07 September 2009

Slaughter In San Francisco

Here's the box art I have, but the tape within is a Rhino Home Video cassette released in 1990, so whatever.

United States - 1974
Director - Wei Lo
Front Row Features, 1997, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 28 min.

An interesting take on a Chuck Norris film, but I guess I have to admit it's only barely a Chuck Norris film. Actually, it's just a piece of the Norris puzzle, and if like me you feel the need to be complete, you have to have all the pieces. This is the only movie in which Chuck plays a "bad guy", unless you count the thinly veiled racist patriotism and mass murder "justice" in many of his later roles. Don't let my cynicism shake you, I eat this shit up.

This actually plays out like a wannabe Bruce Lee movie. Since it came in the wake of the Lee tragedy, and of course in light of Norris's close association with Lee, that is no surprise. But it's a poor substitute for Bruce, while a vague and generic plot just about chokes off the Chuck Factor.

The lead is a Chinese American cop in San Francisco, Officer Don Wong, played by, uhm, Don Wong. Along with his partner, the token black guy, they form the do-good friendly cop team, the cheesy movie definition of protect and serve. While taking his son to school one day, the partner stops the car to help some people loading a panel truck, only to be kidnapped. His wife calls Wong, but it does no good and the partner is killed. Wong busts some heads, but gets himself fired from the force. Unwilling to let the case rest, Wong continues to investigate, between shifts at his new job as short order cook in a Chinese restaurant. No, really.

Although two old people are framed for the murder by some more corrupt cops, Wong knows better and after asking them some questions, it occurs to him that the arrogant and contemptuous hot chick who’s living nearby with several known thugs and dating a shady white dude who is the brother of San Francisco's biggest drug kingpin is probably the obvious answer. It's lucky Wong knows kung fu.

Norris doesn't really act any different than in any other Chuck Norris movie, or even play a different character. It's really just the poorly and unnecessarily dubbed dialogue that comes from his mouth, and the big ass cigar he chews on for a few seconds. Oh except for the whole drug czar thing, I forgot that. I’m beginning to suspect that people were so used to dubbing kung-fu movies that even American martial arts films had to be dubbed to be taken seriously back then. Then again this is a Golden Harvest picture so there may have been no English original.

We're treated to a few laugh inducing scenes of Chuck living it up in his mansion, chomping his cigar and training his class of karate kids. Every lesson must be accompanied by a climactic demonstration of devastation delivered to boards and reinforced by, whoops some cigar chomping and evil dubbed laughter with the trademark Norris towel around the neck. There's Chuck. Swoon. He cackles and grins appropriately, eliciting monotonous sycophantic head noddery from his lackeys. His one weakness though, may be his admiration for good fighting skills. He offers the crafty Wong a job, and the whimpering of recalcitrant hot chick and a misplaced desire for revenge lead Wong to accept, with obvious motive.

Even if it seems silly and sometimes painfully staged, it's fun to watch Norris recieve the beat-down. He's clearly good at on screen fighting, and he's just coming into his game here, so the risk is just about worth the final reward. Strangely in retrospect it feels almost like Game of Death in that the real star is not present for the bulk of the film, and only in the final fight does the true gold lie waiting.

Some alternate VHS covers including the alternate title and two tape covers from the Critic Online VHS cover gallery.

Poster from Imp Awards

Poster from MovieGoods

And this thing from Asian Cinema.blogspot.com


regis said...

Chuck looks more like a young Jim Henson in that MovieGoods poster - it's the smooth face and the lack of squint.

Seth J G Goodkind said...

See, I was thinking Elliott Gould.

Dean said...

They had some pretty cool poster art back in the 70's. Love that first one.