Sometimes the obscurest movies pop up in the unlikeliest places. One of those 4-movie DVD sets that were given away with cheap DVD players back in the day contains “Kill Cruise”, a completely forgotten Patsy Kensit / Elizabeth Hurley / Jurgen Prochnow movie from 1990; “Zig Zag”, which is like twentieth on the list of movies with exactly that title, and is a Russian-made, Russian-acted (just in English) thriller from 1999; “Massacre”, David Heavener’s first movie which we covered years ago; and this.
Ronald Marchini has long been a favourite of the ISCFC, a legit martial artist who for a time acted, making gems like “Omega Cop”, “Karate Cop” and “Jungle Wolf”. For years, we’ve been trying to track down his first movie, but it wasn’t even available from less legal online sources. When I discovered that new ISCFC favourite Leo Fong also debuted in the same movie (!), I tried again, and happened upon this terribly obscure box set. One excited trip to eBay later, and here we are!
It feels like this movie predates the trend of giving legit martial arts champions their own movies. Chuck Norris’ first starring role was in 1977 (he’d been in a few movies in bit parts and villain roles before that, admittedly) and all the rest of the champion-fighters-turned-actors didn’t show up til the 80s. There’s a martial arts documentary, produced by Elvis Presley, from 1973 called “The New Gladiators” which featured Marchini and perhaps sparked interest in putting him in front of the camera. No, I’m not going to research it and find a proper answer! Baseless supposition is this site’s bread and butter!
“Murder In The Orient” was originally known as “Manila Gold”, which is a much better name, even if it sounds more like a strain of weed than a movie. It appears that the trend of changing names to get money meant for a more big-budget production is older than I thought, as there was an A-lister stuffed version of “Murder On The Orient Express”
Paul Martelli (Marchini) is a playboy, caught in the movie’s opening scene in bed with a married woman. As he’s escaping the scene in his sweet 70s ride, another woman, being chased by some mean hombres, hops into his car and asks for his help. This is also a central plot point to “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”, featuring ISCFC Hall of Famers Loren Avedon and Sherrie Rose, and respect to those guys who’ll just help whatever random hottie happens to hop into their car.
The plot, which is thin even in relation to other paper-thin things, involves gold buried by Japanese soldiers during WW2, and the Filipino government wanting it back. The woman doesn’t survive very long, but she gives Paul a piece of a map, or something – the map is on two different ceremonial swords, which need to be put together in order to show the location of the gold.
Chasing the gold is a gang, led by King Cobra, and his main enforcer who goes by the name of Kang The Butcher; plus a couple of excellent goons. They’re trying to track down the map, and when they kill the woman, this brings her brother Lao Tzu (Fong) into the plot, who’s living in another country as a karate instructor. He comes seeking revenge, and he even gets into a fight with Paul (“They Live” style) before he realizes they’re both on the same side, Paul having been recruited by the Filipino government to track down the gold in the meantime. There’s fights, action, lots of high-quality blood squibs when people get shot, everything the discerning fight-movie fan will want.
I like that Paul keeps getting distracted by women and then smashed over the head, as it reminds me of one of my favourite old TV shows, “Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)”. He gets a sweet beach scene with his love interest, wearing matching (and genuinely hideous) beach outfits, too, and shows that…well, let’s say he was as good an actor in his first movie as he was in his last. That sort of counts as a compliment, right?
Leo Fong is a different kettle of fish altogether. He was already 46 years old when this, his debut, came out, and had been a minister, a professional boxer, been friends with Bruce Lee, been featured several times in “Black Belt” magazine, and had developed his own style of martial arts (he and Marchini would go on to write a book together). I imagine he’s a fascinating guy, and friend of ISCFC Len Kabasinski hired him to act in his most recent movie, “Challenge of the Five Gauntlets”, at age 90. Both he and Marchini appear to be having some sort of secret competition to see who can do the most wooden line reading, but they’re both fine, honestly. Who cares about wooden acting when you’ve got an entire movie stuffed with the sweetest 70s fashions and wildly overacting goons?
It’s cheaply made and underlit, even by the standards of the time, and it’s legitimately been thrown on the garbage heap of history by even martial arts movie afficionados. But thanks to the presence of two legends of our particular corner of the internet, we picked it up and present it to you now.
The DVD clearly used a very poor quality print of the movie, as it’s full of scratches and jarring edits (which may, I admit, have been present in even the best print) and the dialogue is completely inaudible at times. But, it just adds to that grindhouse flavour, and at 74 minutes, you’ve got no time to get bored.
Rating: thumbs in the middle