Director: Natuk Baytan
American Genre Film Archive/MVD Visual

The American Genre Film Archive recreates an obscure but highly entertaining double bill from the early 1980s with the Turkish adventure THE SWORD AND THE CLAW and the Korean BRAWL BUSTERS.

When King Suleiman of Turkey conquers the Christians, he agrees to spare all women and children if the Christians recognize his rule and pay tribute. Princess Maria (Nazan Adali) assents on behalf of her people and also invites him into her bed for the night. Commander Antoine (Yildirim Gencer, THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER) has a thirst for revenge and the corrupt Bishop forces Maria into marrying Antoine with the threat of exposing her affair with Suleiman. Suleiman's pregnant wife escapes the king's assassination with his trusted servant Rhestim (Reha Yurdakul, THE EXECUTIONER) but goes into labor and dies in childbirth. After Maria gives birth to the boy Antoine believes is his own, he has her taken to the dungeon when she is horrified at learning of the Turkish massacre. Years later, Antoine instructs his grown son Altar (Cemil Sahbaz, the Turkish STAR TREK's Captain Kirk) in his sadistic rule, crucifying , torturing, and killing those Turkish citizens who cannot pay their taxes while Rhestim and his daughter Ida (Bahar Erdeniz, DESERT EAGLE) have been training an army in secrecy while attempting to find Suleiman's son who they believe has been raised by the lions (rather than killed and eaten). When roaring Lion Man (Cüneyt Arkin, THE ARMLESS HERO) comes to aide of outnumbered Altar in the midst of an ambush, Ida stabs him only to then discover that he is Lion Man. Hoping to win over Altar, Ida's sister Selma (Anuska) tells Antoine about Lion Man's whereabouts and believes that she has a hold on Altar when she discovers that he bears the same lion tattoo as Lion Man, thus making them brothers. After Lion Man rescues Ida from the tortures of Antoine, Rhestim trains him in the art of fighting while Ida teaches him to speak. When Selma betrays Rhestim and Ida to Antoine, Lion Man's hands are burned by acid while rescuing them; whereupon he has the local blacksmith create metal lion claws for him for his final standoff against Antoine's armies.

Better known under its export title LIONMAN and even its original Turkish title KILIÇ ASLAN than its American theatrical release title THE SWORD AND THE CLAW, this vehicle for Turkish superstar Arkin – still going strong in his eighties with over three hundred credits – plays like a cross between TARZAN and THE VIKINGS, substituting the Vikings and the British of the latter with Turkish and Christians. Although running just under ninety minutes, the plot is rather incoherently drawn out with Lion Man not getting his claws until the last fifteen minutes of the movie; but the all-out whackiness of the many fight scenes more than makes up for cheapness of the sets and the utterly horrible English dubbing where everyone sounds half-asleep (when inexpressive Altar flatly states he "does not know the meaning of the word fear," we believe him). Nursing on lioness' milk can perhaps function as something of an explanation for why Lion Man leaps around as if he keeps company with an obsessive and clingy trampoline, but all of the acrobatics in the big castle dungeon set-piece may have viewers questioning why it has been outfitted like a gymnasium as he and Altar bounce, flip, leap, and zipline while what seems like the same guard extra is impaled by the same dagger from several different camera angles. Much of the gore consists of Lion Man gouging faces with his hands and then his iron claw with guards turning into the camera with bloody faces, saving some limb chopping and ripping for the climax. The castle locations seem authentic but the design tastes of the Ottomons make it hard to determine if they gaudy costumes and décor are historically accurate or not. Cinematography is merely functional, as is the editing which seems like it could have made the fights more punchy (but less entertaining). LIONMAN II: THE WITCHQUEEN followed in 1979.

