In the singular world of “Six-String Samurai,” the Russkies dropped the bomb in 1957 and amid the devastation Elvis was made king. Four decades later, Elvis has left the building … permanently. A rock ‘n’ roll “Mad Max” served up Cantonese style, this is one wildly original and highly entertaining American indie with genuine commercial appeal. This samurai cuts a mean figure, with fierce theatrical crossover potential and boffo prospects in ancillaries.
The protagonist, Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon), is one of many aspirants for the vacated throne. From somewhere in the barren, dusty Southwest, he’s making the trek to Las Vegas, where there will be a showdown between warrior-musicians to see who will be worthy of wearing the crown and cape.
Debuting feature filmmaker Lance Mungia wastes no time in giving the title character a mythic-heroic quality. In the opening sequence, a group of barbarians are pursuing a young boy and, seemingly from out of nowhere, the title character, in a tuxedo that’s seen better days, unsheathes his blade and dispenses justice in slo-mo. When the dust clears, he’s the last man standing, ready to take on a new challenge once he has pushed his horn-rims up the bridge of his nose.
What this latter-day Man With No Name hadn’t reckoned on was inheriting a 7-year-old as a traveling companion. The Kid (Justin McQuire) simply can’t be dissuaded, and Buddy has too big a heart to abandon him, though he’ll be damned if he shows the slightest bit of affection.
The journey to neo-Oz is littered with perils that range from malevolent ex-bowlers to the last vestiges of the Soviet military force. But the most lethal challenge comes from Death (Stephane Gauger), a dark presence in a black top hat with a trio of archers as side men. The chess game he plays with Buddy doesn’t allow for a single false move.
What’s initially striking about “Six-String Samurai” is its energy and zeal. Mungia and actor/co-scripter Falcon are obviously aficionados of action genres, especially swordsman classics from Asia. But this is no slavish homage. The barren locations and rock ‘n’ roll theme, along with the numerous nods to bygone films, meld into a unique vision of the millennium that’s exhilarating in its momentum and accomplished in its execution.
The new mythology is rife with oddball creatures, such as the Windmill People and the Spinach Monster, and a wicked sense of humor. Somehow Buddy’s ability to dispatch 100 men with only a sword, guitar and his wiles is accomplished with a deft combination of montage and tongue-in-cheek attitude that never talks down to the audience.
Falcon — also credited with the pic’s costume and production design — bears an eerie resemblance to Buddy Holly, and that seemingly benign demeanor provides a stark contrast to his warrior’s heart. The role is virtually all physicality, but when called upon to emote, there’s not a trace of wood in his performance. As his pint-size sidekick, McQuire is a tad grating, but not to the point of sinking the piece.
Mungia’s command of the medium is startling for a tyro talent. The pic has exquisite panoramic vistas shot by Kristian Bernier and adroit cutting by James Frisa. There’s also an exceptionally compelling original score by Brian Tyler. Throughout, the sense of a guiding sensibility is apparent, and Mungia’s ability to marshal limited resources and imbue them with a quality sheen is extraordinary. “Six-String Samurai” has a lot of pluck.