Naika Talks TIME FORCE: The Show That Brought Me Back to Power Rangers

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It was in 2001 when I first ran into Time Force on a Saturday morning.  As some of you may know, I was a big devotee of the Power Rangers during the Saban / Fox Kids days but veered off of it after the amazing end of Lost Galaxy.  The time travel aspect seemed a bit weird to me and, frankly, I didn’t bite.  Fast forward 14 years later in 2015, where I found myself not only watching Linkara’s History of Power Rangers to kill time, but returning to where I left off in my fandom of the show.  That’s right peeps, I finally saw Time Force and I LOVED IT.  Everything about the show was so fun yet fresh, while still retaining that campy attitude that made MMPR so lovable at the time.  Looking back, I can safely say that thanks to Time Force, I’m finally back to being a Power Rangers fan.

14 years is a long time, and much has happened to me in my life.  When I finally sat down to watch Time Force, the first thing I thought to myself was “Jesus, I should’ve watched this back in the day!”  However, if I did, I probably wouldn’t have been that productive during my college days.  Besides, try telling a girl in college that you still watch the Power Rangers at that time and I’m SURE you would’ve been laughed off the park.  Anyways, what I SHOULD say is that my regret for not watching Time Force came much earlier as I watched Linkara’s review of it.  Oddly enough, it didn’t spoil anything for me.  Instead, it primed me for the awesomeness that would come when I finally saw Wes and the gang in action against the madness of Ransik.  Full of awesome action and a decent story (for a PR show), Time Force not only helped me rediscover my love for the PR franchise, but it was a way for me to pass the time while living alone.  My girlfriend at the time (now wife) had to relocate for her Ph.D., and it would take me almost 10 months to reunite with her.  It wasn’t easy living for either of us at that time, but we made it work.  Looking back now, rediscovering the Rangers really did cheer me up because living without your girl is utter hell.

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What I love the most about Time Force is how much of a goofy family the team is, and how important the idea of togetherness is to the group.  In many ways, Jen, Lucas, Trip, Katie, Wes and Circuit are like college roommates who not only had shitty jobs, but lounged around on their free time, ate tons of junk food, lived in a drafty apartment (clock tower), watched movies and played jokes on each other.  Mind you, this is how they are WHILE they’re catching bad guys and being Rangers.  It’s as if the Power Rangers franchise grew up with its audience, where at first, it started out as a tale about positive high-schoolers who wanted to save the world, and they would slowly mature into adults who either went off to discover new galaxies, joined a Ranger version of the National Guard or became Timecop impersonators seeking to relive their college days.  Whatever the case may be, these later seasons after Power Rangers in Space displayed a more grounded sense of friendship and togetherness under the backdrop of much darker themes, with Time Force being the best of the three.  This not only makes Time Force a perfect season for occasional binge-watching, but it’s also a great introduction to the Power Rangers Universe for new fans (i.e. My Wife).

Now, a show like this wouldn’t be what it is without the action.  The Timeranger footage first of all is amazing, so we seriously have to give it up to Toei and the JAC Stunt Crew for making the Japanese action such a thrill to see.  However, a PR show wouldn’t be what it is without Koichi Sakamoto and his stunt team for truly bringing the pain when it comes to the U.S. fight scenes.  There’s a plethora of painful falls, combos and acrobatics here in Time Force, and Koichi’s gang do their utmost to bring you explosive action from start to finish. The stunt team even have fun with themselves by filming an impressive yet hilarious homage to Jackie Chan with the fictitious “Frankie Chang.”  Although Koichi’s crew does double for the Ranger actors frequently (plenty of wigs and stuff), he does give the likes of Erin Cahill, Kevin Kleinberg, Michael Copon, Deborah Estelle Phillips, Kate Sheldon and Jason Faunt the chance to do some of their own fighting, which is always neat to see.

Eric

However, the standout stunt fighter in Time Force would have to be Dan Southworth.  The stuntman / actor did an outstanding job with his portrayal of Eric Myers, the Quantum Ranger, and took the fandom into new heights as he blurred the line between being a rival and being an absolute bad-ass.  Besides doing all of his own stunts and fight work, he’s proved himself to be one of the best actors on the show by making Eric the kind of anti-hero that hasn’t been seen on Power Rangers since the Magna Defender.  As Dan has stated in many interviews, Koichi Sakamoto had a huge hand in giving him the chance to audition for Time Force, and it’s paid off massively for both him and the Power Rangers franchise.  From the stunts to the explosions, from the fights to even Dan Southworth, Time Force wouldn’t have been as good without Koichi Sakamoto at the helm, and it shows.

