Issue #249          HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES            January 31st, 2005

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Karate: The Hand of Death
(1961; Joseph Brenner Productions)

The Incredible Martial Arts Mayhem Kung Fu Trailer Show




Deviating slightly from their usual double feature format, Something Weird Video offers the first American-made martial arts film backed up with no less than 50 genre trailers, making this a very enticing package for fans.

Pretty much impossible to see until SWV found a lone 35mm print a few years back, KARATE HAND OF DEATH (onscreen title) has definite historical interest but not much entertainment value. Returning to Japan after an 18 year absence, American black belt expert Matt Carver (producer/director/star Joel Holt) comes into the possession of a rare coin. The true reason for his return is to find long lost love, Toshiko, whom he met during WWII. The image in the photo sent to him is actually of the dead girl's little sister, Reiko (Reiko Harakawa), who has grown into an exact duplicate of her. Tormented by memories of the war (in which, as an American soldier, he was forced to kill many Japanese), Carver plays cat and mouse with a persistent felon (Frank Blaine, giving a performance that can charitably be described as mannered) out to get his hands on the coin, which may be worth as much as a million dollars.

Joel Holt in KARATE: THE HAND OF DEATH Etsuko Shiomi Angela Mao Ying in DEEP THRUST

While his petulant, thoroughly unlikeable character does not help matters, Holt (better known as a voiceover man, with such narration credits as the infamous OLGA series) is just not leading man material and his judo chops would make Sonny Chiba keel over...from laughter! The film does paint its Japanese characters in a largely positive light (1961 also saw the release of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, with Mickey Rooney's appalling yellow face caricature), but most of their scenes seem a bit patronizing in our more culturally enlightened times. Aside from a dojo demonstration sequence, martial arts do not even figure that much into the storyline (actually a blessing, as the supposed kung fu in DOLEMITE is more credible than the atrocious staging and editing here), which lacks urgency and credibility. The film falls completely apart during its climax, when Holt and co-star Akira Shiga must deliver some long, impassioned exposition, a task that neither actor is up to.

Sonny Chiba  Jhoon Rhee  James Ryan in KILL AND KILL AGAIN

The real reason to get the disc is the treasure trove of trailers, culled from SWV's two MARTIAL ARTS MAYHEM VHS releases (volume two is represented in its entirety). Thankfully, they chose not to not include the widely seen Bruce Lee spots and have instead concentrated on the more obscure Taiwanese pictures. Most of these were handled stateside by a small, fly-by-night distributor called L & T Films and played primarily in big city grindhouses. The spots in question were created by the original export companies and feature outlandishly translated hyperbole like "Stron (sic) Casting! New Strikes! Risks Everywhere!" and, my favorite, "Introducing the charming lady Wang Ying" superimposed over a shot of the burly and extremely male Leung Kar-yan! Most also sport new titles (always against a red background and sporting the same musical fanfare) that have been very sloppily spliced in wherever the original handle appeared. There are also trailers for beloved, widely seen pictures like MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, DEEP THRUST, CHINESE HERCULES ("He's the superhuman beast of the East!"), WHEN TAE KWAN DO STRIKES, and THE TATTOO CONNECTION. We are also gifted with three of the Sonny Chiba STREET FIGHTER pictures, KOREAN CONNECTION from the eponymous country, and two South African items, KILL OR BE KILLED and KILL AND KILL AGAIN. There is one instance of duplication as Wong Tin-lam's THE CHASE (1971) is presented under both of its U.S. theatrical titles THE SHANGHAI KILLERS and SLASH -- THE BLADE OF DEATH!. It's a very enjoyable collection of highlights that more than counters the disappointment of the main attraction.


Filmed in B & W CinemaScope, KARATE: THE HAND OF DEATH measures out here at 2.30:1. The non-anamorphic transfer is on the soft and grainy side, with some light wear present. A brief bit of topless nudity has obviously been snipped out of a striptease club sequence but, considering the rarity of this title, the presentation is more than acceptable. The audio has no major issues, aside from those already present (like a loudly whirring, unblimped camera during scenes set in Carver's small hotel room). The vast majority of the films represented in the trailer compilation were shot in scope and are presented in ratios ranging from 2.40:1 to about 2.55:1. A few others unfold in the neighborhood of 1.85 and a handful are in 1.33 (two of these, DRAGONS DIE HARD and SUPER DRAGON, appear to be TV spots). Print quality varies, of course, but almost all look very presentable with little in the way of obtrusive damage or wear. As with the VHS versions, the SWV bug appears throughout and the only way to jump between previews (even in "Play All" mode) is via fast forward or going back to the menu.

This DVD is available at Amazon: Karate, The Hand of Death

Images in this review courtesy of Something Weird Video. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2005. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment #ID608SWDVD
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Sync Sound and Dubbed English Language
  • No Subtitles
  • 15 Chapters (Feature)
  • 4:3 Letterbox (Various Ratios)
  • 80 Minutes (Feature)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Manitoba: 14A
  • Nova Scotia: 18
  • Ontario (Feature Only): PG
  • Quebec (Feature Only): G
  • Contains non-stop violence of varying degrees


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful