Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Gweilo Dojo: HONOR AND GLORY (1993)/ANGEL THE KICKBOXER (1993)

As we crawl toward our four year online anniversary (“What!?!” I can hear Tom say), it is still amazing the amount of favorite subjects that we haven’t touched upon.  Case in point: Cynthia Rothrock!  The first American queen of martial arts cinema is woefully underrepresented here at Video Junkie, but it certainly isn’t from lack of love.  Rothrock is like a hipster woman ass kicker – she was totally doing it before it was cool. The Delaware born actress began training in the martial arts in her early teens and, after relocating to California, she began participating in karate and weapons tournaments and ran a martial arts school.

Filmmaker/genius Leo Fong cast Rothrock in her first film with the San Francisco set 24 HOURS TO MIDNIGHT (1985).  However, it was the keen eye of a Golden Harvest suit that catapulted her to martial arts movie stardom as she headed to Hong Kong to perform alongside greats like Jackie Chan (R.I.P.), Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Michelle Yeoh.  Working steadily overseas proved to be an asset to her career as it allowed Rothrock to really show off her skills.  A return stateside saw her hooking up with ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) helmer Robert Clouse for two CHINA O’BRIEN films, making her the only female martial arts star in the U.S. market at the time. Rothrock’s growing popularity saw her splitting her time between the United States and Asia, resulting in a rather disparate filmography in terms of quality.  Eventually these two cinematic worlds collided in the early ‘90s when she teamed up with veteran HK exploitation filmmaker Godfrey Ho on two movies (HONOR AND GLORY and UNDEFEATABLE) filmed in America.

HONOR AND GLORY opens with a slideshow about a nuclear missile and its trigger that have recently gone missing. Naturally, all of the military men in the board room (really a tiny office) are concerned and they have every reason to be as it appears evil billionaire Jason Slade (John Miller) is willing to purchase it for a hefty sum on the black market.  How evil is Slade?  He tells the board members at B.B.I.T. (Bank of Business and International Trade) that he is “chairman of the board for life” while fondling metal balls in his hand.  What, the producers couldn’t spring for a cat on his lap?  Integral to Slade’s impending downfall is news reporter Joyce Pride (Donna Jason), who is as swift with a kick as she is with a microphone.  Don’t believe me?  Check her out:

Man, the streets of D.C. are rough!  Now, I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but when a film has lady kick a soda can onto another woman’s forehead in the first 10 minutes, I’m pretty sure it is going to be a classic.  After handling her kung fu business, Joyce heads to the airport to pick up her sister Tracy (Cynthia Rothrock), a Federal agent returning from doing overseas work in Hong Kong.  Joyce fills Tracy in on her Slade efforts (she apparently houses a full editing suite in her home) and the sore subject of their father comes up.  Seems Joyce is holding a grudge that daddy didn’t pay enough attention to her, resulting in two very different sisters.  Or, as Joyce so eloquently puts it, “you chase honor, I chase glory.”  Damn they should make a title out of that.

Later, Slade is heading out of his office building when he is ambushed by Joyce, who beats the crap out of all of his henchmen when they try to mess with her cameraman.  Well, she doesn’t beat down new hire Jake Armstrong (Chuck Jeffreys), who was fetching the limo. Armstrong is good.  So good in fact that his business card reads, “You couldn’t be safer in the hands of God.”  I don’t know about that, God has a pretty mean roundhouse kick.  Anyway, Joyce heads to her old kung fu school to catch up with her Sifu (Tai Yim, who also did the film’s action choreography) and abuse her wannabe suitor Mickey (Yip Yim Hing).  Okay, HONOR AND GLORY drinking game: take a shot every time someone says “sifu” in this scene (even if it sounds like they are saying “seafood”). Dude, you would get totally wasted.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers continue to reinforce how evil Slade is by having him talk about his reasons for enjoying tennis. “Winning’s the easy part, Jake,” he says to his bodyguard, “It’s toying with them that I enjoy. I like to draw them to the net and let them think they have a chance. Then I crush them on the baseline.”  Whoa, chill out, Patrick Bateman!  Outside the gym, a couple of hitmen try to get Slade but Jake takes them out with ease.  I assume they were hitmen…or guys who really don’t like people who ruin the ethics of tennis.  Either way, Slade hires Hideo (Richard Yuen) to kill the two board members he thinks set him up.  After all, they nodded toward each other knowingly when Slade gave his “for life” speech earlier.