Another big element that made Time Force such a hit would have to be the villains.  Without question, the tokusatsu monster designs are amazing here, but what I’m really talking about is the characterization of Ransik, Frax and NadiraVernon Wells was totally over-the-top as our main antagonist, yet he gave so much memorable depth and grayness as Ransik that you can’t help but sympathize with his lot in life.  And he had bone swords!  That is fucking COOL!!!  Nadira on the other hand can be a bit strange for a villain at first, but trust me, you’ll warm up to her eventually, especially towards the end.  In many ways, she’s like a psycho valley girl… with superpowers.  Lastly, Frax deserves special mention as a villain who’s maniacal, cunning and duplicitous.  However, as many of us know, Frax also has secrets of his own buried in the past that, in many ways, make him more man than machine. All in all, Time Force would never be what it is without villains that not only engage our heroes in equal standing, but challenge our own notions of what a villain on Power Rangers can be.

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Another element that I can’t leave out when talking about Time Force is the Zords.  They are amazing in this season, and this is especially the case for the Time Force Megazord.  It’s the first time in the series where we get to see the main megazord exhibit two separate modes of transformation which yield two different combat modes.  The Mode Blue Time Force Megazord utilizes quick moves, jump kicks and fast-paced gun-fighting to wear down opponents.  The Mode Red Time Force Megazord however is used more often and has that conventional robot look, especially since it utilizes a saber and shield.  Mode Red also has the coolest finishing move for a Zord with what I call the “Countdown Slash.”  When a mutant is hit with this, time stops, the Megazord Saber acts like a clock and once all the hands hit 12, the Rangers say “You’re Time’s UP!” This freezes our adversary down and he or she gets sent to the slammer.  Neat, huh?  Furthermore, the Time Force Megazord has a host of other robot allies, including the Time Shadow Megazord (which can combine with the Time Force Megazord to make two additional modes for the Shadow Force Megazord) and the Quantum Ranger’s awesome Q-Rex.  Now it might not sound like a lot of zords, but trust me, Time Force has got your robot fix covered!

Finally, Time Force wouldn’t be such a standout season without the amazing work of the main cast.  Each and every one of the main Rangers brings something so fresh and unique to the franchise that it begs you to wonder why they didn’t go ahead with that rumored second season.  Now, the first shout-out most definitely goes to Erin Cahill’s amazing performance as Jen Scotts.  She was the first Pink Ranger to act as a leader on Power Rangers and showed all the nerve, emotion, control and conviction to earn that title.  This is especially evident in the first few episodes because when we first meet Jen, everything comes crashing down for her after losing Alex.  However, events like this help Jen grow into a capable and empathetic Ranger who loves her team, sticks to her ideals and never gives up.  It isn’t easy being both a leader and a woman in the superhero world, but Jen shows us that vulnerabilities can lead into strengths in the most dire of circumstances, making her one of the most memorable Pink Rangers in Power Rangers history.

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Much love also goes to Katie Walker, portrayed by Deborah Estelle Phillips.  Katie in many ways is the true big sister of the group, who displays not only superhuman strength but a super gigantic heart.  Whenever she’s not clobbering Cyclobots, she’s giving emotional support to the team either through funny banter or rib-crushing bear hugs.  This makes episodes like “Future Unknown” such a treat for fans who want to see more from her.  Oh, and let’s not forget “Legend of the Clock Tower,” where she basically meets a crappy poet, beats up colonials and changes time for good (holy shit)!  As many of us know, Katie gets the least amount of development as a main Ranger, but that doesn’t diminish her standing in my book.  Like Tanya and Aisha before her, Katie goes into the history books of the PR universe as an amazing female character who can not only topple armies and save the world, but can do so with a whole lot of heart and soul.

