Brothers can you spare a production budget?
It's fair to suggest that most blaxploitation movies weren't good in the traditional sense. But The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, which premiered in the U.S. this month in 1974, is probably close to the worst movie of the genre. It's a low budget The Wild Ones with a chop socky revenge thriller tacked on, and it has “rush job” scribbled all over it. Everything is off, from the direction to the screenplay to the sound effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's films like this that helped kill blaxploitation.
Picture the first screening for the studio, Asam Film Company. Director Al Adamson managed to put up a brave front during the shooting schedule, but he's made his final cut and knows the movie is shit. He's cringing. He's slumped so low in his seat he looks like he's lost air pressure. He even considers scuttling for the exit during the second reel. If he stays low, like a crab, he might make it unseen. But he's still there when the lights come up, and various execs and investors are sitting around looking stunned. They're just white guys with money and don't know dick about this blaxploitation thing, so they have no idea what to think.
Finally someone ventures hopefully, “Was that good? Or...”
Someone else: “Al? Al? Where are you?”
Al: *sigh* “I'm down here.”
“What the hell are you doing on the floor?”
“Uh, my back. Laying flat helps with—”
“Were you hiding?”
“I was just—”
“Are we fucked?”
“Did you FUCK US?”
He fucked them. The Dynamite Brothers was an unremitting disaster. It turned out to be the only movie Asam Film Company ever made. Co-star Timothy Brown in particular had to be disappointed with the final product, considering his film debut was the all-time classic M*A*S*H, in which he played Corporal Judson. Top billed Alan Tang also had to be bummed. Back in Hong Kong when he was first approached about the project, someone told him mixing kung-fu into a blaxploitation flick was a no-brainer. Halfway through the screening he began to wonder if he'd misunderstood the meaning of that term.
Nevertheless, somehow both he and Brown survived The Dynamite Brothers and went on to have long careers, which is a tribute to their talent and persistence. Al Adamson kept working too, which is possibly a tribute to filmgoers' short memories. But like Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, allow us to serve as the memory for all humanity here—steer clear of this one like the un-defused bomb it is. Get a tactical robot to delete it from your movie queue. It's baaaad. We don't mean cool-bad or funny-bad. It's just bad-bad.
One Wong makes everything right.
This fun poster was made for the 1978 action flick Cleopatra Wong, aka They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong, and it's signed by someone named Eddie Damer. We can find zero information about Mr. Damer, which we like to think is because he moved into another career after being paid for his artistry in handshakes, backslaps, and a rubber check.
Obviously Cleopatra Wong was a low(er) budget riff on the blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones, backed by Filipino producer Bobby A. Suarez and made in English with Singaporean actress Marrie Lee in the lead role as an Interpol agent tasked with busting an international counterfeiting ring. These counterfeiters are bad people. They're centered in a Hong Kong nunnery, where they're forcing the nuns to host the operation, and plan to kill them when they've outlived their usefulness. Only Wong and her intrepid team can stop these fiends.
There are some positives here, including effective location shooting and Lee's kung fu, but there's also clunky direction, atrocious acting, and a script that must have been written on a typewriter with seven missing keys. The movie sank with barely a ripple upon release, but was revived on the Asian festival circuit in the early 2000s and now is considered a schlock classic. It certainly has all the hallmarks, and overall we think it's worth watching, but you may want to soak your frontal cortex in alcohol beforehand. Cleopatra Wong premiered in Singapore this month in 1978.
His martial arts are lethal and his wardrobe is killer.
Above is a poster for the Hong Kong actioner Quan Ji, aka Duel of Fists, which, based on the placement of the English text, you'd actually expect to be called Duel of Nuts. Or are we the only ones seeing that? Anyway, what you get here is the story of a nerdy engineer slash ace martial artist who learns from his ailing father that he has a long lost older brother, the result of a whirlwind affair with a Thai girl. Sent to Bangkok to find his sibling, geek boy eventually discovers him in a fighting ring. A series of circumstances that begins with big brother beating the local crime syndicate's champion brings the wrath of the bad guys, and the brothers have no choice but to go medieval on the entire mob.
