudo and her would-be successor Nakayama. Typically for this style of tag team match, it’s Nakayama who takes a beating early at the hands of her opponents (check out the spine-compressing monkey flip where Shark launches Nakayama right onto her tailbone – OUCH!), with Kudo desperately trying to get the “hot tag” to get in the ring and clean house. I’m not sure anyone would buy the fact that the petite Kudo would really have a chance against the big and burly Shark and Mongol, but that’s the magic of pro wrestling, isn’t it? In any case, this one features some nifty Lucha Libre style high flying moves, including several leaps out of the ring, and some definitive power displays from both Shark and Mongol. I’d call it a decent but somewhat unexceptional match. Three stars.

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And this is why fans love to hate the Shark…

Perhaps one of the only honest-to-goodness positive things about Torn to Shreds is that this volume represents the final time that TokyoPop would utilize the abysmal “humorous” format in their FMW programs. Starting with the next volume, the FMW series would feature a “straight-up,” factual presentation, thus making it possible (for the first time) to actually take these FMW DVDs seriously.

The main problem I faced when viewing Torn to Shreds (aside from having to sit through the endless potty jokes, goofy facial expressions on the part of the announcers, and trash level video production during the intro sequences) was the simple fact that these matches weren’t generally hard-hitting enough for my taste. Having been brought up in the style of rough and tumble “stunt wrestling” that ECW was doing in the mid-1990s, watching these women attempt to pull off moves without really committing to the performance was simply unconvincing and frequently cheesy. Though the final three matches here were decent, only the Kudo vs. Shark match was anything truly worth getting excited about and the program highlighted plenty of downright sloppy wrestling. In the end then, this DVD seems light in action overall and is undeniably one of the weakest entries in the FMW video series. Fans of Japanese wrestling might get a kick out of it on some level, but I’d recommend starting an examination of FMW elsewhere.


Decent quality full-frame disc from Tokyo Pop features the option to watch the matches either with or without the English-language commentary. Honestly, it may be better to listen to the Japanese announcing regardless of one’s ability to understand Japanese. There’s also wrestler bios and a (supremely goofy and VERY Japanese) video portrait of wrestler Megumi Kudo that features a sense of self-importance missing from most American wrestling video promos as well as gratuitous bikini and crotch shots. Huzzah! Also, a bonus match:
Megumi Kudo, Combat Toyoda, and Kaori Nakayama vs. Shark Tsuchiya, “Bad Nurse” Nakamura, and Miwa Sato – A 22-minute match cut down to 2.5 minutes that resembles a car crash compilation since most of what we see is women colliding with one another. Impossible to gauge the flow of the match; this “bonus” is just a waste. No stars.


6/10 : Generally, these matches are fairly restrained, however the barbed wire death match here is extremely bloody and graphic. As per the case with all these FMW DVDs, this one might not be appropriate for sensitive viewers.


3/10 : Lousy and inappropriate humor galore, with a few minor cuss words thrown in for good measure.


0/10 : Witness the invention of the “crooked clam hold…” as women in tight spandex rub against one another for an hour and a half…


7/10 : Not only is it Japanese wrestling that sometimes resorts to the ol’ ultraviolence, this volume also features women doing all of said wrestling!


Highlight of the commentary: “…she looks like a beached sea tortoise in danger of dehydration…”

Proof that god exists and he loves you very much!

THE MIAMI CONNECTION

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The Miami Connection

(5/5)

Pros: Mandatory viewing for any Child of the Eighties!

Cons: Incoherent plot, terrible acting, even worse directing.

You have never seen The Miami Connection, a low budget flick from the late eighties that was all but forgotten until its accidental rediscovery a couple of years ago by B-Movie deities the Alamo Drafthouse. Part Vanity Project, part Public Service Announcement from motivational speaker/taekwondo master Y.K. Kim, it is, quite possibly the most eighties Eighties Movie I have ever seen in my long Bad Movie Watching career. Big Hair? Check! Muscle shirts? Check! Cocaine smugglers in pastel suits? Check! Keytars? Check! Ninja? Check! Its like the whole decade compressed into one 80 minute movie – and IT! IS! GLORIOUS!

We open in Orlando, Florida – and no that isn’t a typo. Despite being the Miami Connection, the film does not take place anywhere near Miami – in the middle of the night as a group of nicely dressed Colombians come ashore to meet another group of well dressed people with Uzis. This, of course, is a drug deal going down – cocaine, to be precise. Suddenly The White Ninja and his Ninja clan show up on motorcycles, kill everyone with Kung Fu and takes the blow and money for themselves.

Cut to The Hottest Nightclub in Orlando (and not Miami) and the opening of Dragon Sound, a new wave band of Tae Kwon Do masters. We’ve got The Asian Guy (Grandmaster Y.K. Kim himself), The Long Faced Guy (Angelo Janotti) on lead guitar, The Black Guy (Maurice Smith) on keyboards, The Other Guy Vincent Hirsch) on Drums, Freddy Mercury (Joe Diamond) on bass and The Chick (Kathy Collier), who also happens to be the love interest with Long Faced Guy. Now, these characters may actually have names, but they’re never actually used in conjunction with each other so I have no idea what these people are called – whatever.

And then a Guy Who Looks Like Chuck Norris shows up. Apparently The Chick is the Guy Who Looks Like Chuck Norris’s sister, and he doesn’t like her hanging out with Long Faced Guy. It also turns out that Guy Who Looks Like Chuck Norris is also in league with the White Ninja. The White Ninja decides that the only way to secure his iron grip on the Orlando (and not Miami) drug trade is by eliminating Dragon Sound!

Cue the non-stop martial arts action, the 80s new wave songs that will stick in your head for a week, the ham fisted romance and overacted family drama as Dragon Sound is caught up in an plot to save Orlando (still not Miami) from the White Ninja’s Cocaine Trafficking. It’s as if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Splinter) were in a band and Shredder dealt in high quality blow. In fact an episode of TMNT might be slightly better scripted than the Miami Connection.

Let me be absolutely, perfectly clear – this movie utterly smashes through the upper tiers of Bad Movie-ness, landing firmly in the Bad Movie Hall of Fame. We’re talking Ed Wood levels of incompetence in film-making and acting. The script is pretty much comprised of what a teenager in the eighties would think is cool, Grand Master Kim can barely speak English phonemically let alone intelligibly, the plot jumps around scene to scene with little regard to continuity or even coherence, actors are stepping on each others lines while clearly looking for the ‘X’ on the ground they should be standing on, the budget must have been a whole fifteen dollars (most of that spent on squibs and kayo syrup), the writing is awful, the direction is horrible and the fight scenes are an incoherent gory mess. It is clear from the very first frames that not only are these bad filmmakers, but nobody on the set has the faintest clue on actually HOW to make a movie.

