Everyone who's ever seen Enter the Dragon should know who Jim Kelly is. Not only should they know who he is, but also they'll probably remember him in a very favourable light. That's because he's cool as fuck. He lights up the script with lines like "Bullshit, Mr. Han-Man!" He fills up the screen with his massive afro. He makes us giggle with his "woo-woo" fighting noises. He's a natural with the ladies, and one at a time clearly isn't enough for a man of his prowess and animal virility. Go get 'em, Jim.
But what happened to Jim after the worldwide success of Enter the Dragon? Tonight's movies answer that question, siblings. Kicking off, please welcome Black Belt Jones in all its big-boxed glory. Directed by Robert Clouse (who worked with Kelly on ETD), it's the closest you're likely to get to a Blaxploitation kung-fu movie. Next up is Al Adamson's cheapo Death Dimension - bottom of the barrel gibberish of the finest ZC tradition in which Jim Kelly sacrifices an inch of hair to whip some serious ass with those nunchukas. Take your shoes off now, students, you're about to enter the dojo.
Tonight's ZC was brought to you by Zomblee in association with massive 70's hair and old people doing kung-fu.
Black Belt Jones (1974)
Plot The Mafia want to buy Pop's Karate studio.
Zomblee Welcome to the world of funky 70's tunes, massive hair, tight (and very high-waisted) trousers, great moustaches and mafia mobsters who confirm stereotype by saying stuff like "Mamma Mia!" a lot. This is Black Belt Jones, where big collars and jive talkin’ rule. But hear this: if you’re a Mafioso trying to shut down a little Karate School in a poor area because you want the land for redevelopment, expect to feel the wrath of they one they call ‘Black Belt’. Yes, the one you probably recognise from that Bruce Lee movie.
That’s all there really is to this movie - fat cats apply brutish pressure to close down school, some fat, jive talking street cats get involved and kill the school’s owner, Papa Byrd, played by the legendary Scatman Crothers. Byrd’s hard-assed daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry from Live and Let Die) then appears, teams up with Black Belt Jones and they go chop-socking into the sunset, beating up the bad guys before disposing of them like common trash, i.e. throwing the bruised bodies into a garbage truck to some serious funky music. Nice.
Jim ”watched Karate Kid 3 last night in preparation for this.” but later admitted that the scene where Mr Miaggi beats up the bad guys to teach them a lesson was ”quite poor”. That’s probably why we’re doing a Jim Kelly Night instead of Karate Kid night. I’ll bet old JK could whip that kid’s ass all over the shop. There’s also more entertaining kung fu jive talk in this flick than there’s likely to be in the aforementioned 80’s tripe, but some of was really lost on us: ”What does ‘put a bubble in his pocket and float him’ mean?” Not quite sure, Rawshark, but it doesn’t look good for ‘him’ whoever he is.
So, Scatman Crothers. He’s a legend. And here, you get to see him doing some old man kung fu. That’s right. And it’s real value for money, too. Hell, all of Black Belt Jones is value for money. From pointless yet enjoyable scenes of 'chicks doing trampoline training under JK's watchful eye' to that bit where they smash up some poor geezer's guitar for no reason whatsoever, it's a proper hoot from start to finish. I love that silly big foam fight at the end too.
"I'm gonna slap the black off-a you!"
Rawshark Opening with what Jim called ”the most gentile strangling I’ve ever seen” (although the tongue of the victim does poke out, so it’s not a total loss), Black Belt Jones doesn’t really kick off until the appearance of the big old BBJ himself during the opening freeze-frame credits. Big red titles, funky music, flying guns and neatly executed chop-socky moves. Oh yes, let the blaxpoloitation Kung-Fu fun commence.
Admittedly, BBJ features a fairly basic plot. The Mafia want to close down Scatman’s Kung-Fu school, so they enlist the help of the indebted Pinky to rough them up and kick them out. As Jim pointed out, ”it’s a similar plot to Herbie and Batteries Not Included”, but as good as those two films were, they certainly didn’t have Jim Kelly around to save the day. Sadly, Scatman Crothers takes a death punch early in this film (but not before kicking some butt – a sight to behold!), leaving the ex-Enter The Dragon star to return to the school and bounce on a few trampolines. Whilst being very funky.
