With episodes being very simple and 30 minutes long, it seems the show is for children. It reads like a 'traditional' Japanese superhero program (minus the sci-fi elements & FX), right down to the little kids and a bumbling wannabe hero. Our heroic protagonist (Yasuaki Kurata himself) takes on several henchmen throughout each thrilling episode, before squaring off against a main, episodic guest villain to kill at the grand finale of each chapter. I recognized the music as being by the one and only Shunsuke Kikuchi and the theme song is sung by Masato Shimon! Anybody who's ever seen a Japanese superhero program that matters has heard his voice. I won't name all the Japanese sci-fi programs he's nearly burst is lungs for, but international audiences might remember him for singing the Jet Jaguar song at the end of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (Toho; 1973). So: With the music and plot structure, TATAKAE! DRAGON must seem pretty typical of Japanese '70s kiddy TV. But without the fantasy & monster elements, it concentrates exclusively on martial arts. So TATAKAE! DRAGON seems violent for kiddy fare, even by Japan's 1970s standards! With no inanimate robots or mythical creatures, it's obvious that real humans are killing real humans in every episode! Knives are thrown, bones are broken. So if ever there was a TV program that made you want to say "They just don't make 'em like that anymore!", it's this obscure, nearly forgotten classic, TATAKAE! DRAGON!
Even by '70s kung fu standards, TATAKAE! DRAGON is cheap. It's no worse than the Hong Kongese Bruce Li movies coming out at the time, but sometimes it's evident and the writing suffered. For example, in episode #3, our investigative Dragon (Yasuaki Kurata) is in HK watching a Peking opera performance. The idea being that one of the on-stage acrobats is that episode's main villain Red Scorpion, in disguise. We only see the guy's face in tight insert- it appears the performance wasn't intentionally part of the series. Then when the typically impressive show ends and the actor is proud and takes a bow, there's no audience applause! It's silence, probably because not enough budget was put into the sound. Also, limited planning went into the action scenes, resulting in confusing and moments where it's hard to tell what just happened.
But despite its budgetary flaws, I still think it's a superb program. Kurata is a great performer and I sometimes rooted for his evil characters in HK movies because he usually out-shined the good guys. TATAKAE! DRAGON is his show, and he goes all out: Not only are there entertaining karate fights in every episode, but he did a lot of his own stunts: Sliding down stairs (ouch!) while grappling a villain, scaling many walls using no wires or mattresses in case he falls, narrowly missing getting run over by a jeep, and clinging to the roof of a speeding car (a good ten years before Jackie Chan did these things). The choreography is definitely Japanese. Though the first couple episodes take place in HK and utilize familiar Chinese actors (i.e. Yang 'Bolo' Sze & Bruce Liang), the style of action does not look like the work of HK choreographers. The battles aren't that long, and tend to minimize the endless exchange of HK arm-blocks. Fortunately, the photography evades the sloppy, hand-held work that plagued so many Japanese karate movies of the time, and TATAKAE! DRAGON's karate spats thrilled me far more than those in Chiba's gritty STREETFIGHTER stuff.
From what I've seen, I found the series to be consistently entertaining even in Japanese-it helps to have a script so simple it's virtually non-existent. All you need to know is that Yasuaki Kurata is a good guy, and members of Shadow (a gang of extortionists who hire colorful assassins) are anything but! That's pretty much it, though there is the typical "avenging-my-teacher's-death" premise, & there are always formulaic clichés like damsels-in-distress, who are often tied up as a hostage (if only to instigate the climactic rescue mission & battle).
This exciting show deals with Dragon (Yasuaki Kurata). He helps run an orphanage, but is also a righteous martial artist, so he spends more time battling the evil 'Shadow' gang than counseling kids. The course of the show has him traveling all over Asia (from HK, to Macau, back to HK, to Japan, to the Phillipines, etc.) to battle the extortionists of Shadow: Villains with names like Red Scorpion, Blue Cat and Red-Faced Tiger.
There are occasional familiar faces who play the villains: Yang Sze is in the first couple episodes, and a later episode features a villainous Tetsu Sumi (the karate expert in Gordon Liu's CHALLENGE OF THE NINJA). It all depends on the country the episode was filmed (on-location) in. This also applies to the occasional guest heroes: When Kurata is in HK, he teams up with Interpole agent Bruce Liang, but when he's in Japan, he gets help from fellow martial artist Tetsyua Ushio (best known as the heroic samurai who changed into KAIKETSU LION MARU and FUUN LION MARU).
Five episodes were spliced together to form the badly dubbed kung fu movie, THE FIGHTING DRAGON (Ocean Shores; 1980). If nothing else, this English version is entertaining. I gotta' give the Filipino (?) dubbers credit for renaming the villains 'Black Panther'. After all, the bad guys wear panther emblems, so it makes more sense than 'Shadow' (their original name).