And it is brilliantly fucking AWWWWWESOME!!!! The Miami Connection is a perfect storm of terrible movie excellence. Much like Ed Wood, the cast and crew of the Miami Connection come equipped with such enthusiasm and boundless energy that the concept of “Hey, this is really crap” doesn’t enter into their heads. They’re having so much fun making a movie that they just didn’t care that the movie made no sense whatsoever.

The story behind the Miami Connection is an underdog comeback tale worthy of Rocky or the Karate Kid. Back in 1987, Korean immigrant Y.K. Kim came to America with only a dream and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He teamed with Korean filmmaker Woo-sang Park (the man behind Kill the Ninja and LA Streetfighters – which should tell you all about this movies pedagree), gathered his students and set out to make a movie about a Rock and Roll band that uses the power of friendship (and Tae Kwon Do) to do battle against an evil Florida empire of cocaine-dealing motorcycle ninjas.

In a word, the movie stunk.

The Miami Connection opened in Orlando during a local film festival to a absolutely scathing reception and promptly sank out of sight (save for a limited European release on VHS several years later) and languished in total obscurity for two decades. Enter the Alamo Drafthouse – the famous second run theater in Austin Texas, home of many B-Movie revivals and long time favorite of Harry Knowles, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The owner of the Drafthouse picked up a 35mm print of the film on Ebay for 50 bucks and screened it during one of their Wednesday Revival nights sight unseen – and the crowd went absolutely apeshit for it. Since then it has enjoyed new life on the revival circuit before being released on DVD and Blu Ray by Drafthouse Films.

While the movie might be terrible, you have to admire YK Kim’s message of dedication and friendship to overcome adversity. The message may be delivered in the most wildly incoherent way possible (A black title card at the end says “Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace” after we’ve watched eighty minuets of kung fu ass kicking, stabbings, and decapitations), but you have to admit that the movie has heart. The characters have such an optimistic outlook, a sense of respect for their master and their martial art, that they genuinely like each other that it’s hard not to get caught up liking these guys.

The acting, as I mentioned, is utterly non-existent. When surrounded by Ninja, one of Dragon Sound says “Uh, Ninja” in the most deadpan, monotone offhanded way possible. YK Kim’s thick Korean accent makes every word out of his mouth completely incomprehensible, but the delivery is so earnest that you cant help loving him. Maurice Smith’s breakdown over his missing father is. . . interesting, and his subsequent recovery is like that you tube video of the kid freaking out over getting the Nintendo 64 for Christmas, filled with such raw joy.

That’s the magic that The Miami Connection has managed to tap into, despite being shot by a handful dedicated students and friends who decided one day “Hey, lets make a movie!”. Every single friend that I’ve had the pleasure to show this thing to have had the same reaction: this horrible movie is brilliant! And it was. . . .

  THE BAD MOVIE SCORECARD –

BULLETS EXPENDED: 150 (mostly in the first scene)

COOL EXPLOSIONS: Zero

BREASTS: Zero

SPRING LOADED CATS: Zero

TOTAL BODY COUNT: 18

GALLONS OF BLOOD USED: Three

MOST MEMORABLE DEATH: The Black Ninja reporting back to his boss, the White Ninja and getting decapitated for his troubles.

BEST LINE: “I didn’t know you had a father. I thought we are all orphans.”

THE DVD –

Before we get into the digital presentation, let me first nod my head to Drafthouse Films. They have completely embraced the eighties-ness of Miami Connection by releasing a VHS version in a big ol’ white clamshell with some really sweet cover artwork that would easily sit on the Video Store shelf with the awesome covers to Chopping Mall, Fear No Evil and Prisoner of the Cannibal God – all the best lurid, atrocious covers that Embassy Home Entertainment had to offer! Plus, if that’s not analog enough for you, you can also get the 12″ vinyl soundtrack of “Against the Ninja” and “Friends forever”! Totally tubular!

Anyway, the DVD is the original 1.85.1 widescreen version – and it looks exactly like what you would expect from a print that was bought off ebay for 50 bucks. All kinds of print damage and scratches pop up here or there and it looks like they used two different sources for the DVD master. The audio is a Dolby digital 2.0 mono track that sounds clear and clean. We also get English subtitles for dialogue and songs. All in all, considering the long and arduous journey that Miami Connection had to endure to get here, the A/V quality looks pretty good!

THE EXTRAS –

First off we get an audio commentary from Grand Master Y.K. Kim and Joe Diamond moderated by Alamo Drafthouse programmer/archivist Zack Carlson. The trio get into the all kinds of trivia, how they tried to cash in on Miami Vice‘s rampaging popularity, the film’s original name, the themes of the movie, details on the fight choreography, and what happened to the cast members since 1987. It’s a great listen and their enthusiasm for the film has not diminished since production despite the initial drubbing from the audience.

Then we get the alternate ending to The Miami Connection and about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, a handful of featurettes that include interviews with Y.K. Kim, Joe Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Jannotti and Vincent Hirsch interspersed behind the scenes clips and photos, some footage of the Dragon Sound Reunion Concert from 2012 at the Fantastic Fest where the band got together for the first time in 20 years. Following that up is a brief piece on Y.K. Kim, his books, his philosophy and beliefs.

Lastly we get a theatrical trailer, a handful of other Drafthouse Films releases. Inside the disc is a piece of paper with the download link for a digital copy of the film, and a booklet of liner notes from Zack Carlson. One final touch – the cover is reversible, with the really sweet VHS cover artwork and the original poster artwork on the other side. Sweet!

THE BOTTOM LINE –

In my years of watching and debating bad movies, I have had an epiphany. There is no such thing as a So-Bad-It’s Good movie. If a movie entertains us, then it’s good, period. What do we watch movies for? Entertainment, distraction, and amusement – if a film provides those things, regardless of how it got there, then it’s a successful movie. It is a good movie. That’s why Plan Nine from Outer Space is still famous (or infamous) some 50 years on, even if it’s because of it’s the poster boy for inept movies: because it’s so damn entertaining.

Much in the same way, The Miami Connection is a horrendously bad flick and a goddamned entertaining one too! And much like any good cult flick, The Miami Connection is best watched with pizza, beer and as many friends as you can gather. Pop it in, pour the beer and let the hilariously misguided and inept charms of the Miami Connection wash over you. . . .

