WATCH THE SERIES: Mr. Vampire

There are five Ricky Lau-directed Mr. Vampire movies — Mr. VampireMr. Vampire II, Mr. Vampire III, Mr. Vampire IV and Mr. Vampire 1992 (the only direct sequel) followed by several connected movies by other directors, such as Billy Chan and Leung Chung’s New Mr. Vampire (these first six movies will be the ones that we’ll be covering), Lam Ching-ying’s Vampire vs Vampire and Magic Cop (AKA Mr. Vampire 5), Chan’s Crazy Safari (also known as The Gods Must Be Crazy II), Andrew Lau’s The Ultimate Vampire, Wilson Tong’s The Musical Vampire, Wu Ma’s Exorcist Master, Wellson Chin’s The Era of Vampires and Juno Mak’s tribute to this series, Rigor Mortis. There are also two TV series: Vampire Expert and My Date with a Vampire.

All of these movies have the Chinese vampire in common. Called the jiangshi, these hopping corpses of Chinese folklore are as much zombies as they are vampires. They first appeared in Hong Kong cinema in Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind.

Mr. Vampire (1985)

Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) is pretty much Dr. Strange by way of Taoist priesthood, as he keeps control over the spirits and vampires of China from his large home, which is protected by many talismans and amulets, staffed by his students Man-Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho).

Master Yam hires Kau to move the burial site of his father to ensure prosperity for his family. However, the body looks near perfect, showing that it may be a vampire. Taking it home, Kau instructs his students to write all over the coffin with enchanted ink. They forget to do the bottom of the coffin, which means that the vampire escapes and murders his rich son, turning him into a jiangshi.

Wai (Billy Lau) is a policeman who is sure that Kau is responsible (he also has a grudge because a girl (Moon Lee) he likes has eyes for Kau), so he arrests him even as the vampire begins killing others. Kau’s students are tested by a vampire’s boat and also a seductive spirit, but when Master Yam becomes a fully vampiric demon, only the help of another Taoist priest named Four-Eyes (Anthony Chan) can save the day.

Based on stories producer Hung heard from his mother, this movie nearly tripled its budget at the box office. Just a warning — not just Italian movies have real animal violence. There’s a moment where a real snake is sliced apart instead of a fake one due to budget. The snake was used to make soup, but there’s no report on whether the chicken whose throat was cut on screen was used as stock after.

Golden Harvest tried to make an American version — Demon Hunters — with Yuen Wah playing Master Kau and American actors Jack Scalia and Michele Phillips (taking over from Tonya Roberts) were in Hong Kong to film scenes, but the movie was stopped after just a few weeks.

Mr. Vampire 2 (1986)

This film is more about a vampire family than continuing the story of the first movie, despite being directed by Ricky Lau and bringing back female star Moon Lee and Lam Ching-ying.

Archaeologist Kwok Tun-Wong (Chung Fat) and his students have found not just one jiangshi but a mother, father and their son, all kept still because of the magical talismans on their foreheads. Intending to sell the boy on the black market — who would want a child hopping vampire is a question we may not be able to answer — the talismans are removed and Dr. Lam Ching-ying (yes, Lam Ching-ying used his real name for the role), his potential son-in-law Yen (Yuen Biao) and his daughter Gigi (Lee) must stop the plague of the vampires.

Mr. Vampire 3 (1987)

Uncle Ming (Richard Ng) isn’t a great Tao priest like Uncle Nine (Lam Ching-ying), but like an HK version of The Frighteners, he has help from two ghosts. Big and Small Pai. He comes to a small town where supernatural bandits are ruling the night, all led by the evil — I mean, with a name like this, she should be malificent — Devil Lady (Wong Yuk Waan).

This movie has a first for me — evil spirits trapped in wine jars and then friend in hot oil. This is definitely closer to the spirit of the original film, which made fans pretty happy. Also, a witch with a skull inside her hair and a Sammo Hung cameo as a waiter!

If you’re used to the pace of American movies, you may want to drink plenty of Red Bull or Bang before starting this one.

Mr. Vampire 4 (1988)

Four-eyed Taoist (Anthony Chan) and Buddhist Master Yat-yau (Wu Ma) are neighbors, but engaged in a sort of humorous war of words, pranks and ideologies with each other. As a convoy passes their homes — including a vampire that is soon hit with lightning and becomes super powerful — they must put aside their dislike and work together.

You may miss Lam Ching Ying, who for the first time isn’t the lead in a Mr. Vampire sequel. There’s nearly an hour, however, where the two leads try to destroy one another with not a hopping bloodsucker in sight. So while the stereotypical gay character isn’t fun at all, there’s still the knowledge you’ll gain, like eating garlic to defeat a curse.

Mr. Vampire 1992 (1992)

After three sequels, it’s finally time to make an actual sequel to Mr. Vampire, with Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying), Man-choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho) all coming back.   What a wild story they’ve been brought back for, as the soul of an aborted fetus lives within a statue before seeking to take over the fetus that is growing within Mai Kei-lin (Wuki Kwan), the one-time love of Master Kau.

There’s also The General (Billy Lau), Mai Kei-lin’s husband, who is bit by his vampire father and seeks to escape his curse with the help of Kau.

Also — this is a comedy.

What’s most amazing — to me — is that I found my copy of this in my small Western Pennsylvania hometown, in the literal sticks, an all-region DVD that I can only assume came from a foreign exchange student at one of the local small colleges, as there were several other similar films. $1 later and my movie room has hopping vampires on the shelves.

New Mr. Vampire (1987)

Don’t confuse this New Mr Vampire with Mr. Vampire 1992. This installment was directed by Billy Chan and has Chung Fat and Huang Ha as rival brothers Master Chin and Master Wu, with Chin Siu-ho (playing Hsiao Hau Chien) and Lu Fang (known as Tai-Fa) as their disciples.

This is my least favorite of the jiangshi movies I’ve seen, except for the fact that the filmmakers seem intent on making John Carpenter pay for taking so many Hong Kong movie mythos for Big Trouble in Little China by outright stealing music from Halloween and Escape from New York.

Are you willing to take a journey into the world of Chinese vampires? Let us know what you find. Remember, if you get bit, just take a bath in rice milk, then grind down their fangs or drink their blood to heal yourself.

Cross of the Seven Jewels (1987)

Directed by, written by and starring Marco Antonio Andolfi — who also did the special effects — who claims he based this on comic books, plays and his real life, which really says a lot I guess. Eight years later, he took all this footage, re-edited it and threw in some footage he stole from The Serpent and the Rainbow like a good Italian filmmaker and called the film that ensured Talisman.

Marco Sartori (Andolfi) is wearing a huge cross with seven jewels — everyone cheer for the title reference — that gets turn off by some motorcycle criminals, which was what really happened to Andolfi and inspired this. Well, he needs that cross because without it, he turns into a weresomething, by which I mean that he’s nearly naked, except for a furry bikini and mask.

A mob boss (George Ardisson, who was once Secret Agent 3S3 and Thesus in Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World) explains how he can get the cross back and lets one of his best girls, Maria (Annie Belle, who was in D’Amato’s Absurd and L’alcova) come along.

There’s also a fortune teller named Madame Amnesia played by former Miss World Zaira Zoccheddu, as well as Satanic cult that is whipping women and having sex because that’s how you raise the prince of all things evil from his slumber and sure, he looks like Chewbacca, but come on, he’s also the father — maybe? — of our hero. He at least did his mom and if I were a bad guy, I’d definitely say that out loud to get under a werewolf’s skin. Or fur.

Also, Gordon Mitchell leads the Black Mass and really, that’s enough to get me to spend $40 on this whenever Severin gets around to putting it out on blu ray.

Child of Peach (1987)

There are movies that blow your mind and then there are movies that make you wonder if you’ve been experiencing reality properly. I use the term movie drugs on here pretty often.

Welcome to the black tar heroin of movie drugs.

Chung-Hsing Chao was an actor who’d been in movies like  Buddha’s Palm and Dragon FistHeroic Rivals and Born Invicible, as well as a stunt coordinator for Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow IIThe Miracle Fighters and Magnificent 7 Kung Fu Kids. He also directed this movie along with Chun-Liang Chen. These are simple facts.

