Murder In The Orient (1974)

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

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Death Machines (1976)

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The great thing about Ron Marchini’s movies is they’re never boring. They’re often incomprehensible, always terribly acted and not especially original, but boring? This trend started almost immediately (sadly, his first, 1974’s “Murder In The Orient” appears impossible to find, so this is the earliest movie of his available), through a career where…well, I was about to say that he’s a poor man’s Chuck Norris, but that’s not true at all. Norris’s movies are almost all garbage, and his status as an internet meme has somewhat clouded that fact in recent years. The only Norris movies  I could stand to watch nowadays would be “Invasion USA” or the first two “Missing In Action” efforts, whereas I’d be happy to pop on any Marchini movie. If I can find where he hangs out, or he starts using Twitter or something, I’ll try my hardest to get an interview.

 

Right from the beginning, I knew this was going to be a fun one. Check out that graphic above, the opening credits pans round it and even though I figured nothing quite that cool would actually appear in the movie, it’s still a good start. Now, the back-cover gives away the basic plot – the evil Madame Lee injects three martial arts fighters with a serum that turns them into zombie-like assassins, and she sends them out against her enemies; but this doesn’t reveal the full wonders that we have to behold. The first time we see the “death machines”, they’re all fighting in what turns out to be the final audition – but it seems Madame Lee is specific about her racial requirements, as the white guy (Marchini) fights another white guy, two Asians fight each other, and two black guys too. Marchini wins his fight in hilarious fashion – after a bit of kung fu on a bridge, he just pulls a gun from his waistband and shoots his opponent! She seems pleased at his thinking outside the box and he’s hired.

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Hired for being a drug-zombie killer? I guess? The employment process for this job is frustratingly opaque. Madame Lee has a boss, who remains entirely in the shadows (presumably so they could cast someone else in case of a sequel), and their entire plan is a bit confusing. It involves killing people who want to assassinate crime boss Mr Gioretti, then killing him? Honestly, none of it made a lick of sense, but it does give us some wonderful scenes where our three villains interrupt these potential assassins and just murder them. My favourite bit, pulling up maybe fifty feet away from a guy who really ought to be more observant, taking out a rocket launcher and blowing him to pieces, reinforces one of the prime ISCFC rules:

 

  • Movies featuring rocket launchers / bazookas are always awesome

 

For a group of automatons, they’re pretty inventive. And I like that! What I liked a little less was the other half of the story, which feels paced really weirdly, with the “hero” not showing up til half an hour in. So, the Machines are sent to a martial arts school to kill everyone there, and they almost manage it, just accidentally leaving one guy alive (albeit missing an arm). That guy is Frank (John Lowe) and I feel every other “useless main character” I’ve criticised on here can now take a step up the ladder. This guy is terrible! He complains constantly at the nurse, but she falls in love with him because…movies; then moans about his job until he gets his ass kicked by an old man; then does absolutely nothing to stop the Death Machines, relying on the cops turning up to save his bacon right at the end.

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Talking of the cops, there are also two cops who I guess you could also call the heroes of the piece, Lieutenant Clay Forrester and his partner Jerry. Clay, the old white guy, is the loose cannon, whereas Jerry, the young black guy, is super serious and by the book, begging Clay to go to the “Human Services” lecture. There’s an angry captain and a sleazy cop who hates Clay too, but they’re not strictly relevant to the story. The sheer number of mentions of doing their paperwork and attending sensitivity seminars indicates it was important to someone, but who and why are questions lost to time, sadly.

 

As you may have guessed from my bouncing around from one group to another, “Death Machines” feels a little disjointed, like three stories inexpertly welded together. If you think about it, they don’t even feel like part of the same movie – there’s a kung-fu assassins bit, then a buddy cop bit, then a whining one-armed miserable git bit. Perhaps someone was trying to make every sort of 70s movie at once and ran out of money, so just put them all into one. There’s even sub-sections, like how the kung-fu assassins bit briefly becomes a good ol’ boy barroom brawl bit, as Marchini is arrested, escapes, goes to a roadside diner and has a run-in with a rubbish looking biker gang.

