East L.A. Warriors

Director: Addison Randall  
Tony Bravo, Kamar De Los Reyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs

There are a lot of places in this world of ours that I would like to visit before I die. One place I haven't visited yet, but would really like to, is Los Angeles. There are a lot of things I would like to experience in a visit to Los Angeles. The first thing I would do right after I got off the plane would be to head to Disney. No, not Disneyland, but to the Disney headquarters, where I would stand right in front of their gates and yell to the corporate heads with a bullhorn, "Why did Pinocchio die in the climax of Pinocchio? He couldn't have drowned, because he was seen earlier walking around in the bottom of the ocean unharmed! And he couldn't have been killed by being dashed against the rocks on the shore, because he was made of wood and not flesh!" Seriously though, I would probably head to a number of the places in Los Angeles that tourists frequent, like Disneyland or Universal Studios. But being a fan of the road less travelled - which you've probably guessed with my reviewing of unknown movies - I would like to visit less tourist-oriented parts of Los Angeles. However, there are some parts of Los Angeles I would avoid, and that's because of the various gangs in the Los Angeles area. After seeing so many television shows and movies concerning the various acts of violence that come from the gang culture of Los Angeles, I know full well that if I were to step into one of those gang infested neighborhoods, I would quickly become dead meat. I would love to tell the gangs about the joys of unknown movies, but I don't think they would be very receptive to my tales.

Although I have a fear of the gangs of Los Angeles, and I hope I never cross paths with any of them in my lifetime, I have to admit that I've had a certain fascination with them. I've learned many interesting things about them over the years, such as the fact that gang culture in Los Angeles is older than you probably think - the first gangs of Los Angeles started in the 1920s, and the kinds of Los Angeles gangs we are most familiar with (such as the Bloods and the Crips) didn't start until many decades later. In my research of gangs over the years, there has always been a question in the back of my mind: Why would anyone join an organization that seems to inevitably lead to prison or death? I've come across several answers during that same amount of time. One of the most interesting was a quote from actor Danny Trejo (Point Blank), who had numerous brushes with the law as a youth. He said, "I honestly believe that circumstances create destiny, sort of. There weren't too many ways I could have done things. The only things that were available to me were either be a laborer or be a drug dealer. So I became an armed robber. It was a lot simpler." With this in mind, it's easy to see why many youths in Los Angeles join gangs - they also don't have that many options, being stuck in a life of poverty and few to none resources out there that could improve their lifestyles. But there are other obvious reasons why many youths join gangs. Another factor is the need of belonging to something, to be valued by other people. Gangs offer a kind of "family" to many youths, and an environment that makes its members feel wanted and accepted.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had been born in one of the many gang areas of Los Angeles. Possibly I would have been rejected by the gangs for being too much of a wimp, but you never know. Anyway, since I first learned about Los Angeles gangs as a youth, I have always been interested in this culture. When I've had the opportunity to watch a movie East L.A. Warriorsabout gangs, I've taken it, so it should probably come as no surprise that the movie East L.A. Warriors interested me. Actually, I wasn't expecting it to be a serious look at gangs, because it was a PM Entertainment movie - and as good as PM Entertainment movies can be, they are not exactly areas of serious social examination. And while one of the movie's biggest stars, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, previously played a gang member, it was as a member of The Sweathogs in the comedy TV show Welcome Back Kotter. Still, I felt before watching that even if the movie didn't have a serious attitude towards gang culture, it could still be entertaining. As you've probably guessed, the movie takes place in East Los Angeles, in gang territory. Two gangs in the territory, the black gang The Boppers and the Latino gang Los Lobos, are feuding, which results in numerous strikes against each other, like drive-by shootings. But once a year for the past few years, a new option has arisen for gangs wanting to settle feuds, and that is with something called "the games". At these games, any gang member with a personal beef against a person from a rival gang can engage in hand-to-hand combat with the other gang member. It appears to be a way to keep violence off the streets, but the mysterious figure who runs the games - a fellow by the name of Chesare (Hilton-Jacobs, Chance) - is actually a drug lord whose motive behind holding the games is to weaken the ranks of the various gangs so he can increase his power over the gangs as well as expand his drug empire. Meanwhile, a member of the L.A.P.D. (James Dalesandro) is determined to bring Chesare down, and thinks he has found his man with reformed gang member Aurelio (Bravo). Aurelio agrees to help, but soon he concentrates on training wannabe gang member Paulo (Reyes, One Live To Live) in the art of hand to hand combat, so he can enter the games and possibly aid in finding a way to stop Chesare.

