Thursday, April 24, 2014

TNT Jackson (Dynamite Wong and TNT Jackson, 1974)

Greetings you fans of fighting films and non-stop action! Here on Hai!Karate we make sure to cover it all and this flick is no exception. We're covering this Blaxploitation/kung-fu relic known as TNT Jackson today! This film is one of the genre's more unique, and more unknown offerings starring Jeanne Bell and Stan Shaw. There's a lot to the flick and why it got made, which I'll get into after we break the plot down. In the director's chair for this film? Cirio H.Santiago.So I hope you like cheese with your kung-fu...

The film opens in a seedy section of Hong Kong referred to as the 'yellow section'. Okay, whatever. We see a couple of characters follow a man into a movie theater. The show AND the flick begin with someone doing the worst Bruce Lee animal style yell on record as a lion troupe perform on stage during the credits. The story is, Diana 'TNT' Jackson (Bell)arrives in Hong Kong to find her missing brother, Stag. She heads to his place in the 'yellow section' after being told it's one of the worst places to be in the city. This is underscored by a woman being sexually assaulted in an alley by one dude until someone else jumps in and snuffs him. After asking around, TNT finds herself jumped by a gang of assailants who she handles in quick fashion. She then finds that she's immediately in dutch with the main drug smuggler, Sid(Ken Metcalfe) AND his right-hand man, Charlie(Stan Shaw). This is told to her by Elaine(Pat Anderson), a woman who is on Sid's payroll. TNT eventually finds 'Joe's Haven'(yes, that is how the place is called)thanks, or no thanks, to Elaine who picks her up after the earlier fight. TNT meets Joe(Chiquito) who's practicing in a loft space above the bar because it's the '70's and all bars have a secret dojo or brothel or other business above the bar. TNT and Joe set out to infiltrate Sid's drug empire to find out what happened to Stagg and find themselves caught up in a mystery. What happened to Stag? Why is Charlie involved with Sid? Why is Elaine even there? All of this leads up to TNT bringing the beatdown.

TNT Jackson is unique because it is a flick that is certified cheese, make no mistake about it. It is representative of a period where everyone wanted the cash bonanza seen in the rise of kung-fu movies spearheaded by Bruce Lee's fame and the rise of Blaxploitation. By 1974, the 'bad Black mama' trope was already in full effect thanks to Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson. In fact, Bell herself was in Dobson's Cleopatra Jones in an uncredited role. Jeanne Bell's career is an interesting one - she became known to people as the first Black Playboy model to appear on the cover. Technically. She shared space on the January 1970 cover with four other models. But Jeanne would get the shaft as HER photo is split in half, placing her on the spine. She was the October centerfold in 1969 though. Jeanne's looks garnered her first taste of Hollywood via the popular TV series 'The Beverly Hillbillies'. One episode had her featured as part of a scheme that saw her as a harem slave girl. Yeah. From those appearances, she wound up getting her first film role in the Calvin Lockhart classic Meiinda. TNT Jackson was her breakout solo role. Aside from that, she would also be in Martin Scorsese's critical classic Mean Streets and do other films and TV shows until 1977 when she opted for love and marriage. Bell is also credited for helping a certain Hollywood duo reconcile and even helping one half of the duo get over his alcoholism. That duo? Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. As TNT though, she's not entirely a knockout. Her fight scenes, like everyone else's, has a tiny bit of flash but still seems too staged. More on that later.

Another face you might recognize is that of Charlie, played by Stan Shaw. Shaw is known best by some for Harlem Nights, but his career got started in Blaxploitation. This was his second film after a bit role in Issac Hayes' Truck Turner, which was out that same year. Shaw displays a good amount of charisma here. He's probably the best actor in this picutre. Plus, he and TNT seem to be competing for best dressed in this flick. Peep every scene he's in, the vines were ridiculous. And his Afro? That may have given Afro-Sheen heavy profits that year in product placement alone. But he and Bell do make for an interesting tandem here. As far as Joe, aka Dynamite Wong? Chiquito would play this kind of role quite a lot in this time period. The Filipino actor actually is regarded as a legend in his country for his comedic roles and also his dedication to stopping a shameful depiction of Chinese-Filipinos in film and TV there. Which is also why this flick has the alternate title you see in the post heading; this is how the film was marketed in the Philippines.

