Ninja Demon's Massacre (1988)

PLOT: This is a Godfrey Ho ninja movie from 1988. That is the plot.

Director: Godfrey Ho (as Tommy Cheung)
Writers: Sally Nichols (dialogue), Harold Owen
Cast: Edmund Morris, Ken Ashley, Ted Brooke, James Lear, Stuart Smith

Now for something slightly different. We’re getting into the holiday spirit by reviewing a film sent by Kevin from Wtf-Film.com as part of the inaugural Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit Secret Santa. His gift to us was the 1988 Filmark International release, Ninja Demon’s Massacre, allegedly directed by Godfrey Ho under the pseudonym, Tommy Cheung. As it turns out, I love ninjas and bad movies, but especially gifts, so this is right in my wheelhouse. Thanks Kevin!

During adolescence, a friend and I started making movies using an 8mm camcorder. In the editing process, we’d intercut our nonsensical, improvised footage with carefully selected scenes from our favorite films of the day. The crown jewel was a mash-up of us acting “drunk” in my kitchen and then diving for cover as Dolph Lundgren’s character from Red Scorpion proceeded to shoot up a bar. Crude, yes, but entertaining (to my little brother). Unknowingly, we’d stumbled upon the “cut-and-paste” technique, where filmmakers will splice together unrelated material from various sources in an attempt to create a re-contextualized whole. In the world of action films, this method might be best epitomized by the output of Filmark and IFD, production companies that hung their respective hats on low-budget ninja films.

The biggest of these hats were worn by producer Tomas Tang and Godfrey Ho, a director who apprenticed under accomplished action luminaries like Chang Cheh and John Woo, yet found his bread-and-butter in making grainy mix-and-match 1980s ninja films which failed to live up to their awesome titles. Unlike Ho’s more narratively cohesive efforts -- specifically, Undefeatable and Honor and Glory -- his ninja-themed movies from the 1980s are the cinematic equivalent of one of Ralph Wiggum’s DIY costumes: household items haphazardly fastened together for a few cheap laughs.

Ninja Demon’s Massacre is not unlike the majority of these films: whiteboy secret agent adventuring abroad while ninja footage occasionally interrupts some obscure 1970s Southeast Asian action-adventure. Conspicuous by their absence are Ho regulars like Mike Abbott and Richard Harrison, but Stuart Smith fills in admirably as the somewhat central gwailo Interpol agent, Robinson Collins. According to a painfully dubbed and poorly lit scene in the early-going, Collins has been pursuing an Asian gang leader named Willy, who gets his rocks off selling confidential U.S. military information to the Soviets. After handing over his file to the local Thai authorities, Collins and his covert brethren agree that an agent named Max should be on the case going forward. As a Thai, Max (Sorapong Chatri, according to Critical Condition), is better equipped to blend in and infiltrate the gang. Along for the ride are Jack and Julie, two agents going undercover as tutors for Willy’s children in his ex-wife’s home.

It’s at this point in the movie where the poorly dubbed world of covert agents and ninja attacks takes a backseat to the poorly dubbed world of bar brawls and pistol duels in the Thailand countryside. One rainy night, Max marches into a local watering hole overrun by Willy’s thugs and instills fighting spirit in a wimpy clientele more concerned with cheap whiskey than pride. As Jack and Julie gather information on the inside, Max works the periphery and reveals himself to be something of a total dickhead in the process. During a duel, he plays possum, only to shoot his adversary in each appendage, then convinces the crippled thug that he’s lucky to even be alive. Earlier, Max overcharges a thug who breaks a bunch of liquor glasses to the tune of $350. Even when adjusted for inflation and the exchange rate, this is unreasonable. Did I mention he always wears a flannel shirt with a denim jacket? Max is but a moustache away from Williamsburg hipster douche.

Ninja Demon’s Massacre encounters the same issue that any movie in the cut-and-paste mold does: the disparate story threads can never coalesce onscreen in any meaningful way. I can get past the fact that this movie is pretty much free of both demons and massacres, but the other huge misstep is that the ninja-free Thai gang war footage gets the lion’s share of screen time in a film with ninja in the title. While 2009 Karl Brezdin wants to retort “epic fail” to that, near-2012 Brezdin proclaims that kind of reaction is played out (before updating his MySpace profile).

Perhaps that uneven distribution is for the best, though. The ninja action in this movie, save for some smoke bombs, tree-climbing, and self-detonating ninja corpses, is subpar by most standards. The fights include the requisite sword clash effects and the much-loved “zips” of swords slicing through flesh, but the skirmishes are largely bloodless. In a move that probably did more harm than good, we also get a clunky voice-over describing the relationship between Robinson Collins and the golden ninja who keeps saving him from black ninja onslaughts, but there’s no other explanation given for the presence of ninjas in the story, for whom they work, or even why they’re impervious to gunshots. It’s pretty much ninja-as-visual-accessory, and while I recognize I’m a total crank for complaining about ninjas in a fucking Godfrey Ho movie, a little context would have been appreciated.

The visual aspects of the film reinforce the narrative’s mishmash approach. The director of photography, presumably Christopher Doyle, should be commended for sourcing the visual elements of Japanese chanbara films in a barrage of poorly framed shots that leaves the heads of performers cut in half or otherwise decapitated. The outlier is a properly zany fight scene that recalls Maria Ford’s “one against many” brawl from Angel of Destruction where she fought in nothing more than a high waist thong. Standing in for her ample figure is the gangly frame of Stuart Smith, adorned in nothing more than dark aviators and an electric blue speedo during a fight with a group of ninjas on a public beach. Fortunately, there are no flop-outs visited upon the viewer’s eyes during the scene. I invite you to undertake slow-motion analysis to confirm for sure though.