I give it five Orlando Ninja out of five.

20 Reasons Not to Ride a Motorcycle, or TRACES OF DEATH V

TRACES OF DEATH V

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(3/5)

Pros: Brutal and vile, i.e. what one is looking for in a death tape

Cons: Too much filler with footage of suspension and backyard wrestling

NOTE: Traces of Death is a shock video series, containing actual documentary and newsreel footage of human carnage and destruction. It would not be suitable for many (or perhaps, any) viewers. Please don’t read my review if this subject matter would be upsetting to you.

The fifth (and to date, final) entry in the infamous “shockumentary” series Traces of Death that shows actual scenes of death and mutilation may be the most explicit of the bunch. The Traces series long-proclaimed to be “the first true shockumentary series” due to its supposed use only of authentic footage, but the first three volumes in particular fell short on this claim by including fabricated scenes ripped straight out of various Italian-produced documentaries of the 1970s. Traces of Death IV and V are the only ones that I could honestly say have avoided faked footage – and these two may indeed be among the more grueling death videos that one is likely to come across. It’s quite obvious from viewing it that Traces V has been edited together with footage taken from other sources (as was the case with the previous volume, much of the footage here seems to have originated in Asia), and the program looks and feels like the grade-F made-on-and-for-video production that it is. That said, this volume is extremely graphic and disgusting, with plentiful splayed brain matter courtesy of a near-endless array of scenes showing the aftermaths of motorcycle accidents.

As per usual, the gruesome footage seen in volume five is accompanied by an intermittent narration provided by producer “Brain Damage” who explains certain scenes and delivers a few wisecracks. Additionally, the program features a soundtrack made up of the nu-metal that was popular around the time this video was assembled in the year 2000. Truthfully, if the footage here weren’t so wet and gory, I’d almost be inclined to say that the soundtrack was the most nauseating aspect of the film. One of the most welcome changes between this and previous entries in the series is that the producers have finally realized that no one wants to see another asinine montage of non-fatal auto and motorcycle racing crack ups. These sequences were featured in every prior entry in the series, and came across as ridiculous in a series that prided itself on being brutal.

Not so good is the large amount of footage here that acts purely as filler: Traces V runs 90 minutes, but at least twenty of that could have been eliminated. There are several montages of backyard wrestling footage that, while prescient in the year 2000, seems idiotic today. It’s also worth noting that the wrestling footage included here is very tame by backyard wrestling standards: there is much worse, more violent, and extremely bloody wrestling footage out there, a large amount of which can be seen in the commercially available Best of Backyard Wrestling series. Perhaps the most questionable addition to volume five however is a lengthy section dealing with the phenomenon of “suspension” which focuses on groups of people who, as a form of “artistic expression,” are hung with ropes strung through fishhook like-metal loops stuck through the skin of their backs. Footage of heavily tattooed and pierced individuals being “suspended” is fairly eye-opening for sure, but I’m not sure that this material really belongs in a Traces of Death video. The ongoing program grinds to a standstill during this segment, and the suspension footage pales in comparison to the worst that Traces V has to offer.

Immediately after it begins, Traces V kicks off the parade of footage whose main purpose seems to be to promote motorcycle safety. I lost count of the amount of crash victims whose skulls had been completely obliterated, thus leaking their entire contents all over the roadway. Often, the camera (most of this footage appears to be of the newsreel variety) lingers on the pool of brain matter and blood, and a viewer certainly would gain an appreciation of just how fragile the human body really is when facing off against the laws of physics. This is especially true when a man’s body is literally ripped out of the chain link fence he was propelled into during a crash. I suppose it’s a little disappointing that Traces V focuses so heavily on vehicular accidents, but it’s difficult to imagine footage that would in any way be more bloody or gory than what is seen here.

Alongside familiar footage taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, we have instances of bodies (sometimes charred beyond recognition by fire, sometimes in severe states of decay) being recovered by coroners, victims of the drug war and the Asian mob, a cavalcade of birth defects and a look at the effects of leprosy, and some good, old-fashioned police chase action. One of the “highlights” of the program (which the narrator proclaims that he is “proud to present” to us) is a montage of footage showing various female rape/murder victims, reaching a true nadir when the camera zooms in on the putrefying genital region of one decomposing corpse. The obligatory WTF moment is provided by a sequence in which an Asian prostitute defecates onto a plate, much to the delight of her well-dressed patron who then proceeds to eat the results. The look on the woman’s face is priceless, though I’m not entirely convinced that there’s not some sort of trickery involved in creating this sequence. Finally, we have the infamous, rather harrowing footage taken from news helicopter showing an obviously disturbed man committing suicide by way of shotgun along a California highway. This last bit of footage is unsettling to say the least, and in general, there’s something here that would make most anyone a little queasy (or worse).

Had Traces of Death V been tightened up a little, with less focus on the whole suspension thing and backyard wrestling, I probably would have called this the most nasty and downright disgusting volume in the series. As it stands in its final version though, volume five has too much filler for my taste, seeming at times to stagnate. Due to these pacing issues, and despite the fact that the sheer amount of evacuated skulls here is sickening, Traces V doesn’t quite surpass volume four in terms of having the most “bang for your buck.” An edited version of this film would work wonders if shown as part of a motorcycle safety program: one can only imagine how grossed out people would be seeing some of this incredibly graphic footage, and it would certainly make them think long and hard about biker safety. Ultimately, while I certainly wouldn’t recommend this disc to everyone for obvious reasons, it would be one of two volumes of the Traces of Death series that best accomplishes its goal of shocking a viewer. Volume five is probably one of the most downright gross death videos out there, and considering what a viewer of these programs would be looking for in the first place, I’d say it’s recommendable.


“9th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” DVD from Brain Damage films is full-frame format; better picture quality than some other volumes in the series, but still is VHS level. Bonus footage on this DVD focuses on a series of gory still photos (thank you internets!) and a scene in which an African man is beaten to death by a mob. The interview with producer/narrator “Brain Damage” focuses on horror film distribution and film conventions and festivals. It’s a very mediocre extras package.


27/10 : Splatterrific; bring along a rain slicker to avoid all the brain matter and blood. EXTREME, REAL death and violence.


5/10 : some harsh profanity in song lyrics; not much of anything else


0/10 : Full nudity, but a close-up of decomposing female genitals? No thanks.


10/10 : Hideously gory and extremely graphic.


“On my travels around this deranged world, I have run into some individuals with an all around different view on life. Some may consider these people insane. I consider these outcasts new friends of mine.”

