Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One-Armed Boxer (Du Bei Quan Wang, 1971)

Next up in the queue for Hai!Karate is a little known vehicle that spawned a sequel bigger in fame, quite a rarity. What am I talking about? One-Armed Boxer, starring Hong Kong legend Jimmy Wang Yu. This flick is responsible for the cult sensation known worldwide, Master Of The Flying Guillotine. The same flick that Quentin Tarantino and The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan have drawn inspiration from.

The story starts out in a restaurant in a nameless Chinese town. The Hook Gang has a man cornered, about to rob him for his bird. (Yeah, who could've guessed birds in cages were so valuable.) Yu Tien-Lung(Yu) and his friends, students of the venerable Ching Te school step in and proceed to kick ass on both sides of the opening credits. The Hook Gang are actually aligned with Chao, a ruffian who supports their opium dealing and other dirt. After the brawl, the gang runs to Chao and tell him they were disrespected. Chao, furious, goes to confront the head of the Ching Te school, Han Tui who beats him down. Not happy, Chao decides to enlist some help from abroad. A slew of foreign fighters arrives, led by the gruesome Okinawan Karate Master. So gruesome that he rocks fangs and a sloppy mop that would make Manson jealous. After a fight where Tien Lung meets the Okinawan master's students and breaks one's arm, Chao and the rest arrive at the Ching Te school and proceed to take everyone out. In the midst of this, the Okinawan master RIPS OFF Tien Lung's arm with one blow. Tien Lung survives, and is taken in by a man and his daughter. He swears revenge, and begins an arduous journey with only his left arm as a supreme weapon.

One Armed Boxer is entertaining as hell, if not laced with a bit of craziness. Jimmy Wang Yu was basically in a period of his career where he was still banking serious dough based on his stint with Shaw Studios. His most notable role for them? The One Armed Swordsman. It pays to go with what you know. As a result, he directed and wrote the script for this film and its sequel. You get a straight-forward film, no extreme depth here. And you also get a LOT of bone-breaking, bloody action. I don't know what it is with some of these flicks and dudes getting thrown through walls, but it WORKS. I crack up every time. If you can, peep it in Mandarin with the subtitles, but the dubbed version works for real comedic effect. There are one or two more things I gotta speak on though...

Note the second picture above. That's Pan Chun-Lin, who plays the Indian Yoga Master Mura Singh. First, this would start a theme in a few kung-fu flicks about Yoga masters being more than you bargained for, but second, WHAT'S REALLY GOOD WITH THE CHEAP-ASS BLACKFACE THO'?!! And note his hands don't even have that makeup on. Which is like, did you not even have enough in the budget to cover painting his hands?! Also, note the little piece of Issac Hayes' 'Shaft' used in the brawl at the Ching Te school. One Armed Boxer would prove to be a subconscious influence in another arena. You can't tell me that when Nintendo created Great Tiger for 'Mike Tyson's Punch Out' that they didn't look at this flick. Here's a little sight gag for you: when the Korean fighter is introduced, look closely at the bottle he brings out to chew on. Yes, you read that right. All in all, One Armed Boxer is a real treat if you want straight-up, bare knuckle action with no pretense. Check it out as soon as possible.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Memoriam: Jim Kelly (1946 - 2013)

Hai! Karate fans, this is a hard post to write for many reasons. The great Jim Kelly made his transition this past Sunday at the age of 67. With his passing, the martial arts and film world has lost one of its most influential stars.

He was the first legit Black martial arts movie star. Multitudes still remember his show-stealing turn in Bruce Lee's 'Enter The Dragon' as Williams, the stylish soul brother with the tightest Afro in the Western Hemisphere at the time. But Jim Kelly's legend began way back in his home state of Kentucky, where he was a star football and basketball player in addition to performing in track and field. He attended the University of Louisville, but left to pursue training in the martial arts, specifially Shorin-ryu and Okinawa-te Karate. After earning his green belt studying under Parker Shelton in 1969, he went to Chicago and trained until he was a brown belt. In 1969 Jim got his black belt under Marine Corps Sgt. LeRoy Edwards. Kelly went on to be a world champion beginning the next year. 1971 would be a landmark year for him. He won the World Middleweight Karate title that year, and opened up his own dojo. Below is a clip of one of his matches en route to that title.

Jim's dojo was loosely affiliated with the Black Karate Foundation (trivia:their logo can be found on the wall of Williams' dojo in ETD), and through its popularity, he got his big chance to get into Hollywood by training the late Calvin Lockhart for fight scenes in his film, Melinda. Kelly got a supporting role in the film. But his next role wouldn't happen without a bit of chance.

Producer Fred Weintraub had a HUGE problem. It was a few days until shooting began in Hong Kong for Enter The Dragonand Rockne Tarkington, who was the original Williams, dropped out without an explanation. Fred got hipped to Jim as a fighter and was impressed on sight after visiting his dojo. As much as the movie was Bruce's masterpiece, you CANNOT deny Jim Kelly's impact on the world in his role. How many times have you said: 'You come right out of a comic book!!!!' I was always a bit upset that he didn't make it to the end. He was too damn FLY not to make it to the end. But that role got him a three-film contract with Warner Bros., a major achievement at that time. And it coincided with the growing Blaxplotiation era. That deal saw him grow in stature with films like Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way and Hot Potato. He also teamed up with Fred Williamson again in Take A Hard Ride and starred in Black Samurai.

As the Blaxploitation era declined, so did the amount of choice roles for Kelly. Outside of his appearance in the 1982 pic One Down, Two To Go that was a Blaxploitation reunion of sorts, Kelly basically left Hollywood alone. Instead, he got deeper into tennis, playing on the US Senior Mens circuit and reveled in many appearances at comic cons and martial arts tournaments. Here's a cameo he did for a certain basketball player you may know.

Jim Kelly lost his battle with cancer, but he should always be remembered as a pioneer. Without him, other Black martial artists wouldn't have had the chance to get in front of the camera and show the world just how bad we really are. It was a source of pride seeing him kick ass with that Afro. Rest in power, sensei. We won't forget you.