 

That is, by and large, the plot, confusing and open-ended as it may be. If everything else were normal, it’d still be a lot of fun, but “Death Machines” makes a strong case for inclusion in the pantheon of “so bad it’s good” greatness. First up, acting. Ron Marchini, Michael Chong and Joshua Johnson (billed in the credits, brilliantly, as “White Death Machine”, “Black Death Machine” and “Asian Death Machine”) are very good mindless automatons, or just very bad actors. None of the three utters a single intelligible human sound throughout, which is sort of bold! We’ve already discussed what a wet waste of space Frank is, but lastly let’s talk Madame Lee. She’s so bad at acting I thought it was a prank, and her hair is frighteningly big, to the extent I thought she couldn’t act because she was busy concentrating on balancing that enormous thing on top of her head. A picture:

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Having spent a day puzzling it out, I’m still unsure about quite a few things. First up is why the Death Machines are virtually indestructible – they’re given a serum which I thought was to do with mind control, but it also makes them impervious to pretty much anything except a bullet to the head (and that only slows them down). But later on, a smack with a wooden chair lays Marchini out for ages? Then there’s how, during his escape, Marchini almost becomes a good guy, defending the people of the diner from the gang and being thanked afterwards, only to go back to murdering quite quickly. I like how Frank takes the nurse out for a coffee, but it’s at the bar he works at, during the time a stripper’s on stage! Or how the old guy (the one who beats Frank up quite easily) destroys the bar, for absolutely no reason. It defies you to make any sense of it.

 

For all these criticisms, and many many more, it’s an incredibly entertaining bad film. It rips along (the first half hour has as much fun and incident as most low-budget B movies have in their entire running time), and it’s fun to see another side of Ron Marchini. Plus, it’s got an absolutely incredible soundtrack, sort of an avant-garde take on sleazy 70s keyboard funk (although it’s probably more likely to be someone trying to make a funk soundtrack and failing miserably).

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Rating: thumbs up

Karate Raider (1995)

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That is a pretty amazing poster

We’re drawing to the end of our Ron Marchini review series, everyone. I’m sad too! It looks like a couple of his movies were never released on home video – “Dragon’s Quest” (1983) and “Arctic Warriors”(1989) – and his first two movies are apparently available but are proving difficult to track down – “Murder In The Orient” (1974) and “Death Machines” (1976).  But we’ll keep trying, partly because we love Marchini, partly because we don’t understand that reviewing movies it’s basically impossible to get hold of won’t drive too much traffic to our site.

 

Marchini’s IMDB page had something extra on it until quite recently – a potential gem called “Jungle Wolf 3” from 1993. That is, until someone checked and realised it was the same as this, just under an alternate title. We’re pleased they removed that name, because it’s got nothing to do with the other “Jungle Wolf” movies, even if it does have a lot more dense foliage-based action than “Return Fire: Jungle Wolf 2”. It also represents the first Hollywood work for one Joe Carnahan, who’d go on to write and direct “Smokin’ Aces”, “The Grey” and “The A-Team”. And it’s got one lovely bit of stunt casting, but more on that in a moment.

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Narration in low-budget movies is almost always a sign that something got messed up in production and they realised that it made no sense; but in this one, I’ve really got no idea why it’s included, because it’s not like there’s a ton of plot to explain. Ron talks about people wanting to lose themselves or find themselves, and he’s not sure which sort he is. Anyone? Anyway, he’s Jake Turner, a former soldier who’s decided to retire and spend his days fishing, and occasionally taking part in kumite-style matches for some quick cash (he beats one monstrous fellow after just strolling in off the street, still wearing his normal shirt and trousers).

