Thanks to the success of Quentin Tarantino's martial-arts grindhouse magnum opus KILL BILL VOL. 1, cult film fans can look forward to an onslaught of piggyback releases of films which inspired Tarantino's vision, spanning the chop-sockey, spaghetti western, giallo, and yakuza film genres. One of the first is Something Weird Video's KARATE: HAND OF DEATH, the first major film released in the United States featuring the fine art of karate. While the film itself is mediocre entertainment, the real reason to own this platter is the astounding Incredible Martial-Arts-Mayhem Kung-Fu Trailer Show!!
Joel Holt (famed as the narrator for the OLGA films, MONDO OSCENITA, CHAINED GIRLS, and other Joseph Mawra/George Weiss productions) stars as Matt Carver, a mysterious American in Tokyo, suffering from bizarre bruises on his knuckles and sudden flashbacks featuring hand-to-hand karate combat in World War II. After growing up in Japan and relocating to the United States in his adult years, he has returned to the sprawling Japanese capital to track down the love of his life. Matt soon gets caught up in a confusing crime drama surrounding a gold coin which was stolen from an ex-Nazi. The coin holds the secret to a sought-after fortune of plutonium, apparently, and I fell asleep trying to follow the convoluted plot.
From the Sydney Greenstreet-inspired coin expert to the bedroom-eyes romance, KARATE: HAND OF DEATH is more of a latter-day Humphrey Bogart greatest-hits package (with elements of THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA, and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT) than a rock-'em, sock-'em action flick. The pace is very slow, with only a few glimpses of action punctuating the odd dialogue and wooden acting. Opening with a crawl thanking the Japanese Karate Association (which may or may not exist), it is obvious Holt has a great affection for the sport; the man produced, directed, and starred in this thing, and his wife Margy was executive producer! There is a very lengthy demonstration in a karate school, with the instructor giving narration explaining each move and its use in self-defense and well-being, and great location photography on the streets of Tokyo. But Holt's magnificent voice is a better asset to him as an actor than his ridiculous attempts at action sequences; he is just plain embarrassing trying to kick ass in his business suit. Unfortunately despite its historical importance as an exploitation film, KARATE is a lukewarm experience at best.
The black-and-white letterboxed 2.35:1 transfer of KARATE: HAND OF DEATH isn't in the best of shape; the film itself could not have seen too much of a major release, so we're lucky it has survived at all. The elements here are soft and grainy, with little to no sharpness and some scenes are very dark around the edges of the frame. But this is a great find, serving as the genesis for the fascination around the martial arts in America, and is fun to watch regardless of any print problems.
Now the REAL reason to own this disc: The Incredible Martial-Arts-Mayhem Kung-Fu Trailer Show! Here are 50 trailers for grindhouse chop-sockey "classics" which drew bums, drug addicts, and of course adventurous moviegoers into the 42nd Street theaters of the 1970s. They all had just about the same plot or none at all, just good old-fashioned ass-kicking the Asian way, with goofy dubbing, loud special effects, and eye-popping visuals aplenty. Here are the highlight trailers, all shown in their scope aspect ratio unless otherwise noted:
TWO SWORDS, TWO SORCERERS - Lots of bad guys flying through the air towards our hero, who has a strange method of fighting by sticking his right leg upright in the air past his head! A mischevious woman throws dust balls as a weapon, flying swords impale poor guys who leap backwards in their death throes, the hero undergoes acupuncture to heal his wounds, and an outrageous swordfight in a palace will leave your jaw on the floor! And there's a romance to tie things together and a finale two-against-one battle against a guy with green hands. I've gotta see this!
FLYING CLAW FIGHTS 14 DEMONS - A lovely, but dirty woman practices kung fu in the wilderness and when she spreads her legs in the air, a cat flies through them! See blades impaling victims, a goofy possibly gay comic foil with fangs in a fur jacket help with the fights (using melons to good effect), a back-breaking brawl at a temple, and of course another romance as a backstory. Wait until you see the midget and little boy fighting each other!! On video under the title AGAINST THE DRUNKEN CAT PAWS.