Jones eventually teams up with Scatman’s daughter Sydney and together they set about avenging Pop’s death, whilst engaging in a romantic subplot that involves smashing guitars, popping balloons and jumping on more trampolines. In a very funky way. Yes, it’s all very silly, but it’s silly fun, with the big foam fight and the ‘light on, light off’ fight scene being two highlights. As Jim pointed out, Black Belt Jones is ”probably the only good black Kung-Fu film, other than that one that has ‘Dragon’ in the title”, which is fair enough, except that none of us could remember what that other good black Kung-Fu film was actually called.
”Put these pork chops in with the beer and the broad.”
Jim Yeah, yeah, I looked it up, the film that has Dragon in the title, is actually called The Last Dragon and after the gushingly nostalgic recollection of seeing that as a kid and loving it I'm sure that beauty will eventually work its way to a Zombie Club, so feel free to mail us any suggestions you've got for an accompanying film to complete the line up.
But enough of that, let's get back to Black Belt Jones. After that lame strangling in the mob boss's winery ("Cider press!" - shouted Rawshark, and in every other winery scene later on, but that's okay because he's from Devon) it's either funky kung-fu or funky jive talking right through to that funky foam car wash fight at the end with BBJ's ridiculous stunt double that can do cartwheel kicks sure but is clearly lacking in the fake afro department. Along the way though there's so much fun to be had that I really don't know where to begin.
"He's got someone turning the lights on and off!" - offered Zomblee early on, as BBJ kicked the crap out of the first wave of kung-fu bad guys in his mates apartment to a very slow strobe effect, but the thing is, in one 'lights off' moments he actually manages to steal one of the bad guy's hats and wear it while he beats them up in the next 'lights on' phase! That slayed me, but not as much as the amazing romantic kung-fu montage. Ever wondered what it would be like to be a kung-fu expert and have a bird who was also a kung-fu expert too? Well wonder no more, apparently what you do is cause a pleasant beach rampage of carnage, taking out anything that stands in your way ("Go on, wreck the tent, you might as well!" - Zomblee) in one long scene of extended kung-fu foreplay.
Perhaps the most amusing sequence for me however was the big fight around the middle of the film where Jones tries to infiltrate the bad guys lair in disguise and ends up getting into a big fight instead. It's almost shot for shot the same as Bruce Lee fighting Hann's guards in the middle of Enter the Dragon (also directed by Clouse) but with the added bonus of getting to watch Jim Kelly fight with his afro 'hidden' under a balaclava. Let's just say that 'hidden' isn't a very accurate description here.
So, does cool music, cool kung-fu, cool jive talking and some probably unintentional 70's humour make for a good Zombie Club experience? Oh, I think so...
"That son of a bitch threw his pinkies in my face!"
Director Robert Clouse
Cast Jim Kelly
Runtime 87 mins
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Death Dimension (1978)
Plot The Pig has a plan to eradicate some people with a freeze bomb that instantly freezes people to death...
Jim "Harold 'Odd Job' Sakata" really can't act, can he?" observed Zomblee, as 'Odd Job' tries to sell his freeze bomb to Aldo Ray and one of his mates after a display involving dropping it on two guys tied to a pole in the middle of the desert. Well, at least it starts as a desert; by the end of the demo it looks more like a little bit of the North Pole. You know, like one of those Santa’s grotto displays you get in big department stores every Christmas with paper snow everywhere. You know what I mean.
Meanwhile, somewhere else we have a lady having a microchip implanted in her forehead and Black Belt Jones, sorry - Lt. Ash, beating up a load of guys in the police gym, probably because someone commented on his greatly reduced afro compared to the last movie. And how are these characters all connected, I hear you cry? Well, to tell you the truth, none of us really worked it out.
There was enough going on though to keep us entertained. Jim Kelly kept getting into fights and pulling random weapons out of nowhere (“I don’t care where he got the nunchukas from.” – Rawshark), Jim’s missus gets killed in a shower scene that Rawshark officially labelled as “Not as good as the one in Psycho”, while Zomblee appreciated Kelly’s wardrobe no end. (“He gives John Saxon a run for his money in the cool tracksuit stakes.”)
And when we got bored we waxed lyrical on subjects like, who originally thought up the idea of combining the car chase with 70s funky music? And if this is cross between blaxploitation and kung-fu, what other untapped cross-genre movie possibilities are out there?
Ah, who knows, as long as they don’t cast Harold ‘Odd Job’ Sakata in it, I’m sure it’ll work, and I’m sure it’ll be better than Death Dimension
“Bullshit Mr Hann, man!”