I’ve not seen too many films of this ilk, so it’s difficult for me to gauge where Ninja Demon’s Massacre fits in the Filmark/IFD landscape. For all my complaints, there were elements I enjoyed. The dialogue is quite hilarious at times -- “your boss will kill you if you bring me back raped,” was the most notable laugher -- but the move away from the “ninja vs. covert agents” narrative thread that kicked off the proceedings left me a bit cold. That said, this is a suitable friends-and-beer type of movie: a breezy 90 minutes of ninja fights, bar brawls, and bad dubbing. In essence, a solid movie for some holiday season viewing.

2.5 / 7


Knights (1993)

PLOT: Humanity’s last hope for survival against a horde of blood-sucking cyborgs is an orphaned kickboxer with long, kinky hair and ample quadriceps. Surprisingly, that kickboxer is NOT Gary Daniels!

Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Albert Pyun
Cast: Kathy Long, Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen, Gary Daniels, Scott Paulsin, Vincent Klyn

So, your funding just came through and you get to make your movie. Not only that, but you get to film your movie in the highly cinematic Utah regions of Monument Valley and Moab. However, it’s not enough to do a movie in Utah, you need some stars. Your quality screen presence comes in the form of veterans Lance Henriksen and Kris Kristofferson. The acting chops are nice, but you’re filming an action movie, so you need some quality fighters. Answering the bell are kickboxers Gary Daniels and Kathy Long. All this action and drama are nice, but you need some wacky costumes. You get the wacky costumes, plus some horses. Wait, why are people riding horses? Oh, it’s after the apocalypse. Why did the apocalypse happen? Nevermind that, because the cyborgs are running this shit now, and oh, by the way, the cyborgs need to extract human blood to stay alive, so they’re vampire cyborgs. These are the elements that kept Albert Pyun awake at night during the filming of Knights, released in 1993.

Real-life Aikidio/Wing Chun/kickboxing/Kung Fu San Soo dynamo Kathy Long plays Nea, a woman orphaned during her youth after a group of cyborgs led by the treacherous Job (Henriksen) slaughtered her village and her family, save for a younger brother. As the tribe of cyborgs move across the region’s remaining human settlements, their objective is to obtain as much of the red stuff as possible to achieve immortality.

During one such raid years later, the now-adult Nea is shot with an arrow by human mercenaries and left to the cyborg, Simon (Paulsin), a lackey of Job. However, a hooded rider (Kristofferson) appears on the horizon and immediately takes out a group of bandits before settings his sights on Simon. After disposing of the wise-cracking cyborg and then getting Nea to safety, we learn that this savior, Gabriel, is also a cyborg, albeit programmed with an entirely different objective: destroy the other cyborgs within his one year life-cycle. Following training that will show her the cyborgs’ strengths and vulnerabilities, Nea is going to help him do just that.

Tough and rugged ladies of action are few and far between. Those who immediately come to mind include Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise and Linda Hamilton in T2. Knowing her experience and capabilities, I want to put Michelle Yeoh in that group too, but her actual look doesn’t necessarily scream “tough chick.” In Knights, though, Kathy Long looks the part of a nomadic kickboxing warrior who’s less dolled-up than dirtied-up. In fact, I don’t know that you could put anyone else in her spot while preserving the same level of plausibility. Karen Sheperd and Kelly Gallant are possibilities but neither has the same essence. Cynthia Rothrock might be a popular choice, but in addition to being more petite, she lacks that visually tough look. So while Rothrock certainly can fuck you up, Long can and will fuck you up.

When the action sequences in Knights get rolling, the sparks literally fly. Pyun adds plenty of smoke and sparks to the various sword-fights and cyborg kills and it’s a welcome touch without it being overstylized to the point of being illogical. While no one fight scene sticks out due to the repetitious but passable choreography, there are plenty of impressive stunt falls and jumps strewn throughout to visually exaggerate the impact of blows received by the combatants. Gary Daniels, as cyborg henchman David, breaks up some of the monotony with excellent kicking displays during his limited but effective screen time.

Beyond the unique action sequences, the two other major visual boons are the shooting location and the costumes. Pyun maximizes just about every frame in using the Utah landscape as a stand-in for the wasteland of his cyborg-dominated universe. Lots of wide shots help to establish the size and scope of this barren existence and the deep oranges and reds are a nice change from the yellows and browns of most other post-apocalyptic action films (I’m looking at you, Cirio). While his location scout should have received a generous bonus for his or her efforts, the costume designer also deserves a nod. Most of the humans are decked out in the requisite rags and fabric scraps, but the cyborg army is decked out in flowy blue and red ensembles that seem almost Moorish in origin.

Even though his best film work came during the 1970s with titles like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Convoy, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Kristofferson is fairly solid as Gabriel, the cyborg with a heart of gold. He acts as the guide through this unique Pyun universe for both Nea and the audience as he back-fills a lot of exposition when not training his prodigy on the finer points of killing cyborgs. The tone of his performance is rather interesting. He’s either: a) purposely mechanical because he’s a cyborg; b) stoic, in order to provide a grizzled and world-weary quality that evokes his experience in Westerns; or c) dry and squinty because he was really annoyed to be filming an Albert Pyun movie in the middle of the fucking desert. Even if it’s option C and Kristofferson wasn’t pleased with the production, it couldn’t be any worse than working on the set of A Star is Born with Barbara Streisand.

Henriksen appears to be having a grand old time playing the villainous Job. While my favorite performance remains his excellent and over-the-top turn as Emil Fouchon in John Woo’s Hard Target, this is as quirky and memorable a role as he’s ever had. What few scenes aren’t accented by him drooling as if he’s been overmedicated before an invasive dental procedure, instead find him doing equally odd things like wearing new-wave sunglasses while kissing a parrot. Making a concerted effort to steal every scene in which he’s involved, Henriksen cut loose and went to a lot of fun and weird places with his character. I can’t say I envy Lance though, because the comically oversized cybernetic hook-arm he drags around for the entire film no doubt gave him terrible hip and lower-back pain. Shit looked uncomfortable.

