May 18th, 2009

THE DOGS OF WAR (1981) **

Christopher Walken stars as Shannon, a laconic mercenary who is hired to do some reconnaissance work in a shit hole African nation.  Posing as a birdwatcher (!) he takes photos and gathers the information necessary to overthrow the Amin-like dictator.  When Shannon gets caught taking sensitive photos, he gets roughed up by the secret police and is sent back to the States.  Once home, he gets offered a big payday to lead a rebel freedom force on a siege to oust the scummy dictator.  Naturally Shannon agrees, mostly because if he didn’t, then it wouldn’t be an action movie.


Although The Dogs of War moves at a deliberate pace, it will undoubtedly be rewarding for some viewers out there.  I can see why someone would dig this movie because it shows you the intricate ins and outs of what it takes to remove an insane dictator from power.  Seriously, if you ever want to plan a coup d’etat on a foreign nation, just watch this flick.  It’s basically Staging a Military Coup for Dummies. 


This doesn’t necessarily make it fun to watch though.  John (Raw Deal) Irvin’s direction is meticulous to a fault.  Three quarters of the movie is dedicated to Walken’s endless preparation for the assault on the dictator with only the last twenty minutes or so being devoted to the actual attack.  The flick also comes up woefully short in the machismo department.  Take for example the scene where Walken tortures a guy by putting glass in his mouth and slapping him around.  Sure, this sounds good on paper, but once the glass is in the guy’s mouth, Irvin never cuts back to the dude’s face and we never get to see any blood or anything.  Weak.


Walken is good but his character is too emotionally aloof for you to really give a shit about him.  Like most mercenaries, all he cares about is money (and himself), so his character is always at arm’s length from the audience.  Some hero.  Still, if you want to see Walken acting before he became a caricature of himself, this is as good a place as any to look.  Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams and Ed O’Neil also pop up in capably acted supporting roles, although neither of them gets enough screen time to make much of an impression.


Irvin returned later in the year with Ghost Story.

FIST OF DEATH (1982) **

Fist of Death features not only a fake Bruce Lee (played by Tong Lung, Lee’s stand-in from Game of Death), but also a fake Jackie Chan (Jackie Chang) as well.  The plot has “Bruce” returning home and finding out that his master has been killed.  He teams up with a comic relief rickshaw driver (Jackie) and together they take on the nefarious clan responsible for the murder known only as the YMCA.  


Yes, you read that right.  The bad guys in this movie are called the YMCA.  (Although I could’ve sworn that their jerseys said YMGA, but never mind.)  That means you should feel free to make as many Village People jokes as humanly possible throughout the course of the film.  I sure as shit did.


Lung makes for a pretty good fake Bruce Lee and even gets to wear the old yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death several times during the movie.  Chang also does a decent job at ripping off Jackie Chan and has a memorable scene where he shoves red hot peppers into his opponents’ mouths.  He also does some great drunken boxing too.  Speaking of fighting, Fist of Death also contains a couple passable Kung Fu fights and the scene where the YMCA sticks bamboo shoots under Jackie’s fingernails is kinda tight too.


Even though Fist of Death has all that going for it, it still manages to be pretty lame for the most part.  First off, let’s start with the title, Fist of Death.  I don’t know why the heck they called it Fist of Death because nobody in this movie gets killed by a fist; they all die from being stabbed with a knife.  Secondly, the inexplicable final fight with the henchman that looks like Captain Kangaroo and has the power to teleport doesn’t make one lick of sense either.  Bruce and Jackie just stab him and then the movie ends.  They never bother to go back to get the main bad guy or see if Bruce’s girlfriend (who creepily calls him “Brother”) is still alive or anything.  Weird.  This flick also has to have some of the most pitiful dubbing I’ve ever seen in my life.  Folks, I’ve watched a LOT of poorly dubbed Kung Fu flicks in my time, but this might be the worst.  Sometimes characters move their mouths and no sound comes out!  NOTHING!  What’s up with that?  Was the sound editor deaf or something?  Fist of Death is certainly no Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave or anything, but devoted followers of Fake Bruce Lee movies might get a kick (no pun intended) out of it.


Lung went on to play Bruce Lee again in the immortal No Retreat, No Surrender.


AKA:  Jackie vs. Bruce to the Rescue.