Due to the nature of this film, I’m not linking to any trailers or media. Proceed at your own risk…

A Sub-par Wrestling Showcase: FMW – RING OF TORTURE

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: RING OF TORTURE

(2.5/5)

Pros: Main events deliver the goods

Cons: They’re a long time coming…

Fifth in the TokyoPop DVD series highlighting Japanese wrestling from the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) promotion, Ring of Torture features a lineup of seven fights, all of which occurred on December 21, 1995 at the Yokohama Bunka Taikukan (or “cultural gymnasium”). FMW was started in 1989 and quickly went about revolutionizing the world of pro wrestling by introducing bloody, so-called “garbage wrestling” to the mainstream public. This style, sometimes referred to as “hardcore” or “extreme” wrestling, utilized weapons and often, crazy match stipulations such as barbed wire, broken glass, and even explosives. FMW eventually spawned many imitators in Japan and the United States, as promotions looked to capitalize on the popularity of extreme violence in wrestling matches. By the late 2000s however, the “hardcore” wrestling style had more or less fizzled out and most extreme wrestling promotions (including FMW as well as American organizations like ECW and XPW) had vanished. While some promotions focusing on graphic in-ring violence continue on the fringes of the wrestling industry, the major players in the business (i.e. the WWE) have minimized their focus on this style of in-ring combat.

As seems to be typical on these FMW DVDs, the opening few matches on Ring of Torture are generally pretty awful, though the trio of main event feature fights do (to an extent) deliver what a fan would expect. Still, having to sit through two womens matches featuring the likes of Miwa Sato and “Bad Nurse” Nakamura isn’t my idea of a good time: as much as the announce team of John Watanabe and Eric Geller try to sell female FMW wrestlers as being a step above their American eye-candy counterparts, Sato and Nakamura in particular just don’t cut it. Their sloppy, unexciting matches simply don’t belong on a video series that at least attempts to showcase the best this legendary, influential Japanese promotion had to offer. Not helping matters at all is fact that the producers of this disc have clipped the hell out of at least half of these matches: though on-screen graphics indicate the matches lasted in the 10-15 minute range, viewers of the program only get about five minutes or less of condensed, edited footage. It’s difficult then to really get a feel for and get into some of these contests: the selection of high-spots isn’t especially exciting to watch. I was especially disappointed by the lack of (usually hilarious) pre-match promos – to be honest, these are probably the aspect of FMW wrestling DVDs I look forward to the most. They were sorely missed on this disc.

The most damning element of the Americanized TokyoPop FMW DVDs however is its “humorous” presentation. Geller and Watanabe talk trash and crack idiotic jokes throughout the program while introducing the matches, relying on toilet humor (“John just farted…I think you better check your pants…”) or crude sexual remarks (“Someone who does great work on his knees is my partner here…”) that make this whole program seem to be directed towards twelve-year-olds. The announce duo’s actual commentating during the wrestling isn’t any better, as they invent ludicrous backstories for the matches while often ignoring the in-ring action. Aren’t these two supposed to be “selling” the contest? You wouldn’t know it from listening to them discuss just about anything other than the wrestling itself.

Here’s the lineup of matches included on this DVD:

1. Gekko vs. Gosaku Goshogawara – A very stiff fight in which the almost bird-like Gekko stalks his opponent, delivering brutal kicks and strikes at every opportunity. This squash match lasts just three minute (thus we actually see it in its entirety), but Gosaku is abused from start to finish, bleeding simply due to the stomps he’s taking in the head. Personally, I wish Gekko would have featured in more matches in this video series; his dominant performance here makes a strong impression and this was one of the matches from the FMW series that I remembered even years later. Three stars out of a possible five.

2. Miwa Sato vs. Kaori Nakayama – The first of two lame womens undercard matches, this one features numerous moves that obviously don’t connect and general sloppiness throughout. I would almost believe that Nakayama could hold her own in the ring, but not when she’s performing with the boat anchor that is Sato. At one point, Sato uses a towel as a whip, which is a good choice considering her utter lack of technical wrestling skill. Brief, inconsequential, forgettable. One star.

3. “Bad Nurse” Nakamura vs. Yukari Ishikura – Screaming females galore in this women’s bout that occasionally spills out of the ring. More often though, we get a series of missed opportunities inside the ropes. Even in condensed, highlighted form, there’s not much to see here as the contest is more or less another squash match. Be sure to turn down the volume lest Ishikura’s shrieks will give you a headache. One star.

4. Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Katutoshi Niyama – A definite improvement over the two matches immediately preceding it, this features an early exchange of stiff shots and slaps. These two guys put on a decent mid-card contest with a handful of exciting moves, including a nice drop kick from the top ropes performed by the more agile Kuroda. The stout Niyama is simply a powerhouse and attempts to bully his opponent into submission. After a nice buildup of intensity throughout the fight, there’s a hasty finish that’s a bit of a letdown. A middle-of-the-road, two and a half star bout.

5. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Pogo – A one-time standout technical wrestler, Mr. Pogo in FMW became the ultimate villain, a man who would stop at nothing to win, often using ninja weapons (a sickle being his weapon of choice) and fire to dominate and brutalize his opponents. One might think Pogo would have his work cut out for him in taking on Tanaka, arguably one of the two most talented performers in the promotion, but this wasn’t exactly the case. You see, for as much as Pogo was willing to dish out punishment on others, he was the type of wrestler who mostly refused to take bumps – essentially, he wouldn’t receive the same type of punishment he was dishing out. What we have here then is Tanaka being taken apart – literally – by an opponent in Pogo who carves up his face and arms with a serrated blade, suspends him by the neck out of the ring using a thick length of chain, and generally beats Tanaka senseless. Tanaka bleeds heavily during the match – watch as the white shirt he’s wearing to start the match slowly becomes covered in blood and dirt from being slammed on the concrete floor. Especially brutal is the trio of sick-looking pile drivers directly onto a barbed wire-covered baseball bat that Tanaka absorbs late in the going. I had to chuckle during a moment when Pogo is seen rubbing his sickle up and down the arm of Tanaka without actually making contact with the skin – OOPS! – where’s all that blood coming from then? Those looking for trademark FMW violence need look no further, but this one-sided match is kinda sketchy in my book. Three and a half stars.