Wait, wasn’t there something about a missing nuclear trigger going on here?  Oh yeah. Slade is contacted by a white pimp who goes by the name of Silk (Gerald Klein), who is brokering the deal for the device.  Our hustler actually says his deals always run “smooth as silk.”  After making the arrangements, Silk calls another contact in John (Leo Rocca), who just happens to be…insert suspenseful music build here…the father of Joyce and Tracy!  And guess what case Tracy just happens to be investigating here in the States?  Yep, that’s right she is tracking the disappearance of a certain nuclear device. My God and you thought your family had drama?  Joining Tracy on her investigation is Dragon Lee (Robin Shou), her old partner from Hong Kong.  The filmmakers really establish his character well by showing him just jump into Tracy’s car during a stakeout and having her say, “I thought you were in Hong Kong.”  Slade is oblivious to all this heat though as he is planning to get the device for $5 million and sell it to a Saudi prince for $3 billion. Now far be it for me to interfere in high stakes illegal weapons sales negotiations, but I’m pretty sure that dude is overpaying on the resale.  Jesus, what a mark up!  What is this AMERICAN NUCLEAR PICKERS?  Not so oblivious during all of this is Armstrong, who is not only beginning to suspect his boss might be crooked, but is also starting to fancy Joyce (by breaking into her home and asking her where she learned her kung fu). Naturally, it all comes to a head in the designated location for modern martial arts flicks – a warehouse!

Fans of crazed Hong Kong action and bizarre plotting will no doubt get a kick out of HONOR AND GLORY.  While Cynthia Rothrock is top billed, it is probably Donna Jason who is the star here.  Not that I mind as Jason has the same combination of attractiveness and martial arts talent that Rothrock has. Well, she doesn’t pull off that crazy backwards scorpion head kick that Rothrock always does, but I was pleasantly surprised by her skill.  It is a shame that not much is known about her and that she didn’t do more.  John Miller is also pretty accomplished skill wise as the villain of the film and his bulging eyes performance is just what the doctor ordered for a film like this (“I am like a God! I piss on you from a great height,” he tells Silk at one point). Rothrock, Jason, Hall and director Ho would also make UNDEFEATABLE around the same time, resulting in one of the internet’s favorite kung fu fights.

Also impressive in his role is Chuck Jeffreys.  A Washington, D.C. native, Jeffreys also got his onscreen start across the country in San Francisco in a series of films for Leo Fong and George Chung.  One of the things that will immediately hit viewers is how much Jeffreys looks like ‘80s Eddie Murphy. Not only does he look like him, but he sounds just like him too (listen for the bit where he tells Slade to “kiss my ass” and tell me it doesn’t sound just like Murphy).  The resemblance is so uncanny that I wondered how he didn’t become Murphy’s stunt double, but then I saw on his filmography that he did double Murphy in BOOMERRANG (1992).  On the upside, Jeffreys is a much better martial artist than Murphy and gets plenty of opportunities in this film to show off his moves.

With so many ass kickers, Robin Shou, future star of MORTAL KOMBAT, seems almost like an afterthought here.  It is like he walked onto the set unannounced and asked, “You need anybody?”  He only gets two fights, but they are both well done.

Now if you know the name Godfrey Ho (working under the oh-so-subtle pseudonym of Godfrey Hall here), then you know the kind of insanity the man can deliver.  Frankly, Ho is a cinematic slut (see what I did there?) and this has led to a whacked out career of over 100 movies that are literally all over the map.  Rather than one of those slapped together ninja edits that still give Richard Harrsion night terrors, HONOR AND GLORY is a legit film with Ho obviously working with a bigger budget than usual.  Of course, that doesn’t stop any of the goofy Ho-isms like an establishing shot of the United States Congress with a Washington, D.C. tag on it or Joyce driving up to her old kung fu school to find people just randomly in a Chinese dragon costume in the parking lot.  We get it, they are Chinese!  Believe it or not though, Ho was up to his usual behavior and actually offered up two edits of this film with the alternate version ANGEL THE KICKBOXER featuring a returning Robin Shou and Yukari Oshima as cops. “We make two-for-one,” I can hear Ho squeal in a voice that can only sound like James Hong in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986). Of course, only a sucker could get fooled by that.  Wait, Video Junkie head honcho Tom got hoodwinked by this?  I mean, hey, it can happen to anyone.  Damn, that is one tricky Ho.

