Review of Gang Wars

Gang Wars (1976)
"Buddha is dead... and I'm not feeling so hot myself!"
2 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
From a time when every white kid squinted their eyes, made dying cat howls and broke their legs jumping into the garage wall trying to be Bruce Lee comes a Z-grade blaxploitation zombie kung fu masterpiece that tries - oh, how it tries - to cover all bases, but all it really does is redefine the term "black action". Set mainly in a New York subway, it's so black you can hardly see any action. Can you dig it? Warhawk Tanzania plays kung fu master Luke Curtis, known by his pupils as See-Fu. On a meditation retreat to China, his star pupil Rodan (as in the giant Japanese pterodactyl) unwittingly picks up a silver medallion from the tomb of an ancient demon. Being the Seventies, ugly jewelry is considered the height of fashion, and they return to New York. The demon, meanwhile, bursts out of his tomb, jumps on the first ship to Harlem, possesses a brother-man, and wanders comically through the subway with huge white eyes painted onto his lids with liquid paper, looking for souls to feed on. The trail of murders sparks a gang war between local kung-fu-kicking triads the Red Dragons and ghetto gang the Black Spades (I kid you not). When Rodan has his necklace (and his head) torn off, Warhawk finally has a moment of clarity - see, the meditation finally pays off - and he bravely heads into the subway for a brother-to-brother showdown.

Devil's Express was Warhawk's second and final film after Force Four (aka Black Force, 1975). Warhawk spends most of his screen time running down "honkies" and proving he's a Man of the People - saying no to drugs, giving street kids a hi-five, and eating Chinese takeout - with chopsticks - with his wooooman. What he can't do, and it's apparent from the start, is fight for shinola; as a bottom-shelf Jim Kelly, he's all attitude with no acting OR fighting chops to back it up. His punches land six inches from their intended destinations, all with the most inappropriate sound effects. As a distraction to how bad his fighting is, he steps on a Chinese kid's throat and bursts a blood vessel. Dramatic? No. Ludicrous? Of course. And that's the charm of a Warhawk Tanzania film. By the way - ever seen a Chinese kid with an afro? For a no-name cast, there's a surprise sacrilicious street-side ranting by New York eccentric Brother Theodore: "Moses is dead, Mohammed is dead, Buddha is dead... and I'm not feeling so hot myself." Bad acting, ham-fisted fighting and peppered with the most gut-wrenchingly exaggerated jive ("I know where you're coming from, See-Fu. I can DIG it!"), Devil's Express is a film that succeeds in making Huggy Bear look like Humphrey B. Bear. Can YOU dig it?
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