6. Combat “Mother-in-Law” Toyoda and Bison Kimura vs. Megumi Kudo and Aja Kong – A women’s tag team match billed as the “Women’s Wrestling School Class of 1986 Reunion Match.” Obviously, then, one can assume these women know each other pretty well, and they certainly are of a talent level that ensures that they put on a solid technical bout with good tag team dynamics. Some rough action including hard-hitting striking and some nifty high-flying moves. It’s amusing to see the slim and trim Kudo working with this group of much bigger ladies: though she was the most popular female wrestler in the promotion, the under-sized Kudo could never in my mind convincingly stack up against most of her competition – a fact never illustrated better than during this contest. Though there are a few dumb moments (several biting attacks for instance), and sequences where Kong seems to be out of her league (her only offense during one stretch of the match is a never-ending string of headbutts), the match builds to a pretty exciting final stretch with many pinfall attempts and last-minute escapes. This is no classic, but placed on this generally underwhelming wrestling card, it seems better than it actually is. Three and a half stars.

7. Super Leather, Hido, and Kintaro WING Kanemura vs. Jason the Terrible, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, and Hideki Hosaka – Billed as a six-man, “Caribbean Barbed Wire Spider Web, Double Hell Glass Crush Kenzan Death Match” (got all that?), this is one of the more crazy stipulation battles that put FMW on the map (and set the stage for rival Japanese promotion Big Japan to push the concepts of wacky stipulations to the absolute extreme). It’s a wild brawl from start to finish, with fighters battling all over the arena, getting thrown into barbed wire ropes, bleeding profusely, and occasionally being tossed into beds of barbed wire and broken glass placed alongside the ring. Matsunaga enters this match without wearing a shirt and at one point, has panes of glass shattered on his bare chest by an opponent wielding a nail-covered two-by-four. Jason (whose character is based on the villain from Friday the 13th) actually loses his mask early on in the fight (GASP!) and towards the end of the contest, Super Leather gets his dreadlocks caught up in the barbed wire and proceeds to drag a huge strand of it around the arena since he can’t get untangled. This match was more or less designed to showcase the ultra-extreme style of the WING faction in FMW who specialized in death matches. Considering that, it’s pretty amusing that Hido, a wrestler who (like Mr. Pogo) seemed to be very hesitant about taking nasty bumps into barbed wire and the like, participates in this match and proceeds to be annihilated by a series of power moves and stuff piledrivers while avoiding the plunder at all costs. As usual in death matches of this (exceedingly outrageous) variety, this match almost seems like overkill: too rowdy and manic to be genuinely exciting. Still, lots of blood and many violent spots. Three and a half stars.

Though it eventually delivers what one would expect and hope for, Ring of Torture is wildly inconsistent and doesn’t have any match that I’d consider to be a must-see. The main events are a long time coming, and a viewer has to sit through some pretty lousy wrestling displays to get to the good stuff. Even by the standards of the hit-or-miss FMW video series then, I’d have to call this program a slightly below average, somewhat disappointing entry that’s in no way helped along by the asinine commentary and severe truncating applied to some of the matches. Since it was nearly impossible to actually see FMW wrestling in the United States at the times these discs were put out in the early 2000s, I appreciate the fact that this series did focus its attention on this obscure Japanese promotion. Still, I can’t help but wish that TokyoPop had taken their approach to the programs more seriously – as a whole, these discs seem very amateurish and borderline ridiculous. Ultimately, Ring of Torture would probably be recommended only for fans of the promotion: it’s a decent time-waste, but those used to more polished sports entertainment would likely be underwhelmed.


“Uncensored Version” DVD from Tokyo Pop is decent-looking full-frame (from original VHS masters) and contains all the gory tidbits removed for television broadcast. The disc also features much the same bonus features as other FMW discs: featurette on wrestler Hayabusa, wrestler bios, history of FMW essay, optional English or Japanese language commentary, and isolated “wrestling school 101” segments. The bonus match included on the DVD is:

Masato Tanaka, Koji Nakagawa, and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura, Hideki Hosaka, and Hido – This is a perfect example of a match being clipped into oblivion: a fifteen minute contest reduced to two and a half minutes. Are we really supposed to even care what happens here? It looks like a pretty solid technical battle, but makes no sense towards the end when his teammates abandon Hido, who takes the brunt of the “Tanaka blast.” Dumb. No stars; it’s not even worth it.


7/10 : Pogo versus Tanaka features some pretty extreme blood loss on the part of Tanaka; main event is similarly violent and gory.


5/10 : A handful of four-letter curse words seen in the subtitles; some crude and adult humor in the English-language commentary.


0/10 : Women in spandex, grinding on one another.


7/10 : A pair of extreme death matches gives this Japanese wrestling program some added punch.


Eric Geller at his most classy: “I have got a bo…Hey, can I say ‘boner?’…I have got a boner about this match!”

FMW Women Go to War!

Good Main Events, Iffy Undercard on This Compilation: FMW – TOTAL CARNAGE

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: TOTAL CARNAGE

(2.5/5)

Pros: A couple good matches; Mike Awesome’s acting ability

Cons: Many near-dud matches; terrible commentary

Fourth in the American-release home video series chronicling Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW for short), Total Carnage (released in 2000) positions itself among the more generally forgettable entries in this video series. FMW was known for its “garbage wrestling” style – i.e. the use of typically illegal maneuvers and weapons were acceptable in FMW matches and the promotion also sanctioned frequently ridiculous violent stipulation contests involving barbed wire, glass, nails, and even explosives. In ways then, the often bloody FMW style paved the way for American promotions like Extreme Championship Wrestling and eventually, the World Wrestling Federation’s “Attitude Era.”

Unfortunately, the FMW video series released by Tokyo Pop has a lot of problems: first, the matches included on these DVDs are usually clipped to the point of being incoherent – few matches are seen in their entirety. A bigger problem on the first six FMW discs though is the “humorous” approach to the English-language commentary and match introductions. Commentary and “analysis” is provided by announcers John Watanabe and Eric Geller who mainly go about making awful, childish jokes and talk trash to one another while inventing absurd storylines and wrestler backstories as they go. This makes the entire program seem as though it was thought up and executed by a group of fourteen-year-olds – it’s simply moronic. Production on the Watanabe/Geller segments is also atrocious: there are moments where one can clearly hear director Neil Mandt yell action before Watanabe and Geller start in on their asinine dialogues.