ANGEL THE KICKBOXER is actually a totally bizarre experience to watch after HONOR AND GLORY because it does adhere to the storyline presented in the US shot footage and incorporates several of the same actors.  This version actually opens with cop Dragon Lee (Robin Shou again) being told by his superiors to look out for hitman Hideo (Richard Yuen again), who is called Suzuki for some reason in the subtitles.  We actually have a small scene where Rothrock’s character meets up with Lee in the office (apparently breaking into a spar session is welcomed) and she tells him she is heading back to the U.S. on a top secret mission (the plot of HONOR AND GLORY).  Lee and his girlfriend (Yukari Oshima) head out looking for Hideo/Suzuki and, in a rather humorous continuity error, flash a picture of him to guys.  Why is this funny? The picture is a B&W copy of a still from the final showdown from HONOR AND GLORY. I love it.  Anyway, Hideo/Suzuki is in Hong Kong to take care of some crooked bankers led by Li (Waise Lee).  Seems he didn’t deposit all of Jason Slade’s $100 million into a Swiss account and the bank has now been seized by the Hong Kong government.  Naturally, this allows for lots of fights (including two fights set to stolen music from GREMLINS) before Lee tells his girl he has to head to the United States to continue his work.  Oshima does the typical grumpy girlfriend routine seen in nearly all Hong Kong flick.  When Lee asks her what is wrong, she says she is afraid he will catch AIDS.  Okkkkkay.

Believe it or not, a person online actually edited these two alternate versions together to create one super long version. Yes, a two hour plus Godfrey Ho film! What more could you ask for?  Well, besides sanity. Amazingly, this version also includes U.S. shot scenes that were not included on the Imperial VHS that I have.  One scene has Slade sitting down with his concerned father for some whiskey as they calmly talk about their business.  What?  The egomaniac Slade has parents?  Even better is Slade saying, “When this thing blows over, the publicity is going to be great for the bank.”  LOL.  Also, there is a scene where Silk, the whitest pimp on Earth, is in a car getting money from one of his charges.  “Don't get smart with me, bitch” he says when she tells him that the girls aren’t making money. Pimpin’ ain’t easy, indeed.  There is also a new U.S. filmed scene between Rothrock and Shou towards the end that came from the Asian version.  Once the case is wrapped up, he tells her that he is heading back to Hong Kong to wrap up the case on that end.  Of course, their scene starts with one of them sneaking up on the other and them jumping into a sparring session. Jeez, get a room already, you two!

Note: Tai Seng released the ANGEL THE KICKBOXER version on VHS and DVD in the U.S. To make matters even more confusing, they later released an earlier Yukari Oshima film under the new title ANGEL OF KICKBOXER.  (As Jack Burton would say, “I don’t even know what the hell that means!”)  With such similar titles, the internet believes they are the same film.  They are not.  Thanks to some detective work by John Charles, we can now say that ANGEL OF KICKBOXER is A PUNCH TO REVENGE (1989).  Confused?  I hope so.

1 Reactions:

  1. Holy shinoli, boss. Great write-up, and it comes at a fine time for this ol' Fool, as I had just seen Donna Jason in ABDUCTED II: THE REUNION and was thinking, "Who is the random kung-fu chick?" I look her up and darned if she isn't in this flick, which I had on my to-watch list for about a year now when I realized I didn't have enough Cynthia Rockrock in my life. To be honest, I think I've only seen her in two other movies...one of which just happens to be UNDEFEATABLE, which is completely amazing. However, I was unprepared for John Miller to blow the over-the-top doors off the way he does here. His work in UNDEFEATABLE is positively restrained by comparison. He IS a god! He DOES piss on people from a great height! Pretty hilarious to have bashed out Jason's entire filmography in two sittings. She takes a few pages from Miller's book for ABDUCTED (which also stars Debbie Rochon, Raquel Bianca, and Jan-Michael Vincent and Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty), and overacts like crazy.

    Anyway, great to have your able commentary waiting for me at the end of that WTF-fest. Wondering whether I should go CHINA O'BRIEN next or RAGE AND HONOR, unless you have other suggestions.


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