They can’t explain to you what you’re about to see.

The first of the Taiwanese Peach Kid trilogy — along with Magic of Spell and Magic Warriors — the movie adapts the Japanese legend of Momotaro, a hero born from a giant peach who battles demons with his animal friends, not unlike Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare.

Again all facts.

So how about this? Imagine if Superman’s parents found him inside a piece of fruit and name him Peach Kid and raise him to be a good person, which means fighting King Devil, the man who has wanted him dead since he was a baby. But also keep in mind that Superman’s parents are an old married couple and are constantly battling one another in a war of words, more like a real married couple than the comic book unreality.

Also imagine that movies for kids can be filled with incredible degrees of violence and profanity while still telling a positive lesson. Where monkeys peeing is the height of comedy — it is — and speaking of animals, our hero can team up with Tiny Dog, Tiny Monkey, Tiny Cock and Knight Melon to fight evil, which takes the form of a witch and her army of miniature 80s hair metal dudes.

There’s also a peach-based robot, a Sun Sword, demon dismemberment, stunts that look way to painful to have not been, incredible fights, wire work, a demonic mutant shark getting definned and so much more.

Really, these kinds of movies need to be experienced in what I refer to as analog moments, where you stop taking notes and just let the high overtake you. This is high level strangeness from Taiwan, a country very much unlike our own, made decades ago and unconcerned with looking or feeling or acting like any movie that’s come before or since. Shut off that part of your mind that says that this is alien, that this is silly, that this is a goofy martial arts movie and you can see how fake the effects are. Pretend you’re a child again. Pretend you’re a cosmic being. Pretend that the world can be this good, if even for the running time of this film.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Goodnight, God Bless (1987)

Also known as Lucifer, this movie has a killer that even the police start to realize may have an actual mission from Satan himself. He starts with a schoolyard massacre and then comes after the only survivor, Mandy, who is being protected by the police. It’s pretty shocking, to be perfectly honest, to see a priest stab a woman and then just open fire on a playground packed with small children. You don’t see that in many — any — slashers.

Sadly, this movie never gets better or stranger or remains as shockingly original as that first scene. The cop falls for Mandy’s mom, they go on a bird watching vacation and the priest just keeps killing people when he isn’t stalking our little child protagonist.

The killer priest is a great idea and so underused. So maybe instead of this one — spoiler warning — you could watch Seven Bloodstained OrchidsSilver BulletDon’t Torture a DucklingCity of the Living DeadTo the Devil a DaughterProm Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil and Happy Hell Night.

Philippine War Week II: Eye of the Eagle (1987)

If you joined us for our “Philippine War Week I” and made it though this second and final week, you know the production drill of these films. Nick Nicholson, Steve Rogers, Jim Moss, Mike Monty and Vic Dias all “star” here — and with the added incentive of Robert Patrick, yes that one: the T-1000 one.

Everyone has to start somewhere and Patrick debuts, here, as Cpl. Johnny Ransom for this Cirio H. Santiago faux-Stallone romp. Patrick also starred for Cirio in the Max Mad rip, Equalizer 2000. Then Patrick became a defacto “star” in The Raiders of the Lost Ark rip, Future Hunters — by way of Cirio cutting in footage from Equalizer 2000. Or that may be the other way around: Patrick ended up in Equalizer 2000 by of way hunks of his Future Hunter work being cut in. You know how it goes in the Philippine editing suites of Silver Star Productions.

It’s been critiqued that Cirio’s Killer Instinct (1989), aka Behind Enemy Lines, which also stars Patrick, is a sequel to Eye of the Eagle; it’s not: the only throughline is that Patrick’s character is also named Johnny Ransom — and for no particular reason. But all of the war footage certainly looks the same, because it is — and is par for the course when it comes to the recycling war coffers of the Philippine Rambo Consortium.

Adding to the confusion: Eye of the Eagle is also known as The Lost Command. And Battlefield Vietnam. And Killer Instinct, aka Behind Enemy Lines, is also known as Eye of the Eagle 2: Inside the Enemy, and as Killed in Action (instead of Missing in Action IV to evoke a little Chuck Norris). And Last Stand at Lang Mei (1989) — which has nothing to do with the other two films, outside of Cirio H. Santiago directing them — is known as Eye of the Eagle III.

