I’m finally getting the hang of this film review lark. From knowing absolutely nothing about him, at the halfway point of this movie I successfully guessed three things about Jalal Merhi, second billed but undoubtedly the star. I guessed he was the producer, or the director, or both (he’s producer & executive producer); that he’d never acted a day in his life before this (he hadn’t, this was his first movie); and that he was the son of a wealthy Middle Eastern family, and had used his family’s wealth to fund his vanity film career (his family own a successful jewellery business, he helped establish them in Canada before cashing out to start producing movies).
But enough of how proud of myself I am. Due to ISCFC favourite Loren Avedon appearing in part 3 of this series, I thought I’d watch them all, and they also star Cynthia Rothrock, an actress whose career completely passed me by at the time but who I’m looking forward to revisiting, thanks to the large number of her films available for free on Youtube. She’s a cop in the New York district of Sexistville, and despite her being a highly trained martial artist she’s reduced to prostitute “sting” operations. Tarek Richards (Merhi), who I thought was called “Derek” for the first hour of the movie, is the cop on the edge, who is suspended for being too much of a badass.
Someone is killing martial arts masters, and astonishingly it takes Rothrock barging into the Captain’s office with her “research” before someone figures out that there might be a martial arts link to it all. She’s given the case and Derek is brought out of suspension to help her out, being a martial arts master himself. What he’s not is a master of police work – his big plan to try and find the place where the special Tiger Claw style of kung fu is being taught is to just go to Chinatown and ask random people…from some seedy backstreet dojo, he discovers the big piece of information that progresses the case. This closely guarded secret is a huge martial arts tournament being held the next day, with competitors from all over the world, that the police would surely have known about. Boy, is this film dumb as a box of rocks.
I feel bad for Cynthia Rothrock in this movie. She’s seen at the beginning in heels for her sting, and is clearly uncomfortable walking in them. When she kicks ass, her shoes have changed – so if she can’t fight in heels, why force her to wear them? Later in the movie, Derek goes undercover in the Tiger Claw academy while she’s reduced to sitting in the car outside listening via a wire to the conversation inside, despite being by far the better actor and the better martial artist. I presume they paid her well, as she came back for two sequels – but bear in mind, Rothrock was an established star by this point and Merhi was an amateur martial artist / jewel salesman whose acting ability was roughly equivalent to a malfunctioning Teddy Ruxpin doll. Literally no-one (including Merhi’s family) was watching this movie to see him, yet he’s front and centre and she’s a spectator, his putative boss who he ignores at every single opportunity.
“Zero” is the answer to two rather important questions about this movie.
1. How much explanation is given for why the killer is killing people?
2. How much chemistry do Rothrock and Merhi have?
Heck, you could add a third – “how much explanation is given for why scratching someone’s face instantly kills them?” if you were feeling bold.
Even Bolo Yeung as the baddie isn’t enough to save this. As awful as it undoubtedly is, we don’t really get films like this any more – complete vanity projects by people who really have no business being in front of a camera; therefore, I can’t hate it quite as much as I ought to. Merhi clearly cares a lot about “traditional forms” of martial arts, going out of his way to defend them several times against modern versions. I sort of think Yeung and Rothrock did this for a laugh, expecting it to never get a proper release, because it really didn’t deserve one – rather oddly, despite Merhi producing and starring in films regularly throughout the next decade, this didn’t get a sequel for six years, and a third film in 2000.
From my limited knowledge of martial arts movies, there’s a heck of a lot of them where the basic plot goes – cocky local hero knows his own martial art; friend or family gets killed by someone who knows a badass new style; cocky local hero can’t protect people; he has to go and learn the new style in order to defeat the killer. “Tiger Claws” has a hero who already knows the killer style and, as soon as he gets the chance to take on the villain, wins. Plus, it’s made by a person who doesn’t understand how movies work. Let’s see if parts 2 and 3 are any better!
Rating: thumbs down