The film was greeted with a great deal of excitement when shown at Slamdance in 1998, winning the Slamdance awards for best editing and cinematography, and gathering extremely favorable reviews from influential alternative, cult and indie film publications such as Fangoria, Film Threat and Ain't It Cool News. It is billed as a "post-apocalyptic musical satire".
In a limited theatrical release the film ran for several months in a few theaters, gaining a reputation as a minor cult film; having a budget of $2,000,000, it only made a mere $124,494 at the box offices. An intended trilogy has been discussed but not yet realized, just like the predicted launching of the career of the film's star, Jeffrey Falcon, a martial artist who had appeared in several Hong Kong action movies in the 1980s and early 1990s. While Mungia made several music videos, he did not direct another feature until the 2005 film The Crow: Wicked Prayer.
In 1957, the Soviet Union attacks the United States with nuclear weapons, rendering most of the nation uninhabitable. The American government has collapsed with the exception of the haven known as "Lost Vegas", ruled by King Elvis. The Red Army has been besieging Lost Vegas, but the lack of supplies over the years has relegated them to a gang of thugs. Forty years after the Soviet invasion, King Elvis dies and radio disc jockey Keith Mortimer announces a call for all musicians to come to Lost Vegas to try to become the new King of Rock 'n' Roll.
Buddy, a lone guitarist and swordsman, saves an unnamed boy he simply calls "Kid" from a group of bandits; consequently, as the Kid's mother was killed by the bandits, he tags along with Buddy. As the duo travel through the desert wasteland, the heavy metal-playing Death stages several attempts to prevent Buddy from reaching Lost Vegas alive and claim the throne for himself. After enduring a host of opponents such as a bounty-hunting bowling team, a cannibalistic suburban family, a band of underground mutants, and the Red Army, an injured Buddy squares off against Death in a sword fight. Death mortally wounds Buddy, but the Kid discovers water is Death's weakness after spitting at him. The Kid then melts Death away with a canteen full of water. Buddy's lifeless body disappears, but the Kid puts on his clothes and glasses before continuing his journey toward Lost Vegas.Jeffrey Falcon as Buddy, a parody of Buddy Holly
Justin McGuire as the Kid
Stephane Gauger as Death, a parody of Slash
Lex Lang as the voice of Death
George L. Casillas as Mariachi, a parody of Ritchie Valens
Monti Ellison as the Head Pin Pal
Kareem as Bowler #2
Paul Szopa as Bowler #3
Richard McGuire as the Cantina owner
Gabrille Pimenter as Little Man
Dan Barton as Ward Cleaver
Lora Witty as Harriet Cleaver
Rheagan Wallace as Peggy Cleaver
Nathaniel Bresler as Rusty Cleaver
John Sarkisian as the Russian General
Euan MacDonald as Russian Lieutenant #1
Henrik Henrickson as Russian Lieutenant #2
Kim De Angelo as the Mother
The Red Elvises appear as themselves. Director Lance Mungia plays one of the Archers.
The opening sequence has an intentionally distorted visual effect. The de-anamorphic visuals are a subtle "tribute" to the Chinese martial arts films (notably the films by Shaw Brothers) that often had their wide-screen opening sequences compressed to the 1.33:1 format of TV screens for VHS release.
Throughout the film there are homages to many major musical movements in the United States. Buddy, the main character, is a symbol of the birth of rock 'n' roll. He shares the same clothing style of Buddy Holly, especially his horn-rimmed glasses.
During the film "Death", who resembles Slash from Guns N' Roses, kills a character representing Jerry Lee Lewis. Death also dispatches a mariachi band and another musician dressed country western style. His minions also torment a traveler dressed in hip hop fashion. Buddy also has a duel with a musician (wielding a ukulele) resembling Ritchie Valens, who died in the same 1959 plane crash as the original Buddy Holly. Death also kills rock music, through the death of Buddy. However, the last scene shows the child donning Buddy's clothing, suggesting that though rock‘n roll is dead, there is still hope for the future.
