Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Leo Fong is looking for REVENGE!

D. Jay Wertz

Media Blasters/ Code Red/ Rare Flicks Box Set #3 1.85

My Leo Fong obsession continues. This revenge fueled swordplay movie was made in 1977 but looks to have not been actually in theaters to maybe as late as 1980 (I could be wrong about that). This time our dearest hero Mr Fong takes a creative backseat, only acting and producing, allowing for other folks to take the reigns. But his reliable acting troupe is here and accounted for as Stack Pierce, Cameron Mitchell as well as several very familiar faces in the background and stunt teams pepper the area. This is a Fong production through and through.

Leo Fong in the house! And lookin' for revenge!

The story starts out in the Philippines circa 1945 as an American platoon is about to liberate a jungle plantation occupied by the Japanese. Inside the Commanding Japanese officer is actually shown to be a rather upright, honorable man, with a son and wife. One of the American Soldiers in particular, a dude named Steadman (no relation to Oprah's stud apparently) knows he is gonna face a court marshall after this raid and is not a happy man. So he goes in guns blazing. He and a couple of other soldiers kill the Japanese officer and rape his wife, in front of the kid, then killer her too. When an American soldier finds them, the motherfucker panics and kills that cat too! All the while another soldier has cowardly stood by and watched the whole mess go down, refusing to participate or stop the madness. Steadman manages to spin the whole mess to look like the Woman attacked them and killed the soldier, and had to be killed.

I Leo Fong Bless this motherfucka killin blade in hopes that this scene will be lifted for Kill Bill in twenty years or so...

Flash forward thirty years later and the little boy is now Leo Fong, so you know asses are gonna be fucked up. He is seen practicing with a Samuria sword and mumbling about Bushido, which is a Samurai code of honor and vengeance. He goes to his job as the head of a trading company and says his goodbyes to his super hot secretary letting her know in no uncertain terms it is up to her to run the show and leaves for Manila.

Meanwhile all over the USA older dudes are leaving and heading to Manila as well. Seems there is a big reunion of soldiers going down there. Six of the big bad soldier boys from the big WWII are getting together to rehash old times. The commander has grown up to become a chain smoking Cameron Mitchell (rather subdued in this movie for once) and his right hand man Washington is now Stack Pierce. The evil fucker Steadman is now played by Hol Bokar and the coward is Phillip Baker Hall who simply owns his role. The plot from here is simple Leo Fong will hunt them down one by one, and kill them, Samurai style. Along the way we will get two barroom brawls, lots of disco dancing, and incredible disco styled lounge number about the Zodiac sung by a Philippino duo, Stack Pierce enduring far too many racial slurs from the Steadman character, and more than a few sequences that seem to have been revised for the KILL BILL movies. Oh, yeah and some cockfighting too, with the most amiable cockfighters in the history of the sport. These guys are just so happy to be doing something, anything, that they are filled with simple, JOY to just be spending time together. Very weird.

But in the last half hour, the movie changes. It goes from being a kind of weird, but fun action romp, to having a rather serious, even dark, edge. The film finds its footing and heart beat, with the writing getting intensely better. From the moment Fong's character confronts the Coward, well actually the moment before that. When the Coward is with the kind hearted Hooker, and he cannot perform with her because of the years of guilt and alcohol he has abused himself with, the movie hits a melancholy note. A note that is, just right. When the Coward starts to beg Fong not to kill him because he IS a coward, then stops to ask for a drink and tells him, he has "been dead for years, that he is not a man, hasn't lived as a man, and wants to finally die like a man", it is some poetic shit. Some Peckinpah, poetic shit. And Fong's acting in the moment when he HAS to kill him is up to par too. The whole scene is just fucking sublime. It is stuff like this, moments like these, that keep me combing through these exploitation movies. This is the kind of stuff that in mine eyes, is BETTER filmmaking that the crap that is shoved down our throats in the multiplexes today.


There are plenty of good things after this scene. A beautiful double montage as Cameron Mitchell visits the war memorial/graveyard in Manila for American soldiers, while at the same time Leo Fong visits a war torn, rusting monument to a major battle field where many Japanese lives were lost. It is a montage with no narration just images and war sounds and a ton of emotional impact about how wars kills indiscriminately. The film has a rather sad, but tidy wrap up, and a final line delivery by Mitchell that at first seems kind of maudlin, but soon as he is done saying it, the truth to it weighs in. the final walk off line of the movie, though clearly over stated, is actually pretty profound.

So what you end up getting is a revenge/action film, that is less action and more philosophical, anti-war film. With bar fights, decapitations, lounge singing, and lots of 70's actors boozing it up. I'm in exploitation groove heaven here guys. And this is a fucking great movie.

"What's for dinner? Oh I've already had some head today..."

The DVD here in the Rare Flix box set #3 is in bad shape though. Clearly taken from either a 1 inch video master or several different masters, it is a mess. The color timing is all over the map, with is shifting from one scene to the next, sometimes one shot to the next. The video rolls during several scenes (tipping off that it is from a video master), the sound levels are mixed for shit (though that could be the low budget of the original production). Even with bad materials, there was clearly very little effort put into cleaning this up. There are two trailers for the movie, one under the original title and one with the REVENGE OF THE BUSHIDO BLADE title dubbed in. Some "deleted" scenes that amount to roughly ten seconds of alternate shots. best of all is that there is a Leo Fong commentary, which I had not listened to as of yet. But considering how stone faced he can be during his movies, I fear he might be as well during a commentary. But I bet you can feel him staring at you if he is. Just waiting to kick your ass.

Review © Andy Copp

I could not find a trailer for this movie, so this classic one for Fong's LOW BLOW will have to suffice.

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