Rawshark Death Dimension is a very strange little film indeed and a mad mixture of many genres. It’s Blaxploitation, it’s Kung-Fu, it’s an action flick and it’s also a sci-fi flick, but by the end the film seems to be far worse than the sum of its parts and makes little sense. It also doesn’t help that it features old Harold Sakata as the lead villain, and it’s a damn shame Mr No Oscars doesn’t just keep his mouth shut and chuck steel-lined bowler hats at people like he did in his golden film debut.
As Jim mentioned the film has something to do with The Pig (Odd Job) planning to kill lots of people with his special freeze bomb, or as Jim put it, ”the big snow bomb”. Luckily Jim Kelly is on hand, albeit a couple of inches smaller than the previous film (“he’s got a severely limited afro on display” - Jim) to save the day and rescue the woman who has the snow bomb secret embedded in the microdot in her head (ok…). Add in some spice in the shape of George Lazenby (the film’s other Bond connection) and Aldo Ray and you’d have thought it would have been the perfect mix for a raucous Zombie Club, but unfortunately Death Dimension turns out to be mostly dull.
Throughout the middle of the film, conversations turned to topics such as the greatness of some Giallo titles, whilst the film itself only sporadically engaged with scenes that suggested more Top Tens we really should write up if we ever found the time – Top Ten Scientists Who Inject Themselves and Top Ten Hanging Out of Windows being two of them. There was also that weird bit with the mutant turtle, which freaked Zomblee out no end - ”It’s like a cyborg turtle! That’s fucking horrible!”
Things do pick up towards the end though, with some kick-ass Kung-Fu and gun interplay (”Gun-Fu!” - Zomblee) and a pretty cool helicopter and cable car shoot out. Jim almost thought it was “”turning into a Bruno Mattei film” but was relieved to see that there were plenty of explosions left for the final scenes - ”Whatever movie you make, you’ve got to end it with some explosions!”Death Dimension then - at least it ended quite well.
”One bite and it will make you flat-chested.”
Zomblee Shit, Rawshark beat me to it with the whole Odd-Job/Lazenby/Bond connection there, but I always like what he has to say so I won't hold that against him. He's right: we ended up covering all sorts of topics when we were getting bored during the lulls in Death Dimension, like for example how many of our favourite Zombie Club stars have appeared in TV shows like Murder She Wrote and Quincy. Then Rawshark and myself almost had an argument about whether the 1980's will be remembered in a few years the way the 70's is remembered now. That could've gotten messy.
Death Dimension is about a 'freeze bomb', Harold Sekata's attempts to sell its plans to the highest bidder, Jim Kelly's attempts to stop him while protecting the girl with the plan inserted under her skin, and any police corruption that may be occurring courtesy of George Lazenby. Yes, it's badly made, but it's cheap, enjoyable rubbish with loads of random "inappropriate music" (Jim) to fight scenes where Kelly gets to crack heads and kick the bad guys in the same place over and over and over. He also gets to use his nunchukas here, which I think is where Jim said, "Bruce Lee eat your heart out!" though that must've been the booze talking. Kelly can't touch Lee. He does have bigger hair, though (only just).
"This is like a 12" remix of the first film tonight!" blurted Rawshark about halfway through but i'd urge you, given the choice, to choose the album version of Black Belt Jones over this wild little outing any day. For a start, Kelly's hair is much bigger in 1974 but then again, Lazenby looks like he's trying to compensate by sporting an impressively robust barnet here ("I'm not sure that's his hair you know." - Jim). But it isn't all about wild haircuts and tight-fitting pants here at Zombie Club. Rawshark and Jim, for example - they both prefer looser, more comfortable slacks while sporting closer-cropped haircuts, but me, i've been watching way too many 70's movies, and it's no small wonder that my voice is still as deep as it is.
“Who sent you, sucka?”
Director Al Adamson
Cast Jim Kelly
Runtime 90 mins
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I switch on the lights. The lights are bright. Rawshark stumbles quite badly when he gets up. The smell of burned pizzas is still in the air. I'm feeling a little saddened, because not only is it the end of another Zombie Club, but it's the last one in my flat. It's time for me to move on (into a much nicer flat). I wonder if the person who inhabits this room next will have any idea how many ridiculous, stupid and bloody amazing films we've watched here. Maybe they don't need to know. Perhaps it's best they don't.