We give up. Is one a sequel to the other? We really don’t care.

Patrick also starred in another 1987 film, Warlords from Hell, that is believed to be another Cirio cut n’ paste joint: it’s not. That’s actually a trashy action flick about American bikers taking on a Mexican drug cartel that shot in the U.S. and was directed by Clark Henderson; he’s known for his behind-the-scenes production work on Roger Corman’s Forbidden World and Space Raiders, Cirio’s Wheels of Fire, and major U.S. films such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Cider House Rules.

And now, back to our program of Eye of the Eagle. The first one.

All of the usual, endless barrage of (stock footage) gun battles and over-the-top explosions ensues as Sgt. Rick Stratton (Brett Baxter Clark, who got his start in Tom Hanks’s Bachelor Party and the teensploitation romp Malibu Express; he also appears the Filipino war flick, Delta Force Commando), along with Cpl. Johnny Ransom (Patrick), set off with their “Eagle” squad to stop a band of U.S. renegades known as “The Lost Command” terrorizing South Vietnam. Stratton also has a side hussle: avenge the murder of his brother by the renegades. One of the missions Stratton and Ransom need to pull off is a train hijacking — and yes, those are shots of an electric model train. Hey, Silver Star productions can’t afford tanks or planes — only ones cut in from other films — so why did you think they could afford more than a model train and one real rail car to shoot on? Is there a mouthy, know-it-all pesky female photo journalist to get them into scrapes? Ah, you know your Philippine war flicks better than we thought.

You can enjoy the awful sound and jumpy edits and bad-everything-else-we-love on You Tube.

Of course we dug up Eye of the Eagle II and Eye of the Eagle III for you, both on You Tube. Sorry, that is actually kind of mean of us. Eh, you know you wanna watch ’em.

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

Philippine War Week II: Mission Terminate (1987)

We come here, not to bury Philippine Namsplotation films, but to praise Richard Norton. That’s right, kids: it’s another B&S About Movies film-geek fandom joint.

Aussie actor Richard Norton got his start in Chuck Norris’s The Octagon (1980) and Forced Vengeance (1982), contributing to multiple episodes of CBS-TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger, starring in Robert Clouse’s Force: Five (1981) and Gymkata (1985), and with Michael Dudikoff in American Ninja (1985). And do we really have to remind you that Richard Norton starred as Slade in the great Cirio H. Santiago’s Philippine post-apoc’er Equalizer 2000 (1987)? Well, now you know: Richard Norton is right up there with Mark Gregory, Michael Sopkiw, and Daniel Greene on the B&S About Movies A-Team.

While we haven’t seen all of Richard’s almost 70-and-climbing credits, we’ve seen most of them. And some are great — like the films we’ve mentioned — while others are not so great. There’s not another actor that’s more hard working, who was stuck in some questionable projects over the years, who started out as a bodyguard to the Rolling Stones and personal trainer to Mick Jagger. We reviewed his most recent effort, if you’re interested: the 2021 Australian crime-thriller, Rage.

See. The fanboy section of the review has ended. That didn’t hurt. Back to the movie . . . and to hell.

Also known as Return of the Kickfighter, the plot concerns, you guessed it: more corrupt American soldiers on a war-profiteering tear, democratic freedom on the Indonesia mainlands, be damned.

So, to the chagrin of their Vietnamese guide (Asian Martial Arts mainstay and Brucesploitation star Bruce Le), a U.S. marine unit raids a Vietnam village — for a gold stash — and they kill the villagers.

Yes. Of course, we “flash forward” ten years. Haven’t you been paying attention at all this week? That “flashback” set up is how all of that old ’70s war footage is clipped into the film, so as to up the production values.

Well, eh, actually . . . this time, it’s 15 years. And someone is murdering the members of the unit — one by one. And the chicken shit leader of that raid, now a high-ranking officer with a cushy government desk job with the Pentagon, needs to clean up the mess. So, with a little lie there and half-truth there, he sends in the only man for the job (again?): Pentagon black-ops agent Major Brad Cooper, aka the man we came to see, Richard Norton. But Cooper gets wise pretty quick and figures his Pentagon boss, Col. Ryan, committed the atrocity all those years ago. So Cooper is sidelined from the mission. But Cooper goes rogue. And his “mission” objective changes.

