Two martial arts flicks I caught at my beloved Oritani Theater back in the 80s. I recently revisited them again for nostalgia’s sake.
KILL OR BE KILLED (1977)
Despite the poster claiming it’s the “Greatest Hollywood Martial-Arts Movie Ever Made!”, flick is a South African martial arts movie that was filmed in 1977 and didn’t see a release until 1980…which is when I saw it. Story has a former Nazi, Baron von Rudolff (Norman Coombes) inviting martial artists to his desert castle. Included in the group is Steve Hunt (James Ryan) who is getting a little suspicious as to The Baron’s motives. It’s revealed he wishes to avenge a past disgrace on the perpetrator of that disgrace, Miyagi (Raymond Ho-Tung) by defeating Miyagi’s best fighters in a tournament. Hunt still thinks things are rotten in Rudolff’s castle and leaves with his martial artist, lover Olga (Charlotte Michelle). The Baron sends one of his thugs to kidnap Olga, though, and now Hunt must find his way back into Rudolff’s castle to rescue her…and does it by joining Miyagi’s team! Now it’s kill or be killed as Rudolff’s tournament turns deadly!
Directed by South African filmmaker Ivan Hall and written by C.F. Beyers-Boshoff, this is a very routine martial arts flick in every sense of the word. The plot has been done to death in the genre and the fights, staged by Norman Robinson and Stan Schmidt who also appear as fighters, are all fairly by-the-numbers. The film is slow moving, even at 90 minutes and sometimes resembles a home movie with it’s amateurish style and laughably staged scenes. There is definitely some entertainment here, but most of it is from how bad this all is. One can’t help but giggle at the model that is used for Rudolff’s castle, snicker at Hunt’s need to summersault often, and chuckle at the odd and uninspired training sequences…and if these are all expert martial artists, then why do they need to be trained? It’s a bit of a hoot at times, though not as much as we’d like it to be and takes itself a lot more seriously than it should.
Cast is pretty bland across the boards, though actor James Ryan does have a bit of charisma, despite not being much of an actor. I also remember reading, back in the day, that he wasn’t an actual martial artist, but a dancer and as such, he does mimic the moves very well. Charlotte is pretty and sassy as Olga, but is a damsel in distress for the last half of the movie. Coombes is a bland villain as The Baron and Ho-Tung isn’t much better as his adversary Miyagi. Rounding out is small person Danie DuPlessis as Chico, The Baron’s dwarf assistant who takes a liking to Steve, the only person that shows the little man respect. DuPlessis is likable despite being in a very cliché role and being humiliated often by the other bully martial artists.
Overall, it’s an OK movie that can be enjoyed more for laughs and nostalgia than as an actual martial arts flick. It seems to have a bit of a reputation, though not sure why. It was successful enough to warrant a sequel…which is our second feature…
2 and 1/2 fists! (The rating is purely for entertainment value in this case, not film quality -MZNJ)
KILL AND KILL AGAIN (1981)
Sequel is odd in that James Ryan is definitely supposed to be the same character from Kill Or Be Killed, but is called Steve ‘Chase’ in this movie. The film is a lot more fun as it takes a far lighter tone and serves up more of a James Bond-style adventure with Chase pitted against a megalomaniac. Story has martial arts champion Chase (Ryan) hired by the beautiful Kandy Kane (former Miss World Anneline Kriel) to rescue her father from the fortress of Marduk (Michael Mayer), a madman bent on world domination. Dr. Horatio Kane (John Ramsbottom) has been taken due to the fact that he has accidentally discovered a mind control formula when experimenting with making fuel from potatoes…not making this up! Ryan reassembles his old team of Hot Dog (Bill Flynn), The Fly (Stan Schmidt), Gorilla (Ken Gampu from The Wild Geese) and Gypsy Billy (Norman Robinson) and head to Marduk’s stronghold to take on his army of mind-controlled fighters…but Marduk is ready and waiting!
While it’s still not a good movie in a conventional sense, sequel is a lot more fun and even the fight scenes are a bit more energetic. Again directed, though with a much lighter hand, by Ivan Hall and this time written with a wink at the James Bond series by John Crowther. The pace is still not as brisk as an action flick like this should be and it is about ten minutes too long, but at least this entry is having some fun with itself, as opposed to the previous entry’s taking itself far too seriously. There is some outright comedy bits thrown in with the PG rated violence and Ryan’s team are almost out of a comic book themselves. The film is still low budget, but seems to have a bit more production value than it’s predecessor and Hall seems a bit more relaxed in the director’s chair, going with all the silliness, this time, instead trying to pass it off as a serious action flick as with KOBK.
Again, none of the cast are solid actors, but most get the material and seem to be having fun. Ryan once agin shows some charisma and also the ability to not take himself too seriously. Kriel is a pretty heroine who gets to kick a little butt herself. Mayer reminds one of Paul Bartel a bit and seems to be a bit of a wussy villain under all his bluster and that seems intentional. Flynn, Gampu, Schmidt and Robinson all have fun with their comic book-ish characters with Schmidt and Robinson once again choreographing the fights, as they did with the previous film, though this time to better effect.
Overall, it’s a lot more fun than KOBK, though could have used a quicker pace and a bit tighter edit. The cast and the director are having a lot more fun this time around and it makes a still bad movie a lot more entertaining to watch. When pairing both film together there is definitely some fun to be had even if most of it is unintentional. Despite the success of both movies, a Kill Or Be Killed III never materialized and it was the last we heard of martial arts champion and adventurer, Steve Chase (Hunt?).
3 fists. (The rating is purely for entertainment value in this case, not film quality -MZNJ)