Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gweilo Dojo: KARATE WARRIOR 6 (1993)

Since I’m getting all into birthdays, yesterday (November 15th) was Italian producer-director Fabrizio De Angelis’ birthday. De Angelis got his first producer credit in the industry with VIOLENT NAPLES (1976), a poliziotteschi (the Italian tough cop crime sub-genre) starring Maurizio Merli and John Saxon. He later earned his highest recognition by producing Lucio Fulci’s considerable horror genre output from 1979-82 and the “Bronx” post-apocalypse flicks with Mark Gregory. De Angelis decided to slide into the director’s chair in the early 80s, debuting with the FIRST BLOOD inspired THUNDER WARRIOR (1983).  For his sixth feature, he decided to do a riff on the successful THE KARATE KID franchise and gave the world KARATE WARRIOR (1987).  Filmed in the Philippines, it tells the familiar story of the put upon new kid (Kim Rossi Stuart) who finds a way out of his troubles via an unlikely martial arts instructor (Ken Watanabe).  It is pretty standard stuff, but notable to me for delivering one of the funniest lines in exploitation cinema history (“Quino? He’s damn good. Damn good. Damn, he’s good” says Rossi of the villain).  Amazingly, De Angelis usurped the KARATE KID series and eventually produced five KARATE WARRIOR sequels over the next five years.  Oh what a lucky man I am.

I was initially reluctant to dive into part 6 of this series seeing as I had not seen parts 2-5.  “Eh, what could I possibly miss? It’s not like there is some super connected plot,” I thought. Dumbass.  It appears that parts 3-6 were all shot together with the series introduction of Ron Williams as Larry Jones, the new Karate Warrior (Stuart had returned for part 2).  So this opens with a group of characters in Florida already familiar to KW regulars (are there any of those?). “It seems like only yesterday you were kidnapped,” geeky Larry tells his girlfriend Betty. Well, at least I know she survived.  KARATE WARRIOR 6 gets into gear when fat comic relief Leo (“he’s a congenital retardee” says a friend) is almost hit by limo.  As Leo feigns injury, the limo’s wealthy occupant pays him off with $10,000.  Leo informs the gang of his good fortune and this can only mean one thing – vacation time!  He tells them they are going to Athens, Greece. Well, with one exception (see if you can spot the difference):

Yup, they left the black guy back in America.  Classic!  With bouzouki blasting on the soundtrack, our foursome (filled out by redhead Greg and stud Teddy) wanders around the Acropolis before always hungry Leo (it’s funny ‘cuz he’s fat) loses all their money by being scammed (the old “I’ve got a mermaid to show you” trick).  Damn, you Leo! Penniless, these wacky kids pretend to be tour guides for money and end up on Hydra Island.  The main plot finally kicks in at the 26 minute mark as the boys save Helena from the rough men of her persistent wannabe-beau and island tough guy Mustafa. The gang finds out a motocross race with a prize of $2,000 – enough to get them home – is being held in town and – wouldn’t you know it – Larry is a great motorcycle driver too!  KARATE WARRIOR 6: MOTOCROSS WARRIOR?

The guys rebuild a clunker owned by Helena’s dad and Larry wins the motocross race with ease.  Mustafa doesn’t take kindly to losing and challenges Larry to a karate match in 3 days time at the Festival of Saint Anastasius.  Damn, looks like De Angelis finally got around to renting THE KARATE KID, PART II (1986).  While Larry trains, the gang spies on Mustafa’s training and see him breaking trees with his head. Uh oh, Larry ain’t ready for this shit.  So they make a frantic phone call back to Betty back in the U.S. and try to convince her to get Sensei Mizura to fly over and prepare Larry.  Mizura is initially reluctant (“I gotta get da westwant weopened”), but eventually flies over to train him.  Mizura is familiar with Mustafa’s technique called the “Turkish Variant” (done by a Greek?) because he faced someone who used it before.  “I lost,” he reveals, “but won the rematch.” Greeeeeeat.  So the big day arrives and Larry and Mustafa face down in a huge arena filled with thousands of screaming fans.  Ha, just kidding.  They are in a tiny room with about fifty people watching. Mustafa proceeds to be the living hell out of Larry until Larry’s dad (David Warbeck) shows up.  Somehow the arrival of a Eurocult legend imbues him with the strength to hit his signature Dragon Blow move (the exact same move as KARATE KID’s crane kick) and Larry wins.

The Italian film industry was dying a slow death in the early 90s and KARATE WARRIOR 6 might be the embodiment of this period as it is cheap, cheap, cheap.  De Angelis falls into the time-honored tradition of long-running series and takes it on the road.  I’m sure the film’s budget consisted of enough money for plane tickets to Greece.  Ah, who am I kidding, you just know they went there by boat.  Everything about this flick is just off.  Williams’ karate “skills” really have to be seen to be believed.  Who casts a guy who can’t kick as the lead in a series called KARATE WARRIOR?  Fabrizio De Angelis, that’s who.  Was it that hard to find a kid throwing down at dojo in the States or did you just cast the first guy who walked through the door.  I’m picking the latter.  In the time honored tradition of goofy Italian miscasting, this might be the champ.  Even funnier is the effeminate villain Mustafa, who looks like Mark Dacascos if he continually sucked on lemons.  The film’s action highlight is the motocross race and that is just as goofy.  The race itself extends far into the mountains, but De Angelis keeps cutting back to the people in the town cheering, even though there is no way they can see the action.  One the plus side, the movie did deliver in the dubbed dialog department and gave me this priceless exchange.
Mizura: “He is an expert in Greco-Roman and that mean an open stance so he can attack from the left or from the right.”
Larry: “From either side?” 
Mizura: “From either side. There’s nothing more I can teach you.”
The sad part is that after seeing how bad this one is, I’m dying to see the rest of the series. Such is the power of cheesy Italian knock off cinema.  Fabrizio De Angelis? He’s damn good. Damn good.  Damn, he’s good.

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