A Dragon’s Tale: Ron Van Clief in BLACK DRAGON’S REVENGE (Madison World Films 1975)

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.

Dig those crazy 70’s sideburns!

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.

The Black Dragon in action!

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 “The Black Dragon” Van Clief today

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/

Kung-Foolery: Jackie Chan in DRUNKEN MASTER (Seasonal Film Corp. 1978)

Jackie Chan’s  combination of slapstick comedy and kung-fu action helped make him a worldwide superstar, and DRUNKEN MASTER put him over the top as a cinematic force to be reckoned with. While I’m no expert on the genre, I’ve seen my fare share, and I can tell you this movie’s more than a few belts above because of Chan’s natural charm and comic timing.

As per usual with these films, the plot’s thinner as a Chow Mein noodle, which is okay because who needs a plot when you’ve got Jackie Chan? The dubbed version I saw casts Jackie as Freddie Wong, a rascally scamp whose father runs a kung-fu school. Pop tries to break the spirited Freddie without success, so he sends for Great-Uncle So Hi, a tough old buzzard with a fondness for saki (hence the title!). So Hi drives Freddie so hard with his grueling training the youngster runs away! But an encounter with the deadly assassin Thunderleg, in which Freddie suffers abject humiliation, finds Freddie crawling back to his Drunken Master to perfect the Technique of the 8 Drunken Gods. And just in time, for Pop’s unscrupulous enemies have hired Thunderleg to kill him, resulting in a Freddie vs Thunderleg rematch that’s a dizzying display of both athletic grace and Jackie’s comic gifts.

The film’s an almost non-stop orgy of graceful kung-fu action scenes highlighted by Jackie’s comedic talents. It’s a “star vehicle” all the way, and launched Chan to international acclaim. He’d been around the Hong Kong film scene awhile, as a child actor in the 60’s, a stuntman in the 70’s (working on the Bruce Lee films FISTS OF FURY, ENTER THE DRAGON , and GAME OF DEATH), and even a Hong Kong porn flick before finally breaking through with SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW and this movie, catapulting him to “overnight” stardom. His athletic martial arts moves have a balletic quality to him, and his comedic chops are impeccable.

Chan didn’t really break through stateside until 1995’s RUMBLE ON THE DOCKS, though he’d been seen here in 1980’s THE BIG BRAWL and Burt Reynolds’s CANNONBALL RUN movies. Thanks to VHS and DVD, fans quickly caught up on his Hong Kong-made Kung-Foolery, and mainstream films like RUSH HOUR and SHANGHAI NOON elevated him to his rightful place as a major action star. DRUNKEN MASTER was the second film for director Yuen Woo-ping, who also made SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW with Jackie (and whose father Yuen Siu-tien plays Master So Hi), and his talents led him to mainstream work as well, choreographing the action scenes in the MATRIX and KILL BILL movies.

DRUNKEN MASTER gives fans the opportunity to see a young Jackie Chan honing his screen persona, and doing what he does best – giving audiences plenty of laughs to go along with plenty of action! Like I said, I’m no expert on Martial Arts movies, but I know what I like, and I liked this one a lot. Chances are, you will, too!

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