Prey of the Jaguar (1996)

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In the awakening of American B-martial arts films comes Prey of the Jaguar, a story of revenge when an ex-cop seeks revenge against the drug lord responsible for his family’s murder by disguising himself as a martial arts warrior based off his late son’s drawings. Very low budgeted, the cast of the film includes the likes of Maxwell Caulfield, Stacy Keach, Linda Blair, and the late Trevor Goddard.

Derek Leigh is a former police officer who has helped the government nab reputed drug king Damian Bandera. When Bandera escapes from prison with the help of a gang led by his number one man Tanaka, Bandera has only one agenda on his mind: find Leigh and kill him and his family. Leigh, who has since joined the witness protection program with the alias Jason Shepperd, learns that Bandera has escaped. When he is confronted by Bandera, Leigh is apparently shot and killed. However, he does escape, but it proves too late for his pregnant wife and son.

Deciding to get revenge, he attempts to go to the old government agency who helped him. However, they prove to be no help as according to their records, Bandera is dead. With the help of a weapons expert and the training of martial arts master Yee, Leigh prepares his journey to exact revenge on Bandera. However, he will not be able to do it as himself.

This is where the film goes crazy. Finding his late son’s sketchbook, Leigh comes across a drawing of a superhero his son created. The superhero is called “The Jaguar” and he uses martial arts to fight off his opponents as well as use conventional methods. Derek decides to bring his son’s creation to life and lo and behold, Derek becomes The Jaguar.

Before I go any further, I will have to warn you that once you see The Jaguar, you will laugh. Those expecting some sort of costume similar to the likes of pro wrestling legend Tiger Mask (which would have been more appropriate considering the title), will be disappointed. However, if you are a fan of 80’s sci-fi cartoons like Mighty Orbots or even The Galaxy Rangers, then you will like the costume. As a matter of fact, the Jaguar outfit looks like a cross between Robocop and Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandos.

The film is your typical American B-movie martial arts film that stands below the likes of Roger Corman’s famous Bloodfist series and the likes of the PM Entertainment films that starred the likes of Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Worth, and Gary Daniels. The problem doesn’t exactly lie in the cast as Maxwell Caulfield is somewhat believable as the vengeance seeking Jaguar. With a background in dance, appearing in Grease 2 and Empire Records, he was able to withstand some of the martial arts training necessary for the role.

The late Trevor Goddard, who only a year prior to this film, got a breakthrough role as Kano in the live action adaptation of the video game Mortal Kombat, is quite impressive as villain Bandera. It must be his Australian accent. Despite all his goons, the one that stands out is number one man Tanaka, played by Chinese-American Steven Vincent Leigh. Leigh in his own was a martial artist who appeared primarily in PM Entertainment films such as Ring of Fire (with Don “The Dragon” Wilson), Deadly Bet (with Jeff Wincott), and Sword of Honor (his only lead role with Sophia Crawford). Veterans Stacy Keach and Linda Blair are support as Leigh’s former commander and a cop who is very suspicious when it comes to the Jaguar’s plans.

Another stand out is John Fujioka, who many will remember as the mentor of Michael Dudikoff’s titular character of the American Ninja. He plays Master Yee, a martial arts master who becomes Leigh’s martial arts teacher and in a way a father figure, much like he was to Dudikoff in American Ninja. He was almost unrecognizable without his trademark moustache, but the brand of role he plays is easy to point out.

Rudolf Weber was listed as the stunt co-ordinator of the film, which means he choreographed the film’s fight sequences. Here in lies a major problem. Steven Leigh is obviously the best martial artist in the entire cast and he tends to only show his skills twice and what should have been a good fight against Jaguar goes to waste. As for Maxwell Caulfield, his dance background enabled him to give martial arts a shot. What is really interesting (and not in the best way) is that as Jaguar, his kicks look pretty atrocious. It must be the constriction of the costume. However, when he fights in plain clothes, he looks a lot better in terms of martial arts.

If you are in the mood for a cheesy American martial arts film, you could do worse than this film. You will just end up laughing at the Jaguar’s costume and some pretty ridiculous fight scenes at times. But it’s a fun way to spend a night with the guys after having a few beers and ready to watch some “cheese”.

WFG RATING: C-

A Hit Entertainment production of a JFW Productions film. Director: David DeCoteau. Producer: Brian Shuster. Writers: Rory Johnston, Bud Robertson, and Nick Spagnoli. Cinematography: Howard Wexler. Editing: William Marrinson.

Cast: Maxwell Caulfield, Stacy Keach, Linda Blair, Trevor Goddard, Paul Regina, Paul Bartel, Tom Badal, Fiona Hutchinson, Steven Vincent Leigh, John Fujioka, Vincent Klyn, Devon Michael.

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