Steve Chase (James Ryan, whose Kiai [the yell martial artists do when practicing their art] my brother and I used to imitate constantly when we were kids) is an agent (or maybe a mercenary or just an upstanding citizen, but he is definitely the top dog in the South African martial arts world) who is approached by Candy Kane (Anneline Kriel, 1974’s Miss World) to rescue her scientist father Dr. Horatio Kane (John Ramsbottom) from the clutches of the evil Marduk nee Wellington Forsythe III (Michael Mayer, who has a fantastic, stentorian voice and a horridly fake beard). But Steve will need the best team of men he knows to invade Marduk’s compound, rescue Horatio, and foil the villain’s nasty plan to control the minds of the world’s population. It’s time to get the band back together.
One of the things that struck me about Ivan Hall’s Kill and Kill Again (the sequel to 1977’s Kill or be Killed) was this idea of games of one sort or another that runs throughout the film. Steve takes on Gorilla (Ken Gampu) in a tug of war. Hotdog (Bill Flynn) is found playing a game with a bunch of men where he tosses a loaded gun somewhere in a room, and the last one to remain uninjured wins the pot. The Fly (Stan Schmidt) makes Steve’s pursuit of him into a game, challenging our hero to prove his worth before he’ll follow him. Later, Gorilla and Hotdog play poker across the hood of their ride while the other characters take out some random minions. And, of course, you can’t have a film that’s this indebted to the films of Bruce Lee (Game of Death and Enter the Dragon being foremost in my mind) without having an open air tournament where the good guys can defeat the bad guys in single combat. This game motif appeals to a great many people, because there is no ambiguity about what is happening or who the victor is. There is a focus, especially when the tournament approach is used, where the truth of the characters can clearly be sussed out. In a gladiatorial arena, there is nothing to hide behind but your pure wits and your physical skills. This is the same sort of thing that appeals to many children (of all ages) for the same reasons. I know when I was young, playing with my action figures usually transformed from some paper-thin storyline into a tournament milieu pretty fast. It satisfies the jones from questions like, “Who would win in a fight? The Hulk or Batman?” It’s why pro wrestling and MMA and fighter video games are so popular. The one-on-one death match is as primal as our modern society can get, and it serves to prove that, for all the layers of civilization we paper over it, our base nature is ofttimes more animal than man.
Likewise, there are some issues of masculinity going on in the film. Steve is an alpha male. He likes his jeans painted on and his shirt opened down to his glory trail (if he had a glory trail). He lays down the law, and the others must follow. He even proves that he is the better of the Fly, a character people speak of with great reverence. All of the men love to go around with their shirts off, displaying their torsos (though this may just be because the film was produced in South Africa). Naturally, when Candy shows up, Steve has to let his chauvinist pig flag fly hard. Right off the bat, he states that he doesn’t work with women. After she gets to go along anyway, he deigns to show her some karate moves…but first she needs to cook them breakfast. He tells her to stay behind and look after their ride. The Fly queries about Candy, “why does this soft lady travel with warriors?” To no one’s surprise, Candy can’t be kept under a man’s thumb and is capable of handling herself in physical situations. On the flip side, Marduk surrounds himself with hot women in bikinis or small terrycloth shorts or similar, but he has to control their minds in order for them to do it for him. He wears his brown ensemble with his sexless tunic at all times. He is petulant when things go askew (like getting upset when Dr. Kane summons Marduk to his lab). His right hand, Minerva (Marloe Scott Wilson), is unlike the floozies Marduk keeps around. She has short, hot pink hair. She dresses in leather and animal print pants (also sometimes hot pink). She addresses Marduk by pet names (chuckles, dimples, poopsie, popsicle, et cetera), and it upsets him when she does this on front of the other women. In fact, the oddness of their relationship and the oddness of these two characters themselves makes me think that they are supposed to be coded as a homosexual couple or at the absolute minimum as deviant. Marduk is effete, and Minerva is rather butch. So, in a world where the heteronormative is what’s desired most of all, this villain and his henchwoman are somehow even more destined to meet defeat than would normally be the case.
I got the sense that Marduk was a classic bullied child who grew up to be an even bigger bully. This is evidenced not only by his demeanor but also by his relationship with Minerva, the only person (outside his guards, I assume) whom he doesn’t drug and who is clearly the more forceful personality of the two. But he uses his mind (and, we can surmise if his pre-world-conquest name is any indication, his money) to advance his nefarious scheme, and it is with his mind that he desires to defeat Steve Chase. For the armies of martial artists that Marduk trains and admires, he likely doesn’t know a leg sweep from a leg of lamb. Even his champion, the Optimus (Eddie Dorie), is the complete opposite of Marduk: tall, muscular, stoic, a skilled hand-to-hand combatant. Nevertheless, Steve and his cohorts come out on top at every turn. Indeed, even when Marduk thinks he has out-thought Steve, he’s still shown up handily. Whenever the villain attempts to be physical, he’s a failure at it. This is why he has so many henchmen. That said, there is a crosscut sequence where both Marduk and Steve explain their martial arts philosophies. Marduk talks about breaking traditions and transcending the physical and mental being. Steve talks about elegance, unity, art, and precision. Neither character is wrong, per se. As it happens, they are quite similar, and it is easy to see their thought processes interweaving with one another, as if the one were speaking the other’s lines when not on screen and vice versa. All the same, Steve practices what he preaches, whereas Marduk has others do it for him. The combination of philosophy and physicality trumps philosophy alone in the same way it can be said that talk minus action equals nothing.
MVT: I love the team aspect of the film, and while not all of them are overly distinctive (the Fly and Gypsy Billy [Norman Robinson] are very much alike, especially once the mystique of the former is stripped away and replaced with a lot of hokey, Chinese fortune cookie pontifications), they are all enjoyable, and they mesh extremely well with one another.
Make or Break: The tournament is the Make. It was good enough for me when Lion-O and Snake Eyes squared off, and it’s good enough for me today.