Despite the occasional pacing and narrative flaws, I rather enjoyed the 90 minutes I spent in this world of drooling, blood-sucking cyborgs parading around the state parks of Utah. Knights is Pyun operating at an 11 on the Pyun scale of campiness: we get a silly plot, zany action sequences, twisted humor, clunky Biblical undertones, and majestic wide-angle shots. It’s a film that knows exactly what it is and just about everyone got the memo on what it wasn’t, so no one overreaches. I’m not the most well-versed of Albert Pyun scholars out there, so I won’t be so presumptive as to say it’s one of his best, but I’d have to think that good or bad, this ranks as one of his most entertaining. Take that as you will.

VHS only.

4 / 7


Fist of Further Reading: Super Marcey's Super Website

My freakish and borderline obsessive enthusiasm for the No Retreat, No Surrender trilogy is perhaps eclipsed by only one other film reviewer: the excellence of Oceania, Super Marcey of supermarcey.com. In addition to her Strandbergian leanings, she puts together podcasts, audio commentaries, and even did a rare audio interview with FoBL favorite Loren Avedon. Her website is a great source for film reviews spanning all genres (the Recommendations section turned me onto Red Hill) and she has a tremendous web presence.

Jump Off Posts:
Loren Avedon Interview
No Retreat, No Surrender Audio Commentary
The American Ninja Franchise


Fist of Further Reading: Direct to Video Connoisseur

Direct to Video Connoisseur

I sometimes marvel at the fact we've been able to churn out so many reviews on such a narrow niche genre like Western chopsocky films. Then I look at the Direct to Video Connoisseur blog and his several hundred posts and I feel like a slack-jawed waster. He's well on his way to over a thousand posts; those are Rice/Ripken/Abdul-Jabbar numbers. Active for nearly four years, the DtVC is a great source for coverage of everything from Hauser to Hopper and Lundgren to Dudikoff and everything in between. He also counts FoBL favorites like Cynthia Rothrock and Gary Daniels among the many inductees to the DtVC Hall of Fame. His writing style is punchy but informative, and forgoes a ratings system in lieu of more contextualized opinion. As a bonus, he almost always notes the circumstances under which he acquires his film copies, which is helpful for comparative purposes when you’re about to drop $65 on a factory-sealed DVD of a Jeff Wincott movie.

Jump-Off Post: Van Damme Film Fest


Capital Punishment (1991)

PLOT: There’s a new and dangerous drug in town, and a secret group of government agents needs the help of a kickboxer to bring down the trafficking ring. See? The road towards a sound federal drug policy is not paved with large-scale crackdowns or even legalization, but with guys like Gary Daniels.

Director: David Huey
Writer: David Huey
Cast: Gary Daniels, David Carradine, Mel Novak, Tadashi Yamashita, Ian Jacklin, Mark Russo, Linda Lightfoot, Scott Shaw, Ava Fabian

While drugs appear pretty regularly in action movies, it’s rare to see the drug experience itself mapped out on the screen. We’ve seen heroes get drugged before or during a big showdown and been treated to first-person blur-vision to share in the character’s perspective. However, it’s uncommon to the action genre to have the experience of the drugged character closely match the experience of watching the movie unfold. In only his third film, David Huey manages to accomplish this with 1991’s Capital Punishment. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that only someone on drugs could have made this movie.

James Thayer (Daniels) is leading a simple life as a fighter working the grueling restaurant-lounge circuit. After tossing his latest opponent through a table of two-for-one appetizers, he gets jumped in the locker room area by a pair of stooges and tazed into blackness. He awakens in an office run by a secretive branch of the DEA investigating the mastermind behind a new and popular street drug called “kick,” which causes heightened euphoria and temporary immunity to pain. The only ill effects are debilitating pain during withdrawal and genetic mutations in the offspring of users. No biggie. While watching an organized but extremely boring slideshow called “Project Kick,” Thayer is shocked to learn that the mastermind is his sensei, Kenji Nakata (Yamashita). The secretive unit, led by the creepy Mason Dover (Novak), wants to use Thayer to bring his old mentor and father-figure to justice, but they may have other motives as well.

Thayer must not only contend with Nakata’s thugs, covert double-crossers, and a kickboxing toolbag played by Ian Jacklin, but he’s also drugged at random throughout the movie with the very drug he’s grown to abhor. DEA agent Nikki Holt (Lightfoot) is disgusted by the corruption within her own ranks and wants to help Thayer, but his experience with the alternate worlds of undercover work and being high as a motherfucker may prevent her from showing him the way. A normally trusting human being, he has confidence in nothing, believes no one, and punches and kicks everyone in his path towards the truth. Can Holt and a doctor versed in Eastern medicine help Thayer to erase the druggy fog preventing him from dispensing justice? Or will everyone be content to just sit around eating Cool Ranch Doritos and laughing uncontrollably?

The combination of "slow and sloppy" can have positive connotations when you're referring to cooking pulled pork or having sex, but when it comes to film fights, it usually spells doom. Capital Punishment contains some of the most hastily put-together fight scenes I've ever seen (and I watched For Hire)! One fight featuring Daniels and Jacklin appears to have been secretly recorded without the actors' knowledge as they worked on blocking out the moves at half-speed. The stunt teams in Filipino productions tend to be reliably solid, but it looks like Huey required a history of faulty vestibular systems as well; these guys make the Shockmaster look coordinated.

The standout sequence would have to be a bar fight between Daniels and Floridian martial arts champ and veteran of No Retreat No Surrender 3, Mark Russo. His beard is just as epic but his part here is even smaller than his small henchman part in NRNS3. The two trade strikes and a long exchange of wrist-lock takedowns in a nod toward the future of film fights by incorporating grappling and MMA tactics. It ends rather memorably with a death-by-pool-cue, but the fight is still marred by crummy shooting angles and a lack of consistent sound effects. Still, you have to take what the film gives you and next to the climactic fight scene between Daniels and American Ninja's Tadashi Yamashita, this is probably the best of the offerings.