 

At the same time we’re meeting Jake, we also get to see Pike, an eyepatch-wearing criminal who’s busted out of a hospital by his old gang. The guy on the inside at the hospital who tips off the criminals? Burt Ward! Yes, it’s safe to assume that Marchini loved Batman in his younger day, because he’s had both Ward and Adam West in his movies. Anyway, Pike quickly retakes his old territory and then kidnaps the DEA agent who’s trying to investigate him.

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Unfortunately for him, that DEA agent is Jennifer (Shelly Gaunt, only acting role) the beautiful daughter of Jake’s old Commanding Officer, and all it takes is a visit from Jake’s army buddy Bill Digger (Joe Estevez! Not quite as stunt-y as Burt Ward, I suppose) to persuade him to do one final job. Talking of which, is “one final job” the all-time most overused plot device in B-movies? It’s a toss-up between that and variations on “The Most Dangerous Game”, I suppose. That this was literally Marchini’s “one last job” is sad. Both I and the Filipino extras you gave such gainful employment to wish you hadn’t retired.

 

Jake is off into the jungle to do some rescuing! There’s not, it must be said, an awful lot to distinguish this from a million other “Commando” ripoffs. His Indiana Jones hat, which remains jammed on his head throughout, isn’t helping in the originality stakes; nor is that thing where a guy shoots an entire row of people, and the last guy in the row, who’s had four or five seconds to draw his weapon and return fire, just stands there like a dumbass and gets shot too. There’s “cool guys walking away from an explosions”, which is so famous and well-used a trope that Saturday Night Live did a song about it!

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There are a couple of fun moments, which is about all you can expect at times. A punch hits at the exact moment a bomb goes off in the background, which must have been a one-take-only thing for a movie this cheap; and Jake’s “I’m better than everyone at fighting and I know it” attitude during moments where you might expect tension raised a smile from even this jaded cinephile. There’s the cheap-ass tracksuit that Pike wears throughout the movie too – perhaps the actor insisted, because it made him look bad-ass? We may never know. But in case you needed proof that Marchini maybe shouldn’t have directed himself, there are a couple of gems. Jake and Jennifer need to get into a lift, and we see every second of that journey, from pressing the button to closing the door at the other end; and even leaving technical stuff aside, the rescue is almost pathetically easy. It’s not much more than he just strolls in the front gate, shoots a few goons and releases Jennifer – while this was fun to watch once, I’m not sure it did its job of keeping me riveted.

 

Marchini remains a negative presence on screen, even if he’s slightly less wooden here than he was in the “Omega Cop” series; no-one else is much better, apart from Estevez and Ward (both of whom were presumably hired for a day, as they pop up for one scene and then disappear). It’s totally watchable, much the same as most of his output, but don’t watch it expecting it to be particularly good. Stick with “Ninja Warriors” or “Jungle Wolf” for proper bonkers entertainment.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Return Fire – Jungle Wolf 2 (1988)

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This movie features two of our favourite things – Ron Marchini and confusing numbering. Ron is the un-actor behind “Omega Cop” and “Ninja Warriors”, a real tournament martial artist who saw the success of his old opponent Chuck Norris, went “I could do that”, and did so for ten years. It’s labelled “Jungle Wolf 2” despite being the third movie where Marchini plays Steve Parrish, after “Forgotten Warrior” and “Jungle Wolf”. As precisely none of this movie is set in the jungle, “Forgotten Warrior 3” might have been a better title; although maybe “Jungle Wolf” was a success which is why they were exploiting the name? Oh, and for extra confusion there’s a “Jungle Wolf 3” from several years after this, where Marchini plays a different character entirely.

 

We are helpfully reminded of the end of “Jungle Wolf”, where Steve is hired by the Government to rescue the American ambassador and did so, only to be abandoned at the end (the rescue helicopter flies off with the ambassador and leaves him there) for absolutely no reason whatsoever. We’re told that apparently Steve messed up the mission, even though…how? Did he kill too many bad guys? Was he too awesome? The last shot of the last movie was Steve drawing his sword to face a few remaining bad guys, and the first shot of this movie is…Steve arriving on a boat into San Fransisco! Who cares about finding out how he escaped?

