Frank Harris and Leo Fong! My head is swimming. Where do I begin with this review?
Well, first off, you can get both of these Crown International releases on Mill Creek’s “Explosive Cinema” 12-pack (along with Scorpion, Skydivers, and 9 Deaths of the Ninja). Second: You also get Troy Donahue (Omega Cop), Richard Roundtree (Q: The Winged Serpent), and, say what? Cameron Mitchell (Space Mutiny) appears in both?
Harris. Fong. Mitchell? Sign me up! I am going to loose my nut!
What’s that? Harris also did the post-apoc romp Aftershock and the cop actioner Lockdown (1990; trailer) with Richard Lynch from Deathsport and Ground Rules? What? No way! And Fong did Showdown (1993; full movie) with Lynch as well? Rock on! Richard Friggin’ Lynch. Rock on, Ankar Moor, you post-apoc bad ass.
Writer, director, producer and cinematographer Frank Harris got his start as a reporter for a small California TV station. But his true love was film. He got his start in the movie business courtesy of the fifth film from Asian action star Leo Fong, 1976’s Ninja Assassins (aka Enforcer from Death Row), who hired Harris as a cinematographer. (I have wonderful memories of my older cousin, Bobby, who studied martial arts and was ready to go into the military, taking me to the Drive-In after seeing the film’s commercial on TV. Yes, I rented it when it came out on VHS.)
After putting one more cinematography gig under his belt with the 1984 actioner Goldrunner (trailer: race cars, motorcycles and kidnapping), Fong hired Harris to not only serve as the cinematographer, but as the producer, director and screenwriter for his eighth film as an actor: Killpoint.
Then there was Harris’s directing gig with 1996’s Skyscraper, an awful attempt to turn famous-for-being-famous ex-Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith into—not only into an “actress” and not only into a “leading lady”—an “action star.” Anna Nicole as a hot, corporate helicopter pilot who goes “Die Hard” when terrorists take over her employer’s office tower? Huh and W.T.F. It’s one of those movies where you simply can not turn away. And let me make this point perfectly clear: there’s a lot of people to blame for it, but Harris isn’t one of them; he was just a director-for-hire. (Watch the full movie at your own peril; the trailer might even be too much to bear.)
Cameron Mitchell returned from Ninja Assassins, this time as Joe Marks, an illegal arms dealer who robs a Californian National Guard Armory with plans to sell the weapons to L.A’s street gangs. Lt. James Long (Fong) a bitter, troubled L.A detective still dealing with the rape and murder of his wife a year earlier, gets his chance to go “Dirty Harry” —well, “Jackie Chan,” actually—when he discovers Mark’s sidekick, known as Nighthawk (professional ex-boxer Stack Pierce; worked on several of Fred Williamson’s Blaxploitation films), was responsible for her death. Teamed with FBI Agent Bill Bryant (Richard Roundtree), they bring them to justice.
Of course, while Fong was already a major star in the Eurasian marketplace, he was an unknown commodity in the States. So while Roundtree’s part in Killpoint is a minor one, as you can see from the below poster images, that didn’t stop the distributors from highlighting Roundtree’s contribution—and giving Leo Fong the short shift on the U.S Drive-In and video campaigns.
Low Blow (1986)
Karen Templeton (Patti Bowling; her only film role) is a young, wayward Patty Hearst-type heiress brainwashed-kidnapped by the Church of Universal Enlightenment, a Jonestown-styled religious cult run by Cameron Mitchell’s Jim Jones-inspired Yarakunda.
After seeing Joe Wong (Leo Fong), a harried ex-San Francisco detective take down a couple of thugs who mugged an old lady, Karen’s tycoon-father (Troy Donahue) decides Wong is the man for the job to rescue his daughter. So Wong recruits a Vietnam vet and ex-pro-boxer (Stack Piece is back!) to get her out. Once inside, Wong fights the cult-camp’s ninjas and world-renowned martial artist and Tae Bo exercise program guru Billy Blanks (Tango & Cash, Lionheart) in his first film role.
Leo Fong is still going strong at the incredible age of 91. He starred in three films in 2018: Hidden Peaks, Dragon to Dragon, and the most recent film: Challenge of the Five Gauntlets. And he has four more films in various stations of filming and pre/post production: Pact of Vengenance (with Jon-Mikl Thor!), Asian Cowboys, Runaway Killer, Hard Way Heroes, and Junkers. You catch up with Leo and his Sky Dragon Entertainment at LeoFong.com.
Other films in the Harris-Fong oeuvre include 24 Hours to Midnight with Cynthia Rothrock (1985; clip), Hawkeye (1988; full movie) (seen them on VHS), and the direct-to-DVD releases Brazilian Brawl (2003; trailer) and Transformed (2005; full movie) (honestly, never heard of them or seen them; I need to change that).
You can watch the TRAILER and the FULL MOVIE for Killpoint, the TRAILER and FULL MOVIE for Low Blow, and the FULL MOVIE of their first film, Ninja Assassins, on You Tube.
Join us tomorrow as we take a look at another Harris film on the “Explosive Cinema” box set: The Patriot.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.
It’s slightly odd that Richard Roundtree was made the focal point of the Killpoint promo materials, as by 1984 he was in a fallow period in his career. Lack of respect for established stars of international cinema maybe?
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I find it incredibly strange that Jackie Chan is still basically the only superstar of Asian action cinema that has had as big of a career here.
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I only vaguely recall “Martial Law” but more action focused material is not my strongest genre card. Jet Li also got a fairly strong push in the early 2000s.
Considering how much American cinema loves to magpie styles and traditions, and how much American audiences love a big over the top action film and fight choreo, you would think it would be a regular thing to import stars and films from Asia.
Maybe it’s a bit of the myth of American exceptionalism, maybe the fear that subtitles won’t play well in Peoria.
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Duh! Yes! Jet Li. Forgot about him, shame on me!