David Carradine appears as a behind-the-scenes order-barker and all of his scenes are filmed in a dimly lit office or a big-rig truck interior. He was almost completely wasted here and his character felt tacked-on to what was already a total mess of a plot. Along with Mel Novak, he’s the most actorly of this bunch but he’s rarely afforded the chance to guide this group of mostly inexperienced performers to more watchable dramatic scenes. You don’t necessarily need Carradine to fight either, but he and Daniels share no screen time whatsoever so I’d have to regard this as a wasted opportunity on all fronts.

Capital Punishment is a strange film because its anachronistic narrative both fails and works at the same time. In one sense, it's no different than the hundreds of films like it which ignored any semblance of logic and flauted the rules of escalating action and tension. In a vacuum, by these traditional measures, it falls short. But given the druggy experience of the film's protagonist, the disjointed and often surreal tones actually work pretty well to throw the viewer off-kilter as they try to navigate the film's events. Was this the intended effect by the filmmaker? Probably not, but since I regularly take tremendous satisfaction when receiving credit for unintentionally positive results, I imagine director David Huey would too.

The story is convoluted and confusing, the characters who aren't assholes are uninteresting, and the fight scenes are mostly lackadasical and poorly shot. Yet, despite all of the elements that snowball to make Capital Punishment a forgettable film, there's something about it I still enjoyed. Part of it was Yamashita as a somewhat hilarious villain, but it's also an early Gary Daniels joint where you can see him honing his screen presence and learning how to carry a film in the face of so many other problems, technical and otherwise. There's something admirable about that and you can't really quantify it, but it's present here. However, I can't honestly recommend this to anyone but Daniels completists or action trash enthusiasts who've exhausted all other options.


3 / 7


Honor and Glory (1993)

PLOT: A team of sisters, one an FBI agent, the other a television news reporter, attempts to bring down an insane kickboxing bank executive before he can acquire a nuclear arms trigger. Wait, is this a bio-pic about disgraced former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis?

Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: Herb Borkland
Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Donna Jason, John Miller, Chuck Jeffreys, Robin Shou, Gerald Klein, Leo Rocca, Richard Yuen, Yip Yim Hing

The rich, white man might be the most overused villain archetype in the history of action movies. I won’t bore anyone with a laundry list of past examples, but trust me that it’s as redundant and uncomfortably long as a gag on Family Guy. For 1993’s Honor and Glory, Godfrey Ho assembled a cast of principals with which he’d double-dip later in the year for his American masterpiece, Undefeatable. As you’ll recall from our coverage of that film, Cynthia Rothrock was teamed with an unreasonably sweaty John Miller, but Honor and Glory finds them on opposite sides of the law. For my money, the result of this villain casting has become the stick by which all other rich white man villain roles should be measured.

Not everyone shares our enthusiasm for rich, white, male villains, though. Hotshot television reporter Joyce Pride (Jason) has staked her career on digging up sleaze and truth, and she’s just turned her sights on local bank executive Jason Slade (Miller). His shady business practices and alleged physical intimidation of investigators and regulators have made him a very controversial topic in the news media.

He’s a martial arts practitioner and a raging dickhead, but Slade still feels the need to employ an army of bodyguards headed by Jake Armstrong (Jeffreys) a well-dressed kung fu and boxing expert. Jake is constantly attached at his boss’s hip to assure that pesky, scandal-seeking reporters and photographers are put in their place. You know, the place where people in the news media get beat up for asking questions and cameras are smashed on sight (China, and occasionally, the Michelle Bachmann campaign trail). Jake has never really pondered the implications of Slade’s business activities but a recent flurry of media inquiries and assassination attempts has him rethinking the ethical value of his gig.

What’s a maligned financial figure to do when regulators are knocking at the door, assassins are around every corner, and a driven reporter is sitting on video testimony detailing the fraud you committed to the tune of $1 billion? First, you clear your calendar and cancel your prayer breakfast with ex-President Ronald Reagan. Then blow off some steam by angrily practice kung fu weapon forms on your back patio. But you want to stay productive, so you acquire a stolen activator to a nuclear weapon from an Arab businessman in a deal arranged by a white street pimp named Silk (Klein). Makes sense, right?

The latter point has drawn the attention of federal agencies, and Joyce’s FBI agent sister, Tracy (Rothrock) has come back from an assignment in Hong Kong to sniff out the stolen and extremely volatile goods. For most, black-market nuclear espionage would be enough on your plate but Tracy also uses her time at home to play peacemaker between her younger sister and their semi-retired workaholic covert agent father. Joyce resents her Pops for sending her to live with her mother while Tracy resided with her father following their parents’ separation. In itself, it’s not such a terrible thing unless you conclude that the living situation led her to pursue a career in a dying journalism industry, while Tracy probably got to learn about cool shit like waterboarding and handgun recoil management.

The film juggles its loose ends all the way to the finish line (no easy task) and while you won’t be left scratching your head, you might be left palming your face. This is a Godfrey Ho movie, after all. Things come to a head in a warehouse of all places, and you might be equally surprised to find that the climax is comprised of three different climactic fights intercut together! Ho breaks out all the stops: cardboard boxes, confounding cargo nets, and Jason Slade in a tracksuit drinking a Heineken while also handling a pair of Chinese meditation balls.

Understandably, Cynthia Rothrock gets top billing but this is more of an ensemble piece with emphases on the Joyce Pride and Jason Slade character arcs. As the chippy news reporter, Donna Jason does an admirable job and both her acting and fighting skills are more than competent. Also along for the ride as visiting Interpol agent Dragon Lee is Robin Shou but his scattered inclusion feels like he might have just been killing time before a red-eye flight. Ho juggles the characters as best he can, but it often takes away from the best elements of his movie: the action, and the villain.

