Manchurian Avenger (1985)

When in Denver (well, Fairplay, Colorado), you might as well review another of that city’s homegrown films: more so when you review The Spirits of Jupiter and that film’s James Aerni, who got a VHS marquee position as that film’s crazed sheriff , appears, in his second and final film.

Explosive? Thrills? Not the film I watched.

First, before we get to the Charles Bronson lookalike on the cover, let’s clear up the title: It’s not a rip on the Frank Sinatra-starring Manchurian Candidate (1962), a film which deals with a person, especially a politician, used as a puppet (aka assassin) by an enemy power. The title refers to a geographically overlap of Russia and Northeast China — the homeland of our hero, here.

Okay. That’s settled. Now for the Charles Bronson question: that’s Asian lookalike Bobby Kim.

So, uh, what’s an Asian like Kim doing in a place like Colorado? Well, if you’ve ever enjoyed a Denver Omelette or Denver Sandwich, you know that Chinese railroad cooks served up those egg foo yung-styled dishes for their fellow rail workers that helped built the great Centennial State.

Yes, Kim — and not the Centennial State or James Aerni, both which brought us here in the first place — is the real selling point: for we loved Kim for years from his work in his best known and U.S. successful film, Kill the Ninja (1984). And we also get Bill “Superfoot” Wallace — who debuted in A Force of One (1979) with Chuck Norris, as well as Killpoint (1984) with Leo Fong. As for the rest of the cast: So it goes with most of the SOV and 16-to-35mm blow ups out of Denver: we’re dealing with a gaggle of one-and-gone thespian and auteurs: this time with director Ed Warnick and QWERTY warrior Timothy Stephenson. Eh, what else would you expect from a film first screened locally in 1982 . . . that finally received mass (well, not that mass) distribution via VHS, two years after the fact.

So, when you have the world’s premier Tae Kwon Do master in Kim, and a full-contact world champion in Wallace, what’s not to likey, here?

Well, everything: for it all stinks like those rotted, wet market pangolin carasses that caused the COVID outbreak.

Yeah, this ain’t no Killpoint or a Ron Marchini-Leo Fong joint like Murder in the Orient (1974). But the proceedings sure to have that “kung-fu western” déjà vu stank of the Jackie Chan two-fer of Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights — only with none of the charms . . . or acting . . . or action . . . or everything else. And there’s nothing here to warrant an R-rating.

So Joe (Bobby Kim) returns to Colorado after many years to help the man who raised him. That upbringing is the result of the gang murder of Joe’s father, years ago: a murder tied to a lost cache of gold. Now, with his step-dad/guardian murdered, Joe teams with his sister and his fellow, ass-kicking brother to bring the gang to justice — and find the gold. Diego, the main villain’s henchman, of course, joins forces with Joe (hey, just like in Murder in the Orient), after Joe throwing-star decapitates a snake ready to strike Diego.

On the upside, regardless of the film’s discipline failures: Bobby Kim freaks us out with the moves that we came to see. And the supernatural villainy is pretty decent: because, as in any Asian arts films, humans from the Far East have the ability to control the wind and summon after-world warriors (hey, like in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China).

Ugh, but it’s not enough.

There’s way too many budgetary wide-shots with no reverses, mediums, close ups, etc., which is utterly frustrating. The dubbing is out-of-sync. The racism is out-of-another-time ugly-offensive — even if we are in the old Colorado Wild West. The Mexican accents are worse than the Asian-to-English dubbing. And outside of Kim and Wallace, the thespin’ is tragic and the action is clumsy. So, yes, you’re hitting the big red fast forward button, and backing up, when you see a hit of ass-kicking, a(super)foot.

I dig Bobby Kim. And Kill the Ninja is my ’80s nostalgia, martial arts classic. But this Rocky Mountain Low is a gulch you need to pass as you head on up to Chen Lee’s spaghetti western/kung-fu hybrid with The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1973) and The Return of Shanghai Joe (1975). At least both of those films have a real — and not a faux — Klaus Kinski thespin’ up the joint with class and style.

Man, that’s enough of this. This is more digital ink than this deserves.

There’s no freebie streams, but this has been remastered-restored (?) to DVD, so Google on, brave QWERTY warrior, if ye must. There’s clips to sample HERE and HERE. You need more low-budget films made in Colorado? Then check out Mind Killer and Night Vision.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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