Director: Al Adamson
Writers: John D'Amato, Marvin Lagunoff, Jim Rein
Cast: Alan Tang, Timothy Brown, Aldo Ray, James Hong, Don Oliver, Al Richardson, Carol Speed, Richard Lee-Sung
This week, we have the distinct pleasure of being included in Lost Video Archive’s Week of Hong, a cooperative effort between several exceptional blogs to cover over a dozen films from the distinguished filmography of Hollywood veteran James Hong. We’re no stranger to the Hong around these parts, having previously covered his contributions to martial arts movies such as Talons of the Eagle and Operation Golden Phoenix. We can argue about the quality of those and other low-budget films in which Hong has made appearances, but one thing is undeniable: Hong’s efforts are a consistent and steadying presence in every film he makes.
Around the same time Hong was cutting his teeth as a supporting player in Roman Polanski’s sprawling 1974 noir Chinatown, he was also putting in a few honest hours’ work as a ruthless crime boss in Al Adamson’s chopsocky-tinged blaxploitation film The Dynamite Brothers. This type of juxtaposition is Exhibit D for why the 1970s was and continues to be the best decade in American film history.
Let's get this out of the way: this film basically sucks. The opening five minutes and the climax are the best stretches of the runtime and by no small coincidence, that's where James Hong gets the most play as the villainous crime boss, Tuen. Alan Tang plays the Hogan to his Andre as Larry Chin, a heroic transplant from Hong Kong searching for his brother. Chin is picked up by the police for illegally entrering into the country and gets lumped into a squad car with Stud Brown (Brown), a laid-back dude picked up for what we can only assume was a charge of breaking hearts. Or maybe public lewdness, because he can't seem to keep his shirt buttoned up. Jaywalking? Loitering? How the fuck should I know? Don't sweat the details (the writers didn't).
As heroes are want to do, the pair makes a quick getaway and flees to Los Angeles to chase a tip on the whereabouts of Larry's brother. Along the way, they encounter helpful motorists while hitch-hiking, a kindly crime boss named Smiling Man, and a lot of foxy women concealing unkempt pubic hair, in keeping with the "big" hair style of the era. Unfortunately, few of these interactions are of any consequence. You know where the story is going within the first ten minutes of the movie and it's really just a matter of how much fighting, fucking, and continuity errors Adamson can jam in between points A and B.
The director was going for an interesting cross-cultural dynamic between Chin and Brown, but there's no tension or disagreement whatsoever between them. Instead, they're utilized as a punching bag for a bunch of racist one-liners courtesy of drunken whiteboy thugs and a corrupt detective played by Aldo Ray. Some of this can be forgiven as an artifact of the genre, but if that's not offensive enough for you, the film also features a romantic subplot between Stud Brown and a mute girl who lacks the ability to express her thoughts or feelings. Ironically, she's basically the only female character who keeps her top on. Positive feminist icon?
It's not all bad though. The title sequence included an interesting visual mix of action shot silhouettes and psychedelic colors over an incredibly funky opening track by soul jazz organist Charles Earland. Tang and Brown are decent as the heroes, though neither has the acting chops to carry the film on their own for any considerable length of time. In a case like that, one might assume the director would lean on his best actor to buoy the story, but Hong is barely on-screen and probably not as devious as he should have been. When he's present, however, he's consistently solid, and gets some appropriately incredible outfits for his troubles. Plaid jackets, polyester suits, and incredible white turtlenecks are all on the table. This film might also have the best Hong-stache he's ever sported.
Adamson is quoted on his IMDb profile as having said that he was "a better action director than anything," which is rather curious since the majority of fight scenes here are tawdry, neutered affairs. The one shoot-out in the movie is very poorly lit, has no squibs, and consists of intercutting between close-ups of guys squinting defensively as their guns go off. However, the film earns a bit of goodwill back with a zany finale that sees insane stunt falls, a car driving off a cliff, and a grisly scalp mauling. That there are no visible crash pads whatsoever will either warm your cinematic heart or really piss you off to end.
This was my first experience with an Al Adamson film, and though it pains me to say this, it probably won’t be my last. While the majority of this movie is forgettable and hackneyed by most critical measures, it’s not nearly as sloppy as expected and works fine as junk food cinema. (Admittedly, it helps that he directed two Jim Kelly films, an actor I've yet to cover). As is something of a welcomed pattern, James Hong acts circles around the rest of the cast and if only for short bursts, he elevates the film well above its source material. For Hong completists and Adamson acolytes only.
Netflix, Amazon, YouTube.
2.5 / 7
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