The actual wrestling featured on Total Carnage (recorded during September 1995) is strictly middle of the road and perhaps even a bit below average. Many matches here seem inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things (a fact that’s not helped at all by the excessive truncating applied to most of these matches), and even the extreme violence seen in a handful of them starts to become tiresome. FMW did boast some legitimate talent during this time period (Mike Awesome, Masato Tanaka, and Hayabusa being about the best of the bunch), but lesser talents in the promotion just didn’t seem to be able to maintain excitement during their matches. Again, part of this may be due to the fact that it’s extremely difficult to follow the action in these matches as they exist here in edited form: ring psychology and a back and forth flow is non-existent in match clips that simply show the viewer the obvious high points. It’s cool that this DVD series did highlight this very obscure, but near-legendary wrestling promotion, but it would have been nice if the DVD producers had taken the task of Americanizing FMW product a bit more seriously (it’s worth noting that later in the Tokyo Pop series, these programs abandoned the supposed humor in favor of offering a straight-forward wrestling presentation). All in all, the typical wrestling fan would probably be disappointed by some (or perhaps, many) of these FMW DVDs.

The lineup of matches of Total Carnage is as follows:

1. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga vs. Super Leather – “Mr. Danger” himself Matsunaga (perhaps the most insane man in Japanese wrestling considering he performed in matches involving piranhas, cacti, fire, scorpions, and even a crocodile) has a somewhat lame match stipulation applied to the contest against horror movie-based character Super Leather. This is a 2 out of 3 falls, Beds of Nails deathmatch in which boards full of upright nails have been placed around the ring. Though it sounds awful, this actually isn’t as dangerous a match as one would suspect – in theory, having a board covered with nails ensures that any single sharp point won’t penetrate the wrestlers should they fall onto them. The actual match is more or less a squash, with Super Leather controlling the pace of the contest, dumping Matsunaga on the nails and even using a huge, nail-covered two-by-four. Pretty lousy overall, and not at all exciting to watch. Two stars.

2. Ricky Fuji and Hisakatsu Oya vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Daisuke Ikeda – Tag team match for the title belts, featuring the “bad boy” team of Fuji and Oya taking on living legend Fujiwara and his protege Ikeda. The gangly, middle-aged Fujiwara is well-known for the innovation of the dreaded arm bar that bears his name, and since he was obviously past his prime by this point, his main purpose in the match seems to be to slap on said arm bar at every opportunity. In contrast, Ikeda faces most of the offense in the contest, taking a beating at the hands of his opponents. Existing more as a brawl than as a scientific wrestling match, this one works out exactly how one would expect – though I kind of like the ultimate outcome. It’s decent but unexceptional. Three stars.

3. Shark Tsuchiya, “Bad Nurse” Nakamura and Miwa Sato vs. Combat “Mother-in-Law” Toyoda and Megumi Kudo – Lest we start to believe that the women wrestlers in FMW can’t get extreme, this handicap 2-on-3 match features the stipulation of being a barbed wire death match in which two sides of the ring ropes have been strung up with razor wire. As much as Tsuchiya, Toyoda, and Kudo can hold their own in a wrestling match, Nakamura and Sato simply can not; they exist here mainly as placeholders to occupy one of their opponents while Tsuchiya grapples with the other one. The match then is pretty clumsy at times though it does get violent with wrestlers getting thrown into the barbed wire and the use of a chain as a strangulation device. It’s somewhat amazing that FMW deathmatches rarely seem to be the slam-bang bloodbaths I would want to see: I would actually prefer to see more straight-up wrestling. This lackadaisical match demonstrates why this is the case: sure, there’s blood and gore, but all the carnage doesn’t mean much in context. Two and a half stars.

4. Shark Tsuchiya and Megumi Kudo vs. “Bad Nurse” Nakamura and Miwa Sato – Kudo teams up with her long time rival Tsuchiya in this match, and exactly what one would think would happen (i.e. Shark turning on her teammate and realigning herself with Nakamura and Sato) does indeed take place. From there on out, it’s a pure beatdown, with Kudo eventually being strung up with chains into the rope and having a huge fireball blown at her. Again, Nakamura and Sato can’t perform to save their life, and the contest winds up a sloppy, unexciting affair. Very forgettable: one has to wonder why a dud match like this would be included in a video series that attempts to be a sort of “best of FMW” compilation. One and a half stars.

5. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome vs. Super Leather – Two American wrestlers go at it in this semifinals match of the 1995 Grand Slam Tournament, with the winner going on to face Hayabusa for the title. As might be expected, this match is a clash of styles, as Awesome (later a standout in ECW, WCW, and the WWE) performs his usual power moves and genuinely amazing aerial assaults while Super Leather brawls like the questionably-talented performer that he is. It’s always astonished me that a chump wrestler like Super Leather got over so well in Japan despite the fact that he (similar to a wrestler like Horace Boulder) was woefully untalented: since he had very limited technical ability, the guy just couldn’t put on a good, consistent match. Eventually, this contest becomes a spot fest, with Awesome unloading the war chest and performing dives, splashes, slams, powerbombs, and everything else he can come up with. Super Leather fights back using a nail-covered two-by-four and at one point attempts to drive Awesome through a table by leaping on top of him from the ring apron. At this point, the table doesn’t even break despite the massive weight crashing on top of it – now that’s a non-gimmick table! The most interesting thing about this match is that it may be one of the only times I’ve seen Awesome bleed during a contest – generally, he was pretty hesitant to get extreme. Arguably, this is one of the better matches I’ve seen with Super Leather in it – mind you, it’s no classic but it is fairly exciting. Three and a half stars.

6. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome vs. Hayabusa – Grand Slam Tournament Finals Match with the FMW Brass Knuckles Title (which is more or less the promotion’s heavyweight title) up for grabs. It’s interesting to compare and contrast this fight with the typical American title match – here, the national anthems for the United States and Japan play before the contest, and the whole opening ceremony feels very somber. This is quite a difference from the typical, loud and ho-hum American title match that one would see in the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion. In any case, the contest starts off as a slower-paced scientific match, gradually building momentum and heading for the inevitable spot-fest finale one would expect. Both fighters get the chance to show off their big-time, highlight-reel signature techniques – powerbombs, suplexes, and acrobatic, high-flying moves. I found it amusing that Hayabusa targets Awesome’s knee throughout the fight and Awesome proceeds to oversell the hell out of the “injury.” Still, this is just a well-developed match – precisely what one would expect from a title fight. I was a bit surprised that these two were able to construct a satisfying pure wrestling exchange early in the fight: this style isn’t what I’m typically used to seeing from either man. It may not be one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, but this is far-and-away the best match on this DVD and it’s worthy of the four and a half star rating. Check out the awkward moments post-fight – Awesome and Hayabusa trade dialogue back and forth despite the fact that neither one can understand what the other is saying.

