Thursday, 21 October 2021

Black Samurai

Dragon His Feet

Black Samurai
USA 1976 Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A

Okay so, out of the many films on Severin’s wonderful Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection boxed set, Black Samurai was one of those that I was most looking forward to. It didn’t disappoint too much and, despite the clumsiness of the production and the usual Al Adamson thriftiness showing in some places, there’s more than enough silly, cool stuff happening to distract from many of the film’s faults.

Now I’ve not read any of the pulpy 1970s Black Samurai novels on which this movie was based so I can’t tell you just how close to the first book this movie is but, with credits talking about stuff like ‘additional story ideas by’ and so on, I’m guessing this is at least an ‘augmented’ take on the original Marc Olden novel. That being said the main character, which I suspect is possibly true of the books too, is in no way a ‘samurai’ of any shape or description. He’s just good at martial arts although, I believe in the novels he may be samurai trained? Anyway...

Three years prior to this, lead actor Jim Kelly had a break out supporting role opposite Bruce Lee and John Saxon in Enter The Dragon. In this... in an element which may or may not have been lifted from the books... Robert Sand, alias the Black Samurai, works for top secret government organisation D.R.A.G.O.N, aka Defence Reserve Agency Guardian Of Nations. They spell Defence wrong in the movie but this is an English blog and, you know, we like to get things right over here ;-)... but my point being that this is perhaps another, not too subtle acronym, to remind audiences of Kelly’s prior success.

Anyway, after some dreadful filler shots with pseudo-oriental music of the streets of Hong Kong, the daughter of a Chinese ambassador is kidnapped by three... well lets call all the bad henchmen in these kinds of movies ‘karate thugs’ shall we? She’s kidnapped by three karate thugs who leave her three bodyguards dead. We then get a credits sequence fairly typical of Al Adamson’s work which consists of various shots of Jim Kelly moved around the screen in a half animated fashion and that all works fairly well.

Then, post credits, we have Robert Sand’s tennis match being interrupted by his boss at the agency who needs him to check out and recover the daughter from the evil cult black magic sorcerer Janicot, played by Bill Roy and his ex-prostitute, high priestess gal Synne... played by lovely Adamson regular Marilyn Joi. Sand isn’t really into it but then he finds out it’s the ambassador’s daughter, Toki (played by Chia Essie Lin), who has been kidnapped... who just happens to be his latest girlfriend! This by way of a photo his people have of him and her kissing which, honestly, begs the question of why they would have a file photo obviously culled from a terrible padded flashback sequence of Robert and Toki frolicking from later in the film, in their suitcase... and why he doesn’t go nuts and beat them up for obviously spying on him. But hey, what do I know?

After this, Black Samurai is on the case and it’s a bit James Bond like in many respects. Adamson regular Biff Yeager is playing the 'government man out in the field' to keep an eye on Sand and, he’s set up quite nicely for both the audience and Sand to assume he’s a turncoat traitor, signalling all Black Samurai’s moves to the enemy... when, in fact, he actually does turn out to be one of the good guys at the end, assisting Jim Kelly in his fight scenes in some of the least credible footage in the film, as this pudgy white man bashes about high level karate thugs with just an odd punch or two.

Asides from the odd topless woman thrown into the mix for good measure, there’s also some really silly stuff which makes this worth watching. For instance, the early fight scenes in the picture are actually quite well choreographed and Kelly really shines in these sections (I believe he did a lot of his own choreography on this gig). However, it would also be true to say that the big climactic chase and fight scene at the end of the film is seriously underwhelming when compared to the first half of the movie. But there’s lot to see here. There are also a number of scenes where the karate thugs are also ‘kung fu midgets’ but I don’t know why they keep being brought back because Sand makes short work of them, taking them out with one punch each time. Pretty useless opponents as presented here, if you ask me.

When some karate thugs try to force Sand’s car off the road, he presses a button and a long pipe comes out from behind one of the tires, similar to the Ben Hur inspired tyre slashers from James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger (reviewed here). However, it’s not any old pipe, it's a gun barrel and it blows the tires out on the other car and sends it crashing off a cliff somehow (well, yeah, it is an Adamson movie... I’m sure this isn’t the last time I’ll see this particular shot). In another nod to the Bond films, when the Black Samurai takes a boat to try and find Janicot in some jungle, he pulls out a jet pack just like the one seen at the start of Thunderball (reviewed here) and whizzes over the trees. So... yeah... a Jim Kelly kung fu movie where he drives a gadget car and travels around by jet pack. What’s not to like?

There are daring escapes and some not so daring escapes. Or even not so believable escapes when, in a bizarre lapse of credibility, Black Samurai manages to get out of a room full of snakes by just quickly pointing his mini blow torch gadget at the lock on the big iron gate for literally half a second and then just pushing. Hmmm... it really doesn’t ring true here guys and I can’t believe an admittedly lame super villain would furnish his black magic mansion with puny locks that are only as effective as his kung fu midgets but, well... I’m still not complaining. After all, Jim Kelly travels by jet pack.

And that’s me done on Black Samurai. Some of the music is okay but there are no composer credits to speak of so I suspect the mish mash of styles points to a needle dropped music library solution to that side of the equation. It’s not a great film but, as I said, it does have it’s good points (jet pack!). Jim Kelly would work with Adamson again (which will be the subject of the next of my Al Adamson reviews) in a film which would also co-star George Lazenby and Harold ‘Odd Job’ Sakata so, you know, Adamson was definitely keeping an eye on the Bond films, I think. More on that soon.

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