5.10.2015

Weapons of Death (1981)

PLOT: When his sister is kidnapped by a group of hired hoodlums working for a crime boss, a martial arts instructor must save her. But he won’t do it alone. His martial arts pals come along to provide fighting expertise, and his deadbeat father comes along to provide awkward emotions and dad-strength.

Director: Paul Kyriazi
Writer: Paul Kyriazi
Cast: Eric Lee, Louis Bailey, Gerald Okamura, Bob Ramos, Ralph Castellanos, Alan Gin, Paul Kyriazi, Garrick Huey, Joshua Johnson, Gina Lau



PLOT THICKENER
In the right hands, almost any everyday object -- car keys, a doorknob, a stale baguette -- can become a weapon. We've seen this lesson repeated in countless 1980s self defense videos. In the hands of trained martial artists, though, these objects become even more dangerous. What would happen then, if you gave these same martial artists swords and spears instead of pineapples and hardcover books? For the answer, we turn to Paul Kyriazi’s 1981 film, Weapons of Death.

It seems almost far-fetched now, but there was once a time when San Francisco was filled with leather bars and martial arts schools instead of unaffordable housing and tech startups. Grizzled bikers brushed shoulders with liberal activists. And somewhere in the hills of Marin County, Danny Tanner was probably laying the foundation for his reign of terror. Our story begins in the dusty confines of one of the city’s scummiest booze joints, where a down-on-his-luck drunk named Carter (Bailey) gets bailed out of a raucous bar fight by his old troublemaking pal, Bishop (Castellanos). Fortune smiles upon Carter when Bishop offers him a spot on a team running a special sort of errand for local crime boss, Foon (Gin).


Upon meeting the gangster at his hide-out in the desert near the woods (!?) they’re tasked with kidnapping the daughter of a Chinatown businesswoman, Sue-Lin (Leemoi), who has refused to pay Foon protection money. Her oldest son, Eric (Lee), runs a martial arts school, her youngest son David (Huey) is a skilled archer, and her daughter Angela (Nancy Lee) rarely speaks but giggles a lot. They’re all over the age of 16, so you’d expect them to have real jobs or at least more promising career paths, but alas -- this is what often happens when fathers skip out on their family responsibilities. (No offense to you shitty dads out there).

Despite the best efforts of this fighting family, the band of mercenaries invade their home and kidnap Angela. During the confusion, Eric is distracted by Foon’s main muscle, Chong (Okamura), not just because he’s confused by Chong’s black leather and turtleneck in 70-degree weather, but because Chong is a really good fighter! You’d expect him to overheat in those threads but he presents a fierce challenge to Eric in short time, foreshadowing a climactic showdown. In the aftermath, Eric wants to pursue the goons immediately with David and martial arts friends, Joshua (Johnson) and Paul (Kyriazi), but Mama Bear has other plans: she’s calling her old flame, Curt (Ramos) for support.


As Eric and company gear up to track down his sister and her kidnappers, the addition of Curt becomes something of an emotional monkey-wrench in these plans. This is the man who skipped out on his mother. A person whose crude remarks and flippant prejudice grate everyone around him. A man whose fondness for Hawaiian shirts is a crime against fashion. Eric isn’t the only one contending with internal conflict as he heads into battle, though. Joshua is skittish about the lethal force this situation will require. David doesn’t completely trust his archery skills. Paul is contemplating his supporting second-banana status in this mission despite the fact that Angela is supposedly his girlfriend. Such issues are no easier for the kidnappers. Carter needs the money, but his heart might be too pure for this brand of crime. Foon's squad of lady ninjas are more than happy to fight, but will they turn their weapons against the obvious gender pay gap that only serves to inflame a tense work environment? Overall, Kyriazi does a good job injecting his characters with believable motivations, and there’s even a fairly sordid family twist as we approach the conclusion.

But are there any actual weapons of death in Weapons of Death?