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Now, right from the beginning we’re aware that Steve is under surveillance from his old boss Carruthers (Adam West in his wilderness years – he must have liked Marchini as he also showed up in “Omega Cop”). Steve is attacked in a mall, which is not the only similarity this movie shares with “Commando”, and sees as he leaves the beautiful Teri, obviously there to spy on him. Anyway, persons unknown kidnap Steve’s son Zak, kill the guy who’s been looking after him while Steve’s been away – he couldn’t use a long distance phone call to let them know he was alright, for some reason – and then Carruthers tells Steve that Central American drug kingpin Petroli has kidnapped Zak due to all the killing he did down there in the last movie. What relationship a group of freedom fighters would have to a drug smuggler is a plot point sadly never resolved.

 

But I don’t want to just recap every bit of “Return Fire”. Basically, the only person who doesn’t want Steve dead is Teri (played by Lynn O’Brien, whose entire acting career is this and an episode of “Knot’s Landing”. She was good too, well, better than anyone else in this, which isn’t exactly the same thing), so she helps him rescue his son and fight back against both the evil people inside the CIA and the drug smugglers. It’s all a little confusing to tell the truth, and it’s not helped by way too much of things being action scenes that aren’t all that exciting and don’t move the plot along – yes, it’s another group of overweight, ugly goons tracking Steve down to yet another abandoned warehouse!

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It’s a good old pile of action movie clichés with an unusually wooden performance at its core, though. There’s the beautiful agent who realises she’s on the wrong side; the former boss turned villain; the “I just want to see my son”; the one last job; and so on. You know the drill, and this movie will not disappoint you if you’re playing some weird game of cliché bingo with your friends. And much like the rest of Marchini’s output, it’s pretty entertaining too, being almost the definition of “action packed”, and Adam West realises just how silly this all is and has a good time with his role.

 

But, there’s too much action and not enough plot. There are so many fight scenes that mean nothing, because we’ve not really established who the characters are or why they’re fighting. The subplot with Teri is seemingly abandoned at the end, and from a line of dialogue from Carruthers I must have missed her getting killed? I think a much more accurate name for this series would be “Dead Love Interest”, if that’s the case, as Ron is 3-for-3 so far. There are other ways to generate sympathy for your character, Ron!

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Add a sprinkle of some truly rotten acting (Steve’s old friend at the CIA is spectacular) and the dumbest goons in the history of goon-dom, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Perhaps a few stiff drinks and a group of friends would help this go down smoother, as it was a little rough for me on my own. Let’s get together again for the last Jungle Wolf movie soon, yes?

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Forgotten Warrior (1986)

Blandest alternate title ever?

Blandest alternate title ever?

Ron Marchini! Back in the days when all you needed was a black belt, and a real tournament victory or two, to be given your own series of martial arts movies, Ron was…one of those guys!  He stood out from the crowd by being a bad actor even by the standards of other acting martial artists – I’ve described him as an un-actor, a negative presence on screen – and is probably best known for two different series, one of which is “Omega Cop” / “Karate Cop”, a pair of post-apocalyptic gems. This is the other, and we’ve already covered the second one without realising it was a series (“Jungle Wolf”). Will going back in time, metaphorically, spoil your enjoyment?

 

Of course not, is the simple answer. What might spoil your enjoyment, though, is that the only way to get hold of this movie is via Dutch VHS (never released in the US or UK, as far as I can tell), and there’s Dutch subtitles throughout. This leads to the fun time of when the Filipinos are talking, the tape blacks out the English subtitles to put Dutch ones over the top, which means we English speakers will miss all the subtleties of the dialogue. Or maybe that choice made it better!

