Thanksgiving week rolls along here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at some of the most enjoyable – on whatever level – B-movies from the one and only Leo Fong! Leo’s been called a poor man’s Bolo Yeung cross-bred with an even poorer man’s Joe Don Baker … but I was drunk when I called him that, so make of it what you will.
All lovers of Psychotronic filmmaking worship at the altar of Fong and his many action flicks from the 1970s through today are still watchable in a very odd way and will always leave viewers smiling. We may snark away at the abundance of errors and absurdities in Leo’s movies but there’s no denying that a Leo Fong film has more heart and sincerity in it than any corporate blockbuster has in decades.
MURDER IN THE ORIENT (1974) – Leo Fong IS Lao Tsu, but not THAT one, in this lethargic treasure quest/ revenge story. Leo (He’s ALWAYS Leo to me no matter what his character is named) learns his sister has been killed by the Golden Cobra crime gang. That gang is after a pair of samurai swords on which Imperial Japanese war criminals serving in World War Two engraved a split map leading to a fortune in stolen gold.
Leo’s sister was collateral damage in that quest, and her death brings down on the Golden Cobras’ heads the stone-faced revenge of our man Fong and his late sister’s equally deadly boyfriend, Paul Martelli (THE Ron Marchini). All the performers seem like reluctant draftees rounded up and forced to “act” at gunpoint. Even the action sequences reek of half-heartedness in this odd little honey.
REVENGE OF THE BUSHIDO BLADE aka THE LAST REUNION (1980) – Enter Cameron Mitchell into the Leo Fong filmography, beginning a friendship more beautiful than Rick and Louie could have EVER imagined. Our first movie in this article featured villainous Axis Japanese figures, this time around it’s villainous American soldiers from World War Two. The soldiers take the Japanese stronghold of General Matsuda only to lose control, proceeding to kill the general, then rape and kill his wife. These atrocities happen in front of the couple’s son, Kimon Matsuda, who grows up to be played by Leo Fong.
In the movie’s present-day, Kimon is a martial arts instructor in San Francisco. By chance he learns of the latest reunion of the American unit which wiped out his parents, a reunion being held in Manila. Leo screams “BUSHIDOOOOOO! BUSHIDOOOOO!” (I think we’ve all been there) and invites himself to Manila to crash the reunion and at last get his revenge.
Revenge Thriller meets Slasher Flick as Fong whittles down the regiment, including its most sympathetic member, Sam Hacker, played by the aforementioned Cameron Mitchell, and its most sadistic member, Tom Steadman, played by Hal Bokar. Philip Baker Hall appears as one of the army buddies and gets decapitated by our hero Kimon. Stack Pierce, known to all Fong Fans as Nighthawk, is along for the ride as Frank Washington.
All this plus some eccentric Filipino musical acts who perform at a disco called … Disco. This movie is much more energetic than Murder in the Orient.
KILLPOINT (1984) – Leo Fong IS Los Angeles Police Lieutenant James Long, who is out for revenge on the criminals who raped and killed his wife. Leo teams up with Richard Roundtree’s ATF Agent Bill Bryant, who wants to bust up that same bloodthirsty gang for their raid on an armory. Together they’ll indulge in some of the most rollicking “who CARES about innocent bystanders” shootouts in cinema history!
Cameron Mitchell, playing head bad guy Joe Marks, says “Screw Ernst Stavro Blofeld with his monocle and his cat,” as he wears an ascot and fondles a poodle while mumbling and stumbling his way through the film. Stack Pierce, as secondary baddie Nighthawk, steals portions of the movie from Fong, Mitchell AND Roundtree. By the way, blink and you’ll miss Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.
The editing in Killpoint is the kind that makes characters seem to be teleporting all over the set from shot to shot, and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way! On top of that, the script is inane, the violence is graphic, the women – Diana Leigh and Danene Pyant – are sexy and the poodle is named Sparky. What more could you possibly want? Well, now that you mention it, I’ve always wanted to hear one of Leo’s perpetually glum characters get dubbed by the guy who did the voice for the cartoon dog Droopy. But I’m kind of weird.
24 HOURS TO MIDNIGHT (1985) – Leo Fong is listed as the director, writer and co-star of this mish-mash of a movie. This is one of those flicks which started out as one project that fell through, then got edited in with totally unrelated footage in such a way as to pretend it’s all one, coherent story. Think of Pink Angels, Spookies, They Saved Hitler’s Brain, Monster A Go-Go and many others.