Yes. So many goddamn weapons of death. In a throwback to the American Western, Paul opts for the six shooter. Despite some initial hesitation, Joshua warms up to the lethal length and pointy death of the spear. David loves the sniper-like precision of his bow-and-arrow, and Eric can fill both hands with swords like few others. At various points, enemies wield guns, knives, and swords, and Chong even breaks out the dreaded tiger claw for the climax fight. Kyriazi does well by placing these weapon selections in context throughout the film, and the various callbacks and character development we see while the characters use them was a nice touch. Going into a film like this from an era when martial arts movies were very hit-or-miss, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that the film wouldn’t live up to its actual title. Thankfully, the filmmakers deliver. The orchestral score adds an epic feel to the exterior fight scenes and the action has room to breathe for the most part.

Eric Lee has had a long and productive Hollywood career performing stunts and acting in supporting roles. Fortunately, he’s the centerpiece here and despite some occasionally clunky line delivery, he’s a total house of fire. His character is jaded by his upbringing and turned reactive and violent by the circumstances, but he also has a cool toughness as evidenced by an early sword lesson to his kung fu students (“a sloppy mental attitude turns into a sloppy sword”), and a legitimately tense scene where he dares David to shoot an arrow at a target which he happens to be holding inches from his face. He’s not quite Martin Riggs levels of crazy, but the characterization was a far cry from the jokester I’ve seen in other films, and he gets plenty of scenes to show off the fighting skill that made him one of martial arts’ most famous kata champions.



VERDICT
Like a limp body flying over the bar and smashing only the bottom-shelf vodka, this movie comes out of nowhere to surprise and delight. This is the sort of drive-in fare that passed me by due to generational differences, but I’d always stumble upon during weekend afternoons on cable TV. Exploitation-era men-on-a-mission kung-fu throwdown in the woods… on a budget. Recommended.

AVAILABILITY
View it online at YouTube or try to find a hard copy on Amazon.

4 / 7


9 comments:

  1. lol! Love your site. Good to see someone is doing something different! – cityonfire.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The feeling is mutual -- I've been a huge fan of City on Fire and the work you guys do for many years. Thanks for stopping by and reading!

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  2. I caught this back in '08 on "Friday Night Fu", a late night television program from Cincinnati that specialized in kick-punchers from the 70s and 80s. They had a habit of messing around with the editing on some scenes, which I wasn't aware of at the time. I honestly thought this was how one of the scenes played out in the original cut, but in my defense, I was pretty tanked at the time:
    https://youtu.be/K8P3kusS2b4

    Don't know if you've read this already, but director Paul Kyriazi has an essay on the making of this film. He brings up the orchestral score as something he wanted after being disappointed in the electronic score used in his previous film, DEATH MACHINES:
    http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewarticle.asp?AuthorID=5687&id=17850

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  3. Hi guys. I'm the director of 'Weapons of Death'. Thanks for the cool review and good words about it. As of now Jan. 20, 2015, film collector and producer of the blu-ray of my movie Ninja Busters, is searching for a print of 'Weapons' to be turned into a wide-screen blu-ray with my commentary. Ninja Busters is now on Amazon with my commentary and much of the same cast as Weapons. That article I wrote on Weapons is suddenly gone, but this article about my decision to make it and a few facts is at the link below. Also on that authors den web site are articles on my other movies and audio-books with stars of the 60's doing the movies and narrations such as: Rod Taylor, Robert Culp, George Chakiris and more. I'll be back here and leave word when 'Weapons' is out on bluray, IF they find a good 35mm print. 'Ninja Busters' also has my first short feature 'The Tournament' on it as a bonus. Here's that article link: http://goo.gl/OHqfNv

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    1. Paul, thanks for dropping by to leave a comment! This was a nice surprise for sure. It actually prompted me to grab a copy of NINJA BUSTERS, as I've been seeking that one out for ages. I'm a big fan of Death Machines as well, and it has one of my fave martial arts film trailers ever.

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  4. I'm searching for a 35mm print of Weapons of Death. Anyone have any info on that?

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    1. I'm not especially plugged into the vast landscape of lost 35mm reels, but I will poke a few of the people I know who might know about such things. Feel free to email me about this too! (fistofblist[at]gmail)

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  5. One of the top 10 Asian movies which I kept in my library. Great@

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    1. Thanks for saying, Rosary. That was my dream movie and I put as much as I could into the movie with the budget I had. I'm still in touch with all those guys and recently met that at a Ninja Buaters screening.

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