As is typically the case on these FMW DVDs, some of my favorite moments in Total Carnage occur during the pre-match interviews that are included. Highlight: Mike Awesome, though he’s a solid in-ring performer, proving that he has no mike skills whatsoever as he nearly gives himself an aneurysm while declaring that “I WANT THAT BELT BAD!” time and again. The interview where a crazed Super Leather shrieks “Die Matsunaga….DIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!” is also pretty classic. The fact that the ridiculous promos contained on the disc are some of its best moments probably also tells you that this DVD may not be all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s not. FMW would like to believe that it offers the viewer some mind-boggling action, and in some cases it does. Unfortunately, many of these FMW DVDs play out in a very hit-or-miss manner: there are a few legitimately quality matches, but a large amount of mediocre (or downright bad) contests that exist solely as filler. While Total Carnage isn’t a complete waste of time, there surely are better wrestling discs out there, and even if (like me) a viewer is enamored with extreme and/or Japanese wrestling, this DVD seems like a letdown.


“Uncensored Version” DVD from Tokyo Pop features all this action in its (sometimes) blood-soaked entirety. The disc is full-frame, decent quality (having been transfered from VHS masters), and has a handful of bonus materials. First, we have the same text-based history of FMW essay included on other DVDs in this series and the same video profile of wrestler Hayabusa. I had to laugh when the bonus match included here is:

Horace Boulder vs. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga – First, this match should have been a complete wash. Boulder may be the least talented performer in FMW, here taking on the man with balls of iron Matsunaga, who’s taken more sick bumps than just about anybody else in the history of professional wrestling. Matsunaga comes to the ring completely wrapped in barbed wire and proceeds to brawl with Boulder all over the arena. Boulder, lacking the standard technical wrestling skills, is forced to attack with punches, ax-handle smashes, chair shots, use of sheet metal, and generally doesn’t look like he knows what the hell he’s doing. An extremely sluggish match; all the bloodshed seems a tremendous waste. Two stars.


5/10 : Some graphic violence and bloodshed but not nearly the most horrific extreme wrestling disc out there.


5/10 : A few instances of harsh, four-letter profanity in the subtitles. Also, there’s plenty of trash talk and crude humor.


0/10 : Bleeding, screaming females rolling in barbed wire. Not doin it.


6/10 : Japanese garbage wrestling, only more tame (and maybe more sloppy) than usual.


Mike Awesome Logic: “Leatherface – there’s only one thing standing between you…me…and that championship belt. And that’s you brother!”

FMW Intro Video!

FMW: CRASH ‘N’ BURN Renews the Focus on Actual Wrestling

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING : CRASH ‘n’ BURN

(3.5/5)

Pros: Mike Awesome “wanting the belt and wanting it bad;” good wrestling matches

Cons: Continues with focus on juvenile humor; truncated matches are annoying

Third volume in TokyoPop’s series of releases focusing on the Japanese Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) promotion, Crash ‘n’ Burn features a selection of matches from August and September of 1995. Since this volume seems to include several matches in their unedited entirety (as opposed to previous FMW video volumes that truncated most of the featured bouts to a sometimes ridiculous extent), Crash ‘n’ Burn could probably be counted as an improvement over the first two volumes in this video series. It’s also perhaps the volume that focused the most on technical wrestling – FMW as a promotion was known for its “garbage wrestling” style of no-holds barred matches that allowed for the use of weapons and crazy stipulations. That said, there were some highly-skilled technicians who spent time in the organization and, much like the American Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion, FMW could put on stellar pure wrestling contests the likes of which simply wouldn’t be seen in the (then) World Wrestling Federation at the time.

While this may be one of the best of the first half dozen or so FMW DVDs, Crash ‘n’ Burn also suffers from the same tendency of the earlier volumes to focus on absurd adolescent humor and goofy match commentary. I’m not quite sure what the idea behind this “humorous approach” was (if the writing staff here are trying to compete with Insane Clown Posse’s hilariously profane and unbelievably violent Strangle-Mania bootlegs that surfaced in the 1990s, they’re failing miserably), but with commentators John Watanabe and Eric Geller calling the shots, TokyoPop’s FMW series comes across like wrestling for morons. Considering that when this video was released in the year 2000, compilations of Japanese wrestling were very hard to come by in the US, it’s a shame that these DVDs are all but ruined by the asinine commentary written by what may as well have been a trio of fourteen-year-olds who broke into their parent’s liquor stash. Does anyone watching this video really need nonsensical, make believe backstories for every wrestler as well as crude potty humor interjected whenever possible?

If a viewer can stomach the “humor,” what he gets here is eight matches worth of action, about half of which are shown more or less in their entirety. Truncating wrestling matches into condensed “highlights” further ruins these DVDs, but the really solid bouts on this volume are apparently seen straight through. I guess the audience for this series just has to appreciate the small victories…

Here’s the match rundown and descriptions:

1. Mr. Pogo vs. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga – A no rope, barbed wire, fire match in which two sides of the ring have barbed wire instead of ring ropes and the other two sides are open, with flaming torches lining the ringside area. As might be suggested by the description, this is about the epitome of the so-called “Danger Match,” fought between two death match legends. Pogo, per usual, seems to take a minimal number of bumps himself, content to use a steak knife to carve up Matsunaga’s head, at one point fish-hooking the blade into his opponent’s open mouth. The match really gets serious when Pogo grabs one of the flaming torches and proceeds to singe Matsunaga’s bare back. Matsunaga has to have about the biggest balls of any Japanese wrestler I can think of – here, he’s in a match with open flames while wearing no shirt for much of the contest. In any case, this opening match is presented in highlight form only, which doesn’t for me really indicate how good the contest was. It’s something to see for sure, but I’m giving it a two and a half (out of a possible five) star rating.

2. Masato Tanaka vs. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome – These two had some wars in the late 1990s in Philadelphia-based ECW; this is one of their earlier matches, in which the American Awesome basically dismantles Tanaka by utilizing his patented rough-and-tumble power moves. Tanaka falls victim to various suplexes, a nasty back drop, and the huge, top rope frog splash while only putting up sporadic and almost pesky offense of his own. Check out the suplex from the top rope that’s pretty crazy considering the size of these two guys. While he was arguably one of the best wrestlers in FMW, Tanaka doesn’t fare very well on Crash ‘n’ Burn as a whole; this volume is a pretty lousy representation of his skill level. Middle of the road; two and a half stars.

