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Airbags

OK, so this review goes out to all of you who were bitching and moaning about my review of Shanghai Knights a month or so ago. All of you whining and complaining about how much Jackie Chan sucks can just shut it. If you want to watch a really bad movie, check out Tiger Claws III. What's wrong with it? Frankly, it's hard to know where to start.

Tiger Claws III, the only member of the trilogy to make it to DVD, has stuffed every single element of B-grade martial arts movies into a single film. Theoretically, this is a Cynthia Rothrock film. Cynthia Rothrock -- a for-real super-fierce martial arts champion -- was part of the mid-'80s blossoming of American kung-fu flicks that made Chuck Norris a household name. These movies were inspired by the Shaw Brothers and other Hong Kong chop-sockey flicks that had made their way to the US, but they were so consistently mediocre that it took 20 years of work -- culminating in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- to get mainstream audiences to recognize the value of the martial arts flick as a legitimate cinematic form. Cynthia Rothrock's unique take on the Kung Fu B-Movie was that she was a chick and hot. However, like most other Americans who made these films, her style was largely derived from the effective but aesthetically unappealing world of self-defence rather than the more dance-like and beautiful wushu tradition from which the Chinese flicks are drawn (though, to be sure, she has trained in wushu). While an inspiration to female martial artists everywhere, Cynthia Rothrock's oeuvre serves mostly to demonstrate by contrast just how good Jackie Chan -- and movies like Shanghai Knights, thank you very much -- can be.

TCIII is a case in point, or would be if Cynthia Rothrock was in it! Despite the picture of her splashed across the cover of the DVD, Cynthia gets killed 10 minutes into the movie. After that she appears only briefly in a flashback and then at film's conclusion where, in a J.R.-stepping-out-of-the-shower moment, we realize it was all some weird time warp and the path is thus cleared plot-wise for Tiger Claws IV. Why the bait and switch? Because TCIII is nothing more than an elaborate attempt to give Rothrock's co-star Jalal Merhi an opportunity to launch his own solo career. The success of the film and of Merhi's subsequent career may be accurately judged from the fact that you are now thinking to yourself "who the hell is Jalal Mehri?"

Pretty much everything that could conceivably go wrong in a martial arts film does go wrong in TCIII. First, the movie starts with a kung-fu master disarmng a guy who's pointing a gun to his head. This sort of thing drives me nuts. You know what happens when a guy points a gun to a kung-fu master's head? The kung-fu master gets shot and dies. Having Chow Yun Fat floating around a bunch of disembodied bamboo is one thing -- everyone knows that that isn't going to happen to them anytime soon. But guns are dangerous and this sort of scene just raises people's expectations when they study self-defense. It ends up getting people hurt or even killed.

Second -- the elderly martial arts master's helpless daughter. Again the mind boggles. How did she get in this movie? Is she someone's daughter? In every martial arts movie, it is the fate of the elderly martial arts master's helpless daughter to be beautiful and wear little. I'm not saying I endorse this, I'm just saying it's convention, OK? And as much as you dislike the stereotype of the helpless half-dressed female, you do have to admit it's not exactly an acting challenge. But this woman is not only not a super-hottie, her clothing choices are erratic verging on schizophrenic. Wearing a party dress throughout an entire movie set in the middle of winter would absurd but formulaic. Wearing a party dress only when attending to your elderly martial arts master father and not, for instance, when going out to clubs, simply doesn't make much sense.

The bad guy in the film is equally awful. His name is -- get this -- Stryker Goodenough and if he wasn't so much of an obvious cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Steven Segal then I'd be more than a little put out by his pr0nstar name. This, as well as his decent (though rarely demonstrated) kung-fu chops, actually make him the most entertaining person in the film to watch. Unfortunately, he spends most of the movie smoking cigars and hitting on chicks while his minions -- three immortal leather-clad Black Tiger Style assasins (of course) -- take a page so painfully out of Superman II's book that they've New York to its knees quicker than you can say "Kneel before Zod."

And with Cynthia Rothrock out of the way, the only person left to stop them is Jalal Mehri, who plays the ambigously Western Asian detective Tarek Richards -- a typical Rouge Cop whose specialty is lamenting the death of Cynthia Rothrock and studying Black Tiger Style with the old martial arts master so that he can defeat the Bad Guys. Mehri, to be fair, is pretty talented physically, and since the dialogue is so formulaic it doesn't matter so much that he's not the world's greatest actor. I admit I was a little taken. I mean, would it kill Hollywood to create a hero who could possibly be South Asian or even (gasp!) from the Middle East? What pisses me off the most is that the guy's first name is Tarek (Tariq?) but then his second name is Richards. Richards? C'mon -- don't chicken out on us. Give us the ass-kicking South Asian New York Cop Superhero Kung-Fu Master. We're ready for it.

A plethora of other small indiscretions plague the movie -- adolescent oral sex jokes, a C-grade supporting cast of cops trying to channel Hill Street Blues, and a soundtrack that comes straight out of the 'demo' button on a Casio keyboard. But what perhaps upset me most was the fact that the three Supernatural Chinese Assassins receive scant mention in the credits or info about the film, despite the fact that they're central to the plot, on the cover of the DVD, and the most interesting people to watch martial arts-wise.

Of course, I loved the film. I love martial arts films -- even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. Like a Robert Jordan novel or anything by Mozart, bad martial arts movies give you exactly what you've expected in the order you want with no suprises. I mean, it's hard not to love a movie with Chinese Zod impersonators bossed around by a guy named Stryker Goodenough. Unless, that is, you want like, "art" or "beauty" or something. But I think there is a sort of beauty to badly-made, well-meaning martial arts films that never ceases to beguile me. Call me a sap, but I love 'em.

Of course, that's just me. All I'm saying is that all y'all who were talking smack about Shanghai Knights better watch Tiger Claws III before you start up again bad mouthing my boy Jackie. OK?

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Comments

Naz / March 5, 2004 1:42 PM

You knew I was going to comment on this right?

Cynthia Rothrock is a name I have not heards since many moons ago. But it's a name and movies I have seen that I am familiar with. When you mentioned that alone, I knew exactly what kind of movie you were about to describe. I agree though that this movie is probably so bad that it's campy good. However that's the thing - I don't know if this movie was intended for an audience ready for a serious movie in that sense. Shanghai Knights is trying to be sincere and sort of falls flat. Or maybe Tiger Claws III is trying to be sincere...

Anyhow we should do a joint thing for the GB Par-tay II that riffs on all of this.

 

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