For this next edition of “Kung Fu Gunk Fu,” I want to ask: Have you ever wanted to see a glacially paced movie wherein a multiracial band of martial arts assassins with no personalities do the bidding of an evil woman, and only a double-digit-IQ police lieutenant and a bland hero with no real ambitions or hope in life can stop them mostly through laziness? If so, Paul Kyriazi’s 1976 classic Death Machines is the film for you.
This film is actually the first among my kung fu reviews to be directed by a white guy and presumably take place in an indistinct city in America. However, it’s a tough Japanese woman who is responsible for controlling the criminal world of wherever the hell this takes place. Also, she’s trained three assassins, displaying diversity with one white, one black and one Asian assassin to do her bidding. And not one of them says a word throughout the film, despite all three appearing first among the cast in the opening credits (no, it’s not alphabetical).
Paul Kyriazi wrote and directed this film, and is known for directing other classics such as The Weapons of Death, One Way Out and Omega Cop, which could be a sequel to Omega Man for all I know based on the generic IMDb summary: “In the future, a cop goes after a gang of slave traders.” However, it’s Joe Walders who’s credited with co-writing the screenplay and conceiving the original story for Death Machines. But when I perform a search for “Joe Walders death machines story” on Google, I instead mainly get a list of unrelated obituaries that make me sad. Thankfully I can recap Death Machines here to make me feel better.
Like I usually do, I’ll briefly go over the cast to start us off. I’ll go by opening credits list.
First up, we’ve got Ron Marchini, who is our white assassin. His personality is best described as mute, and… um, I guess nothing else other than brainwashed.
Next, we’ve got Michael Chong, who is our Asian assassin. Personality? Mute and brainwashed.
Then there’s Joshua Johnson, who is our black assassin. I’d say his biggest personality traits are also being mute and brainwashed.
What would our brainwashed, mute assassins be without the brainwasher at hand? It’s Mari Honjo as Madame Lee! She’s almost mastered the slurred drunk American accent.
Time to introduce our two heroes, who impressively don’t really have to do much of anything to stop the villains. The first hero is Ron Ackerman as Lieutenant Clay Forrester,
and the other is John Lowe as Frank, who pleasantly spends most of the film complaining about how unpleasant and pointless life is.
And finally, we have Chuck Katzakian as Mr. Gioretti, a man whose mustache and arrogance outweigh his wits (as you’ll see).
With this cast, we have a film that has to be the cinematic high point of kung fu, culminating in a perfect experience. Who says Americans can’t write and direct a kung fu classic?
On to the opening credits, which consist of this art piece being zoomed in on from all sides as the faces watch the credits form.
An ominous synth (quite common in the films I review) plays to set the tone as the credits play, and we see the evil face pyramid dramatically open to reveal the film’s title.
Oooh! Looks like the white assassin was also the producer of this film.
Why didn’t he move on to greater things after this, I wonder? A great actor and a great producer? Damn shame.
The film opens with a Japanese woman looking on stoically into the distance, watching as an Asian dude walks over a little bridge to fight another Asian dude.
They fight it out on the tiny bridge for a little while, one with a sword, the other with a three-piece nunchuck bo thing.
Then the woman smirks, and looks elsewhere, turning her gaze to these two black guys fighting, one with a bo spear thing, the other with a sword.
It would seem that there’s some segregation going on here, like only fighters of the same skin color can be an even match for each other. That theory certainly seems to hold water when the lady looks over at a couple of white guys.
The white dudes don’t even have weapons, simply using their hands and legs to fight. Is Paul Kyriazi perhaps suggesting that white guys don’t even need weapons to fight effectively, or is he suggesting they’re too stupid to use them? Hitting us hard with some controversial subtext already, I see.
After watching each match progress with some more fancy fight moves, one of the Asians slashes his opponent’s throat, presumably revealing competent Assassin #1.
Then the black guy with the bo staff defeats his opponent, revealing competent Assassin #2.
Meanwhile, one of the white guys pulls out a knife, acting slightly threatening, and the other one pulls out a gun and shoots, like every white guy would.
All three of the remaining fighters walk away from the scene, as this mystery woman meets up with this mysterious figure in a dark room.
This man with an inexplicably echoey voice tells the woman that he’s been trying to develop these “death machines” to do whatever he wants, and the woman insists they’re perfect. Her slurred, muffled voice makes it sound like she took free English lessons from a drunkard in an alley, who probably just taught her to get in her pants.
It also becomes clear that the guy behind the desk here is hiding an embarrassing beard which covers his entire face.
The man demands that the woman put these guys through another series of tests to ensure their perfection. He specifically wants them to target this dude and his “people”:
According to the guy, this man in the pic is part of “an old, obsolete organization.”
The woman says it shall be done.
Cut to boobs!
And pan to our target, who likely owns this place and hired the women lounging around.
He calls himself “Mr. G” to the guy over the phone, and tells whoever it is that he’s got two hit jobs involving a Chinese guy who runs a karate studio, and Nathan Adams, the “bank VP.” He then hangs up. Surely this will all work in his favor.