3. Hayabusa vs. Yukihiro “WING” Kanemura – A hard-fought contest between two homegrown stars, this almost has the feel of a grudge match, as Kanemura has a rip-roaring start. After plenty of outside-the-ring action in which perennial fan-favorite Hayabusa is driven through a table and beaten down with chair shots, he finally gets some momentum of his own going, delivering somersault splashes and flashy moves from the top rope. Kanemura was more known for being a heavy bleeder and for his willingness to get extreme in violent stipulations matches than for his actual wrestling ability, but he does a good job here of making this contest exciting without resorting to outrageous violence. A solid, three and a half star match.

4. Super Leather vs. Masato Tanaka – Remember when I said earlier that this DVD was one of the worst representations of Tanaka’s skill that one would be able to find? Here perhaps is one of his worst matches. To be honest, the fact that this twelve minute or so match is condensed down to about five or less doesn’t do either man’s performance justice; it’s extremely hard to understand where the match is headed based solely on the edited highlights seen here. Having said that though, it almost seems like this was a jobber match for Tanaka, who takes a shellacking from a wrestler in Super Leather (or Leatherface) who didn’t have a whole lot of discernible skill in the ring. Highlight of the match: Tanaka gets buried under dozens of chairs, after which point Super Leather does a running splash onto the mess. That’s as good as it gets…yikes! One star.

5. Shark Tsuchiya and Miwa Sato vs. Chigusa “Mad Dog” Nagayo and Chikayo Nagashima – Very typical, rowdy Japanese women’s tag team match, with Nagayo and relative newcomer Nagashima (who looks very undersized and puny) taking on the FMW’s definitive women’s villain team. Lots of outside interference from “Bad Nurse” Nakamura; Nagashima (in the manner of a Mikey Whipwreck type persona) takes the brunt of the punishment during the match without mounting any serious offense of her own. A viewer is left waiting for the moment when Nagayo will get the “hot tag” and come storming into the ring to clean house. Action spills all over the arena, and various weapons are introduced into the contest: these women can lay down and take a beating that’s for sure. Not a classic by any stretch, but fairly fun and exciting. I’d give it three stars.

6. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga vs. Kintaro “WING” Kanemura – A barbed wire death bed, barbed wire baseball bat match, with two wrestlers highly experienced in stipulation matches going at it. Matsunaga actually doesn’t wind up getting the worst of this match, since Kanemura takes some pretty nasty bumps into the barbed wire and bleeds like a faucet throughout much of the contest. In many ways, this match is the epitome of FMW style “garbage wrestling,” but will anyone really care? It’s violent sure, but there seems to be little point to it. The match builds to nowhere. Two stars.

7. Hayabusa vs. Hisakatsu Oya – After a spotty lineup of fights leading up to this point, we finally finish off Crash ‘n’ Burn with a pair of very decent, exciting matches featuring excellent ring psychology and impressive technical wrestling. This fight between the high-flyer Hayabusa and quintessential rugged grappler Oya (a quarterfinal match in the FMW Grand Slam Tournament) relies quite heavily on submission-style grappling early on; it’s a testament to the skills of the fighters that the match never gets boring despite the action taking place largely on the ground. Later in the fight, the action starts to open up a bit, and these two exchange power moves; Hayabusa at one point vaults out of the ring and catches Oya on the outside with a moonsault – impressive stuff. The ending of this match makes quite a statement, even if it doesn’t finish in the way many people might expect. I’d call this a near-classic and a big improvement over the typical FMW match. Four and a half stars.

8. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome vs. Hayabusa – Obviously, the biggest feud that was going on in FMW circa 1995-’96 was this one, and these guys had some wars during that time. Like the match immediately before it, this fight (semifinal in the Grand Slam Tournament) is more a scientific wrestling match to start, before these two really get to unload later on. Awesome really tries to exaggerate the damage he’s doing to Hayabusa’s arm, manhandling the Japanese fighter and eventually performing a pretty insane plancha from inside the ring onto a prone Hayabusa who’s staggering around ringside. The sheer size of Awesome creates some dangerous moments, including a rather precarious moment where he attempts a top-rope suplex. Hayabusa gets to show off his usual array of Mexican style lucha libre moves, and despite a somewhat sloppy, hasty-seeming ending, I’d call this another decent match. Four stars.

Perhaps one of the best things about these first couple of FMW DVDs is that they nicely highlight some of the ongoing feuds that existed in the promotion during the mid 1990s, namely the bloody death match wars fought between Mr. Pogo and Matsunaga and the battle for FMW supremacy between Mike “Gladiator” Awesome and Hayabusa. Many of the fighters featured on these DVDs played a pretty significant role in the ongoing history of the now-defunct promotion, and would continue to be seen in the remaining volumes of this video series.

In the end, while there is some good action on FMW: Crash ‘n’ Burn, it’s only a slightly above average wrestling program, hindered by the amateurish and infantile TokyoPop commentating and match introductions and by the fact that the DVD producers continue to edit the hell out of many of the matches. It’s strange to say, but the true highlights of this two-hour program aren’t the gory death matches, but rather the purely technical battles that showcase the level of pure grappling ability some of these fighters possess. This goes to show that, while graphic violence may attract attention, no wrestling promotion is really going to succeed unless in some capacity, it can put on a sound technical matchup.


From TokyoPop, the “Uncensored Version” of this program is full-frame (transfered from VHS originals), with English or Japanese language audio options (optional Spanish subtitles). The same selection of DVD extras appear here as on other FMW DVDs (short Hayabusa profile, text-based wrestler biographies, text history of the FMW promotion), and there is a (waste of a) bonus match:
Mr. Pogo and Mike “Gladiator” Awesome vs. “Bad Boy” Hido and Super Leather – OK, so here’s a twelve minute match that’s been edited down to a whole two and a half minutes. Why bother even explaining anything about the match? WHO EVEN KNOWS WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. At one point, Awesome gets dumped off a balcony, while Hido gets assaulted with various ninja weapons. About the worst of the worst due to the editing. Zero stars.


6/10 : Extremely graphic violence and bloodshed occurring in some of the matches, but the focus of this program actually is more squarely on straight-up wrestling.


5/10 : Several f-bombs in the subtitled dialogue; a few other curse words and quite a bit of crude and sexual humor in the English-language commentary


0/10 : Though the women wrestlers wear semi-transparent, tight-fitting spandex, just say no.


7/10 : Though this compilation contains more straight-up wrestling than some other FMW DVDs, it also has a fire death match. What more can be said.


“She’s got it all, she’s the complete package…and she’s quite a looker. I’m not embarrassed to say I like what she’s got…” Insightful commentary if I’ve ever heard it.

Some of Matsunaga’s wildest moments (NSFW – Violence!):