He meets Quan Niehn, the Vietnamese guide from 15 years ago. Turns out, Quan and his brother nursed an injured Ninja Master hurt in that raid back to health and, in payment, the Master taught the brothers the ways of the Ninja. Then the brothers went “Cain and Able,” with Quan to the good Vietnamese side and his brother to the evil Viet Cong side. And the plot twist is that we think Quan is killing the members of the unit, but it’s really his evil brother — the leader of a secret, Mountain stronghold terrorist boot camp. So, once Quan and Cooper make nice, Coop calls in his old Queen’s Cobras unit to kick the evil brother’s ass. The firefights and explosions and bodies plowed down by more bullets than John Rambo and John Matrix can handle, ensues.

What makes this work is the martial arts, something Sly and Arnie couldn’t bring to the table. The Return of the Kickfigther handle is clearly the more effectively, descriptive title, with Bruce Le (1978’s Return of the Red Tiger and Enter the Game of Death) and Hong Kong action star Dick Wei (1978’s Five Deadly Venoms and 1980’s Claws of the Eagle) mixing it up with Richard Norton — who keeps his Australian accent on-camera (a HUGE difference in quality for this film against most we’ve reviewed this week), which is explained away as being an “All American” since he was trained by the American military.

Ugh. The full movie was uploaded when we made the schedule — now it’s gone. Well, you can at least watch this “Kill Count” montage and eight minute fight scene (embedded above) between Richard Norton and Bruce Le on You Tube. Director Anthony Maharaj, here in his debut, got his start as a screenwriter with the Philippine war flick Final Mission (reviewed this week; look for it) and the post-apoc’er Future Hunters for Cirio H. Santiago. Maharaj and Norton worked on a second Indonesian war flick, Not Another Mistake (1989) — no, we didn’t review that one, this week. You can’t do ’em all.

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

Philippine War Week II: Platoon the Warriors (1987)

Take the 1984 Filipino movie Diegong Bayong, get some footage from Hong Kong, throw it in a blender and boom, you have Platoon Warrior or Platoon the Warriors and yes, if you’re wondering if this has something to do with Godfrey Ho of course it does.

Jack Barlow (Anthony Alonzo) has lost his son, father and mother to a gang who puts the cherry on the top of the Death Wish cosplay sundae by assaulting his daughter.  And that would be the Diegong Bayong parts, as he gets one gang to kill another gang which seems, well, nothing like either PlatoonThe Warriors or anything Death Wish.

There’s also a two and a half minute love scene from that movie repurposed, remixed and reused here and — of all things — set to Kraftwerk.

Somehow, this trailer is a billion times better than the actual movie.

This movie is also not the Michael Dudikoff vehicle Platoon Leader.

It’s…man Godfrey Ho and his crew are wild because this is such a puzzle of so many things jammed together that I have no idea what I’m to get out of it. I was expecting an 80s jungle film and I got something else but then it went back to the jungle.

Look, in the Philippines, they make spaghetti with banana ketchup and cut up hot dogs and that makes more sense than what I just watched.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Philippine War Week II: Top Mission (1987)

So, before we get into this Godfrey Ho joint, let’s clear up the title confusion: Do not confuse this with the ex-The Dukes of Hazzard John Schneider bomb that was Cocaine Wars (1985), which became known as Top Mission in the overseas markets. And don’t confuse this Godfrey Ho joint with another of Ho’s chop shop joints, Top Team Force (1989), which is a film about the Hong Kong mafia that also aka’d the marketplace as Top Mission Exterminator.

So, before we get into this Godfrey Ho joint, let’s clear up the stock footage confusion: Most of the nifty action comes from William Mayo’s third feature film, Diablo Force (1986). Where the rest of the footage comes from . . . well, probably two to three more films that we can’t track down . . . forever lost in the vaults of Tomas Tang’s Filmark International Studios and K.Y Lim’s Silver Star Productions.

