I thought I’d seen all the 70’s Kung-Fu movie greats – Bruce Lee , Jackie Chan , Jim Kelly , Sonny Chiba – but I’d never even heard of Ron Van Clief until I watched BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE. Guess his films never played at my neighborhood Grindhouse, which is a shame, because Mr. Van Clief is one serious ass-kicker! The former Marine, Vietnam vet, NYC cop, and multiple-time martial arts champion starred in a series of action-packed films showcasing his dazzling technique, and BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE makes for one helluva introduction.
No, BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE is not a sequel to Bela Lugosi’s 1942 Monogram flick BLACK DRAGONS, but a continuation of the badass character Van Clief played in his film debut, 1974’s BLACK DRAGON. Here, Van Clief is sent by an Exploitation film producer from San Francisco to Hong Kong to investigate the death of Bruce Lee. Teaming up with his friend, fellow martial artist Charles “La Pantera” Bonet, they go against the odds battling bad guys as they search for the truth behind the mystery. The somewhat convoluted plotline really doesn’t matter, as it’s just an excuse for some amazingly dazzling action set pieces, and concludes with an astounding battle on the beach between Van Clief and the (heretofore unrevealed) head villain that’s an eye-popping tableau of violence.
Van Clief himself choreographed all the fight scenes, and the result is total Grndhouse heaven, with some bizarre imagery and good humor thrown in. The acting leaves much to be desired, even for a kung-fu entry, but who cares… these films are all about the fighting! Ron Van Clief’s acting career was brief (and he’s no Spencer Tracy!), and is erroneously credited as Ron Van CLIFF, but his talent as a weapon of ass-kicking destruction can’t be denied. Fans of Italian cinema might remember him from 1978’s THE SQUEEZE, in which he played opposite Lee Van Cleef, who was a badass himself and amateur martial artist.
Ron Van Clief came out of retirement from active competition at age 51 to enter the MMA Octagon, losing to Royce Gracie in a gutsy effort, and served for a time as UFC Commissioner. He’s still around today, training students and probably in better shape at age 76 than you and me both put together! Though we never really find out who killed Bruce Lee in BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE, we do get to watch one of the great kung-fu masters in action doing what he does best, and Ron Van Clief makes BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE worth your time.
BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE is currently streaming on https://www.thefilmdetective.com/