Aug 7 2017

Macho Man (1982)

Sorry, folks, but Macho Man is neither a biopic of wrestling’s Randy Savage nor the Village People’s follow-up to the flop Can’t Stop the Music, but a straightforward kung-fu extravaganza with a little bit of bloodletting and a whole lotta fighting. Plus, its original title is Duel in the Tiger Den — a moniker I could see adorning the label of a Village People 12-inch (pun intended), but still.

The titular Macho Man (Tien Te Hui, The Fatal Flying Guillotine) is a drifter who, in his first scene, snaps the necks of four hoodlums with ease and a smile, as if he were buying chocolate bars for orphans. With his goofy smile and semi-lazy eye, he looks exactly like how I would envision Brendan Fraser, had the Mummy man been born Asian.

Our hero is out scouting for the king’s stolen seal (not the animal), which has been stolen by not-as-macho men, who try to kill him with construction equipment. They do not succeed, but they are able to hit him with a log and stab him with a forklift. Later, director You Min Ko (better known as a prolific performer in this genre, including the immortal Fantasy Mission Force) stages a fight atop a moving train, which is more elaborate than the usual battles in the chopsocky films of this waning era. Scenes like these — and an utter obliviousness toward its humor — make Macho Man worth a watch. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Mar 2 2017

Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave (1976)

Of all the post-death Bruce Lee cash-ins — and Lordy, there are manyBruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave is among the most notorious, all likely because of its title. That and the 15 seconds that open the movie are all it has going for it. In that quarter of a minute, a lightning bolt strikes the grave of “Bruce Lee,” who then leaps out of it, looking remarkably fit, trim and non-rotting for a dead guy. The title comes up and thus ends any and all connections, references and insinuations related to the deceased screen legend.

What follows is a cheap and tired story of Bruce Lee Wong Han (L.A. Streetfighters’ Jun Chong, credited as Bruce K.L. Lea), who travels from China to L.A. to visit his kung-fu instructor friend. Arriving to find his pal has been killed, Wong does what any one of us would do: Drape a box around his neck bearing a handsome headshot of his slain chum and walk all over town with it, vowing to avenge his death.

During his stroll of vengeance, Wong meets, befriends and romances a skank in a tube top (Deborah Dutch, 976-EVIL II), and kicks the asses of countless white guys, very few of whom wear shirts. Although credited to one Lee Doo-yong, this mess reportedly was directed by Italian sleaze magnate Umberto Lenzi, renowned for the controversial, vomitous Cannibal Ferox. The mind aches for a crossover. —Rod Lott

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Feb 7 2017

Swordsman with an Umbrella (1970)

Roving good guy Iron Umbrella gets his name from the umbrella he uses not only as a weapon, but also as a method of flight. Repeat: a method of flight. Even without all that, viewers learn right away he is a badass because, in the first scene, he flicks one finger to hurl sword tips into the skulls of a few ruffians at a local inn.

Iron Umbrella is out to avenge the death of his parents and teacher. His chief nemesis is a scar-faced baddie who dons a black hood for most of the movie, but there is no shortage of enemies! They are everywhere, including the man known as Poison Dragon.

You know exactly how Swordsman with an Umbrella gets from Point A to Point B, but with all the bloody swordplay action at, um, play, martial-arts fans will have a lot of fun getting there. Of particular greatness is the end battle, in which the two foes laughably attempt to make you they’re kung-fu fighting in midair and slow motion! They’re not. Did no one on the crew teach first-time director Hung Shih about wires and undercranking? —Rod Lott

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Jan 31 2017

The Deadliest Art: The Best of the Martial Arts Films (1990)

Things I thought about while watching the John Saxon-narrated kung-fu clip show, The Deadliest Art: The Best of the Martial Arts Films:

• Holy crap, did I really just see Sammo Hung punch a woman square in the vagina?

• Regardless, Sammo’s suspenders crack me up.

• Dude, that chick just plunged a knife right in that guy’s taint!

• Benny “The Jet” Urquidez has the freaky eyes of a coked-up carny.

• Seriously, did I really just see Sammo Hung punch a woman square in the vagina again?

• Cynthia Rothrock may kick ass, but she looks like the cashier at an Interstate 35 truck stop.

• In general, American kung-fu films suck.

• When you show scenes from NBC’s short-lived ninja TV series The Master (aka Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II), starring Lee Van Cleef, you’ve officially scraped the proverbial bottom of the barrel.

• And while even martial-arts virgins may learn little from it, The Deadliest Art — assembled by Sandra Weintraub, producer of Rothrock’s China O’Brien movies and daughter of the producer of the legendary Enter the Dragon — is a lot of fun to watch. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 16 2016

Furious (1984)

furiousUpfront, there is something you should know about Furious, lest you become just that in baffled frustration. For as little dialogue as this indie rarity holds, it contains even less of another critical storytelling element: sense. More than 16 percent of the movie passes before a single line is uttered; once they do emerge, the words confound with mystical hokum like, “You are now between anvil and hammer. The dove is a gentle creature, full of good. … Wisdom must come from within.”

You’re not (necessarily) high. Watching Furious just makes you feel that way.

In a showcase for his considerable martial-arts talents, Showdown in Little Tokyo supporting player Simon Rhee stars as — stretttttttttch — Simon. His sister (Arlene Montano, L.A. Streetfighters) seeks … well, something; I forget exactly what — such is a side effect of the Furious experience — but she uses a compass in which the needle has been swapped with some sort of tusk or tooth. Whatever it is, the damn thing still works … assuming she wanted to be pointed toward the astral plane of certain doom. Meanwhile, taking a break from teaching karate to half-pints, Simon embarks on a quest of his own and runs afoul of … well, everybody.

furious1The first of Furious‘ many all-feet-on-deck fight sequences erupts in the atrium of an office park — aka Bad Guy Headquarters — where a woman kicks nuts and rakes her nails across men’s eyes, and where one guy looks like the chef hero of the arcade classic BurgerTime. Another rock-’em-sock-’em altercation — this one fought with twirling swords — is waged inside a Chinese restaurant frequented by old ladies eating chicken ordered off menus the size of stone tablets on which God displayed his Ten Commandments.

The physical pièce de résistance, however, pits Simon agains the evil Master Chan (Rhee’s real-life brother Phillip, the common thread woven through all four installments of the Best of the Best franchise), who possesses the power to zap his opponents into poultry — and uses it unsparingly, because c’mon, like you wouldn’t? Simon reigns supreme by ducking underneath one of Chan’s power-finger bolts, which then bounces off a mirror and back onto the power-finger bolter himself, transforming him into a pig. One might say Chan gets a taste of his own medicine, and it sure ain’t kosher!

Sound strange? Just think, I skipped over the magic demonstration doubling as the opening credits, the whispering waterfall, the talking dog, the guy whose hands spurt flames, the giant dragon head that may have been made for a church carnival, the Devo-esque New Wave rock band or the alien invasion. Yes, the alien invasion. While that nugget of info should clear up any narrative questions, it instead succeeds only in stirring more confusion into the plot pot. The oddball flick is a kung-fu extravaganza as directed by Upstream Color wunderkind Shane Carruth (but actually comes from the team of Tim Everitt and Tom Sartori): nonstop action rendered as a semi-lucid, stream-of-consciousness mindfuck. Its bizarre operatic quality is something to behold … or beware, depending upon your ability to suspend disbelief of your disbelief. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.