Since Time Force is a show that involves high-tech officers from the year 3000, there’s nobody that visually embraces this notion more than Trip & Circuit.  One is a green-haired alien genius with a crazy gem that helps him see into the future, while the other is a super-duper cute baby robot owl who can summon zords.  Seriously, can you beat that?  That’s like the dynamic duo times ten!  Also, my wife LOVES Circuit, and it’s especially cute to see him interact with all the Rangers (including Katie at the end of the heartbreaking-yet-adorable-but-still-ominous “Circuit Unsure”).  Now among the Rangers, Trip is the gentle genius who’s got a heart of gold, but has a tendency to be a bit naïve with folks who will take advantage of this.  Nevertheless, I think it’s that innocence and willingness to trust in the goodness of others that makes Trip such a positive character on Time Force, especially in episodes like “Trip Takes a Stand.”  And if he’s ever in a pinch, Circuit arises from his backpack to the rescue.  Like Trip, Circuit’s very innocent, but he’s always willing to go above and beyond to help the Rangers save the day.  This obviously puts him at risk, and unfortunately, he does get abducted, tampered with, and even takes a bullet for the team.  However, that only means that Circuit is a lovable bad ass that, like Trip, can go the distance.  Remember, this is the same lovable owl that told ERIC, THE QUANTUM RANGER, to go do his fucking job during “Movie Madness” (my wife loves that scene because Circuit goes “WHOOOOAAAAH” when Eric tries to swat him off of his SUV).  Lovable to a fault, Trip & Circuit are the tech wizards of the team, but just because they’re nice doesn’t mean they can’t whoop your ass sideways.

time force trip and circuit badass

However, I seriously need to put a word in about Lucas Kendall.  There isn’t that much to Lucas since he’s either chasing girls or traffic tickets, but he’s shown to have a lot of consideration for others once he warms up to them.  Whether it was about Trip being a Xybrian on the first episode of the show, or when he’s dealing with Dr. Zaskin’s daughter in “Bodyguard in Blue,” Lucas can get pretty annoyed with others who inconvenience him.  However, that goes full 180 once both parties are put in a life-or-death situation.  Another thing you’ll notice about Lucas is that he has these suave mannerisms that he exhibits throughout the show.  These can include his obsession with hair gel, love of cars, his grin and even his tendency to straighten his hair, especially during his fight-and-chase in Part 2 of “Movie Madness.”  Hell, he even pioneered the Polaroid Selfie in “Dawn of Destiny!”  There may not be much to Lucas, but all in all, he’s cool.  Besides, how many suave, Asian, race-drivin’ time cops have you seen on TV anyways?

Lastly, we need to have a word about Jason Faunt as Wes Collins.  Despite being a clueless rich kid, Wes’ enthusiasm about being a Ranger gave him the impetus to fight for his place within the team.  Furthermore, his happy-go-lucky nature, selflessness and overall status as ‘the reluctant heir’ was a breath of fresh air for the franchise, where Red Rangers generally seem to be born leaders chosen by fate.  However, in order for Wes to have any sort of character development, he needed help, and his interactions with his Father, Eric, Dr. Zaskin and the rest of Time Force were instrumental in giving us a sense of how far he’s come since the beginning of the show.  Finally, Wes’ story can’t be complete without his tense-yet-tender relationship with Jen.  It’s clear early in the show that he simply rubs her the wrong way in almost every department, especially in terms of looks (ahem, Alex).  However, they slowly begin to trust each other like real partners would, making the last episode of Time Force such a bittersweet moment once everything is said and done.  All in all, these are the reasons why Wes is one of my favorite Red Rangers of the Saban Era.  Not only is he willing to sacrifice everything for love and friendship, but he’s a carefree and spirited guy who’d love nothing more than to do the right thing as a Power Ranger.

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Despite its inherent awesomeness, Power Rangers Time Force isn’t without its faults.  I think we can all agree that there’s some plot holes peppered throughout the show, where we’re left wanting a bit more explanation with respect to the future.  Nevertheless, the writers did an excellent job adapting Timeranger to make a show that not only stayed true (to a degree) to its source material, but added enough detail to make Time Force unique in its own way.  This season of Power Rangers is nothing like the campy high-school antics we would find in the first five seasons, but one full of consequences, loss and ultimately, separation.  However, that’s also complimented with an amazing level of mirth, camaraderie, reconciliation and forgiveness.  It’s easy to use the Angel Grove years as a way to dismiss the franchise as a whole, but take one good look at Time Force and you’ll see that it’s not only a great kids show, but an amazing landmark for the Power Ranger franchise in terms of risk-taking.  Time Force was the PR show that finally got honest with itself to make something memorable, and to this day, fans cite it as one of the best seasons of the Power Rangers Universe.  It’s the season that, in many ways, put action and characterization ahead of super powers.  It’s the season where we lose a Ranger in the FIRST EPISODE.  It’s the season where thirty / forty-somethings can ask themselves, “Was I like that in 2001?”  It’s the season where women aren’t sidelined BUT are actually leaders okay, LEADERS!  It’s the season where villains can finally find a path into redemption and yes, it’s the season where I, after 14 odd years, can finally say to myself, “I love the Power Rangers, and you know what?  That’s okay.”  Thank you Time Force.  Thank you for bringing me back to the action.