John Miller really only had two big film roles in an otherwise brief career, but he should be thanking his lucky stars for the silver platter handed to him in Honor and Glory. He’s equipped with some of the best lines ever written for a martial arts villain. After Silk expresses his displeasure at Slade’s inclusion of an outside expert for their nuclear trigger deal, Slade coolly replies: “Do you know an atomic trigger from a Bulgarian dildo? Because I don't.” Pressed both internally and externally to step down from his post during his company’s scandal, he repeatedly screams: “only death can retire Jason Slade!” If you thought Warbeck from Expect No Mercy had the market cornered on megalomaniacal monologues in martial arts b-movies, think again. Slade reminds a second-guessing business associate that: “I have arrived at the top of the world. No man has control of more money. No man can fight me and live. No woman can share my bed and not be mine for life. I am like a god! I piss on you, from a great height.” Seriously, who writes this stuff? Oh right, “Herb Borkland.” Definitely a real person. No matter the creative source, Miller hits the role out of the park and it’s a welcomed change from his unbearably wholesome performance in Undefeatable.

Is it possible to discuss a movie featuring Chuck Jeffreys without mentioning his similarities in cadence and line delivery to Eddie Murphy? Well, shit -- I kind of just undermined myself so I guess not. With the Murphy factor turned down to a tawdry 4, Jeffreys is engaging as usual, and despite not getting a properly climactic fight, he still brings terrific athleticism to his action scenes. Director Godfrey Ho even hints at some martial artist romance between the Jake and Joyce characters in a scene where they lock chopsticks while battling over a lunch of green beans. HOT.

Similarly to Undefeatable, the fight choreography is above-average for an American martial arts film. Nothing here is as goofy and unhinged as that film’s sweaty basement fight climax, but the action moves at a good clip and everyone gets an opportunity to show their skills. For an obvious low-budget film, Ho makes decent use of different fighting locations and talent, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that the climax in Honor and Glory is a bit too abrupt and way too clean. I blame my inflated expectations on the protracted eye-trauma carnage of Undeatable, but I would guess that Slade’s comeuppance is fitting when you consider that most white-collar crimes are forgiven after nothing more than hefty fines and early retirement.

While it doesn’t reach the same levels of camp and absurdity that audiences saw in Undefeatable, Honor and Glory makes a damn fine companion piece. You get a bit less Rothrock (bad), but a lot more Chuck Jeffreys (good) and villainous John Miller (incredible). It’s a bit of a shame that Godfrey Ho is better known for his cut-and-paste ninja shenanigans than (somewhat) original films like this, because he had the capacity to create an enjoyable action romp. Give it a watch, or risk having your “testicles peeled like grapes.”

Stuck in Save purgatory on Netflix, but pick your format poison (VHS or DVD) on Amazon and EBay.

5.5 / 7


Fist of Further Reading: Comeuppance Reviews

Comeuppance Reviews

Brett and Ty, the guys at Comeuppance Reviews, stick almost exclusively to direct-to-video action movies, a net obviously wide enough to include a ton of martial arts film. They’re pioneers of sorts, having coined the term “punchfighter” to tidily describe “movies about underground bare-knuckle fighting that spectators bet on.” They use a star system (0-4) and their reviews tend to vary in length, which may be directly proportionate to how much enthusiasm (or lack thereof) they have for the subject matter. You can always count on some great one-liners and oddball selections, including a lot of out-of-print stuff; you might get a PM Entertainment flick one week and an old 1970s William Smith actioner the next.

Jump-Off Post: Night of the Kickfighters review


Rage and Honor (1992)

PLOT: An Australian cop and a public school teacher team up to bring down an amazing mullet with a ruthless criminal mastermind. Yes, his misdeeds are, in fact, secondary to the crime against nature that is his hair.

Director: Terence H. Winkless
Writer: Terence H. Winkless
Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Brian Thompson, Terri Treas, Stephen Davies, Patrick Malone, Peter Cunningham, Kathy Long, Roger Yuan

Despite fast getaways with Corey Haim and treks through jungles with Loren Avedon, none of the team-ups in Cynthia Rothrock’s films are as consistently fulfilling as those with Richard Norton. Armed with a chemistry perhaps born out of the collective experience of cutting their teeth as bad-ass gweilos in 1980s Hong Kong films, they’ve enjoyed at least 10 on-screen collaborations, more than a half-dozen of which have been released Stateside. The 1992 Terence H. Winkless film Rage and Honor is their first proper team-up, having left Keith Cooke and his Native American biker character behind in the universe of the China O’Brien franchise. No doubt, before peeling away in their car, they threw beer bottles all over the ground as a single tear rolled down Cooke’s face.

This is not a film in which the punny title contains nouns which are also the surnames of the main characters, but Rothrock does play a public school teacher, so I’d have to guess that she’s the “Rage” in this equation. As Kris Fairchild, she channels said rage in the most productive manner possible as a martial arts guru who gives regular lectures about “the art of martial science.” One of the guests for her latest demonstration of applied concepts is an Australian cop named Preston Michaels (Norton). As an observational guest of the local police department, he’s under strict orders not to blow his cover by doing any actual police work.

That arrangement lasts all of about five minutes and Michaels finds himself in hot water after seeing some crooked cops deal drugs and trying to bust them for it. The woman in charge, Rita (Treas), shoots one of the bumbling lawmen and plans to pin it on Michaels, but she overlooks one critical rule: you shouldn’t kill cops if there’s a high-school AV-nerd skate punk on the roof filming the entire thing with a Hi-8 camera. OK, fine. Sorry, you fucking nerds -- TAPING.

The nosy videographer just happens to be one of Fairchild’s students, and after taking him to a hospital, Michaels goes to her dojo for help. Before getting his ass kicked by the other crooked cop, the student apparently left the tape in the hands of a homeless friend who lives in an alley … because where else would you leave something that important? For Michaels, finding the tape means exoneration for the murder for which he’s now being sought by the authorities. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones looking for it.