Oh, we should mention that Uncle G is deploying the name of Henry Lee for this run through the jungle. Okay, that’s all settled. Let’s load ‘er up!

Two covers. Twice the junk.

The leading lad here is Cameroon-born African actor Alphonse Beni, who made his mark in the international VHS marketplace with his vanity set piece, Cameroon Connection (1985; with Bruce Le), and Richard Harrison’s like-minded piece, Three Men on Fire (1986). Beni is one half of a biracial C.I.A duo (the other is the one-and-gone Kurt Eberhard) — both complete with ninja warrior skills — sent into the jungles to rescue a professor, who has developed a laser weapon. He’s been kidnapped by a fellow, rogue C.I.A agent who’s set up his own terrorist organization. Along the way there’s a plane hijacking, a couple of double crosses, bad dubbing, a jailbreak, bad editing, and a showdown inside a music club.

Adding to the Steenbeck reels of confusion: The same year Top Mission was released, Alphonse Beni also starred in Ho’s Fire Operation (1987) and Phillip Gordon (Strike Commando, The Siege of Firebase Gloria, Battle Rats, Kill Zone are a few of his 20-plus credits), who starred in Top Mission, co-stars, once again, with Beni.

Now, we can’t find any jungle Intel that states Fire Operation is an alternate title to Top Mission or if one is a recut-reimage of the other (see Ho’s analog chop socky of Devil’s Dynamite vs. Robo Vampire). But we’ll lay down our pesos on the green felts of a back-room Manila gambling joint that Beni never signed on for a film called Fire Operation and footage from Three Men on Fire and Ninja: Silent Assassin (1987), as well as Top Mission, is how Beni came to “star” in that Godfrey Ho production . . . where ninjas are so skilled, they, apparently, can be air-dropped into chopper blades!

Top Mission . . . incognito?

You can figure it all out with the full film of Top Mission and the trailer for Fire Operation on You Tube.

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

Philippine War Week II: Super Platoon (1987)

This Godfrey Ho Philippine Namsploitationer to cash in on all things John Rambo is actually a pre-John Rambo Hong Kong action-joint known as Black Warrior by Tomas Tang. Tang, by way of his Filmark International Studios, is a name you see oft-mentioned on Ho’s end product since a lot of Tang’s stuff, such as Devil’s Dynamite, ended up as a reedited Ho joint, such as Robo Vampire. In fact, you could dedicate an entire WordPress site just on the wealth of Ho-cum-Tang flicks. Adding to the bola ng katituhan is the fact this also slopped through the VHS marketplace as a sequel to Jungle Rats, aka Jungle Rats 2: Black Warrior. And since the covers are the same, well, now you know from whence all of that stock footage for Jungle Rats, came. Where’s Romano “Rom” Kristoff? Well, he’s not, here. . . .

Compare to Jungle Rats and be amazed!

As in Jungle Rats: we have another reconnaissance team assigned to trek through the jungle borders to rescue a group of soldiers and a couple of American Red-Cross civilians — civies acting as double-agents feeding Intel to the military — taken captive and imprisoned by the Vietcong. Yes, as in several of these movies: the soldiers’ jungle guide is . . . a woman . . . and all of the usual stock footage bridges and hut explosions, ensues . . . as no plot or character, develops.

Apparently, one by the name of “Glenn Clegg” wrote this tumpok ng tae, but I’m pagsusugal’in my pesos that an anglicized, expatriated American actress Sally Nicholls (aka Nichols) script-cobbled (Mission War Flame) this one for Godfrey Ho — who is here, depending on the VHS print you see, as “Christ/Chris Hannah” to “direct” this mess. Who are actors Barry Hyman, Kevin Brooks, and Rachel Sheen: your guess is as good as ours.

If you can figure it all out on You Tube and let us know, thanks! But to help you out . . . no, Platoon Warriors is, in fact, a completely different Philippine-made warsploitationer. And the Michael Dudikoff vehicle Platoon Leader — which we didn’t get to this week — is another completely different film. Well, except for the recycled war footage. . . .

When you can’t evoke Sly Stallone, there’s always Oliver Stone.

