Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bruceploitation: THE GODFATHER SQUAD (1974)

True story: there used to be this cool cat named Keith who ran a site about Bruceploitation, the subgenre that emerged following the untimely death of Bruce Lee. Keith’s site had it all – it was painstakingly thorough in covering the various actors who gave into the art of imitating, had tons of reviews and, best of all, it was witty. You can see the barebones version of that site here.  He had the world at his fingertips but refused to strike while the iron is hot.  What happened to poor Keef is too horrible for your ears, so we won’t release the details.  Let's just say it was a fate far worse than any mortal man should suffer.  However, we will say that like Bruce Lee himself, when his reign ended, the imitator Bruceploitation websites took over and now hog the spotlight that he once shone so brightly. *sobs*

Okay, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah, Bruce Lee imitators.  One of the more fun aspects of this subgenre were the films that dared to be a little different.  Several such as THE NINJA STRIKES BACK and CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER took their show on the road and filmed at various locations across Europe.  These fanciful co-productions not only got their Lee clones to more exotic locales, but they also offered supporting roles to some the actors populating European projects.  So it was like the best of both worlds for Eurocult geeks like us here at Video Junkie.  THE GODFATHER SQUAD (aka LITTLE GODFATHER) is one of those films that transport the kung fu hero to 1970s Italy.  How could it not rule?

The action kicks off right away as we see two Interpol officers killed in England and France (both essayed by stock static shots probably off a postcard and then generic streets).  A third assassination attempt involving a German Sheppard suicide dog is foiled in Hong Kong by movie star Wang Liu (Bruce Leung).  No, your eyes are not deceiving you and I did say German Sheppard suicide dog and here is the hilarious video proof as evidence (I’m 99% certain the dog growls are being done by a human).

So any movie that starts off with a German Sheppard suicide dog bomb is okay in my book.  Turns out all of these killings are being done by the Karo family, a tight knit group of killers who have been hired by drug dealer Mr. Michael. They are indeed a family as we have Karo and his legit son Kenny alongside adopted sons Duke (Gordon Mitchell) and Sakata (Yasuaki Kurata).  Yes, Gordon Mitchell is playing someone’s son.

Anyway, these guys are miffed that Wang Liu interfered with their contract and tell Mr. Michael they refuse payment until the contract is fulfilled.  This means they must kill Wang Liu. Wait, what?  Shouldn’t they be concerned with killing their original target?  I guess not.  So they come up with the ingenious plan of hiring Wang Liu to come to Rome to shoot a movie and then they will kill him there.  Makes perfect sense, right? Well, I guess it would make sense to a hitman who decides to adopt two grown men to be his sons.  So Wang arrives in Rome with his super annoying little brother (Meng Hoi) in tow.  The killers’ plans are foiled right away when Wang decides to stay with his older brother instead of going to the location.  No problem, we’ll kill him at his bro’s house.  Well, that gets all messed up when Wang Liu and his little bro take big brother up on his offer to let them sleep in his bedroom.  D’oh!  Greetings dear dead older brother.

Obviously this bums Wang out, but not enough to stop him and his little bro from checking out the Roman Coliseum.  There a tourist couple asks them to take their picture and Wang doesn’t catch on when they keep asking him to step back further and further with their camera. Thankfully, hottie Ivy shows up and gets him to launch the killer Kodak into the air before it explodes.  Turns out she is from the film company and works in their insurance division. She takes Wang to the hospital for a check up and – wouldn’t you know it – the doctor tries to kill him too.  So Ivy gets him and his brother on the first plane out of town, but Wang ditches his flight because he senses trouble.  Sure enough, he saves Ivy from some stereotypical Italian gangsters just minutes later.  Man, he really wants to make this film or is really dumb.

After beating up two Russian buffoons on the film set, Wang gets a call from Kenny, who tells him to meet him in St. Peter’s Square and he will reveal who killed his brother.  Now here is where the filmmakers show their balls as they have both men wading through a crowd of folks checking out Pope Paul VI as he gives a speech. Yes, a cameo by the freakin’ Pope (which he probably never knew about).  That is classic. His Holiness should have felt honored to been in the presence of Bruce Leung. Have you seen his kicks?  Godly!  Anyway, they have a chase through town and Wang eventually catches the none-too-sly Kenny and demands to know who killed his brother. When Kenny reveals he did it, Wang kills him with a few blows to the head.  Naturally, this pisses off Karo but also leads to a great scene of him eulogizing his son at the dinner table. “When he was ten years old, he killed two negro kids,” he remembers fondly.  Every dad’s dream…if the dad happens to be a psychotic hitman.  From this point on, the film plays out with Duke, Sakata and Karo all trying to snuff out Wang (and even offering him a job at one point).

While not as zany as CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (topless tennis!) or THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (also with Bruce Leung), THE GODFATHER SQUAD has enough oddity for the non-discerning kung fu film fan.  Modern film fans might know lead Bruce Leung (aka Leung Siu-Lung) best as The Beast, the bald, villainous toad hitman from Stephen Chow’s KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004).  But he has been around since the early 1970s and got a nice slice of Bruceploitation on his resume, despite not really looking like the man.  Leung’s martial arts skills are off the hook and he really should have been in better movies.  Also highly skilled is the ubiquitous Japanese star Kurata.  Their showdown (which goes from Rome’s streets to a snowy hillside) is the film’s action highlight.  Also good is the brawl with Gordon Mitchell that takes place all over an abandoned factory (with a great bit where Mitchell finds a machine gun at the top of a water tower; did he leave it up there knowing their pursuit would end there?).  Previously released on DVD by various labels as LITTLE GODFATHER, the new Code Red DVD of THE GODFATHER SQUAD is worth picking up if you want to see the film in its proper widescreen aspect ratio.

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