Thursday, December 10, 2015
MEN OF THE DRAGON (1974)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
Some kind soul finally posted this moldy oldie on YouTube, so that I was finally able to see the whole film for the first time since its television debut forty years ago. I remembered little about it except that it was nearly a beat-for-beat reprise of 1973's cinematic success ENTER THE DRAGON, and that leading lady Katie Saylor was more enjoyable to watch in her kung-fu scenes that her low-wattage co-stars, Jared Martin and Robert Ito. I was curious, though, as to whether the telefilm had any of the touches that caused me to label ENTER as a film in the uncanny domain.
As in ENTER human trafficking plays a big part in the plot. Evildoer Balaslev (Joseph Wiseman, best known for his role as the title character of DOCTOR NO) maintains his own island where he processes abducted women for sale overseas. In contrast to ENTER's villain, this one's not involved in holding any martial-arts tournaments, nor is he a practitioner of the arts himself. Still, like the ENTER villain, Balaslev keeps around a small army of Asians clad in karate-gi get-ups, though their utility as guards seems dubious since none of them carry guns.
The heroes are brought into Balaslev's machinations in a very straightforward way. Martial artists Jan and Lisa Kimbro (Martin and Saylor) arrive in Hong Kong to visit their old training-buddy Li-Teh (Ito). Some of Balaslev's thugs spot blonde Lisa and decide she's prime stuff, so they wait until she's alone and kidnap her. Jan and Li-Teh go looking for her and find their way to Sexual Slavery Island (not really "white slavery," since most of the victims are Asian girls).
It's no less odd here than in ENTER to see a human-trafficking ring merged with a martial-arts dojo, but in neither movie does the villain's gang receive enough narrative emphasis that it would qualify as a "weird society" either in the naturalistic domain or in its uncanny counterpart. Balaslev doesn't use any super-villain-ish traps or weapons; and the closest he comes to an "outre device" is a drug that he uses to sap the wills of his slaves, including Lisa. But since roughly equivalent drugs exist in the present-day world, I have to view the will-sapping drug as naturalistic.
Though some viewers wondered if the telefilm might have been planned as a back-door pilot for a series, the script doesn't give the three principals any more background than is needed to explain why they're all martial-arts whizzes. None of the fights are particularly exciting, except a duel between two of the heroes. In Balaslev's only really memorable evil deed, he separates the captive Li-Teh and Jan, tells each of them that his buddy is dead, and then hoaxes them into fighting one another with their eyes covered.
There's not much in the way of sociological East-meets-West myths here. There's one moment in which a Chinese girl, implicitly Balaslev's favorite, becomes piqued when he seems to be bestowing his attention upon cute blonde Lisa. But one could easily blink and miss said moment. There's also a very odd scene in which Jan tries to give his aging martial-arts mentor advice on how to update his dojo for the modern age, and unfortunately that scene is both longer and more painful to sit through.