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

Philippine War Week II: Mission War Flame (1987)

Godfrey Ho. He’s Joe Livingstone. He’s Willie Palmer. He’s Charles Lee. And here, he is Bruce Lambert behind the camera and Eric Coleman behind the typewriter. You’ll also notice the name of Sally Nicholls credited for “dialog” on many of Godfrey’s films. Well, someone had to thread together Ho’s piecemeal efforts into coherency. And she’s a real person, not an alias — an actress whose work dates back to the ’60s with Lon Chaney, Jr. And you’ll notice notable Hong Kong action star Tao Chiang — 187 credits strong since 1968, with his most recent film, Yang Jingyu, out in 2019 — starring here.

Now, we have to note — taking into account that acting in Philippine cinema is like checking into the Eagles Hotel California: once you sign on the dotted line, you never leave the industry. Especially on the line with Silver Star Films, for they will keep recycling that footage into movie after movie after movie.

So, when you begin dissecting Ho and Chiang’s joint resume, going back to The Deadly Silver Ninja (1978), Ninja Thunderbolt (1984), and Fatal Command (1986) — for nineteen films total, prior to the making of Mission War Flame — you begin to wonder how many of these films did Tao Chiang actually “act” in and how many was he “spliced into” for proxy-stardom? And how much of those films — as well as Mission War Flame — did Godfrey Ho actually shoot. Just look at that opening artillery-filled prologue. A Godfrey Ho production employing all of those extras — and artillery cannons? Nope. Not buying it: it’s from another film. But what film: that is the question. Nothing here looks like it was originally shot, sans some linking materials, but even that is questionable. And all of the footage looks like it’s from 1977 — or earlier — than the 1987 release date of the film.

So, that stock Vietnam war film footage has run the villagers from their jungle mountain enclave. Now we are into the Ho-shot footage — we think — with a bunch of Americans in non-military camouflage lined up to spout some dubbed dialog as they prepare for a mission, aka “the war flamers” of the film. One of our soldiers lets us know, “I am not afraid of anything. Not even war itself.”

Forward! March!

Now we have some Asian actors — probably from another film, as well — as they mount up for the U.S. soldiers’ attack, that is, “the footage” from the other film.

Now, with a third batch of mismatched footage, we’re meeting the family of Paul, a young Vietnamese doctor recruited — against his family’s objections — into a U.S. Marine-backed military force that will go up against the Viet Cong — from that previous batch of spliced-in film — that took over a hill and ran off those villagers. In fact, it’s not just Paul. Apparently, you can just be walking down a dirt road with your girlfriend and you’re “recruited” into the fighting force. Here’s your papers. Report for duty. You’re helping us take back that hill.

Oh, and there’s the tanks that finally appear at the end. Trust us. Godfrey Ho didn’t rent any tanks and it’s from another film.

The “human drama” comes from the fact that Paul and the other recruits love the glory of fighting for their country. Paul’s wife calls him a “monster,” you know, just like with the “Return from ‘Nam” movies made in America. And this is where the B&S About Movies editorial board allows us to drop “ensues” into the review. Only, nothing ensues . . . as this has none of the all-out action assault of most of the other “Philippines War Week” entries we’ve covered this week and back in August during our first tribute to Philippines war flicks.

Ah, but Godfrey comes through in the end. Paul and the two other saps that got recruited into the fight, struggle to raise the American flag on the recaptured hill — only to die in a hail of sniper fire. Now, that would be a heartbreaking ending in another film. Here, the “message,” if any, about the cost of war, and honor, and glory, is lost. For this is just plain bad — and criminal — that this patch job of obscure South Asian films from the ’70s was marketed in the backwash of First Blood and Commando. There’s not even martial arts to wow us. Just a whole lot of “uggghs” and “aihyaaaahs” as bodies fall under hails of squibs.

There’s no trailer to share because, for there to be a trailer, there needs to be a “story” to cut into a trailer with a narrative arc to tell you what the film is about in the first place. But we did find a copy of Mission War Flames on You Tube — but more for you to fast forward through than actually watch. But we know you’re a celluloid masochist . . . Aihyaaaaah!

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