THE IRON-FIST REBEL - This one has Chinese writing as title cards and some hilarious dialogue ("You look exactly like an ugly toad!", "You've much to answer for, you murdering bastard, you!"). The plot must involve a secret king of China or something. The dubbing alone looks like it would be worth viewing. There is an AMAZING impaling with a flying sword on a beach that made me spit out my food, and a nasty crushing at a lumber yard!!
TEMPLE OF DEATH - Opening with a stunning fight starring an umbrella in the rain and moving on to a daring wooden bench trouncing in a park, this is consistently amazing stuff. A young girl in pigtails takes on three masked madmen, a family of kung fu experts serve dinner by sending food flying to the plates (!), a lazy old man relaxes in an exercise-driven hammock, and there is plenty of weird gay imagery, including a guy being forced to drink from a flask dripping water from between a guy's legs!! One fight with rings is pretty cool. The titles are incredible grammatic blunders, featuring such gems as "Fatal fighting, humerous (sp)", "A competitive one", and "Well guarantee"!
JAPANESE CONNECTION - This looks pretty standard, with outdoor fighting galore and introducing new "star" Chang Li. A lot of time is spent "introducing" supposed martial arts champions of Asia, but the fighting is nothing new. There's some surprising nudity and sex and a sexy dragon lady stabs one unlucky fellow to death after he spies on her making love with a bald buffoon.
WANTED! BRUCE LI DEAD OR ALIVE (aka DEADLY STRIKE) - The highlight of this trailer is a daring fight with a pissed-off cobra, ready to strike! Yikes! Even more startling is two guys standing on top of each other fighting the hero! Hilarious dialogue, a quartet of "snake men" striking with poisoned hands, and of course the infamous Bruce Lee look-alike Bruce Li at his best.
MASTERS OF THE IRON ARENA - An astonishing opening has a group of men flying across a moat and battling all manner of obstacles as they try to ascend the stairs to a castle! A wild ugly woman (or a man in drag) kicks the cajones out of a slew of men inside the palace. Lo Lieh is in the cast, too! An incredible fight in the forest includes one woman sending her hair swirling around men and yanking them through the air!!!
SUPERFIST - Contains a nasty fight starring a suitcase with a knife protruding out of it, plenty of grisly violence (including a flying knife impaling a guy and a castration!), and your standard chop-sockey action.
LEE THE ANGRY MAN - Guess who the title is supposed to be based on? A drunk guy accosts a girl and her guy friends (who are all pushed to the ground) and a fight ensures. There's some bizarre comic battles worthy of Jackie Chan, a goofy colorful disco scene, and there are more weapons in use than the usual karate flick. 2x4's, car windows, bricks, and other everyday objects are thrown in as weapons of death. Near the end of the preview, horror movie elements are thrown in, like a dangling bloody body, dripping blood, and Argento-like green lighting.
SHAOLIN MASTER KILLER - Gordon Liu ("Johnny Mo" in KILL BILL!) directed and starred in this outrageous flick. He does the splits and kicks ass like nobody's business. It's Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang with sticks, swords, spears, machetes, and good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. An incredible sequence of a young girl almost being killed by dozens of spears is breathtaking! Celestial released this on Region 3 DVD as 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, its original title, in Hong Kong.
HAMMERFIST MASTERS - Opening with a gloriously gory fight in a bar, this looks like one hell of a movie (like most of the movies in this Trailer Show!). Two guys trying to slice the hero at the same time end up decapitating each other and there are incredible swordplay sequences. Dubbing is typically hilarious, and jungle booby traps play great parts in the action!
WORLD WAR OF KUNG FU - When the trailer opens with the bad guy snipping off a pretty girl's clothing with his sword, you know it's gonna be odd. This one does take place during World War II, with China being ravaged by Japanese soldiers. Kung fu experts go against the villains, including a pint-sized kid with more skills than your average Bruce Lee impersonator! For some reason there's a sumo wrestler attack, too, but overall this looks incredibly entertaining. Must-see!