As you can probably see from that detailed plot description, the reality that is presented in East L.A. Warriors is kind of hard to swallow. From what I've seen in real life, people who are in gangs may be criminals but are not incredibly stupid. It is kind of hard to believe that various gangs could all be duped to kill each other in an environment controlled by another power - gangs follow their own rules and codes, and don't listen to outside forces. There is also the question as to why the police in the movie are unable to track down the games (except at the very end, when they come out of nowhere) when Chesare holds them not in some inconspicuous location, but a public boxing ring that holds seats for a significant number of spectators (though the attending gang members, for some reason, stay crowded around the edge of the ring instead of taking a seat.) But the world that is presented in this movie has a lot more questionable things than just the idea of the games. For example, take the parts of the movie concerning the master/student relationship of Aurelio and Paulo. The movie starts off by evolving the relationship in a way we've seen in countless other movies before (Aurelio at first refuses to train Paulo, Paulo is persistent, Aurelio is eventually convinced etc. etc.) Then later in the movie (SPOILERS AHEAD) Paulo's mother sees Paulo with Aurelio and is upset, because Aurelio killed Paulo's father years before. None of that rings true. Why hadn't Paulo been told years earlier by his mother that his father had been killed by a man who is still living in the neighborhood?

To make matters worse, you might think that Paulo would be upset by this news and break off his training with Aurelio. But guess what - nothing like this happens. Paulo simply continues his training and the entire incident is essentially forgotten by all the characters from that point on. Believe me, the movie is filled with a lot more elements that simply don't ring true. There are high ranking policemen who haven't shaved for several days, characters who repeat what they've said in Spanish in English immediately afterwards, and flashbacks to incidents years earlier where the characters look exactly the same age as they do in the present day. Also, various rooms have minimal furnishing (if any at all), and some of the characters seem to have a lack of clothing in their wardrobes, because they are seen wearing the same outfits day after day. Of course, I know the real reason why the movie's wardrobe has such a lack of variety - East L.A. Warriors had a very limited budget. And because the budget was apparently so low, the shoddiness of the entire enterprise is staggering at times. I don't blame the filmmakers for the absolutely terrible transfer found on the movie's DVD release, which at times make you think you are watching full motion video via the CD-ROM add-on you had for your Sega Genesis game system. But even if the transfer had been better, the movie's amateur production values would still stick out like a sore thumb. Like many other PM Entertainment productions of the time, the colors are washed out, the audio is poorly recorded, and sometimes background noise makes other instances of dialogue hard to make out.

Does East L.A. Warriors have any saving graces, or even the occasional decent bit? Looking back at the notes I took while watching the movie, I can't see a single positive thing. Unless you can count the bouts of unintended laughter I had whenever Hilton-Jacobs opened his mouth and spoke with a very unconvincing Caribbean accent. Why this accent was thought to be necessary is never answered, since this character's background is never otherwise brought up at any time. The rest of the performers in the movie don't suffer his embarrassment, but that's not to say they are any good at all - it's strictly amateur night. (By the way, prominently billed William Smith (Seven) shows up in a couple of scenes, but even when combined his footage still runs for less than a minute of screen time.) Surely, you might be thinking, that at the very least the movie delivers some decent gratuitous action - after all, this is a PM Entertainment movie we are talking about, and the events of the movie all center around "the games". But believe it or not, there is almost no action to be found despite the movie having the word "warriors" in its title. For the first hour and a quarter, the only action that is displayed is a few fisticuffs that each only last a few seconds, and have been given choreography and editing that is really underwhelming. Then when the movie gets to the games, guess how long they last? I'll tell you - less than ten minutes! I don't think I have to add the fact that the fights in this part of the movie are definitely not worth the wait. By now you should understand why I thought East L.A. Warriors was a complete waste of time, and why I'm utterly amazed that a studio that struck so low on efforts like this in its infancy could pick itself up and work its way to become the kings of action years later.

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See also: Hot Boyz, The Third Society, 3:15