Desperate for assistance, Rita has reported back to her full-time peen and the criminal mastermind behind the drug-running operation, Conrad Drago (Thompson). He believes that killing Michaels -- the first-hand witness -- is more important than finding the tape. That’s arguable, but whatever he might lack in judgement, he makes up for in turtlenecks and long, ratty, glorious mullet hair. Despite the festive vibes given off by his mop, Drago harbors a dark and terrible secret. Yes, I know what it is. No, I will not tell you. It is simply too dark and terrible for this review.

Throughout most of its 90-minute runtime, Rage and Honor feels more like a loosely connected web of weird moments and wacky characters than a cohesive film. There’s definitely a plot here, but some of the motivations and events are so half-baked that it seems obvious the writers were just trying to move our heroes from one fight scene to the next. I don’t necessarily have an issue with that strategy, especially because of the can-do, kitchen-sink energy they use to do it. One scene finds Roger Yuan and Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham dressed to the nines and shaking down a sex worker for money, while another finds Kathy Long as one of several Amazonian glam-rock female assassins trying to kill Michaels. You get drugs, splosions, and even character actor Stephen Davies as a stockbroker-turned-junkie leading our heroes through the criminal underworld.

However, if you’re going to skimp on plot and logic for the purpose of ramping up your action quotient, those scenes need to be stellar. Outside of one good scene where Michaels and Fairfield are forced to fight each other by a ruthless gang of Vanity 6 rejects, the fight scenes are pretty straight-forward by DTV action standards. The fighters’ forms on their strikes are good and the selling is reasonable for the most part, but the fights are marked by a stilted feel that prevents any one from really sticking out from the pack. There is one kill that deserves special mention, where a character’s finger trigger is manipulated via pressure points and the end result is a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Pretty cool stuff, but my favorite action sequence in the film wasn’t a fight or a kill for that matter. During the back-end, Peter Cunningham’s character gets a hold of the incriminating tape and runs for the fucking end zone as Michaels gives chase. It wasn’t anything spectacular per se, but there’s something hilarious and sort of dangerous about pursuits where both characters are in ill-suited footware, like cowboy boots and dress shoes. I am a simple man.

In terms of characters, Rage and Honor is a bit unusual in that the teacher displays greater street smarts than the cop, ignoring the fact that Michaels is from Australia and very likely puts beets on his hamburgers. This gave the story a fish-out-of-water element but it was run into the ground by having every other character that Michaels meets make a crack about kangaroos or boomerangs. Just perform a terrible imitation of his funny accent and be done with it.

With Brian Thompson’s portrayal of Drago, we’re treated to one of the more awe-inspiring villain introductions in martial arts b-movies. After holding his palm over a lit candle, he struts across his tiny apartment and smashes to pieces a block of ice roughly the size of an adult sea turtle. All while listening to opera. You could almost hear him thinking aloud, “Yes, all of this is terribly impractical but smashing blocks of ice is very cinematic and oh, by the way, I’m really classy and rich as fuck.” Thompson tows the line between intellectual pontificator and crazy-eyed psycho but his behavior isn’t nearly as unhinged and maniacal as his hair. I’m going out on a limb here: it’s the most ridiculous mullet in cinema history, and by ridiculous, I mean amazing.

This was a mixed bag. The positive components included the chemistry between Norton and Rothrock, a fun performance by Brian Thompson, and a seemingly endless parade of random b-movie martial artists in small roles. However, the story still manages to drag for stretches and the action is often overedited and shot from poor viewing angles. So what nudges Rage and Honor towards above-average territory for me? Hmm...let me think on it...

Amazon, EBay, Netflix.

4 / 7


Fist of Further Reading: The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema

The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema

This is the rare podcast for which I'll delay all other music and podcast listening when their episodes drop. Hosted by Big Willie and The Samurai, the GGtMC has a high degree of relistenability and you'll want to keep a notepad nearby to jot down the various names and titles referenced throughout the runtime of each episode. It's a special kind of podcast that features nuanced and sophisticated discussion of film without making the slide towards pretension, while also leaving room for quips about boobs, mustaches, leather pants, and mesh tank tops. If you consider yourself a fan of genre films (or mesh tank tops), I can't recommend it strongly enough.

Jump Off Episodes:

Episode 99: Undefeatable Butthorn - This was the first episode I recall that made me laugh uncontrollably during my morning commute as NYC subway riders watched me nervously and made snide comments. The gents bring in Pickleloaf (co-host of the Silva and Gold podcast) to lay the critical smack down on Godfrey Ho's Undefeatable and the Gary Busey action trash romp Bulletproof. Brace yourself fools!

Episode 136: Super Violators - One of the more action-heavy episodes the Gentlemen have produced. Hilarious reviews of the Strandberg-penned Seasonal Films gem Superfights and the b-grade action opus Parole Violators.

Episode 143: Night Breathing - I'm showing totally blatant bias by plugging an episode that I had the good fortune to program, but they did cover FoBL favorite, Breathing Fire, so it's still relevant. Also features coverage of the terrific psychological thriller Night Warning with Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson.


American Ninja (1985)

PLOT: Long before haughty military leaders were up in arms about gays serving openly in the military, they were up in arms about amnesic American ninjas serving openly in the military.

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writers: Paul De Mielche, Avi Kleinberger, Gideon Amir, James R. Silke
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, Don Stewart, Nick Nicholson

This space is a little over a year old and I’ve yet to make any Internet enemies, so I’ve resorted to inventing detractors in my head. These medieval dickweeds often pose the question: how can you dedicate your content to Western martial arts b-films and not cover American Ninja? I’ll admit that ignoring it up to this point was a conscious choice. We try to cover movies wallowing in straight-to-video obscurity, not a Cannon Films picture that scored $3.2 million in its opening weekend. Our preference is for real martial artists giving the acting thing a go, not a model-turned-actor who had no real martial arts credits prior to filming. Last, I may have ignored it on a subconscious level out of pure shame. Before watching it for this review, I’d never even seen American Ninja. What’s that high-pitched wheeze? Oh, right: the sound of my tattered Internet credibility disappearing into the ether.

