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.
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.
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.