“Bad” Movies I Love (for Brian Saur)

Straight to Hell (1987)

Straight to Hell (1987): Norwood (Sy Richardson, center) confesses to his pals Simms (Joe Strummer, left) and Willy (Dick Rude, right) that he loves them.

My last post in December was inspired by and dedicated to Mark Johnston of the now defunct Shocking Videos. Shortly afterward I cut together a video to celebrate the twentieth anniversary reissuing of John Zorn’s Elegy, and then began writing a review of Microcinema’s DVD release of Highway Patrolman (1991). But I couldn’t concentrate when it came time to working on the latter. I suddenly became overwhelmed with new ideas for a screenplay I’ve been developing for quite a few years now, and so I just decided to resume working on it. Almost immediately, I was provided by a mutual friend with a talented new artist to handle the illustrations and storyboards, and the project quickly got bigger and better than ever.

What went wrong? Frankly, the story got too big. There are so many scenes and characters which seem to belong to different kinds of movies that I have yet to find a satisfactory way to sew it all together, without having to reconstruct it as a mini-series. Perhaps it needs to be, although I’m still not convinced of that yet.

So, upon having been inspired by the music in a video directed by Aki Kaurismäki back in November, along with discovering that cartoonist Vaughn Bodé performed his most famous character’s voice in a fashion similar to W.C. Fields’ (as does a leading character in a Western I cooked up early last year), and being recently offered the opportunity to contribute to a series of posts on a favorite film-related website, I’ve decided, despite months of reluctance, to shelve The Superkiller for a third time and do something both fun and which could be quickly done.

I first stumbled across Brian Saur’s Rupert Pupkin Speaks (named after Robert De Niro’s character in The King of Comedy) a few years ago while searching for a movie poster. I clearly remember being instantly taken by his series of lists consisting of an expansive appreciation for different grades of film—an eclectic mix which I also enjoy—and so I quickly saved it to my Favorites folder and have been going back there ever since. Brian may be the online maestro of compiling film lists consisting of both classic and cult titles; some widely respected, others less so. What I’ve always found particularly interesting about some of those less popular works is that even when they suffer from a lack of quality or simply just fail to be appreciated with the general public, there are so many of them with good ideas beneath the surface. And Brian’s website is a fellow film enthusiast’s resourceful guide (as were the books and Psychotronic Video magazine edited by Michael J. Weldon before him), which leads toward obtaining more unique film experiences than even by those to be found written by the more popular film critics; which isn’t a call for completely dismissing them.

Since June 12th, Rupert Pupkin Speaks began a series of posts written by special guests titled “Bad” Movies We Love. As the title suggests with the quotation marks, the author’s task is to list and comment on any reasonable amount of movie titles that are either poorly crafted or heavily  flawed and/or generally frowned upon, but which he or she finds entertainment value in. (The first one was appropriately written by Brian.)

I’ve had the great pleasure this year of briefly communicating with Brian, along with many other interesting cinephiles and bloggers on Twitter. And during one of these brief exchanges he offered me the chance to contribute to the series, which resulted in my becoming obnoxiously happy amongst friends and family, as my head swam with images of one movie I’ve been saving commenting on here.

Straight to Hell (1987)

“Strangers, Frank.” From left to right. Spider Stacy, Fox Harris (in the background), Shane MacGowan, Sue Kiel, Biff Yeager, and Elvis Costello.

What is it I love about Straight To Hell so much that made me hang it on my muse’s wall? I’m delighted to say that you’ll find my thoughts on that film, and three others I chose to talk about, at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. But I’d like to add here that now that Brian has prompted me to discuss this 1987 movie months before I planned to do so, I’ve decided it’s time to dive into the Western screenplay I outlined early last year before my first post on My Kind of Story; and which I honestly thought was going to be the first writing project I was going to tackle then.

Named after the Mexican restaurant in my last story, Bandit Country is to be an homage to Straight to Hell, as well as to cartoonist Vaughn Bodé. Having said that, the actual idea for this humorous adventure came to me after my first viewings of Dirty Little Billy (1972) and Mixed Blood (1985), which is why I’ve written about them.

One of my favorite plots in film history can be found in director Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1984). If there’s one story I wish I could have written, it’s that one. I love a story that can be both fun and inspiring with a treasure chest full of ideas to play with. (I should note that the title for my own project actually came from a line by actor Walter Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.) While Bandit Country may not be as urgent or as epic in scope as The Superkiller, it’s got the themes I’m most interested in that I’ve yet to see explored.

I’ll be back soon for a few more commentaries. After that, Bandit Country “is where [I’ll] be going”. Hope you enjoy my post on Brian’s website, as well as the links provided below. Glad to be back.

Links:

Dick Randall, Bruce Li, Jimmy Wang Yu and who?

Bruce Lee Superdragon (Allied Artists VHS) with Ho Chung Tao billed as Lee Shiao-Lung, a.k.a. Bruce Li.