That said, TNT Jackson isn't a great flick. You're going to wince more than a few times. The fight scenes are barely watchable. Bell's fighting skill is 'meh', and Shaw's prowess at times is basically viral video worthy. They do make for some unintentional comedy though. Take for example the scene where TNT is cornered by Ming, an evil boss working with Sid. Mind you, she's basically forced to fight topless. No doubt this was to get that necessary T&A quotient in there. But in that scene, her panties CHANGE COLOR. So much for continuity. And some people meet their end in this flick with some lousy reactions. And note how many times people actually MOVE before they get hit in this picture. Part of the cheesiness is highlighted by the fact that the guy that plays Sid was the SCREENWRITER. Low budget, indeed. But this film has to be seen if only to appreciate its value to the grindhouse genre.(Side note - Bell was actually part of a minor brouhaha with Martin Scorsese and the man who'd eventually produce this film, Roger Corman. Corman wanted to fully finance Mean Streets for Scorsese on one condition - that the film be an all-Black cast. Scorsese refused, but Corman never forgot Bell.) Plus, it's really a little over an hour. What can you get from this flick outside of groans and laughs? A bit of appreciation for the fact that this film is a minor counterpart to the films of the era that saw women take a greater role as action film leads, even if there were still some stereotypical elements still present. So get some wine, coffee or whatever else you like to go with cheese and peep TNT Jackson if you don't have any other way to spend an hour and change. The film is available on DVD AND Youtube.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Angry River(Gui Nu Chuan, 1971)

What's happening Hai! Karate fans?!! We've got another film on deck for you, this one being the very first picture Golden Harvest Studios ever made, The Angry River! This film also boasts another first, in that it is the first starring role for the iconic screen star Angela Mao Ying!! Wong Fung is in the director's chair for this picture, which also features Pai Ying as the main villain and Kao Yuen as the assisting hero.

The story begins with a series of murders committed in ghastly fashion against various people. All of the victims are noble knights. It's soon found out that the Lunar Sect is behind it, at the behest of their leader, King Hell(Pai). Their main opponent, Liangyi Castle is determined to stop them. Lan Tin-Lung, head of the castle, rounds up other fighters willing to join the cause. But at that moment, the Lunar Sect launches a sneak attack complete with poison darts. Tin-Lung is badly wounded, and it is found that there is no cure for the poison - save for the Black Herb. The thing is, the herb is located in a valley guarded by various treacherous traps. No one has ever come back alive. Tin-Lung's daughter, Lan Feng(Mao Ying)doesn't care what the risks are. And so, she sets out to find the Black Herb.

The journey IS difficult, with Lan Feng's skills being severely put to the test. She has to guessed it, 'The Angry River' and then one of her last trials has her fighting...a monster. I kid you not, a full grown kaiju her size. After these ordeals, she winds up receiving the Black Herb but is now without any of her powers, having lost them in the fighting. She begins the journey back, accompanied by a monk (Fung Ngai) and hero Leng Yu-Han(Yuen) who had tried unsuccessfully to get the Black Herb before. And so, Lan Feng tries to get the herb back despite bandits and the evil wrought upon her by King Hell, with it all coming to a bloody conclusion.

The Angry River is a neat little film that has some kick for all of its ninety minutes. Are there some things you can find an issue in the flick? It does tend to appear a bit boring in a couple of dialogue scenes. Fans of Angela Mao may be a bit thrown off by her few fighting sequences but it IS her first real starring role. Plus, the monster bit does tend to make you chuckle instead of being terrified. That said, Angela shows why Raymond Chow took such a huge risk in casting a relative unknown to star in his first ever picture. Angela Mao was only 20 years old at the time and fresh off of the Chinese Opera scene in Taiwan. That gamble paid off as she would be one of Raymond Chow's shining stars. She displays a good sense of drama throughout, and it is intriguing to see her so helpless in contrast to her future bad-ass persona. But she does get a chance to deliver some punishment and bloodshed, notably taking someone's head clean off in a fight scene. Pai Ying does his villain thing, complete with a heavy tan. If you look closely, you will spot some familiar faces throughout. Sammo Hung features prominently as a villain in a duo with another known role actor who played a villain well, Han Yen-Ching. You will know him from The Big Boss as Boss Mi. You even have Shaw Brothers regular Wilson Tong in an uncredited role and Lam Ching-Ying as a thug is here too, padding the resume. All in all, The Angry River is decent and a good look at just how Angela Mao - and Golden Harvest - got real famous.