A peppy, neatly plotted and consistently watchable cross-cultural martial arts romp that borrows as much as it invents, “Samourai” is a hybrid entertainment that provides more youth-o-centric bang for the buck than several similar Gallic ventures that have been major hits, such as “Yamakasi” and “Wasabi.” Pic, packaged by the young producers behind Francois Ozon’s “8 Women,” barely made a dent in the local box office after opening in mid-June, perhaps due to lack of star power, but warrants a second look if only as a thematic oddity.
Straddling ancient Japan and contempo Paris, fantastical story concerns a centuries-old demon who, having navigated from the Land of the Rising Sun to the realm of the rising euro, uses the proceeds from popular vidgames to finance his evil empire. Meanwhile, he aims his “Rosemary’s Baby”-like moves at the daughter of a high-ranking Tokyo cop, so she can give birth to his new incarnation.
The fate of the French- and Japanese-speaking free world is in the unsuspecting hands of a hunky young French guy, his little brother and an annoying sidekick. Handsome pecs and abs, nifty fight choreography courtesy of Hong Kong ace Philip Kwok and decent f/x work are just some of the guilty pleasures on display.
In a cool pre-credits sequence set in feudal Japan, an ultra-pregnant lass is pursued through the woods by armed men, but manages to gives birth to Kodeni (Santi Sudaros), a human-looking demon with the outline of a giant spider bulging beneath his shaved skull.
In present-day Japan, a young vidgame engineer is chased to a fiery death by the disciples of Kodeni. Now wizened, and head of a computer software empire, he’s still a cinch to spot thanks to that giant spider outline bulging under his scalp. The offed engineer had perfected a microchip which, disguised as an ear ornament, survives as evidence for Tokyo police commissioner Fujiwara (vet thesp Yasuaki Kurata).
When Kodeni’s earthly body implodes after a police interrogation, Fujiwara is visited by an ancient warrior from pic’s opening chase who warns that the demon will be reborn from the loins of Fujiwara’s daughter, Akemi (Mai Anh Le) — who’s been studying in Paris for two years. If he doesn’t hurry to Paris to kill her and her demonic fetus with a ritual sword, the world will never be the same.
Meanwhile, in the French capital, Akemi is befriended by handsome, muscular projects-dweller Marco (seriously cute Cyril Mourali) and his bumbling Arab buddy, Nader (Said Serrari).
Fujiwara’s arrival, a new vidgame release, the special chip, the gestating demon and lots of martial arts moves, swordplay and gunplay are played straight in the best B-movie kung-fu tradition and interwoven with just enough quasi-plausibility to fly. Rock-’em, sock-’em finale unwittingly steered by youngsters from a game console is lots of fun.
Pic’s message — that intercultural cooperation rocks and eternal evil sucks — can’t be faulted. Pounding score is as slick as the visuals.