As you have gathered I love films, all and every genres and subgenres but there is one such subgenre which I have only really just started watching again (since my average film night staple is of either crap action films or like wise crap horrors, with the odd double bills of some truly great films from both sides) and that would be Blaxploitation films from the 1970’s to early 1980’s.
But there was always one that I had grown fond of over my changing film tastes and was one of the first (adult late night) martial arts film that I can remember seeing on BBC2 way back when, which went by the name of “Black Belt Jones”. This along with “Enter the Dragon” where what I came to know as action packed martial arts fests, it was not until a bit later on that I realised that both were directed by Robert Clouse. Obviously my tastes have changed over the years but there has always been a part of me which is endeared towards crap martial arts films and now my suddenly rejuvenated interest in the Blaxploitation era of filmmaking. But enough of my rambling and reminiscing what of the kung fu, soul slapping jive talking Black Belt Jones and its actor Jim Kelly I hear you cry. Well fear not for I am about to open your crazy cats eyes and plunge head long into high flying karate kicking Black Belt Jones absolute brilliance complete with 70’s martial arts sound effects.
For starters this properly has the best opening sequence to any cheesy martial arts film as black belt jones appears leaping from the top of a stationary car onto some car park thugs, all done with slow-mo, funky bass lines/speed bongos and freeze frames and lets not forget the 70’s martial arts sound effects. I dare anyone not to sit back and enjoy this sequence even if you are a film snob you can appreciate the downright fun they are having with his sequence and if not check it for the soul reason of ball breaking punches. Go on have a gander…..you can feel the urge to look especially since it is Jim Kelly doing a bad impression of Bruce Lee.
Ok granted this is not the best Blaxploitation film out there (great films like Coffy, Foxy Brown, Black Caesar and Truck Turner are and will be covered at some point), but it is the best Blaxploitation martial arts film and certainly Jim Kelly’s best role next to Enter the Dragon. The is so much to like about this cheap and cheerful piece of 70’s chop socky such as the impressive and funky soundtrack is one of the best in my opinion (next to Superfly’s Curtis Mayfield soundtrack for the aforementioned film) by Dennis Coffy and Luchi De Jesus contains some fantastic beats that combine well with the action unfolding on screen, it utterly involves you within the film hence allowing for a fantastically enjoyable time.
It is also the only film I know to my recollection which contains a martial arts fight within a car wash, suds and all. As Jim Kelly takes them down literally one at a time with the ever trusty sidekick of Gloria Hendry slapping and karate chopping bad guys and dumping them within a garbage truck, it truly has to be seen to be believed just for its sheer brilliance in something so different (if a little dated now), inventive action sequences are always a massive highlight in my book if they are done well. And for its time which in 1974 was just when martial arts was taking off with western audiences, its still feels fun and interesting to watch as it is a little more lighter and easy going then the hard Blaxploitation flicks.
Keep an eye out for the random wearing of a hat during one part of the film, truly brings a smile to my face each time.
Oh I almost forgot to mention the story or what little there is of it, basically concerns Jones stopping a bunch of mafia henchmen from bulldozing and building a new civic centre over his old training dojo, and after they murder his mentor Pops Byrd (the always classy and late great Scatman Crothers) its up to Jones and Pops daughter to hunt down his killer and stop them from destroying the Dojo. Now that sounds as though there is some high kicking, ball bashing, karate chopping action afoot and you would be correct. Yes its clichéd and dated but if you can get a laugh from it, unintentional or otherwise surely it is worth look if you are luck enough to see it.
Speaking of which it is a real shame that this gem of a film has not been given a proper release on DVD or otherwise as it honestly is a balls to the wall fun film which doesn’t seem to take its self too seriously. If you happen to be lucky enough to see it you will find it grows on you, and if you have heard of the film parody “Black Dynamite” starring Michael Jai White you might well see some connections between the two films as well as “Undercover Brother” which again utilises the afro wearing kung fu master. Avoid the dire semi-sequal to this called “Hot Potato” due to the fact it is not nearly as much fun or as enjoyable as this, personally I would place this on a double bill with Jim Kelly’s other slightly odder Kung Fu outing “Black Samurai”.
Now all of this Blaxploitation action has sparked my interest again I might well have to rummage through my personal library and check out some soulful classics, lets ignore the sterotypes and have a laugh with them because there really is some under rated treasures to be found. Until next post on Blaxploitation action classic “Truck Turner”, enjoy the videos.
The Great OB