This movie is worth watching for two reasons. First, some of the fighting is Muay Thai, which was obscure to westerners back then and makes Quan Ji one of the first films to showcase that particular discipline. And second, David Chang plays the unsophisticated younger brother while wearing a series of gaudy outfits that you'd absolutely love to have for your next ’70s party. Chang has made more than a hundred movies and was still active just a couple of years ago, but we doubt he ever surpassed the discofied wardrobe he wore here. Despite the Rick James flavor he brings to the party we'd describe the movie as merely adequate. But it did make us want to listen to "Super Freak." Quan ji premiered in Hong Kong today in 1971.
I've met so many girls. Then I come to Bangkok and meet one who sees as much value in primary colors as I do. What are the odds?
By the way in Hong Kong one of our official languages is English, and in English Bangkok sounds like... Well, I'll explain it in detail later.
I told her what Bangkok sounds like and she loved it. Total keeper.
I know every dojo in the Far East and I've never heard of your Studio 54.
You wouldn't shoot the best electric slider in all of Thailand, would you?
I'm going to demonstrate this one more time. It's called the hustle and I learned it in the East Village.
Everybody was Muay Thai fightin'.... HUAH! Those kids were fast as lightning...
You better run, losers and haters! Come back when you learn how to dress!
Depending on the opponent's particular style and what the deejay is spinning these dance-offs can get pretty violent.
Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with!
The Hong Kong actioner Shao Lin da peng da shi, aka Return to the 36th Chamber, is part of a trilogy of films that inspired the legendary U.S rappers Wu Tang Clan, and as such is as famous for its musical influence as its place in cinematic history. Wu Tang must be the only hip hop group—probably the only music group of any genre—whose entire schtick revolves around Hong Kong chopsocky. But forget the music. We're about cinema today, though to reiterate—Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with!
In Return to the 36th Chamber a group of fabric workers scam their evil bosses into backtracking on a pay cut by having a Shaolin monk with invincible kung fu take up their cause. Problem is the monk is just a regular Joe named Chao Jen-Cheh and he knows no martial arts. When the ruse is exposed, Chao is humiliated and roughed up. But at that point he goes to the shaolin temple where he learns real kung fu. Well, sort of. He learns how to build bamboo scaffolding, but in true zen form he realizes the skills are transferrable. He returns to the place of his humiliation armed with his bamboo-fu, and this time he aims to make the bad guys pay.
Basically, the movie follows the predictable Hong Kong martial arts formula of early defeat of the good guy, followed by rigorous training with a tough-but-inscrutable master, capped by redemptive kicking of evil guy asses. But even with its standard plot—not to mention bad make-up, silly wigs, rough prosthetics, and cookie cutter plot—the movie is still fun. The fight scenes are of course amazing and the comedic elements are lowbrow but effective. Too bad guys like Chao Jen-Cheh don't exist in real life. There are a lot of workers that could use an ass kicker like him these days. Shao Lin da peng da shi premiered in Hong Kong today in 1980.
Big trouble in little China.
After running across a poster this pretty we simply had to watch The Terror of the Tongs. Of course, the quality of an old Hollywood movie set in Asia is inversely proportional to the number of times you hear a gong. In The Terror of the Tongs you hear quite a few. You know the drill. Someone says the bad guys' headquarters is in the old part of town—GONG!—cut to the villains in their lair. Usually such movies feature white cast members Asianized with make-up and putty eyelids, and this is also an inverse indicator of quality.
But on that score Tongs defies the rule. Most major cast members are white, but the movie, though inherently racist, is not a bad piece of entertainment. A paradox? Indeed, young one. But we mean to say that once you get over the minstrel aspects—if you ever do, and we don't suggest that you should—what you get here is a fun little tale of a white ship captain in the mysterious Orient dealing with forces he can barely comprehend. When he accidentally comes into possession of a valuable item it results in the murder of his airhead daughter and sends him on a mission to make the responsible tong—i.e. Hong Kong mafia—pay.
Geoffrey Toone plays the noble and aggrieved captain, while veteran Brit actor Christopher Lee stars as the evil tong honcho Chung King. The film is beautifully made, with big sets and florid colors that dazzle the eye, and it's less predictable than you'd expect. It's clear the filmmakers were deadly serious, which makes it funny that the final product is considered pure cheese today. If you can look past the yellow makeup and prosthetic eyelids you'll find some entertainment here. And if not, at the very least you'll be thankful how far we've all come. The Terror of the Tongs premiered today in 1961.