 

Ron is Steve Parrish, a POW in Vietnam in 1974. Luckily, this movie realises that no-one is going to see Ron Marchini for his dialogue, and the action starts immediately, as he and his fellow prisoner bust out of their bamboo cages and beat the crap out of a bunch of Vietcong, rescuing an American colonel who was about to get killed. Then, during the escape, the other prisoner kills the Colonel and tries to kill Steve too! Luckily, he’s just wounded, and manages to make it to a village, where he’s looked after, and he stays there for the next two years.

 

Perhaps Steve was tired of war, but thanks to the extreme lack of dialogue from our star, we never really find out. So, he falls in love, gets married to a beautiful local woman and has a kid, and as this all happens by the 30 minute mark you know some bad stuff is going to happen to them all. This first 30 is absolutely chock full of weird choices, though, like how this group of people living in huts in the mountains can find a beautiful traditional wedding outfit for Steve’s wife; or, also on a clothing tip, how Steve can rip his yellow shirt into strips to wrap round a wound, only to have it back on, completely stain and rip free, in the next scene. I wondered where the movie was set, too, but they absolutely don’t tell us that. It’s probably meant to be Vietnam, but it (along with so many other cheap 70s and 80s action movies) was filmed in the Philippines, so maybe that river he escaped on at the beginning just went a really long way?

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Anyway, some local army group, or maybe just a bunch of terrorists, are about to raid Steve’s village, so he sneaks into their camp and murders a bunch of them. Steve breaks one guy’s neck, then punches him in the face a few more times! He’s not getting back up, mate! This escalates and the full army group raids the village and kills pretty much everyone. Oh, and news of POWs like “Yank Crazy” (Steve’s nickname) has gotten back to America – or a room full of white people that represents America – and the government decides to send the guy who nearly killed Steve (who I’m pretty sure is Major Thompson, played by a guy called Quincy Frazier) back to rescue them. Only Thompson wants Steve dead, due to him being the only witness to his other murder. Why he did that murder in the first place? No idea at all.

 

From that 30 minute mark, the entire last hour of the movie is one long fight. From defending the village to hunting down the remaining Vietcong to killing the American villains, it’s scene after scene of people shooting or kicking the crap out of each other, and honestly, it gets a little wearing. I never thought I’d say “this action film has too much action in it” but there’s no let-up, no space to figure out what these people are up to or why they’re there. And the action honestly isn’t all that good- one or two decent fight scenes, but there’s a lot of people just spraying bullets around and killing everyone in range.

 

There’s a rainbow in one scene, just after the hilariously wooden lovemaking, that looks painted onto the celluloid. They weren’t enough clouds in the sky to produce the rain to produce the rainbow, but whatever – the rainbows did give this movie its alternate German title, “Commander Rainbow”, though, which could be the greatest title ever. This and other effects are helped by the well-worn VHS tape I watched this on, though – some movie seem designed for that washed out look.

 

Ron Marchini is in the unusual position of having devolved as an actor. Here, right at the beginning of his career, he’s loose-ish, can smile, can do emotions, and I think it’s to do with him being a complete amateur and not being aware of his own limitations. When he started “trying” to act, it became an absolute disaster and he seemed to freeze in place. It’s weird watching this and then thinking of the charisma vacuum he’d become. I mean, he’s not great in this, I hasten to add.

 

I’d probably pass on this one, if I were you. Stick to “Omega Cop” and Ron’s ludicrous hat. Still, we’ve got part 3 of the “Steve Parrish” series to come with “Return Fire”, then a film confusingly titled as “Jungle Wolf 3” which is actually nothing to do with this series at all.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Ninja Warriors (1985)

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Watching “Jungle Wolf” was so much fun, I decided to pop on another Ron Marchini movie. For those of you reading this for the first time, perhaps with a battered old VHS In your hands and a desire to know if it’s any good or not, Marchini was a highly ranked martial artist, closely losing a fight to Chuck Norris at a big tournament in 1964, before going on to be a top-level competitor for the next decade, popularise a new form of karate, write several books about it, and also spend 10 years making movies. He wasn’t just a star, oh no, he also wrote, directed and produced most of them too.