Bruce Lee Superdragon (1975) was one of two factory-made VHS tapes which my brother and I inherited from our dad’s small movie collection—the other one being Summertime Killer (1973). Unlike its DVD incarnations (such as GoodTimes’ The Young Bruce Lee), the original U.S. home video release by Allied Artists in 1976 was distributor Dick Randall’s cut. Entire scenes of the production’s not-particularly-interesting drama were replaced with action-packed sequences taken from three other films, and passed off as if Bruce Lee had directed them.

Directed by Ling Ping, and featuring an excellent rendition of Johnny Pate’s Shaft in Africa (Addis) as its main theme, this videotape presentation provides plenty of cheap thrills with some memorable dialogue. As with the rest of the Bruce Lee exploitation subgenre (including such guilty pleasures as Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger, Fist of Fury II, The Real Bruce Lee and Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth), its target audience is not / should not be there for anything resembling a biography. You’re there for the action. The best of which Superdragon has to offer actually derives from two of the films spliced in.

The most commonly known and DVD-accessible is King of Boxers (1973), a.k.a. The Screaming Tiger (click the title to see a trailer), a.k.a. Ten Fingers of Steel, which features genre superstar Jimmy Wang Yu. But the reason I took such good care of this video, purchased a secondhand copy, and had it recorded it onto a DVD-R, was not simply for nostalgia. As truly terrific as the Jimmy Wang Yu sequence is, the other film has a particular combination of sounds, music, and images, which to this day has retained a unique quality of enchantment upon me. And yet, having checked with several, genre-related movie forums, I still don’t know its title.

Slash: The Blade of Death, a.k.a. The Chase, a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers

Throughout the years, I’ve even had a few characters in two of my stories search for it. (I might as well amuse myself while questing.) As a minor subplot in I Am a Rock, a half-Cherokee Tennessean has his girlfriend and her cousin trying to track it down for him in Miami, where she’s visiting. Since revising the second act for sharing purposes has taken longer than I anticipated, and being that I have yet to locate the film for myself, I thought I’d try my inquiry anew starting here and on Youtube (check it out below).

Bruce Lee (directing; lowering his sunglasses): One more time, Billy. (to an assistant) Go tell that make-up girl I don’t want blood all over his face.

Slash: The Blade of Death, a.k.a. The Chase, a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers

Here are some details. The film’s protagonist slays the last of the villain’s henchmen, adding to a pile of bodies lying about in a courtyard. The bad guy first hurls a door at him, before literally flying over to attack. While the hero has a sword, his antagonist is armed with some kind of exotic weapon: a steel rod with a heavy sphere at the end, which opens and divides itself into eight sharp-lobed blades. Despite this, both men appear equally tough and able, while the villain has the advantage of being fresh for battle. Neither exchanges a single word to the other, as the good guy’s female companion looks on. She’s waiting for someone to bring a special weapon.

Slash: The Blade of Death, a.k.a. The Chase, a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers

Elsewhere, a young woman attempts to steal a unique, power-wielding sword from another gang’s lair. When the gang shows up, a fight naturally ensues. And it’s intercut with its predecessor, until her wounded male “cousin” (in the English dubbed version) climbs over a wall and gives her a hand.

Slash: The Blade of Death, a.k.a. The Chase, a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers

In the meanwhile, the leading hero’s companion receives injuries by a sword thrown at her, followed by a severe blow to the body, as she tries to help him. He’s nearly worn out, and the bad guy is taking full advantage of it.

Fortunately for the good guys, the other woman arrives. When she announces that she’s brought “the sword” with her in its sheath, it alarms the villain. And he does everything he can to keep it from being put to use against him.

Slash: The Blade of Death, a.k.a. The Chase, a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers

But when the sword is removed from its casing by the young woman, both it and the hero’s sword hurtle out of their grasps, as they are somehow magnetically drawn towards the villain. Skewered and doomed, he tries to go after her. So the hero picks up the bad guy’s fancy weapon and whacks him with it. Falling to the ground and groaning, the good guys stand by and watch him, as they wait for him to die.

The music is remarkable. The drums and brass section are paced and dropped accordingly with the tension. Also, the choreography throughout is stylistically appealing—it’s quite good for the period, and treated without humor. The editing uses slow-motion very briefly, but effectively.

The formula is pretty standard, but its execution and handling is distinct. While there are many other fine examples in its genre, it’s a pity that this film remains elusive and relatively unknown.

Slash: The Blade of Death, a.k.a. The Chase, a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers

Any information on the title of this film and/or where I can obtain a copy, would be greatly appreciated. Hopefully, the rest of the picture lives up to its climax. Regardless, this nearly 7-minute sequence alone is worth recommending. My muse loves it too.

OCT-22 update: Special thanks to KnightDarkest in the UK for providing me with the title information to Wong Tin-Lam’s The Chase (1971), a.k.a. Slash: The Blade of Death (be sure to click the title to see a trailer), a.k.a. The Shanghai Killers. The lead actor’s name—and the who of this post’s title—is James Tien.

An English dubbed, full screen copy is available to view and/or download at stagevu.com.

The King of Boxers clip, as was inserted into Superdragon, is also now available to watch on Youtube.

And Freddy Burtis
got his movie.