The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1972)

Il Mio nome è Shanghai Joe

Chen Lee is Shanghai Joe

In the later days of the spaghetti, there were several "hybrids" that fused the spaghetti with the popular-at-the-time kung fu genre, such as The Stranger in Japan, The Stranger and the Gunfighter, and Red Sun. Another film of note was Mario Caiano's 1972 effort, The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe, starring Chen Lee.

Ok, let me cut to the chase on this one - although hardly a landmark piece of cinema, I had a blast watching this film. Perhaps it's the novelty of the kung fu, because I felt the same way about The Stranger and the Gunfighter. A lot of the flaws of the film were overlooked due to the "fun" factor.

Chen Lee stars as Shanghai Joe, who arrives in San Francisco from China, and decides to head to Texas to find work. When he gets there, almost everyone he encounters is mean and racist. The racial epithet "chink" is tossed around quite a bit. When trying to find work at a ranch, they try to have some fun with him and give him some seemingly impossible tasks (such as driving a nail through a board with one hit, and a fancy jump on to a horse). When he surprises them by completing the tasks, they don't give him the horse, harrass him, and proceed to get their asses kicked quite badly. And he gets his horse...

The word spreads quickly about Joe, and some smugglers seek him out for work. To Joe's dismay, It turns out they're smuggling human cargo over the Mexican border, and when a pickup goes bad, the smugglers gun them all down in cold blood, to Joe's horror. Needless to say, he fights the smugglers, and the lawyer who is running the smuggling ring hires four killers to take care of Joe. They're a rather interesting group, played by some of the most well-known spaghetti veterans, including:

Robert Hundar as Pedro the Cannibal

Robert Hundar as Pedro the Cannibal

Gordon Mitchell as Buryin' Sam

Gordon Mitchell as Buryin' Sam

Klaus Kinski as Scalper Jack

Klaus Kinski as Scalper Jack

They've all got their namesake methods... Pedro eats people, Sam likes to dig spiked pits for his prey to fall in, and Jack scalps them. Of course, Joe dispenses of them rather easily. He finally faces down his last rival, who happened to belong to the same order that he acquired his skills in. And, of course, Joe dispenses of him, too.

Now, I know this film doesn't get much in the way of critical acclaim, and rightly so. I just don't remember the last time I had "fun" watching a spaghetti. I enjoy a lot of them, but this was different. Chen Lee, whose IMDB profile reveals very little about him, and a rather small filmography, plays a very likable character, and although the expected "fish out of water" concept is in full display, he doesn't play it like an idiot who has no idea what he's doing. He's rather calm, cool, and collected. And for a bit of trivia: he's a Japanese guy playing a Chinaman.

The film is a bit gory at times- Joe graphically gouges out an eyeball, drives his hand right through someone's chest and a few other things, but it doesn't have the same gratuitious-for-shock's-sake that the gore in Cutththroats Nine did. The cinematography by Guglielmo Mancori is fantastic. He's one of those men who shoots the film knowing how to take full advantage of the Almerian landscape, giving us lots of those breathtaking wide shots that I love to see. Bruno Nicolai does a typical but good score, and the acting is overall pretty decent.

Aside from the usual quirks of spaghettis, the only obvious criticism of the film to me was in the way that the killers who were after Joe were handled. They all have these interesting, almost comicbook-like characteristics, and they are all dispensed of almost as quickly as they are introduced. It would have been nice to have seen more screentime with these familiar, well-liked actors in these rather unusual roles.

I viewed the X-Rated DVD version of this, which looked and sounded pretty good. There are several releases of this from various companies, which you can see at the page on the SWDB here. If you like kung fu movies and/or you're looking for a spaghetti with a twist (and you're obviously not a purist), this one is most certainly worth a watch, it was a heck of a lot of fun, and probably one you could watch with people who aren't necessarily spaghetti fans.

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