January 9th, 2008

KUNG FU SUPERMAN (1975) ** ½

Kung Fu Superman is one of the many Bruceploitation movies that came out during the 70’s.  For those who don’t know, Bruceploitation movies were kung fu movies that were released shortly after the death of Bruce Lee that capitalized on his name by either A) changing the movie’s title to somehow incorporate his name, even though he was nowhere to be seen, or B) changing the STAR of the movie’s name into something similar to Bruce Lee to make people think that he was the next Bruce Lee.  Kung Fu Superman is a case of the latter as the star, Siu-Lung Leung was rechristened “Bruce Liang”. 

 

Now there are TWO kinds of Bruceploitation movies, ones where the filmmakers try to convince you that their new star IS the next Bruce Lee, OR just your average kung fu movie (sometimes made BEFORE Bruce passed away) with the name Bruce slapped somewhere in title.  The original title for the movie was Bruce Lee, D-Day at Macao which I guess is supposed to make you think this is some kind of Saving Private Ryan Bruce sort of thing, but it’s actually a rather decent slice of chop sockey set in WWII China.

 

Liang plays a cigarette smoking badass who helps the Chinese government look for some vital Japanese war plans in Macao.  The Japanese spies hide the top secret plans inside a banjo and Liang’s little brother (named “Monkey”) helps him retrieve it.  This leads to a great kung fu sequence where Liang and Monkey knock the crap out of a bunch of bad guys with the top secret banjo.  When Monkey is killed, Bruce hops in the air and says “KILL!” several times and goes out for some revenge.

 

I’m not saying that this is a classic of it’s kind, because it’s way too uneven, but there are some really great action scenes in this flick that makes it worth a look.  The banjo beat-down is priceless and the final Bruce vs. Baddie showdown is pretty bloody and impressive.  (So what if it rips off Enter the Dragon lock, stock, and barrel, that’s what these movies are SUPPOSED to do.)

 

Unfortunately the movie plays more like a historical drama than an action film for most of it’s running time.  There’s also some really out of place comic relief (that isn’t funny in the least) in the form of a trio of karate experts who are more or less low rent Oriental versions of The Three Stooges.  The excessively downbeat ending where the hero dies as marching band music plays (!?!) is odd to say the least.  While it may take almost an hour for the action to really pick up, the final 40 minutes of this thing is more or less Kung Fu Heaven.

 

Of all the dubbed dialogue, Liang gets the movie’s best line when he refers to himself as a “Second class brothel inspector.”

 

AKA:  Bruce Lee, D-Day at Macao.  AKA:  Fist of Vengeance.  AKA:  Little Superman.

MUSCLE OF THE DRAGON (1978) ** ½

 

Dragon Lee was one of the lesser of the myriad of Bruce Lee imitators that karate chopped their way through the screen in the 70’s.  He stars in this low budget Enter the Dragon knockoff as a government agent (also named Dragon Lee) who infiltrates the mysterious “Moon Church” led by a Jim Jones wannabe that makes his flock drink mind control Kool-Aid.  Actually the church is just a front for the usual heroin manufacturing and smuggling, and predictably Lee refuses to drink the Kool-Aid and lays the smackdown on a lot of people.   

 

Like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, Dragon Lee goes to an uncharted island, squares off against Bolo Yeung, shows off his prowess with nunchucks, and kung fus the heck out of a bunch of bad guys.  Unlike Bruce Lee, Dragon Lee doesn’t do all of this nearly as well, but there’s enough kung fu action going on here to keep fans of the genre happy.

 

Not only is the kung fu action above average, the kooky plot is also good for a laugh or two.  I especially liked the scenes where the goofy moon worshippers got all drunk on mind-control Kool-Aid and started paying homage to the moon saying, “Oh moon, send us your silver light!”

 

While the action is plentiful, the choreography leaves something to be desired.  All the fight scenes are pretty static and none of them are especially groundbreaking or memorable.  But quantity is more important than quality in Muscle of the Dragon and the film is certainly never boring.  Even if you can’t fully appreciate this movie for it’s kung fu, you have to admit the 70’s fashions are a hoot.  (There’s a lot of bellbottoms and sideburns in this one.)

 

Producer Dick Randall specialized not only in kung fu movies (he also produced the entertaining Challenge of the Tiger), but also porn (Black Deep Throat), sci-fi (like the unbelievable Pod People) and horror (like the classic Pieces).  

KUNG FU ARTS (1980) **

 

Carter (Big Trouble in Little China) Wong stars in this historical Chinese drama/action/comedy flick as a man who is engaged to marry the Emperor’s daughter.  He overhears a plot to assassinate the Emperor and stops the murderer, but is subsequently implicated in the crime.  He takes off into the woods where he learns the kung fu necessary to clear his name.  Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter falls into a mysterious coma and the ruler decrees that anyone who can save her will have her hand in marriage.  Unfortunately for her, a monkey (played by Sida, “The French Monkey Star”) finds an antidote and she has to marry the monkey!  I shit you not. 

 

Thankfully we don’t get to see what the wedding night was like.

 

Eventually we learn that Wong was the one who sent the monkey and ten years later, he and the princess are finally reunited.  After the monkey gets killed by a stray python, Wong returns to the kingdom to get revenge.  He’s easily outmanned and is captured but in the end, his son, who can control monkeys a la Tarzan (all those years being raised by a monkey obviously paid off), comes to his rescue.

