Monday, February 20, 2012

Hercules Against Karate (1973)

Written by: Sergio Donati, Antonio Margheriti, Giovanni Simonelli, Luciano Vincenzoni
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony M. Dawson)
Starring: Alberto Terrancina, Fernando Bilbao, Jolina Mitchell-Collins

When I added this movie to my Netflix queue, the cover art was reproduced so poorly that it looked like a blaxploitation flick. Seeing an Italian name in the director's chair didn't mean much, the Italians were no strangers to jumping on a successful cinematic bandwagon, and mixing the genres of kung fu and blaxploitation seemed like something crazy enough that they'd be about the only ones able to pull it off. Unless you were lucky enough to have Jim Kelly in your movie, anyway.

What it turned out to be was, much to my pleasant surprise, a dopey slapstick comedy with jokes so old and crusty my grandpa would roll his eyes at them. I realize most people don't have much patience for that kind of thing, but I love it. Give me corny, washed up slapstick over Will Ferrell any day.

Our story starts with two friends, smart aleck Danny and lovable, superhumanly strong oaf Percy, getting fired from their jobs on a construction site. Danny is just plain lazy, and Percy, while he means well, can't seem to avoid destroying everything in sight. What do you expect from someone capable of carrying a 10-foot I-beam by himself, or pulling down a huge scaffold on a dare?

Down on their luck, Percy and Danny mope around the docks for a while, until Danny can't take Percy's depression any more and decides they need a drink to cheer them up. They head to the establishment run by Mr. Wang, wherein they find an old timey mustachio'd fellow who looks like he belongs in an Old West saloon, making bologna sandwiches at the counter. Percy decides the portions are unsatisfactory, and spreads a huge fistful of bologna over a loaf of bread several feet long. His end is the only end with any meat in it, so poor Danny winds up with just bread, until a brawl with a wrestling team livens things up for our two heroes.

Mr. Wang is impressed with their fighting prowess, and rather than turn them over to the police, offers them $50,000 to go to Hong Kong and retrieve his young son and wife, who went to live with a kung fu master named Hung Lo. Yeah, you read that right. Every one of the Chinese characters has a childish pun for a name. The movie is pretty damn racist, but more in the way of a child who just doesn't know any better. There's no malice behind it, really. It's just stupid. Not that that excuses racism, but damn me if I didn't giggle anyway. Like I said, you don't have to try too hard to get a laugh out of me.

Danny and Percy hook up with a couple of cute Chinese flight attendants upon their arrival in Hong Kong (one of whom is named Li Ping), and proceed to gad about the town getting in kung fu fights and being followed by Hung Lo's henchman, Soo Yu. Lots of hilarious hijinks ensue, brought to a screaming halt by Hung Lo having his pet samurai (your guess is as good as mine why a Japanese warrior is working for a Chinese gangster, but I'm guessing it has a lot to do with none of the four screenwriters knowing or caring much about the cultures they're insulting) beat the crap out of all his worthless minions, and then plucking out one of each of their eyes. It's a really jarring scene tonally, when the funny (yes, dammit, there is funny!) abruptly vanishes to the tune of a bunch of squelchy sound effects and screaming, and a big ol' pile of real butcher shop eyeballs lying on the floor.

Well, eventually Percy and Danny find their way to Hung Lo's hideout, where Percy stops him escaping by hanging on to the tail of his private jet to keep it from taking off. Then Percy and Mr. Wang's kid eat all of Hung Lo's precious cherries, which he kept locked in a vault. And for good reason, because all their pits were replaced with millions of dollars worth of pearls! Well, they said up to a million dollars' worth. And then proceed to say how international customs lost countless millions in duties on them. I don't get it either. Anyway, wouldn't you just know it, but Percy and the kid ate the pits too! The movie closes on a ghastly scene of both Percy and the kid, pants around ankles, sitting on matching porcelain chamber pots waiting for the pearls to come back. And as Danny closes the door to leave them to it, a massive explosion shakes the walls. Turns out Percy's fists aren't the only thing capable of devastation.

There's a lot more stuff going on here, but I get the feeling that I'm just about the only person in the world who still thinks this stuff is funny in the first place. Me re-telling all the comedy set pieces would probably just get annoying.

The one really standout thing that lets you know it's a Margheriti movie is, not even many Italian directors would find a way to work elaborate special effects model shots into their comedy flick. There are two pretty damn good ones here, one being the aforementioned scaffolding Percy knocks down at the beginning, and another when Danny and Li Ping wind up trapped on Hung Lo's private jet after the villain was captured and Percy let loose of the tail fins. Danny, in a panic, somehow manages to land the small aircraft on the wing of a huge passenger airliner, scaring the hell out of the pilots, before he turns the jet over to the air control tower to be remote piloted to the ground (!?).

I watched this with my brother-in-law, and there was alcohol involved, but I would have found the stupid antics of this cut-rate Abbot and Costello team amusing regardless. Your mileage will vary depending on the company you have while watching and the volume of liquor consumed, but I have a feeling I'm a lone voice in the dark here regarding genuine, unironic enjoyment of this particular brand of comedy. Soo Yu, I dug it.

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