INCREDIBLE MASTER BEGGARS - The title says it all, I think. There's lots more comedy than good fighting, though, with the hero a goofy dirty bum who learns the art of kung fu (with humorous results, of course) and must save the love interest from a nasty group of bad guys. Looks like fun, that's for sure, a must-see!
TEN TIGERS OF SHAOLIN - This looks kinda stupid, but fun. The hero and his long wind-splitting stick takes on a group of bad guys with long butcher knives and wooden hats as shields. Wild scene! A woman in a blazing red costume is accosted by a gang of robbers who under-estimate her talents.
TOWER OF THE DRUNKEN DRAGONS - Several really nasty scenes here, including two guys chasing each other up a ladder of machetes, with lots of blood and slicing, poison darts sending the poor victim flying from a tower, and more showdowns atop the infamous tower, with the victor sending the loser crashing to the ground below!
THE KARATE KILLER - Even though the fullscreen trailer's narrator throws out lots of hyberpole about tae kwon do and its use in martial arts films, this doesn't look that great. Once again, long hair is used as a weapon, which I find exciting and eye-opening, but most of the other sequences aren't very spectacular.
THE SCREAMING TIGER - Two guys battle to the death atop a moving train in the captivating opening sequence of this trailer. There are plenty of exciting fight scenes, including one at the top and bottom of a waterfall, a man dangling from a railroad track, and a little romance thrown in.
BLOOD OF THE DRAGON - Supposedly "the greatest action film ever made", according to the narrator, there are some really good swordplay setpieces, including a gory decapitation, an unbelievable group attack, and animated graphics help sell the flick.
DEVIL WOMAN/DRAGONS NEVER DIE - Not exactly a martial arts movie, DEVIL WOMAN looks like a marvelous killer-snake movie with a Chinese Medusa sending snakes to kill her enemies! Amazing!! DRAGONS NEVER DIE is a martial arts flick, with some cool flag-fighting (see it to believe it), surprising nudity and sex, and too much slo-mo. These fullscreen previews are kind of a headache, with overkill on the narration.
THE SHANGHAI KILLERS - The real star of this movie is another long-haired woman who swings her sword like nobody's business, taking out three men at once with her trusty blade! Released by Hallmark, who were known for their grisly drive-in shockers like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and MARK OF THE DEVIL.
SISTER STREET FIGHTER - Narrated by that favorite narrator who speaks over the best blaxploitation previews (including DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE and FOXY BROWN), this is a sequel to the Sonny Chiba classic STREET FIGHTER. There's an astounding crawl up a wall, violent deaths (including head impalings, knife throwing, a glove of knives a la Freddy Kreuger), and Sonny Chiba, too!
THE SACRED KNIVES OF VENGEANCE - A young man returns to his small village to fight against the villains who control his people. He carries a suitcase of small knives he uses to throw at his opponents. You don't see much of the knives, unfortunately, but a lot of the stunts and fighting are top-notch and this seems to be an above-average entry in the "return to town for revenge" subgenre of the kung-fu theatre.
CHINESE HERCULES - Now this looks awesome! A mega-built muscleman uses his massive strength to break bones and crush heads. He gets wild-eyed and funny-looking during peak moments during his fight scenes!
FEARLESS FIGHTERS - Opening with a bizarre sequence of a master training his swordplay by piercing leaves on his blade and throwing them to impale another tree, this is pretty kooky stuff. One gang of black-cloaked fighters look like Asian KKK members as they stand laughing at the good guys from a roof! Lots of the masters look like old drag queens, with make-up caked on their faces, and blade impalings pop up every once in a while. A female master in all-white flies a little kidnapped boy over a lake after slicing and dicing the villains! You also get awesome bow-and-arrow action, rope wrangling, and even more flying!
SLASH: THE BLADE OF DEATH - This is another preview for THE SHANGHAI KILLERS, but better. There's an incredible woman fighter, a guy sent crashing through a wall, eye-opening group attacks, and bloody impalings.