 

This one, though, was very early in his run, and not only did he not have any hand in the making, he was also dubbed! Yes, this is a classic Hong Kong movie trick, where not only did they not record live sound (leaving almost every scene feeling weirdly quiet, no background noise at all) but they didn’t get all the original actors to voice their on-screen characters. At one end of the scale is a guy like Chow Yun-Fat, who dubs his own dialogue in multiple languages, and the other is a guy like Marchini, who looks slightly more relaxed now he knows he doesn’t have to act dialogue, or even remember it all.

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This is a proper ninja movie. None of your normal kung-fu movies dressed up with a black robe, this emphasises their almost supernatural abilities, plus all the tricks and “gadgets” they have up their sleeves, and shows how compared to normal martial artists, their skills are hugely superior. The opening scene is perhaps inadvertently hilarious, as we’re treated to multiple scenes of a group of ninjas doing all sorts of synchronised moves – like, one of them will jump through a window, then a second later another will jump through the next window, and so on down the line. Their leaping about is delightful, and it turns out they’re in this large building to steal some top-secret formula…more on that later.

 

Marchini is Steve (a different Steve to the one he played in the “Jungle Wolf” series…I think), and he’s just some cop’s buddy who lives on his own, doing fancy martial arts training (dodging stuff while blindfolded, leaping from pole to pole, etc.) while wearing a hoodie promoting the real-life renbukai brand of karate that he helped to popularise in the USA. Lt Kevin Washington is his cop buddy, investigating the theft, and after interviewing the colourful local hobo, suspects ninjas. His dumbass captain doesn’t even recognise the word “ninja”, much less believe in their existence, so it’s pretty much down to him and Steve to investigate and apprehend the ninja gang and stop them from unleashing their army of mind-controlled zombies on the world.

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I’ve made it sound like it has more plot than it really does. It’s absolutely bonkers, though, with a huge portion of it being ninjas doing wacky ninja things, like tunnelling, disappearing in puffs of smoke, leaping enormous distances, being invulnerable to normal, non-ninja attacks, and so on. We also get tons of dialogue about the ways of the ninja, which is fun if completely incomprehensible…the fights are well-choreographed by Ken Watanabe, who also plays villain “Kuroda”. No, not the future Oscar nominee and all around handsome superstar, although I didn’t realise that and spent half the film trying to figure out which guy he was. His choice of wearing a Halloween-style devil mask throughout the final fight is the icing on the bonkers cake. Oh, there’s a white co-villain who looks like a greasy, overweight Anthony Quinn too, which doesn’t help when it comes to trying to figure out what’s going on.

 

One of the many curious choices “Ninja Warriors” makes is pretending it’s set in the USA. Every single extra is Japanese, so it just looks like a group of wealthy scumbag Americans have chosen to surround themselves with Asians and only Asians. Or perhaps that’s just part of this film’s wacky charm, and much like all the other Marchini movies we’ve watched, it’s an easy and fun watch. Plot and motivation are but minor inconveniences! We’re here to watch ninjas mess stuff up, and do cool ninja things! And to see our hero kick an absolute ton of ass!

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What we certainly didn’t watch this movie for was any resolution to the “villain creating brainwashed zombies” plotline. Unless I was a lot drunker than I thought, they don’t successfully create a single zombie, or even get all that close really. I think if you promise something that awesome at the beginning of your movie, then you ought to be legally obliged to follow up on it at the end. There’s also head-scratching to be done about the subplot involving the female cop subbing in for the tennis player (who also knows about the secret formula, apparently), which could be removed utterly and would leave the film making substantially more sense.

 

Director John Lloyd (not the British comedy John Lloyd, sadly) also did “Fighting Spirit”, aka one of the two different movies titled “King Of The Kickboxers 2”, where Loren Avedon’s friend’s ghost helps him to become a badass martial artist. Amazing! He knew how to make a movie that ripped along and made absolutely zero sense, and for that we must commend him. Bravo sir!