Annie Belle streaks across Hong Kong and stardom follows.
Above you seen an Aller, aka Carlo Alessandrini, poster for La fine dell'innocenza, which premiered in Italy today in 1976 and was titled in English Annie, after the lead character Annie Belle. The star of the film had acted under her real name Annie Brilland up to this point, but adopted Annie Belle as her stage name for this film and the rest of her career. Yes, technically she acted as Annie Belle in an earlier movie—Laure, which came out about a week before Annie, but we strongly suspect that made-in-Manila sex romp was shot later and simply went through post production more quickly. Another small movie from 1975 is credited to Belle, but we're sure that was done much later. Annie is the film that made her Belle.
It's a coming of age story in which Belle proves to be too independent for all those—male and female—who wish to possess her. She begins the film under the wing of her incest-minded father, travels with him to Hong Kong, where he's arrested for money laundering, forcing her to fend for herself. From there she makes the inevitable sexual splash in upper crust expat circles around the island. And who can fault them for their interest? In real life Belle is a tiny, tomboyish figure, certainly no more than 5' 2”, but onscreen she comes across as even lusher than the Hong Kong hills. There's no disputing it: the camera loves her. She's one of the most striking stars of any era of cinema.
La fine dell'innocenza is remembered for its extended sequence depicting Belle's escape from a brothel. She pulls it off—no body double—by sprinting starkers through the Hong Kong streets, leaping onto the back of a motorcycle driven by an associate, careening through traffic as she wantonly flouts local helmet laws, leaping off the bike and running again, now chased by cops, to a public fountain, where she's finally apprehended. The scene is worth rewinding just to see all the locals gawking from the backgrounds of the shots. They must have thought, watching this platinum blonde boy-woman with the jet back muff running through their city—what the hell do these foreigners smoke?
The king has left the building.
We ran across this 1974 Bruce Lee memorial magazine originally printed in Hong Kong and sold throughout South Asia and had to share it. The cover is amazing, we think, with its blue background and golden hand graphics. The interior photos aren't in color except for the insides of the the covers, but among them are some interesting ones, including childhood shots, photos of his wife Linda Emery, promo images from his movies, and a couple of shots of Lee in his coffin, which some may find morbid. We especially like the production photo of Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Game of Death, and the shot of him with his son Brandon. The magazine is short—only 26 pages including the covers, but on the rear you get a photo medley of Lee in various modes, which is a nice way to end the collection. We have more pieces of Lee memorabilia in the website, so click his keywords at bottom if you want to check those out.
Gemser makes a movie out of spare parts.
In Porno Esotic Love Indonesian sexploitation superstar Laura Gemser finds herself in another exotic locale—this time Hong Kong—where she engages in another series of softcore romps with hirsute westerners. She made something like twenty-six movies along these lines, which is why the makers of this one couldn't resist taking shortcuts. They cobbled together a good chunk of the footage from Gemser's previous outings and shoehorned them into a new narrative about a woman seeking revenge for the heroin overdose of her sister. The cynical usage of previously shot footage makes this one of director Joe D'Amato's worst efforts, but also one of his most profitable, we suspect. We can't possibly recommend the movie, but in order to compensate for the aching sense of loss you probably feel, there's a promo shot of Gemser below kicking back on a large rock, or perhaps the world's smallest deserted island, depending on how you want to look at it. Porno Esotic Love premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Dylan—Rab Dylan, that is—plays in Hong Kong.
Above, a nice cover for Azzurro è l'inferno, aka Hell Is Blue, 1968, by Rab Dylan for the Italian publishers Silpe as part of its Giallo 70 line. This was Silpe's first publication of many. The story is espionage set in Hong Kong, with all the James Bond style trappings. The author Dylan was pseudonymous, in this case for Italian writer Gualberto Titta, who we assume was worried people would laugh at his last name. What's notable about this book, at least for us, is that the company was founded by genius illustrator Mario Ferrari, who we've featured several times. And once we knew that, it was suddenly obvious this was also Ferrari's work on the cover. He's top tier, and you can see plenty more from him here, here, and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
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