The film also has references to the Wizard of Oz, loosely imitating the 1939 movie. A little person instructs Buddy to "follow the yellow brick road". Lost Vegas, seen from the distance, looks like the Emerald City. Death is obsessed with a specific object, Buddy's guitar pick, much like the Wicked Witch trying to get Dorothy's red slippers. Finally, Death is killed when sprayed with water, as was the Wicked Witch. When Buddy dies, his body disappears, leaving only his clothes for the kid to take, again like the Wicked Witch.
Six-String Samurai: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the original soundtrack to the film; the soundtrack was released by Rykodisc on August 25, 1998.
- United States of Russia (Red Elvises)
- Love Pipe (Red Elvises)
- A Mother's Hand/Buddy*
- Fly Away Little Butterfly*
- Kill 200 Men (Dialogue)
- Boogie on the Beach (Red Elvises)
- I Do Not Like Rock & Roll (Dialogue)
- Hungarian Dance #5 (Red Elvises)
- Arrowed Kid/Bowlers on the Floor (Dialogue)
- Rock & Rolling Ourselves to Death (Dialogue)/Jerry's Got the Squeeze Box (Red Elvises)
- Lonely Highway of Love (Dialogue)/Scorchi Chornie (Red Elvises)
- My Darling Lorraine (Red Elvises)
- Follow the Yellow Brick Road(Dialogue)/Leech (Red Elvises)
- See You Around Kid (Dialogue)/Siberia (Red Elvises)
- Good Golly Miss Molly (Red Elvises)
- My Love Is Killing Me (Red Elvises)
- Sacred Funeral*
- Relentless Sun*
- Over the Hill*
- Bring His Guitar to Me(Dialogue)/Sahara Burn*
- A Boy and His Spirit*
- If You Were Me, You'd Be Good-Looking (Dialogue)/Surfing in Siberia (Red Elvises)
- Draggin a Fallen Hero*
- Nice Tuxedo (Dialogue)/Showdown at Not Okay Corral*
- Bend Before the Ways of Heavy Metal (Dialogue)/Dueling Guitars*
- Dream March*
- The Great Battle*
- End of a Hero/Finale*
- On My Way to Vegas*
(*) indicates original score by Brian Tyler
Six-String Samurai received mixed reviews, with a 60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews.
Film Threat gave the film a perfect score of five stars. Leonard Klady of Variety called the film "A rock 'n' roll Mad Max served up Cantonese style, this is one wildly original and highly entertaining American indie with genuine commercial appeal." Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle commented on his review that "If the film didn't have an underlying intelligence, it would soon be irritating -- it's too cartoonish and one-dimensional. But Falcon, an ace martial-arts practitioner, is dazzling as the nerdy main attraction, equally adept at sword fighting and guitar picking." Laurie Stone of The Village Voice wrote on her review: "There's one charming sequence, with vaudeville grace and tragicomedy worthy of Beckett, but the rest of the film, even with startling visual effects and some impish humor, is repetitious and derivative, playing like an endless commercial for bullet-hole chic."
In September, 1998, a single Six String Samurai comic was released from Rob Liefeld's Awesome Entertainment. Written by Matt Hawkins and Rob Liefeld, it featured art by 'Awesome' artists Dan Fraga and John Stinsman. A continuation rather than an adaptation, the plot summary from the comic is as follows:
"In this alternate universe, in 1957 the Russians took the United States by nuclear force. Only one piece of the American frontier remained free, a patch of land known as Lost Vegas. Through this desert wasteland wanders the “six string samurai,” a latter-day Buddy Holly who handles a guitar or a sword with equal skill. He’s a man on a collision course with destiny: It seems that King Elvis, who ruled over the land of Vegas for forty years, has finally taken his last curtain call and the throne now stands empty. But it’s a rough road to the big city and the body count is likely to be high, as demonstrated in this postapocalyptic future with a beat we can dance to."