ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Benjamin Merrell lives in Seattle, WA. You can check out his blog at cestnonunblog.com and follow him on Letterboxd.
Diana ‘TNT’ Jackson (Jeannie Bell), one bad mamma jamma, heads off to Hong Kong to, I guess, tell off her brother, Stag Jackson after he didn’t respond to the letter that she sent him to, um, tell him off. “He asked me to send him some money, instead I sent him a piece of my mind. I just want to know if he got it.” I guess some “Screw you” messages have to be delivered in person. But, unbeknownst to her, brother dearest was actually killed by drug dealers during the opening credits. Now TNT is out for revenge!
…Or something like that. TNT Jackson, the character and the movie, aren’t really overly concerned with things like a logical plot progression or proper character motivations. The movie suffers from a flimsy, paper thin plot about double-crossing drug dealers that feels like it was slapped together and invented solely to give TNT something to do until she discovers which one of the drug dealers killed her brother. It stresses style over substance, but thank God the movie at least has some style.
After leaving the airport TNT takes a cab to the bad part of town. You know it’s bad because the very first thing we see is a woman getting raped in the middle of the street. On the plus side, someone does immediately come to the woman’s rescue, however his ass is swiftly kicked by the rapist, who then leaves, presumably to try and finish what he started. TNT asks around for directions, which goes over about as well as you think it will, and thus she draws the attention of a gang of muggers. TNT isn’t screwing around though. She mops the floor with them pretty easily and even has a fun fight with a mugger who likes showing off his two ridiculously massive butterfly knives.
Conveniently, one of our main characters, Elaine, (a “government agent” working undercover with the drug dealers as leader Sid’s girlfriend) happens to witness the fight and offers TNT a ride, which leads to one of my favorite dialogue interactions of the entire film. Elaine wants to know more about why TNT is in town but TNT, who has thus far only dealt with people who wanted to rape, mug or kill her since she got into town, is having none of it. “Look lady, or whoever you are…I accepted a ride to Joe’s Haven and that’s all you need to know about me.” To which, Elaine simply replies, “Bitch.”
Joe’s Haven is Stag Jackson’s last known address, a nightclub/strip club/dojo owned by Hong Kong local Joe, who TNT very unself-consciously asks, “Who’s ever heard of a Chinaman named Joe? … They call me TNT.” Joe is the one who tells her that Stag never got her “screw you” letter, and then later informs her that Stag was actually killed during the opening credits. Meanwhile, Elaine sends their enforcer Charlie to the club to check TNT out and figure out what her deal is. And since TNT is the only fly black chick with a killer afro on Hong Kong island (her afro is indeed spectacular), he immediately takes a liking to her. Little do either of them know at the time, but Charlie is actually the one who killed TNT’s brother. I’d like to say that was a spoiler, but again, this was the very first thing that happened in the movie.
We never end up finding out why TNT was angry at her brother or what was in the nasty letter she wrote him or even why exactly Charlie wanted to kill him, because the plot immediately shifts its focus to the double-crossing drug dealers. Someone in Sid’s gang is leaking info about their drug buys and stealing their heroin shipments, so everyone naturally assumes it has something to do with TNT, despite the fact that she literally just got there and has no idea who any of these people are. (Sid is played by Ken Metcalfe, who apparently also did some rewrites on the script. Was Ken responsible for making the writing better or worse? We may never know.) Weirder still, they all suspect her of being the rat, when in reality literally half the gang is working behind Sid’s back to betray him.
The other major gang figure we haven’t gotten to yet is Ming, the guy with the hookup with their supplier, whom you’re supposed to suspect is the one stealing the drugs, despite the fact that he may actually be the only loyal soldier in Sid’s gang. But we, the audience, don’t like him, because he doesn’t like how cozy Elaine and Charlie are getting with TNT. And of course to make us really hate him there has to be a scene where Ming and his henchmen corner TNT in her room and threaten her with torture and rape. TNT has to fight them off, topless naturally, clad only in her panties, so we the audience can enjoy some quality slow-motion jiggling, er, fight choreography.
There are actually quite a few fun fights in this movie, especially at the end when everyone starts Kung Fu Fighting like they’re in a Carl Douglas song. The fight choreography in general is pretty well put together, especially considering a lot of the fight scenes were shot over the shoulder, covering up for the fact that most of the Western actors clearly lack any sort of actual prior martial arts experience. Jeannie Bell in particular has a very expressive brand of chopsocky that does a stellar job of selling that TNT is a kung fu master badass, despite Jeannie obviously not having any clue as to what she’s doing.
TNT Jackson isn’t a great film, but fans of blacksploitation and chopsocky kung fu flicks can probably find enough nudity, blood, gore and most importantly fun here to keep them entertained for its blissfully short 74 minute runtime.
TNT Jackson was produced by American International Pictures and directed by Filipino Blacksploitation pioneer Cirio H. Santiago, who is probably best known for 1981’s Firecracker (seriously, check out Firecracker. It’s fantastic.) Written by Dick Miller (yeah, that Dick Miller), with martial arts instruction by J.Lo (unfortunately not that J.Lo).