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Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe

Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe - 1972, Unrated
by Tom Doty

A Chinese immigrant tames the American West by Kung-Fu-ing every black hat in sight in this action yarn from the 70s.
The story begins in San Francisco where we meet Joe, who has just arrived from China. He's an amiable sort which we see in his first encounter where he helps two young boys open a coconut by cleaving it in half with a deadly Chinese weapon (which looks suspiciously like a yo-yo). That's about it for positive encounters as Joe proceeds to bump into the nothing but haters. He opts to travel to Texas but is forced to ride on top of the coach. The driver also deposits him at the first available watering hole in the Lone Star State, rather than a large city. Joe makes do with all of these insults but loses his cool when he is repeatedly insulted by a quartet of racists while trying to enjoy his first Texas dinner.
He heads out to a ranch where he is hazed again. The hands do offer him a free horse if Joe can out perform them in a few feats of dexterity. Big mistake. Joe wins handedly but the cowboys refuse to ante up so it's time for a Kung Fu style beat down.
Joe eventually lands a job at Spenser's Ranch. Unfortunately Spenser's men herd Mexican slaves rather than cattle and this doesn't sit well with Joe. He is just about to open a can of BBQ styled Kung Fu when the Mexican army shows up. Spenser's men are under strict orders to not let any of the slaves get captured so they proceed to gun them down. Joe goes ballistic and manages to save one victim before everyone flees from the armed forces.
This classy move earns Joe a ton of street creed across the border and the attentions of a fine senorita. Joe, however, is not at home to resting on his laurels. He heads back to Spenser's Ranch for a reckoning. What follows is one of my favorite scenes. Spenser's men, who toss him in a pen, capture Joe. Then they release their prize bull. The animal appears to be pretty angry and it gets in some good licks until Joe decides to end the fight with an atomic Karate Chop, which stops the bull in its tracks. Joe tries to enlist the authorities but discovers that the local Sheriff is hiding out in Spenser's deep pockets. While he tries to decide what to do next good old Spenser has no such problems. He promptly calls in a quartet of hired killers whom we all know are aces due to their killer names. You get Peedro the Cannibal, Burying Sam, Scalper Jack, and Roy the Gambler. Okay the last one doesn't have that great a name but the other three are primo.
The resulting fights are pretty good with getting bloodier until Joe finally hauls off and punch a guy so hard that he rips his victim's heart out through the hole he's made in his chest. You are also treated to eye gouges (which pull the peepers out of a cowpoke's head) and a bloody impalement on bamboo shoots. Good stuff that veers from Karate movies cliches to "Spaghetti Western" moments and then all the way up to images culled from the goriest of European horror pictures.
This is a lot of fun but the idea of merging Westerns and Karate flicks never caught on. A bigger budget brought together Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh (Five Fingers of Death) four years later for the "Stranger and the Gun Fighter. Unfortunately there was more emphasis on comedy but Lieh was no Jackie Chan. That said it's an okay romp involving a hunt for treasure based on a parceled out map. The gag is that the parts of the map are tattooed on the backsides of five different saloon girls - fun but not enough action to support the tired comedy.
Stick with this one which features a lesser known martial artist (Chen Lee) but plenty of action and a brief turn by veteran "Spaghetti' villain Klaus Kinski. He's marvelous here as a mad scalper who learns too late that certain fashion statements (in this case rocking twelve knives in your vest) can easily be turned against you.
Best Line: " I've got a gun. You've got seven lives. Like a cat."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to:

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