Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
Loren Avedon. Image courtesy Jumbo Plain.
Q: Where do old martial artists go to die?
A: Godfrey Ho movies.
If you know the name Godfrey Ho Chi-keung, chances are you have spent more than your share of time at the bottom of the genre barrel. Ho likes to point out in interviews that he and John Woo studied film together but the two men certainly ended up taking different career paths, with the former achieving lifelong infamy via his involvement in the dozens of phony ninja movies that littered video store shelves in the late 80s. Prior to those composite nightmares, he also helmed a number of low-budget period kung fu films with titles like RAIDERS OF BUDDHIST KUNG FU, GOLDEN DRAGON SILVER SNAKE, THE SNAKE STRIKES BACK, MAGNIFICENT NATURAL FIST, FIVE PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS, and the ever-popular EAGLE VS. SILVER FOX (which includes a prolonged view of what is clearly an electrical transmission tower!).
Performers going through slow patches in their careers or heading towards retirement have popped up in Ho's work over the years, including such luminaries as Gordon Lau Kar-fai, Hwang Jang-li, Moon Lee Choi-fung, Sharon Yeung Pan-pan, Michiko Nishiwaki, Yukari Oshima, Sibelle Hu Hui-chung, Lo Lieh, Don Wang Tao, Carter Wong, John Liu, and Bolo Yeung.
Using the only slightly veiled pseudonym "Godfrey Hall," the director has even branched out into English-language productions, such as this Taiwan-financed effort shot in New York City. In a surprising development, MANHATTAN CHASE reportedly garnered some theatrical play in Britain earlier this year but don't start pestering the manager of your AMC superplex about when you can expect a local engagement. In fact, as of this writing, there are no plans for MANHATTAN CHASE to even run as filler between Shannon Tweed movies on late-night cable. Curious parties can, however, check it out via this VCD release from the wonderfully named Jumbo Plain, a tiny HK label that seems to primarily release softcore porn.
Steve Tartalia. Image courtesy Jumbo Plain.
After six years as a guest of the state, mob hitman Jason Reed (KING OF THE KICKBOXERS' Loren Avedon) wants nothing more than to get an honest job and spend time with his young son, Tommy (Robin Berry, who seems to be reading his lines from a piece of paper being held just...slightly too far...away...for him...to see it...clearly). This being a cheap formulaic action movie, Jason would have a better chance of winning The New York State Lottery than successfully going straight and, sure enough, he is not ten steps outside of the prison before being greeted by Keith (Steve Tartalia, a token gweilo villain in several HK girls-with-guns films), an old crony anxious to pick up where they left off. While out for a drive with his son, Jason saves Jennifer (Nicol Zanzarella) from a gun-wielding thug, not realizing that he has just managed to ruin Keith's plans to recover some stolen heroin. While fending off various retaliatory attacks from his old buddies, Jason must also deal with his ex-wife, a reformed drug addict who has returned from out of nowhere intent on re-uniting with Tommy. The woman also just so happens to be the sister of Nancy (Cynthia Rothrock), the cop who put Jason behind bars.
Cynthia Rothrock. Image courtesy Jumbo Plain.
Though few and far between, the fight sequences are reasonably good (in the HK tradition, the actors have been given a light dusting of baby powder, to show that genuine impact is being made during the punches and kicks), though Rothrock (who has perhaps 15 minutes of screentime) is sometimes being doubled by an Asian guy wearing a blonde wig. As is all too often the case when Chinese filmmakers work stateside, the supporting actors appear to have received no direction at all, being allowed to both under and overplay, sometimes in the same scene. Retakes are kept to a minimum, even when lines are blatantly flubbed, and the dialogue would have been painful coming out of professionals, let alone the painfully untalented Little Theater rejects we get here. Even though ANGEL ENFORCERS, LETHAL PANTHER (aka DEADLY CHINA DOLLS), and PRINCESS MADAM (aka UNDER POLICE PROTECTION) proved him capable of making competent formula entertainment, no one in the know approaches a Godfrey Ho film hoping for anything more than basic competence. Alas, even that is in short supply here and reduced expectations are not nearly enough to keep MANHATTAN CHASE bearable. The Black Dragon himself, Ron Van Clief, shows up briefly in the final reel as a would-be kidnapper, though Rothrock makes embarrasingly short work of him.
Loren Avedon and Nicol Zanzarella. Image courtesy Jumbo Plain.