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Hungry for action? Naika Reviews “Wheels on Meals”

(From L to R) Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are ready to whip some Catalan ass in “Wheels on Meals” (1984).

By all accounts, the immigrant experience for anyone anywhere will always be a tough one.  From learning a new language to shifting towards new customs and eating habits, the road to both assimilation and success is a long and confounding one with few tangible rewards hanging at the end.  Countless stories have been told to illustrate these perils, but since this article is a film review, I am obviously obliged to say that all of these stories suck until it’s put on a reel.  With all this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that film has always been a veritable medium for expressing these harrowing journeys of migrants seeking fresh opportunities elsewhere, but none have ever seemed as entertaining as one particular venture involving three “dirty Chinamen” rampaging the streets of Barcelona in what would be one of the greatest fucking films the 80’s had ever seen, and that film is Wheels on Meals.

Set amidst a multicultural Barcelona in the early 80’s, the film draws on the ordinary exploits of two migrant cousins who run a Chinese fast food van, Thomas (played by the awesome Jackie Chan) and David (played coyly by the acrobatic Yuen Biao).  The opening scene depicts their daily routine of stretching and sparring before getting the van going for some lunch time goodness, for which the people of Barcelona seem to enjoy rather well.  However, the business is always beset by colorful delinquents, for which the two cousins are more than capable of dispatching in grand style.  It seems rather odd to find two of Hong Kong’s most well known action stars (count in director / writer / God Sammo Hung in the mix and you have three) making ends meet in Spain, but the welcome change in scenery makes the film an adventurous ride from the get go.  Sure it’s not the familiar sites of Asia, but seeing these guys wow the crowds with their stuntwork throughout Barcelona must’ve been something else.

Things start to become complicated with the inclusion of Silvia (played by the stiffy-riffic Lola Forner), a troubled pickpocket who David goes head over heels for.  She’s obviously the proverbial trouble woman for these two, even going so far as to play hooker to snatch some cash; and if that’s not all, we’ve got a bumbling private eye named Moby (played by Sammo Hung, who it seems, is make an ode to Yusaku Matsuda’s role in Tantei Monogatari) thrown into the mix too.  And with some shady noblemen and quickfooted characters in suits, the movie quickly become one memorable action romp throughout the streets of Spain.

Lola Forner is hankering for some asian dong in “Wheels on Meals” (1984).

Sammo Hung’s eye for action is really what made this film great, and if the fight sequences don’t grip you in some way, then chances are you’re a fucking asshole.  I don’t care if you’re Mother Theresa or St. Peter, but if I don’t hear a “Holy Shit” or a “How the fuck did Benny kick out those candles” from your lips then you must be some asshat that hides under a rock and watches shallow shit like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or something.  Even the little piddly fights out on the street are so hard hitting that you could swear you heard your grandfather shake in his coffin when Yuen Biao spin kicked some dirty Spaniard onto the pavement face first.  And let’s not get started with Jackie Chan here.  My boy had the BEST fight in the film, if not, one of the best fights EVER filmed (with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez of course).  I mean look, LOOK at this fight!!

See?  What the hell did I tell ya?

There’s so much that has been said about this film over the course of its life, so to be perfectly honest, there’s not much I can add that others haven’t already highlighted.  On the surface, Wheels on Meals is a tale of two guys trying to make a unique living in a place that doesn’t entirely seem like home to them, but in its heart, it’s an action movie made for action fans by action gurus.  It’s clear that I love this movie a lot, but the love has to spread.  From the setting, to the goofy characters and finally the fights, Wheels on Meals is a window to what Hong Kong action cinema offered in the 80s.  For some of you out there, this may not be your cup of tea, but if you’re looking for something that will spark that legendary love for asian action cinema that some of us film geeks have, then look no further.  Wheels on Meals is a gem, and yes, it’s streaming on Netflix too, so watch it, A.S.A.P.!!!

Jackie Chan (L) & Yuen Biao (R) are trying to make a living in Barcelona in Sammo Hung’s “Wheels on Meals” (1984).