 

Rating: thumbs up

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PS. This movie has perhaps the greatest IMDB description of all time. “Document-stealing killer super ninjas are up to no good. A more robust and secure records management system could have discouraged such behavior.”

 

PPS. This was released on VHS as part of a series called “Sybil Danning’s Adventure Video”. You can check out her amazing intro here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRtduHnGb7E – there’s nothing I don’t love about this movie!

Jungle Wolf (1986)

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We have ISCFC favourite Len Kabasinski to thank for bringing Ron Marchini to our attention. The micro-budget genre filmmaker was a big fan of “Omega Cop” and “Karate Cop” growing up, and because they were movies about a karate master who was the last cop in a post-apocalyptic future, we had to watch them too. They were pretty good fun, truth be told, so thanks Len, and now, after yet more tracking down of old VHS tapes, we’re able to give you more Marchini.

 

There’s some “Rambo” style numbering fun going on, which also means we’re watching a Marchini series out of order again. Let’s see if we can puzzle our way through it. In 1985’s “Ninja Warriors”, he plays a character called Steve; but that seems to have no connection to 1986’s “Forgotten Warrior”, where he’s Steve Parrish. That movie would appear to be the prequel to this one, also from 1986, as he’s got the same name in both; but then there’s “Return Fire”, from 1987, also with Marchini as Steve Parrish. Lastly, with a little sprinkle of weirdness, there’s a “Jungle Wolf 3” from 1990, where he plays a guy with a completely different name.

 

“Ninja Warriors” sounds amazing and “Forgotten Warrior” sounds dull as ditchwater, but we know you rely on us for snarky reviews of obscure old genre movies, so we’ll watch them all, don’t you worry about that. Luckily, there’s not a ton of continuity so I feel confident about discussing this without having seen any of the others.

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Marchini is Steve, as has been mentioned, and in the flattest voiceover since “Witchcraft 10”, we’re informed he was in Vietnam, married a local, but she was killed; now he’s back home in the USA, with a blond son. Did he have this son before abandoning him to go to Vietnam the first time, or is this a “ten years later” thing? Already with the questions, this is going to be a long movie. The small Central American country of San Sebastian has got a rebel problem, and right at the beginning those rebels capture the US Ambassador during a TV interview – this is handy as it gives them the chance to state their demands, which is entirely to do with the return of their imprisoned leader. We get no sense of why they’re fighting or what they’re so angry about, in case that sort of stuff is important to you.

 

The US is going to send the big guns in, but before they waste money and lives, they decide to ask Steve, who is now, apparently, a stunt pilot – yes, we get several minutes of a little plane flying upside down and doing loops and so on. They paid for the plane and pilot and by golly they’re going to use them! So after seconds of discussion, Steve agrees to leave his son behind and head off into Central America to do a rescue. Now, I’m wholly prepared to admit that I wasn’t paying the closest attention, but the next I see, he’s got the rebel leader in handcuffs and is leading him through the wilderness? Perhaps they just wanted him to make the handover, but it seems like they could have made it a bit easier, by flying him a bit closer to the rebels, or something like that. Anyway, it’s Steve, Rebel Leader and Rebel Leader’s daughter (I think), and that’s the majority of the movie.

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Well, the real majority of the movie is writer / producer / star Ron Marchini kicking the ass of a rather large number of Filipino extras. Sorry, “central American freedom fighters”. They keep coming and he keeps knocking them back, whether with his sweet (if rather non-flashy-looking) moves, or a wide variety of guns, or throwing stars, or even a sword at the end. Ron is undoubtedly a very skilled martial artist, and he never really lets the pace of things drop either, so that side is an enthusiastic thumbs up from us. I do like how sometimes he goes out of his way to just knock guys out, and other times straight-up murders people (he throws one poor chap off the roof of a building, for instance). There’s a lot of people mown down by machine gun fire too, to the extent you’ll doubt the rebels have any soldiers left by the end.

