Review of Gang Wars

Gang Wars (1976)
Modest but fun kung fu/blaxploitation/horror trash
14 December 2011
Yeah, this one is a good ways away from being as awesome as it might have been. Which is not to say that its a complete failure, rather that those enticed by its combination of genres into thinking it might be some trash colossus should substantially downgrade their expectations. It reminded me most of some of the better works of Godfrey Ho, those films in which the cut 'n splice ninja flick maestro actually had an original script and a cast of semi capable performers. Inept, insane and idiotic in roughly equal measures, but conducted with verve and never dull. The inspired story is of martial arts school leader Luke Curtis who goes to visit his sifu in Hong Kong along with his shiftless buddy Roldan (though I preferred the subtitles in which his name was Rodan) who steals a sacred medallion and unleashes a demon, who returns to New York, possesses a Chinese man and sets up shop in a subway, killing at random and contributing to a race war between Chinese and black gangs. Lots of fighting ensues, as well as plenty of laughter. The attitude behind the writing seems to have been to cram the film with incident so that the audience could never relax and process the cinematic shortcomings. So more or less every moment has either fighting, people saying stupid things, the monster dragging people to their doom or spurts of picturesque photography in the Hong Kong section or vintage urban grime in the rest. The fighting isn't especially convincing (plenty of blows fall obviously wide plus some dodgy framing and people moving at unrealistic speeds), but it's a lot better than expected, with a cast that at least know how to move and a shooting style that lets you see whats going on. It helps that much of the fighting involves hero Luke, played by the awesomely named and almost as awesomely afroed War Hawk Tanzania. His character isn't as badass as his name but he has a solid presence and carries the film nicely, delivering his frequently hilarious jive dialogue with aplomb. In fact everyone gives it their all, even extras like a nasty old bag lady, crazy street preacher or clueless cop. Sadly the monster scenes are quite weak and there are only a couple of gore shots, also the dodgy quality of current available prints renders the subway scenes too dark. The climax is too abrupt as well, though when ultimately revealed the monster is kinda cool in a cheap-jack kinda way. Altogether its a likable rather than good film and a bit tricky to fully appreciate until a spruced up DVD appears, but trash junkies could do far worse with 80 minutes of their time. Slightly generous 6/10 from me...
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