Cynthia Rothrock starred in a few minutes of footage for a film in which she would be out for revenge on her husband’s killers. (So what else is new?) That project fell through and her footage was later edited into this Leo Fong extravaganza with a lack of finesse which would make even Godfrey Ho blush.
Cynthia got dubbed by Brinke Stevens and in the scenes where she was supposedly dressed as a ninja while taking down the drug dealers behind her hubby’s murder the REAL figure in black is Deanne Power. Never mind that their body types and height clearly don’t match, viewers are supposed to believe that is Cynthia’s character as the ninja.
Once you accept that, then you’ll be able to swallow the fact that Fong regular Stack Pierce, a black man, plays the Chinese drug dealer “White Powder” Chan. I’m not kidding. Leo himself portrays Mr Big while two cops (played by Bernie Pock and Myra) pretend to be part of the same story from Rothrock’s earlier footage. Feverishly hilarious.
BIONIC NINJA (1985) – Hey! The people who dubbed this flick into English overused “Hey!” to such a degree that if you play the Hey! Drinking Game you’ll die of alcohol poisoning a third of the way through the movie. Leo Fong supposedly choreographed the fights and did some stunt work in and out of ninja garb in this film, another splice job of unrelated movies.
Hey! It’s also been released under the titles Ninja Assassins and Ninja Force. Bionic Ninja is using “ninja” as its plural form but sadly, none of them are bionic. For some reason many international releases took to using the word “bionic” in their titles as if the word meant “super” or “ultra” or “maximum.” The ninja in this movie are the NOISIEST ninja ever committed to film, but they do possess powers of teleportation, so that’s fun.
Hey! In Hong Kong, a kung-fu fighting Chinese courier named Gordon Mann is transporting a “Top Secret Technical Film” containing information that could alter the balance of power in the Cold War. The Soviets have hired a band of ninja (our title menaces) to steal the film from Gordon. Mann’s boss in the British Secret Service, Warren Smart, lets Mann twist in career limbo under suspicion that he willingly handed over the film while secretly being a traitor himself.
Hey! White CIA Agent Tommy Foster (Kelly Steve) arrives in Hong Kong to recover said film, which is being fought over by everyone from petty street thugs and jewel thieves up through the highest echelons of organized crime and international espionage. A pair of bickering cops (of course) also get into the mix and the pirated Miami Vice theme music turns up during a fight scene. (For newbies, everything from the James Bond Theme to the Star Wars Theme are appropriated in many international flicks.)
Hey! This is a standard chop-socky mess, meaning 90% of the running time is spent on fight scenes, which I guess accounts for Leo Fong’s top billing. As always in these things there are pointless double-crosses, subplots which lead nowhere and a final twist which renders most of the story’s developments meaningless. If you care, along the way the CIA man learns ninja techniques from a book (?) and fights the “bionic ninja” using their own powers. Hey!
LOW BLOW aka SAVAGE SUNDAY (1986) – This time out, Leo Fong stars as Joe Wong (He’s so versatile!) AND wrote the screenplay, but did not direct. Stack Pierce IS Corky and Cameron Mitchell IS barely conscious and barely mobile as a sinister cult leader named Yarakunda.
Fong as Wong is a San Francisco Private Investigator who, oddly, spends much of his time fighting street crime pro bono, but that’s mostly because violent crimes seem to spontaneously break out wherever he goes. Joe Wong is Fong’s most carefully crafted creation – a martial artist who is simultaneously a master of Gun Fu, drives the shabbiest vehicle this side of Columbo and likes to eat chicken feet.
Low Blow/ Savage Sunday raises the bar from Killpoint when it comes to the way Leo gets to kill just about whoever he pleases with absolutely NO consequences or negative repercussions. The later film Blood Street was for my money the all-time high for that aspect of the Fong Oeuvre but this flick upped the ante along the way.
Cameron Mitchell’s seemingly narcoleptic cult leader has brainwashed the daughter of tycoon John Templeton (THE Troy Donahue). The tycoon wants her back and pays Leo to do the job. Apparently taken aback at having a paying client, our hero makes a slapdash rescue effort which falls short. That prompts him to arrange a martial arts contest whose winners “get” to serve in his and Templeton’s army for an invasion of the cult’s compound. Weird and incomprehensible film in the best possible way.
