Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Name is Shanghai Joe Review

My Name is Shanghai Joe AKA The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe, To Kill or to Die and The Dragon Strikes Back (1973)
Dir. Mario Caiano
Starring: Chen Lee*, Klaus Kinski

A Chinese immigrant travels to Texas to find some work, but gets involved in a fight to save some smugglers involved in a Mexican slave ring.

This is an fun little movie. It's got a weird tone, trying to be both a spaghetti western and a old martial arts film, but it works in spite of its flaws. The story is pretty episodic at first, and kind of drags at first, but once Joe meets up with the slave traders the momentum picks up. The first half is loaded with scenes of Joe going to a place, encountering some casual 1970s racism, and kicking some butt. The back half of the film is the actual meat of the story, with him running afoul some slave traders smuggling Mexicans into Texas as a form of cheap labor. After Joe attempts to stop them the leader of the smugglers puts a bounty on his head and this leads to scenes of him going somewhere, encountering a weird bounty hunter, and then moving on to the next situation. But what's interesting about it is that the bounty hunters are all played by familiar faces from other spaghetti westerns (Gordon Mitchell, Robert Hundar, and Giacomo Rossi Stuart) and each are memorable in their own weird way, be them a cannibal, a undertaker, gambler, or Klaus Kinski's character Scalper Jack*

In terms of martial arts, it's not too bad. There are some of the questionable shot compositions during the fight scenes make me think that they were trying to cover up the fact that most of the actors had no experience with fight scenes, but it is still easy to figure out what was going on, and then there is a great gore scene of a ripped out eye that was awesome and helped it feel more like a Shaw Bros film than a typical western. Another positive about the film is that each of his fight scenes are different, helping the film not feel stale. I'd probably say that the scene with Kinski's Scalper Jack was the weakest, as it dealt with Joe being injured in the leg and stuck on the ground, and the best being either the fight with Tricky the Gambler or the final scene where Joe duels with Mikuja, which is more of a traditional martial arts fight. But at one point Shanghai Joe drop kicks a bull in the face. That's crazy enough to get a recommendation on its own.

One of the biggest problems with the movie is the romance with Christina and Joe, where they meet and she immediately wants to hop into bed with him. It doesn't work too well and it does kind of bog down the film a bit. Some modern audiences will also have a problem with a lot of the characters using terms like "wetback" or "chink", but I wouldn't say that it's anywhere near as extreme as some of the racial terms that are dropped in Blazing Saddles**.

This movie isn't great but it is pretty fun, and there's enough to like about it to make you ignore its faults.. If you like old sixties/seventies martial arts films and westerns it's worth checking out.

*Kinski is maybe in the movie all of 5 minutes, but it the traditional grind house way he is billed second. Really Piero Lulli should of got second billing. As leader of the smugglers he's in the movie more than anyone other than Chen Lee.

**but really, I am a white guy, so I know that I have no place saying whether or not something is excessively offensive to anyone.

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