THE STREET FIGHTER - The Sonny Chiba classic is probably what landed him a great role in KILL BILL. He seeks revenge the old-fashioned nasty way. He picks up a car with a crane and sends it over a bridge, throws a knife into someone, punches a guy's teeth out, sends his hand through heads, and even more blood-spurting that landed the movie an X rating! You also get hands and heads destroying layers of bricks at a karate demonstration!
RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER - The first sequel to the infamous Sonny Chiba flick has Sonny fighting his old enemy who has returned from the dead (?!). Sonny's female bed partner wields a deadly knife, there are incredible group attacks, a Mafia subplot, grisly shootouts, and violence aplenty! Someone get this entire series out on DVD in quality editions!
WHEN TAE KWON DO STRIKES - The tae kwon do master with chains around his wrists pummels his enemies with a white girl from Virginia (!!) defending herself by his side. Looks pretty incredible! Must-see! You also get Angela Mao, the famous female martial arts star, doing what she does best!
THE TATTOO CONNECTION - Jim Kelly, the blaxploitation star known for his supporting role in ENTER THE DRAGON and his awful Al Adamson films, flew to Hong Kong to make this oddity. The plot concerns diamond smuggling, but of course there's plenty of kung-fu, nudity, Kelly taking on groups of bad guys, and even getting kicked in the balls!
THE SNAKE FIST FIGHTER - After Jackie Chan made it big in THE BIG BRAWL in the US, one of his earliest films was re-released, and this was it. The trailer's packed with stupid fake testimonies from fans and moviegoers. Chan is amazing, as usual, but there is very little footage from the film in the trailer.
SLAUGHTER IN SAN FRANCISCO - Gang murders in the Golden Gate city are tied in with the Japanese Mafia. With white mustachioed Chuck Norris in one of his first big roles, as the lead bad guy. Looks very exciting!
KILL OR BE KILLED - You know any movie with a midget, a karate master swiping a fly to show his speed, and a sexy bikini-clad model can't be bad. A island fortress is the setting for a martial arts competition to the death, with the winner receiving a fortune in diamonds. Packed with action, fighting, and the grimy 42nd Street aura that would serve this film well on its release.
KILL AND KILL AGAIN - Opening with a slow-motion gunshot protected by a karate master jumping in the path of the bullet with a shield, this stars the same guy from KILL OR BE KILLED. An entire battalion of kung-fu fighters take on the hero for a trophy. There's an exploding champagne bottle, beautiful femme fatales, a black guy named Gorilla, and a team of good guys helping out. Unbelievable stuff!!
MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE - Oh My God! Some of the music, including "Super 16" by Neu!, was recycled in KILL BILL, and 'Go Go Yubari's ball and chain was obviously based on the title weapon. The guillotine lands on opponents' heads and slices them off, there's a battle surrounded by blades, and a villain with super-long arms a la Freddy Kreuger!
SHANGHAI LIL AND THE SUN LUCK KID - The Sun Luck Kid is the real star of the movie, who doesn't let two guys tying him down with a rope stop him from beating the hell out of a Hercules-style muscleman in a leopard-skin leotard!
DEEP THRUST - Despite a title to cash in on the DEEP THROAT craze, this is one of Angela Mao's best features! She flies through the air, grabbing mens' heads with her feet, taking on gangs of villains wielding machetes and swords!
The other previews include KUNG
FU DEATH WISH, BIG BAD BOLO, GANGBUSTERS KUNG FU, THE MAD, THE MEAN, AND THE
DEADLY, SINGLE FIGHTER, THE KOREAN CONNECTION, THE THUNDER KICK, KUNG FU THE
PUNCH OF DEATH, HANDS OF DEATH, DRAGONS DIE HARD, THE BUDDHA ASSASSINATION,
SUPERDRAGON, FURY OF THE BLACK DRAGON, THUNDERFIST. OK, so the Trailer Show
may wear thin on some peoples' nerves (including mine); all the fighting, sound
effects, and bad dubbing just runs together after a while. But it's still an
awesome extra and the only really great thing about this DVD that would make
it a worthy purchase for Asian cult film fans! (Casey
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