BLOOD STREET (1988) – Really feeling his oats now, Leo Fong once again starred in, wrote AND co-directed this sequel to Low Blow/ Savage Sunday. Mumbling, slovenly P.I. Joe Wong is BACK, bitches, to rack up a body count that makes the bad guys look like pacifists by comparison. Not committing any crime? No matter. Wong will kill your ass just for not giving him the information he wants from you.
Sadly, there’s no Cameron Mitchell this time around, but Stack Pierce tags along as Solomon. The lead villain is none other than Richard Norton, who often starred opposite the likes of Jackie Chan and other big names. He also starred opposite also-rans like Cynthia Rothrock, just like Chuck “Eddie Murphy’s Doppleganger” Jeffries. For obvious reasons, Fong was willing to take second billing – and a tiny poster pic – to get Norton as the bad guy for Blood Street.
Leo is hired by a gangster’s wife to locate her man before a gang war breaks out between her hubby’s crime family, Pierce’s gang and Richard Norton’s. The missing person is named Aldo MacDonald but Fong’s as usual mangled enunciation makes it sound like he’s been hired to track down “Old MacDonald.” Not quite the Film Noir feel that Leo was going for.
If you’ve enjoyed Fong’s other ventures then you’ll love the low-budget, low-everything thrills of Blood Street. If you’re like me you’ll even laugh your ass off over the way Leo redefines “anticlimax” in his showdown with Richard Norton.
SHOWDOWN (1993) – Once again Leo Fong starred in, wrote and directed one of his strangely compelling action flicks. Our man Leo stars as a man named James Long, just like he did in Killpoint. Is he supposed to be the same guy? Who knows! If he IS the same guy, Long is no longer a cop but a martial arts instructor who gets called in by his old Vietnam War buddy the Commander (cult star Richard Lynch).
The Commander needs Leo’s help because a biker gang led by Kincade (Werner Hoetzinger) has made his tiny Nevada town of Sanctuary their latest hideout after he and his thugs robbed a racetrack. In defiance of all reason, the 500-person town is filled with old retired gangsters from organized crime families. Wait … What? Did Leo mean that it was strictly for criminals who testified against their own and entered the Witness Protection Program? It’s not clear, but things never are in a Leo Fong Joint.
No state or federal laws apply in Sanctuary, making me wonder if Leo was trying for some kind of post-apocalyptic Escape From New York feel. It’s possible Leo himself couldn’t tell us. Needless to say, the laws of physics don’t apply, either, given the typically unhinged Fong fight scenes, choppy editing and nonexistent continuity.
For some reason most copies of this film sport a cover pic featuring NONE of the actual stars. See right.
Fong finally discovered Heavy Metal in this 1993 project and the soundtrack’s songs & music make Showdown as funny and awkward as watching an old Italian grandfather try to get down and funky to some vintage Motown sounds. Troy Donahue is back to get Fongified once again, this time in a tiny role as a police captain. Leo as James Long cleans up the town with a little help from a slain gangster’s daughter and a black female kickboxer whose character disappears at one point with no explanation. Don’t ever change, Leo!
TRANSFORMED (2005) – Leo Fong co-wrote this bizarre and disjointed CIA/ Christian/ Anti-Drug martial arts movie. He also portrays the Fist, a black-clad, hat and sunglasses-wearing badass who lurks the city streets in slow motion, unleashing his own brand of mayhem on anyone who crosses him. The Fist gets recruited by two-fisted clergy woman “Pastor Debra” (Shirlee Knudson) – along with Fred Williamson’s Hammer (cutesy cross-reference there) and assorted other butt-kickers to shut down a CIA operation which sells drugs to street kids in order to finance covert wars in … Central America.
Yes, just as it took until 1993 for Leo to use Heavy Metal music in his films he was taking a very 1980s plotline and peddling it in 2005! Why not have the CIA financing Mid-East conflicts? Who knows? Just be happy that Stack Pierce is back as the Mayor and he’s as deliciously evil as ever.
And though it seems to be the CIA behind it all, here’s a quote from Leo Fong himself about this movie’s plot: “The film will be a dramatic and controversial story about a corrupt city government that uses an innocent community as its drug distribution center to generate money to fund revolutions in Central America. The film depicts corrupt city officials involved in unthinkable situations with a storyline that is sure to keep you glued to the screen.”
Glued to the screen indeed! Who knew city governments ran their own intelligence agencies!? +++
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