 

This flick doesn’t know if it wants to be a historical epic, a revenge flick, a Tarzan movie or an episode of BJ and the Bear.  If the movie didn’t have so much monkey business (yes for once, the pun IS intended), it may have worked.  Then again, if the movie was nothing but the princess and the monkey it might have been okay too.  The problem is that the serious “drama” of the film just doesn’t mesh with the borderline bestiality comic relief angle and the fact that there’s only a minimum of kung fu in it, doesn’t help things either.

 

Wong is halfway decent in the lead, but predictably, it’s the monkey who steals all scenes.  He does get some great dialogue like:  “Am I the father of the boy, or is it the monkey?”, “There is no need for a man to be impolite to a defenseless woman!”, and “My son, your kung fu is only good for killing birds.  I have to kill a man!”  But it’s a Chinese guard with a Cockney accent (!?!) who gets the movie’s best line when he gets bitten by a monkey while taking a piss and screams, “He’s bitten off my wedding tackle!”

 

AKA:  Kung Fu:  Horse, Monkey, Tiger.

SHAOLIN DEADLY KICKS (1977) **

A group of thieves known as The Eight Dragons sneak into a house and steal a priceless treasure map.  When one of the men inadvertently murders the family during the robbery, they decide it’s best to lay low for three years until the heat dies down before they recover it.  Since none of the thieves trust each other, they divide the map up into eight parts and go their separate ways.  Meanwhile, a determined cop (Dorian Tan) tracks down each of the thieves and takes them out one by one with his deadly kicking ability.

 

The novel premise and solid start will capture your attention, but the film gets pretty dull as it goes on.  The problem is that that the rest of the film is nothing more than Tan’s encounters with the thieves as he slowly works his way up to collecting all the pieces of the map.  He just shows up, demands the thief’s part of the map back, and then kicks their ass.  This gets a little repetitive, and it certainly doesn’t help when the fights offer up little to no variation.  Some fight scenes are well done, but others are cheesy (like the death by fruit cart), and too many of them are just plain uneventful.  I also thought Tan’s motives were a little sketchy since he IS a cop and we never see him arrest anybody; just pummel them to a pulp. 

 

Tan does a good job as the indomitable copper, but all the villains are pretty one note.  (The only way you can tell them apart is by what weapon they’re wielding.)  The dubbing, of course sucks and the some of the music sounds suspiciously like it was stolen from The Man with the Golden Gun. 

 

AKA:  Deadly Kick.  AKA:  The Flash Legs.

 

BLACK COBRA 3: THE MANILA CONNECTION (1990) **

 

Detective Robert Malone (Fred Williamson) returns for another go round in this third installment in the Black Cobra franchise.  Whereas the first film was a blaxploitation version of Cobra and the second was a carbon copy of Lethal Weapon, Part 3 plays like a cheap-o retread of Commando as there are several Pilipino extras who get gunned down while patrolling impeccably landscaped grottos. 

 

The plot has Malone teaming up with two Interpol agents (Forry Smith and Debra Ward) in Manila to take down a British tycoon who is hoarding a bunch of illegal weapons.  Malone has it pretty easy in this outing as he basically lets his partners do most of the dirty work, but he still can blow people away with a shotgun while chomping on a cigar like it’s nobody’s business. 

 

Williamson once again cruises on his considerable charisma, but unfortunately the screenplay doesn’t give him much to work with.  He doesn’t get any trash talking dialogue and his repartee with the ladies is limited to a conversation with an exotic dancer.  Luckily, he gets involved in violent shootouts every seven minutes or so, so you probably won’t care too much. 

 

The Black Cobra series was never anything to write home about anyway, but fans of Williamson will find this to be an agreeable way to kill 90 minutes.  Williamson returned later in the year with the fourth and final installment of the series, the somberly titled Detective Malone. 

HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973) ½ *

 

A wild eyed goateed plantation owner/scientist living in South Africa draws suspicion from his workers when he never leaves his basement.  Things don’t really help his cause when the worker’s pet monkeys start missing.  And you know what that means:  Mr. Wild Eyed Plantation Owner is performing extremely non-elective brain surgery on monkeys.  But like any good surgery junkie, one animal isn’t enough.  Next he’s messing around with horses, and then… you guessed HUMAN BEINGS.  After about an hour, we finally learn that Dr. Crazy Eyes is “trapping souls” (they come in an array of fruity colors) in two liter bottles and pretty soon, he’s running around playing the organ at all hours of the night like he’s the Phantom of the Opera or something, stalking his bride-to-be and trying to capture her soul in a Pepsi jug.  In the end, the souls escape and torment the good doctor into madness. 

 

98% of this movie consists of stuffy British people dressed in 19th century duds spouting off a lot of Masterpiece Theater garbage.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d thought I’d was watching a fucking Gone with the Wind remake on the BBC.  Occasionally we DO get a break from all the English ninnies sipping tea in the shade and tossing horseshoes and get a chance to see just what the heck Dr. Bushy Brows is doing in his cellar, but it’s not enough for you to give two shits about.

 

The scenes of monkey brain operating are pretty groovy, but sadly they all take place in the first five minutes, leaving you stuck with approximately 80 solid minutes of pure crap.  Still if you ever wanted to see a nondescript South African actor freak out over the sounds of a vengeful, disembodied horse, here’s your chance.    

 

Despite the title, there are NO zombies in this flick, although you may FEEL like one before the movie is over.  If you DO make it until the end credits, you’ll be rewarded with one HILARIOUS scene where the horse’s “spirit” runs free in the fields. 

 

AKA:  Curse of the Dead.  AKA:  Doctor Maniac.  AKA:  Kill, Baby Kill.