There’s nothing quite like Mill Creek’s multiple box set reissues of the epic Death Machines to inspire this first review in our two-day celebration of the eleven films of Ron Marchini.
Yeah, we love yah, Leo Fong and Ron Marchini. And it’s great to revisit with you after all these VHS-years in your dual-feature film debuts. But wow. There’s a reason why we don’t speak of Filipino writer-director Manuel Songco with the same fervor as his Pacific Rim brethren of Cirio H. Santiago (Vampire Hookers), Jun Gallardo (Desert Warrior), or Godfrey Ho (Robo Vampire). While Songco directed four more Philippines-only quickies in 1975 before retiring, there’s a reason why this was the final film in his 23-film producing career that began in 1956: The sound on Murder in the Orient is awful. The dubbing-for-U.S. audiences (remember, this is post-Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon and Tom Laughlin Billy Jack) is dreadful. The jump-cuts and editing faux pas would give Alfonzo Brescia (Star Odyssey) pause. And the accents: so think that you couldn’t cut through them with machete and a samurai sword.
Did I mention I love this movie? It’s movies like this serving as the cornerstones to the video store-Eighties that made that post-high school-dreading-college life worth living.
Okay. Let’s get this out of the way: Fong and Marchini are enemies. They kick each other’s asses in a fight scene: they decide to joint forces for the common good.
Their fight — and ensuing bromance — is the result of present-day, rival karate gangs coveting two samurai swords engraved with a treasure map to a Philippines-buried cache of Japanese World War II gold. One of the swords is already in the possession of the Golden Cobra, and the head boss, King Cobra, wants that other sword. So Gustavo, his second-in-command, calls in the infamous assassin Kang the Butcher — and during the acquisition, the sister of peaceful Hong Kong martial arts instructor Lao Tsu (Leo Fong, of the Frank Harris two-fer Killpoint and Low Blow) is killed. Once in Manila, Lao meets Paul Martelli, his dead sister’s American boyfriend, who’s also looking for answers and revenge. Now they must fight an endless supply of Golden Cobra warriors and stop the sacred treasure swords from falling into the wrong hands.
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 5 Gauntlets. And he has four more films in various stations of filming and pre/post production: Pact of Vengeance (with Jon-Mikl Thor!), Asian Cowboys, Runaway Killer, Hard Way Heroes, and Junkers. You catch up with Leo at his website, LeoTFong.com. And good news: you can watch Challenge of 5 Gauntlets as a free-with-ads-stream on TubiTV.
Born in California and rising through the U.S. Army’s ranks to become a drill sergeant, in his civilian life, Ron Marchini earned the distinction as the best defensive fighter in the U.S., and, by 1972, was ranked the third best fighter in the country. Upon winning several worldwide tournaments, and with Robert Clouse’s directing success igniting a worldwide martial arts film craze with Enter the Dragon (1973), the South Asian film industry beckoned. After making his debut in Murder in the Orient, Marchini began a long friendship with filmmaker Paul Kyriazi, who directed Ron in his next film, the epic Death Machines, then later, in the first of Ron’s two appearances as post-apoc law officer John Travis, Omega Cop (so good, we reviewed it twice).
Sadly, there are no online trailers or streams of Murder in the Orient to share.