 

The plot goes a bit sideways in the last act, and the ending is just completely meaningless and stupid, but all in all it’s a solid, fun, action-packed B-movie. But we need to talk about the acting. Apart from the rebel second-in-command, who’s a splendid scenery-chewer, every single person in this is wooden as hell, to the point where I’m not entirely convinced they all realise they’re in a film; but standing proudly atop this mountain is Marchini himself. Now, I don’t want to say he’s a bad actor, because that implies that he is one – he’s a non-actor, an unactor, an empty page. He manages half a smile when his character gets married and that’s it, the rest of the time he’s nothing. It’s quite amazing to watch, really.

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Fans of rarely filmed locations will enjoy the firefight which is in and around some beautiful Filipino ruins (or just enjoy how little respect they show what should be a world heritage site). And fans of songs in films which describe the plot of the film itself (one of my favourite sub-genres) will be delighted with “Back In Action”, hair-metal class that you can listen to for yourselves:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QmU81XZq9w

 

I hope you get as much enjoyment from Ron Marchini’s movies as I have, and if you can track this one down, do so.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Omega Cop (1990)

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When you’ve got a film where the title is probably the cleverest thing about it, you might be in trouble a little. When it’s also a vanity production for its martial arts champion star, you’re really really in trouble. Yes, this is another Ron Marchini movie – we’ve done his future-cop series in reverse order, as we reviewed “Karate Cop” a few months ago. But if we imagine this as a prequel…well, who cares? Marchini did not improve as an actor, at all, and nothing carries between the two films, so the only real continuity is that hat with the comically oversized “Special Police” badge on it that he’s so damn attached to.

The introductory voiceover, explaining why the world has gone to hell (it’s the ozone layer), is from Adam West! The era between the end of “Batman” and his rediscovery as an ironic star meant West had lots of roles like this, and here he’s the Police…captain, I guess?…dispatching Marchini and his goons from their command bunker to the hostile surface territory, to bust up some human trafficking.

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The basic gist is, Ron is stranded “topside” when a huge solar flare hits the earth, causing everyone exposed to it to go mad (luckily, Ron was able to jump underneath a truck). He picks up three different women and spends most of the movie rescuing them from one predicament or another, while the captain occasionally pops on the radio to tell him what to do, as well as reveal that the police bunker was irreperably damaged in the flare and there’s no backup coming, ever.

Perhaps by accident, this film manages to have something interesting to say about the post-apocalypse. Rather than it be a static situation in the far future, we see things get worse, as remaining sections of decent, normal society are gradually killed off by gangs – there’s a sense we’re witnessing the last gasp of humanity play out. It feels really bloody weird to be this serious in a review of a cheap martial arts movie, but there you go!

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Marchini is not only a complete nothing as an actor, he’s not even that good a screen-fighter. Now, I may be the only person using the phrase this way, but when I say that I mean how good his stuff looks on screen (I’m not disputing his real-life skill). But fighting legions of bad guys, he looks stiff and uncomfortable, he’s obviously nowhere near making contact, and there’s very little flash to anything he does. While that may be effective if you were actually taking on a lot of people, it looks quite dull to the action-movie viewer.

Marchini has competition in the acting stakes from the main villains, including Chuck Katzakian as Wraith. His presence is curious, and I wonder if he was just friends with Marchini, because he’s absolutely unbearable as an actor and his entire career consists of two movies in 1976 then this in 1990. Did he just get drunk one day and decide to turn up to an audition for a laugh, and ended up getting hired because he was the only person who showed? We may never know the answers to these questions.

If you can get by the abominably dull middle section, and the wooden acting from everyone, and the dull fighting, then…no, I got nothin’. There’s interesting things in it, but not many, and it manages to make a post-apocalyptic martial arts movie boring. Well done, I suppose? “Karate Cop” is a lot more fun than this was, although if you watch both of them together in the right order, there’s a good debate to be had about what took him from the end of this movie to the beginning of the next one.

Rating: thumbs down