Go in undercover. Come out underground.
Back of DVD:
When hard-boiled agent Nick Adams (David Bradley Cyborg Cop, American Ninja V) loses his partner in an undercover prison operation gone bad, he swears to infiltrate the prison and find the killer. With only his martial arts skills to protect him against Warden Pike (Charles Napier - The Manchurian Candidate, Extreme Honor) and his brutal goons, Nick must fight to stay alive and find justice for his friend. As he gets closer and closer to revealing the truth, he is thwarted at every turn and soon he finds himself held prisoner, stripped of his authority and freedom. Now there is only one way out -escape.
Hard Justice is a pretty damn fine take on the prison action movie, along the same lines as Jean-Claude Van Damme's Death Warrant, though like all good 80's action movies (or 90's action movies trying to be an 80's action movie), we start with a shootout at an illegal weapons bust. A helicopter flies over the cityscape as the movie's logo HARD JUSTICE clangs into place, almost identical to the opening of Die Hard with a Vengeance. Outside a warehouse a black car pulls up and the occupants get out, carrying a suitcase.
Inside the warehouse a Japanese guy with slicked back hair wearing a suit (Yuji Okumoto as Jimmy Wong in an obvious gangster getup) waits to complete a weapons trade. Suddenly, David Bradley bursts through the roof dangling from a rope from the helicopter and demands answers from Wong along the lines of who his supplier is etc. Not one to give in easy, Wong and his associates fire their illegally acquired machine guns at Bradley. There is some awesome slow motion jumps through the air to avoid exploding grenades and some guns akimbo with pistols, but the highlight is Bradley laying sideways on a moving conveyer belt taking out fools with a shotgun as he glides along!
Having taken out everyone in the room (he thinks), Bradley takes the time to survey the damage atop the roof of a car. Jimmy not dead yet hurls a grenade at the car. Bradley in an "oh shit" moment runs (again in slow motion) along a line of carefully arranged car tops as the cars explode in sequence behind him! Wong then tips a fuel barrel over, lights it and runs. Bradley notices, has another "oh shit" moment and (yet again) slow motion jumps from a window as the building explodes. Pure gold. Wong manages to get a female hostage and taunts Bradley at gunpoint. Wong orders Bradley to drop his weapon, which he does, but turns around first and balances it on his foot. At the right moment he flicks around, kicking the pistol back into his hands and fires hitting Wong - but Wong had already dropped a grenade and the hostage is killed. This becomes relevant at the films climax.
That was one sweet opening. So much action it was almost exhausting, but that would be lame so I'll just say it was awesome. Bradley goes home on his motorbike to his wife who says that his best friend and colleague on the force Mani was killed in prison whilst undercover. When he goes see the body Bradley gets all emotional and demands an autopsy, even though the guy was killed by 37 stab wounds. He also wants on the case, but he wants to also go undercover to the prison and completely off the radar.
It's all pretty standard prison fare from here. Bradley is lined up with the other new convicts and is introduced to the warden (Charles Napier) and his second in charge, Mr. Riggs, with his nightstick "The ugly stick". As soon as he enters his cell, Bradley has a fight with his room mate Mr. Clean (ironic because, like, he's really messy) over the bunk. He pulls out his American Ninja and American Samurai skills and kick-boxes the bald behemoth to the head asserting himself as the alpha male (grunt) but not after taking a smack into the steel bed frame (ouch). The two decide they are mutually awesome and become friends. Bradley saves Mr. Clean from being shivved on the way to breakfast, but he still gets picked on by the regular Asian duo of thugs, Lee and Chow. Bradley has a bit of a smack-down with them but Mr. Riggs intervenes with his Ugly Stick.
I've actually not seen JCVD's Death Warrant yet, it's been on my 'to watch' list for ages, but I've read that Hard Justice is quite similar to it - JCVD being an undercover cop trying to solve a mystery inside the prison - to the point of being a remake. There are also parallels to Sylvester Stallone's Lock Up, a movie I have seen; a corrupt warden, the alternating friendly inmates and thug inmates, lunchroom beatings, the prison snitch getting killed etc. There is a hilarious fight scene between Bradley and the brothers Lee and Chow. Bradley is trying to get on with his laundry room duties when the two start picking a fight. After a few rounds of fisticuffs Bradley throws the two into the washer and turns it on with the line - wait for it - "Clean up your act." Brilliant!
With the help of Mr. Clean, Bradley tries to get information on the murder of his colleague and goes to see the resident knowledge-base, Galaxy 500. It's never explained how he got such a ridiculous name but he does have a ridiculous attitude, probably due to his ridiculous name. He reveals that Mani wasn't killed by another inmate, but he was killed for knowing too much about a weapons deal happening within the prison walls. Mr. Riggs pays off some inmates to mess up Bradley and Mr. Clean's room which leads to some babbly emotional conversation between the two, but before they can get the tissues out a new arrival is admitted to the prison - Jimmy Wong. Knowing he is in too deep and his cover will be blown, Bradley pleads with the warden that he is actually an undercover cop but it falls on deaf ears. Well, not deaf ears really, corrupt ears. The warden sends in Wong and his mates to thrash Bradley in the shower in an honestly unfair towel vs. chain fight.
The quality of the acting is pretty good all around with David Bradley being the only minor let down, but he makes up for it with his fighting skills. I've seen him described as the poor mans Steven Seagal but he really is more of a JCVD to my eyes. It all culminates with a prison riot and escape as you would expect, with even the warden getting in on the guns akimbo: "I WILL HAVE ORDER!". Plenty of explosions and Bradley gets another shot at Jimmy Wong in a hostage scenario.
Special mention has to be given to Professor Toru Tanaka - you will recognise him as 'that guy' from a many 80's action movie, especially Subzero from The Running Man - who briefly makes an appearance as "Cookie", another thug of Lee and Chow's. The guy stands there in the lunch hall looking ominous and Bradley gives him a single punch to the chest. With a creaking sound of a tree falling, Cookie hits the deck to thunderous applause from the other inmates. Champagne comedy!
The video for this is pretty average at best and really shouldn't be. I have seen other reviews with better screenshots than mine. The Reel/Ninth Dimension R4 release looks polished from the cover presentation but the movie itself is washed out and abundant in greys instead of blacks. There is even some macro-blocking in fast scenes. Worse still is I find out afterwards that the movie was shot in widescreen and the R1 DVD put out by Image Entertainment is 16:9 enhanced. I still enjoyed the movie but the presentation left a lot to be desired.
Couldn't find the trailer anywhere, so here is a montage of David Bradley's kill-count in Hard Justice!