While the film was given the scantest of theatrical releases as THE SWORD AND THE CLAW from Lew Mishkin's Extraordinary Films in 1982 or 1983, the film was released on VHS in America (from Best Film & Video) and Canada as LIONMAN utilizing a PAL-converted master. The American Genre Film Archive's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfer is derived from a 2K scan of seemingly the only (or only-surviving) theatrical print under the former title, with the soundtrack dropping out as the replacement title is inserted on black onscreen. A comparison with the Turkish version reveals that the battlefield title sequence of the English export version was apparently stock footage from another production replacing the original opening which better introduced Suleiman, Princess Maria, Commander Antoine, and the Bishop. The original's anonymous but likely unauthorized library score has been replaced primarily with passages from Aram Khachaturian's ballet of SPARTACUS. The opening and end credits are full of Anglicized pseudonyms like "Steve Arkin" and Erdeniz as "Barbara Lake" among others. Damage is evident at the reel changes but the print is fairly clean and colorful given its likely limited play, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio has some other dropouts besides the title card but it is difficult to tell if that is a print fault or sloppy sound editing. Optional English SDH subtitles identify Suleiman as "King Solomon" but follow the dialogue fairly well.

Double-billed with THE SWORD AND THE CLAW theatrically and on this Blu-ray is BRAWL BUSTERS, a Korean martial arts film directed by Jeong-yong Kim picked up by producer Joseph Lai – later of IFD Films, the company that re-edited tons of unsellable Asian genre films into vehicles for actor Richard Harrison in the eighties – known elsewhere as DRAGON FROM SHAOLIN. The credits of BRAWL BUSTERS, or at least the additional credit tacked onto the export print with credits of its own, highlights "Black Jack Chan" as the star, but the protagonist is Kow Ling Yen, formidable mistress of Varity Lodge, who is on a mission to take revenge on the four heads of the members Tung-Cheng Party who murdered her mother and father when she was an infant. Lord Gen-Who only discovers after she has murdered Lord She-Ya and his "devil killer" son She-Hao that the female "Robin Hood" warrior he hired is actually the woman out to kill him. Gen-Who's men are able to get the drop on her and her four color-coordinated ass-kicking ladies-in-waiting through the betrayal for profit of trusted lady Shao Chen, who then is tasked with taking out Kow herself when the injured woman is brought to her doctor brother for treatment after an ambush by a nameless warrior (presumably "Black Jack Chan") who has his own score to settle with Gen-Who.

Although BRAWL BUSTERS seems not to have been augmented with new footage, something may have been lost in translation of its seemingly linear storytelling as it’s a real mindbender just to come up with the above synopsis. The Australian-accented dubbing makes it even harder to take seriously than the bending rubber knives, lame choreography in which there actually seems to be little physical contact, the clumsy wirework, and the ridiculous weaponry including hand-mounted circular saw blades which would be impressive if the guards did not have to keep spinning them by hand, and the attack scarves Kow uses to disorient her prey. While one would think that a martial arts film can never have enough fighting, the climactic confrontation just drags on and on before a twist which then leads to yet more fighting.

Released on the same double bill with THE SWORD AND THE CLAW by Mishkin, BRAWL BUSTERS was unreleased on video or DVD stateside in any form until now. American Genre Film Archive's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer comes from the only surviving 35mm print and it is considerably more worn than its co-feature with plenty of vertical scratches, fading, crackling, missing frames, and bluntly-clipped reel changes. Either cheap printmaking or the original scope cinematography occasionally has the look of being filmed off of a projection with some images that look warped while the softness could either have been in the creation of the print's internegative source as much to the shallow depth-of-field evident in interior scenes. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio is affected by the damage but the dialogue is easier to follow itself than in the optional SDH subtitles which refer to Varity Lodge as "Very Tea Lodge" among a few other transcription mistakes. While a superior transfer exists overseas, including an English-friendly anamorphic DVD from Germany, this really is the only way to see the film as BRAWL BUSTERS in all its grindhouse-y glory. The only extras are a selection of Face-Smashing Action Trailers (10:22) including SUPERARGO: THE FANTASTIC SUPERMAN, SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS, THREE SUPERMEN, 3 SUPERMEN IN THE WEST, and SUPERGIRL OF KUNG-FU. The cover is reversible with the double-bill poser on the inside. (Eric Cotenas)