After a string of small parts in films like Bloody Birthday and Bachelor Party, Michael Dudikoff was handed the ball for American Ninja and told to run with it. (Secretly and under the cover of smokebombs, of course; this was a ninja movie). Ninjas had done some Entering and Revenging at the box office, but never American-style, and Dudikoff was the handsome (white) devil of Cannon Films producers’ dreams. He plays Army Private Joe Armstrong, a soft-spoken amnesic military truck driver stationed in the Philippines who has a penchant for effortlessly beating the shit out of people. That’s right. Without American Ninja, there would be no Jason Bourne films. Ignore the fact that The Bourne Identity novel was written in 1980, and that quip is a lot funnier.

During an ambush on his unit that leaves several fellow soldiers dead, Armstrong survives using a mix of unique fighting skills (punching) and improvisation (a screwdriver and tire iron) to fight off a group of ninja attackers. Instead of getting the hero’s treatment for saving the daughter of Col. Hickock (Koock), Armstrong is reprimanded and shunned by the entire base. They all seem to think his aggression caused a lot of unnecessary deaths. Armstrong seems to think that being a giant pussy is no way to act around ninjas.

Tough-as-nails corporal and fighting expert Curtis Jackson (James) wants to make an example out of Armstrong because no one likes a “glory boy” when it comes at the cost of teamwork. Instead, Jackson gets his ass handed to him in front of his peers and underlings. He’s not so much embarrassed or angry as he is curious about where Armstrong picked up such advanced skills, and they become pals. Theirs is the latest in a long line of action movie friendships forged during the act of trying to beat the piss out of each other.

Armstrong is going to need all the help he can get, because he stumbles upon a devious arrangement between the local American military leadership and a black market arms dealer named Ortega (Stewart) that could blow the roof off the establishment. In order to get the guilty parties, he’ll have to go through an army of ninjas led by Ortega’s main hatchet man, Black Star Ninja (Yamashita). No one actually calls him this by name, but he has a cute little black star tattoo on his face. Could have been a birthmark or a mole, I don’t fucking know.

American Ninja is definitely a movie I would have loved as a nine year-old burgeoning martial arts student. Which is not to say you can’t dig this as an adult, because the action moves at a great clip and the ninja-heavy climax cuts loose and properly zany. Brandishing more than two screenwriters is usually a clue that the resulting film will be a fucking mess, but unlike a lot of other projects with a Frankenstein crew of scribes, it manages to keep its head above water for the most part.

In what amounts to his first real leading role, Dudikoff is reasonably OK. He doesn’t bring much charisma, has little emotional conviction in his line delivery, and is a neutral element in some otherwise entertaining fight scenes. I don’t doubt that he honed his craft and improved over the course of the franchise and his career, but he doesn’t do enough on either the action or dramatic fronts to carry the film, nor is he bad enough to be laughably entertaining. The real star of this affair is Steve James -- the man is an absolute bad-ass and unlike the fresh-faced Dudikoff, he looks the part. Fortunately, he supplies enough personality and screen presence for the both of them. And of course, by personality and screen presence, I mean an awesome “helicopter explosion by way of rocket launcher” scene.

One other note: Judie Aronson plays Patricia, Armstrong’s love interest and the Colonel’s daughter. As I did, a lot of people will remember her from Weird Science as Hilly, the eventual love interest of Wyatt Donnelly. That film featured prominently in my youth, and I thought it was important to mention that even as an kid, I thought she was the hottest chick in that entire film, which is a little odd because the whole point of the movie is to give you a giant hard-on for Kelly LeBrock and her cosmic abilities and sexy outfits. Also, Steve James had an uncredited role in Weird Science. How’s that for some full circle shit?

American Ninja ranks very favorably in the canon of 1980s American action films. No one in their right mind is going to confuse Michael Dudikoff for Sho Kosugi or even Leo Fong in terms of actual martial arts skills, but the filmmakers manage to hide his lack of training through a delicate balance of pace, editing, and absurdity. Might this have been a better action effort with a young Jean Claude Van Damme in the lead role? Perhaps, but the world wasn’t quite ready for American Ninja with a Belgian Accent.

Wide and large.

6 / 7


Fist of Further Reading: Exiled from Contentment

Exiled from Contentment

Unlike a lot of sites I like to highlight, I have very little content overlap with Exiled from Contentment. I call him out almost solely because he's one of my favorite film writers to read, whether he's covering Michael Bay movies or a sizzling chop of 1970s genre cinema like Prime Cut. Memories are hazy, but I think I came across EFC initially while performing drunken web searches for Kill Squad or Hard Target or Albert Pyun. Most important, it’s the only blog for which I routinely violate my rule about avoiding posts in excess of 1500 words. EFC has a self-effacing, rant-like style of writing laced with profanity and coated with pure gold and he looks at new and old films alike. Even better, he’s one of many lucky bastards who lives within traveling distance of the Tarantino-owned New Beverly Cinema and his write-ups of their double features are required reading.

Jump-Off Post: Hard Target


Blood Hands (1990)

PLOT: When his loving parents are murdered by a gang of kickboxers, a young fighter must choose between avenging their deaths or listening to his girlfriend and allowing police to handle the investigation. Will he take matters into his own hands or continue to walk around with his balls in his girl’s purse, nestled somewhere amongst her Burt’s Bees chapstick, a paperback copy of The Hunger Games, and her emergency tampon?

Director: Teddy Page
Writer: Nothing to see here
Cast: Sean P. Donahue, Jerry Beyer, Ned Hourani, Jim Gaines, Jim Moss, Christine Landson, Nick Nicholson

As a premise, the home invasion unfurls a plethora of engaging narrative possibilities. Filmmakers might set the stage for a kid-friendly slapstick opus (Home Alone), an exercise in sadistic aggression with social commentary (Funny Games), or a rumination on the relationship between masculinity and brutality (Straw Dogs). It’s used primarily in horror and thriller films as of late, but the device is somewhat underutilized in the action genre. In Teddy Page’s 1990 film, Blood Hands, a home invasion is used as the impetus to hurl its central character into a protracted feud with a gang of kickboxing baddies. I’d be remiss if I didn’t send a special thanks to the very awesome Australian behind the Explosive Action film blog for facilitating my viewing of this film. He also has a review up containing some hilarious screen-caps as well as a fight scene clip. Be sure to read it here for another angle on the film.

