Ladies’ man Rick Masters and his rag tag salvage crew take on explosive assignment in their one and only adventure KILL A DRAGON, a manufactured-on-demand release from MGM.
When a shipload of expensive Nitra2 explosives washes up on a Chinese island, its inhabitants decide to salvage them and sell them on the black market to better their circumstances; unfortunately, the cargo’s owner is the ruthless Macau Mafia man Patray (Fernando Lamas, THE VIOLENT ONES) and he wants his cargo back. When the villagers, lead by Win Lim (Kam Tong, FLOWER DRUM SONG) refuse to reveal the cargo’s whereabouts, Patray gives them three days to hand it over and his men block anything from coming in or going out from the island. Win Lim and two cohorts set sail by night for the mainland and are followed by two of Patray’s men. While trying to evade them, Win Lim and company stumble upon the shack of salvager Rick Masters (Jack Palance, MARQUIS DE SADE’S JUSTINE) who is unwrapping his “little tiger” Tisa (1960 Miss Israel Alizia Gur, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) for his birthday. Rick – with a little help from Tisa – make mincemeat of Patray’s men, and arranges to meet with Win Lim later so he and Tisa can continue their birthday celebration. Rick conducts his business out of the Suzie Wong Bar where Tisa makes her money as a pool shark (and where the awful theme song plays over and over again). Win Lim propositions him to transport the Nitra2 from his island to Hong Kong; however, Rick is reluctant to take on Patray and advises Win Lim to hand over the cargo. When Win Lim offers him a third of the profits, Rick takes the job on and rounds up his crew: sleazy tour guide Vigo (Aldo Ray, HAUNTED), fight fixer Ian (Don Knight, SWAMP THING) and karate-boxer Jimmie (Hans Lee, 7 WOMEN). Rick returns to Suzie Wong to find Tisa gagged and tied up. She tells him that Patray’s henchmen snatched Win Lim and his partners, so Rick and his crew rescue them from Patray’s Macau lair. Patray isn’t too annoyed, since Rick himself can now lead him to the hidden cargo. Rick, Win Lim and the others arrive at the island and hurriedly transport the dangerous cargo to his boat. Patray arrives and offers him a finder’s fee equal to the amount Win Lim has offered. If Rick sides with Patray, he’ll be betraying Win Lim and sudden love interest Chunhyang (former Miss Hong Kong Judy Dan, WAR IS HELL) and collaborating with the man who caused the death of one of his divers in a previous salvage job gone wrong; however, if Rick sides with Win Lim against Patray, there will surely be bloodshed.
KILL A DRAGON doesn’t really live up to anything it promises explicitly or implicitly. It wants to be a James Bond-esque action thriller, but it does not make effective use of any of its elements from its cast to its exotic backdrop. Palance’s Rick Masters (who seems like he was named for a potential film series) isn’t very interesting, nor is Lamas’ Patray particularly charismatic or ominous (the script tries to set up an amiable rivalry between the two, but it gives them nothing quippy to say and feels more like padding, their wager also pretty much trivializes the lives of several other characters). Tang speaks entirely in stiltedly-delivered “Oriental” aphorisms, and talks a good game for someone risking the lives of all of his fellow islanders (even if he did manage to get the cargo to Hong Kong, there’s really nothing keeping Patray from retaliating violently). Gur is just eye-candy, and often hard to understand with her accent when she’s yelling at Rick; although she isn’t the sort of bed bunny that just stands around while the guy does all of the fighting. Dan as Win Lim’s daughter is set up to be Rick’s obligatory love interest – and she insists on calling him “St. George” so much that the allusion wears thin – and to be threatened by Patray; however, the former is underdeveloped and the latter never happens (although Patray is not above threatening a child). Ray (despite having to wear a dress at one point) actually gets by with his dignity intact, while Knight is given nothing to do and contributes only an annoying Cockney accent.
The fight scenes are so lamely choreographed and edited, with Palance just stumbling about and barreling into his foes, and what we see of Lee’s karate is given the usual under-cranked camera treatment. With a shipload of explosives, one would expect an explosive finale; there are some explosions, but they are very small-scale and anti-climactic visually and narratively). The coda scene seems to be setting up a sequel, but it falls flat in terms of both suspense and comedy. Although the action scenes don’t bear it out, director Michael Moore was better known as a second unit director whose films included AIRPORT ’77, DAMNATION ALLEY, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, and the three good entries in INDIANA JONES franchise. Producer Aubrey Schenck started out in the legal department of 20th Century Fox. He submitted a story to the studio and ended up producing the resultant film: SHOCK (1946) with Vincent Price (an underrated thriller that made the PD rounds on tape and disc for years before Fox finally gave it the special edition treatment as part of their noir series). He also penned the story for FRANKENSTEIN 1970 and also produced ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, SUPERBEAST and DAUGHTERS OF SATAN (his last feature credit). The film was co-written by Schenck’s son George, who also scripted FUTUREWORLD and ESCAPE 2000 (more recently, he has been on the producing and writing staff of the TV action drama NCIS). Other than the horrid theme song, composer Philip Stringer’s score is largely undistinguished (however, he’s likely rolling in royalties for his much used song “Santa Baby”).
Released in 1967 theatrically by United Artists, and then to television four years later, KILL A DRAGON seems not to have had a U.S. VHS release. MGM’s manufactured-on-demand DVD features an attractive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors seem to be a result of the muted color palette that favors blues, grays, and the occasional pinks; however, rare instances of red are vibrant. The Dolby Digital mono track is also very clean for the film’s age, with the horrid theme song and dialogue coming through nicely. The film’s theatrical trailer (1:42) is the only extra. (Eric Cotenas)
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