Up until finding the lifeless bodies of his mother and father at home, Steve Callahan (Donahue) was having a pretty good day. His girlfriend, Tracy (Landson) professed her love, it was his birthday, and while sparring at his kickboxing school, his coach and prospective father-in-law nodded in something that resembled approval. A giant wet blanket comes in the form of his violated home and pummeled parents left for dead. What kind of animals would do this to such gentle people? Tigers or great white sharks are good guesses, but the most likely culprits are humans.

The leader of the guilty party is champion kickboxer James Clavel (Hourani). After a drunken celebration with his homeboys which accidentally left a convenience store owner dead, the crew stumbled upon the Callahan home to get fresh water for an overheated car radiator. As luck would have it, Diane Callahan just happens to be Clavel’s ex-squeeze, and even though she’s moved on to a new marriage, his old feelings come rushing back with such force that he ended up breaking her neck in a jealous rage. When doting husband Edward (Nicholson) returned home with a birthday cake for his son, the gang greeted him with a fatal beating. The lesson here? Drinking and driving can lead to death, even if you’re not in the car and especially when you fail to monitor the temperature gauge on the thermostat.

The only clue left behind at the scene of the crime, not to mention the biggest one the cops overlook, is a championship kickboxing medallion torn from the neck of Clavel’s buddy, George (Moss). Tracy brings it to Steve while alternately begging him to take it to the police instead of trying to chase clues on his own. While the medallion gives Steve a solid lead on the perpetrators, they’re also on the hunt to recover it and the respective pursuits lead to more trouble than Steve bargained for. All the while, Tracy begs for her love to quit this path of vengeance; he’s no murderer and she doesn’t want to see his hands “stained with blood.” However, seeking justice requires you to occasionally get your hands dirty. Sometimes you need to get your hands stained....with BLOOD.

We’ve previously covered director Teddy Page’s film, Blood Chase, and despite its confusing structure, the plot dealt with both protagonists and antagonists pursuing the same objective while alternately pursuing each other. There’s something similar going on in Blood Hands, but it’s more streamlined and easier to follow. Is the inciting incident believable? That depends on how much stock you place in the ability of cheap beer to cause homicidal behavior. So while the story’s not perfect, or even that logical, it’s engaging to watch unfold.

As in all his films, Page keeps the action flowing almost non-stop and everyone is up for the task. Based on their martial arts training, Hourani, Donahue, and Jerry Beyer as henchman Diego are the best-equipped to execute the fight choreography but the efforts of non-fighters like Nick Nicholson, Jim Gaines, and Jim Moss are also admirable. What really stuck out for me were the awesomely cheesy sound effects. Plenty of whooshes and the repeated thwack of baseball bats hitting heads of lettuce are up for consumption, and they’re synced reasonably well with the on-screen strikes. Some people hate that shit, but in a movie of this grade I think it’s an absolute necessity. Last, I really dug that Page went with a “mini-boss” style of climax that saw Donahue fighting a mix of random dudes before tangling with Clavel. Pair all that with some grisly deaths and I’m skipping toward the closing credits a very happy camper.

This is yet another notch in the belt for a group of actors that includes Nicholson, Moss, and Gaines, among many others. One or more of these guys made appearances in pretty much every Filipino kickpuncher from 1985 to around 1995. Conspicuous by his absence is Mike Monty, but the brother had five film credits to his name in 1990 alone, including two Black Cobra sequels. In keeping with the Rat Pack, the Frat Pack, and the Brat Pack, this collective of mostly American actors adventuring in the Filipino action film industry during this era really begs for a unifying nickname. My offering: the Expat Pack. (Hopefully it sticks because I had several thousand t-shirts printed with plans for a limited edition series of Trapper Keepers and lunchboxes).

Looking at the VHS cover, you might be disappointed to observe that while there is blood on our star, it’s on his face and chest. Conspicuously absent from his hands? Blood! So what gives? The fucking movie isn’t called Chest Blood and Denim (awesome title, btw). Fear not, though -- I’m happy to report that Blood Hands is a rare b-grade action film that actually delivers on what its title promises and its box art fails to convey: actual blood on actual hands.

One of the quirks we often encounter in watching these movies is the appearance of film posters from other properties in which the film company holds stake. In Showdown, some characters walk by a Breathing Fire poster in a movie theater (the distribution and/or production of both films involved Imperial Entertainment). In the climax of the PM Entertainment joint, Rage, Gary Daniels tosses a half-dozen motherfuckers among the shelves at a mall video store and the walls are plastered in posters of PM Entertainment flicks. Something similar happens in Blood Hands. Keep in mind that this was filmed in the Philippines, which apparently allowed the filmmakers to flout any semblance of licensing or copyright protocol and slap a poster of the JCVD classic Kickboxer on the wall during a scene where Steve visits the office of a film producer. A bit egregious, but they covered themselves legally using the “absurd superimposed handlebar moustache” loophole.

From what I’ve seen, this is probably Donahue’s most concerted effort at doing a straight martial arts film and the results are solid. The plot is hardly original and the script is practically non-existent, but if you like your kickboxing with a heaping side of bad acting and terrible dialogue, Blood Hands fits the bill. While it doesn’t reach the heights of the previously reviewed Parole Violators, it’s still a fun romp and a good starting point to observe how Donahue’s early exploits in fight-heavy Filipino actioners paved the way for his batshit-insane stunt antics in his later films.

Extremely difficult to come by. Even non-R1 copies in circulation seem to be few and far between. Cross your fingers and happy snagging.

5 / 7

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