BCI Eclipse // 1977 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
BCI Eclipse // 1999 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 14th, 2006
To quote the Pet Shop Boys, "What Have I Done to Deserve This???"
Monk Ru-Di (Rudy Ray Moore, The Human Tornado) is not a happy man. He is also not a young, agile, or martial arts-oriented kind of guy, for that matter, but that's not really important here. Why? Because this mad cleric is nothing more than a 1990s prop inserted inside a 1970s kung fu film. Doing some stupid shtick every once in a while so we don't forget he is actually supposed to be in the film (his scenes are just spliced into the older material), he searches for a rogue apprentice named Tupac, who has absconded with the power of evil...or something like that. Anyway, Tupac runs around the Asian countryside battling against the forces of good, led by the Lost Tribe of Shabazz, Abbot White, and some guy dressed like Fess Parker. There are endless choreographed scuffles, Ru-Di appears every so often and says something risqué, or dirty, and it all ends in a big-time power showdown where the ethereal forces of the universe get back at a certain blackspolitation star for ever conceiving this crappy Shaolin Dolemite dreck.
Meanwhile, in another far more suave and debonair film, Robert Sand (bad-ass black belt Jim "Not the Former Quarterback for the Buffalo Bills" Kelly) is being dragged back into the service of his former intelligence agency, D.R.A.G.O.N., when Toki, his Yokohama Mama, is kidnapped by Janicot, a deranged drug dealer who leads a quasi-religious cult of karate killers. Sand's sweet meat is also the daughter of a prominent Hong Kong official and Janicot is using the bawdy babe as bait to prevent some stiff anti-racketeering laws from taking effect. It will require several sports cars, a few pimpin' outfits, and a lot of bare-chested beatdowns by our hero before he even gets close to taking on the insane Satanist. One thing's for sure; though he's supposedly trained in the deadliest of the Japanese arts, Robert Sand is about as effective a Black Samurai as Janicot is at bringing old Beezlebub into the fray. Without the carefully composed fights scenes, this film would be as deadly dull as Kelly's onscreen presence.
Speaking as a huge, unadulterated fan of Rudy Ray Moore and everything he has done in his long and luminous career, the dude must have been hard up for cash when he signed on to "appear" in Shaolin Dolemite. Like a really bad version of What's Up, Tiger Lily?, this is probably the only overdubbed Asian martial arts movie that makes Kung Pow: Enter the Fist look like the work of the Shaw Brothers. First and foremost, the movie chosen for deconstruction is incredibly hokey. It has special effects straight out of 1950s Saturday Morning kidvid, a dopey supposed plot involving some great and evil power, and a hero who spends most of his time watching the action from the sidelines instead of actually participating in the pugilism. The fight scenes are endless, losing steam (and audience interest) long before they're even into the middle of the melee, and the ancillary characters are like the Asian version of slanderous stereotypes. Now incorporate the ebonics-addled soundtrack -- newly-recorded "comedy" material written by Moore and his pals -- and you've got the kind of movie that Satan keeps in his afterlife repertoire for really special scoundrels (better get ready, all you pedophiles and creationists).
Witless, worn out, and totally weak in entertainment factors, Shaolin Dolemite is so horrible that it should contain a warning label, lamenting the fact that the human spirit will die a little bit for every minute that unspools across home theater screens (and remember, I worship the ground Rudy Ray walks on). Moore's infrequent appearances are exercises in mumble-mouthed mediocrity (even his customary cursing is cursory) and you never once believe that he is "part" of this story. Long-time friend and recurrent co-star Jimmy Lynch, looking a lot chunkier than when he played Dolemite's pal in so many of Moore's manic comedies, has the only good scene in the entire film. He does a "drunken" brawl with an unwitting ninja that has some minor moments of invention and fun. But the rest of this ridiculous mess is a test in tolerance that many will fail. Even if you love the world's worst movies and think that a substantial cheddar factor can make up for a mass of filmic flaws, you'll still contemplate catatonia after sitting through this ghetto goof. This is one time where Dolemite's return "to the scene" is about as welcome as a urinary tract infection -- and about as pleasant.
Which means that Jim Kelly's Black Samurai should be a good old-fashioned butt-beating godsend, right? Well, not really. After all, this is an Al Adamson film -- and he made such stagnant stool samples as Psycho a Go-Go and Blazing Stewardesses. Granted, Kelly looks fine -- suave and buff -- when he's roundhousing the heads and gouging the groins of the bad guys. But put him in a scene where he actually has to act and no amount of black belt skills can prevent a total talent meltdown from occurring. It's not that Kelly is bad -- he's just bland. Ultra bland. Should be in a boy band bland. Makes Martha Stewart look like Li'l Kim bland. Casting him in the lead results in a complete void at the center of our story. Add to this the ridiculous-cult-leader-as-drug-dealer dynamic (If he's so in tune with the powers of darkness, why does he need protection from the law? Aren't he and the mangoat a tad above such Earthly environs?). We keep waiting for the big bad-ass black mass that will result in Hades' minions mounting a massive campaign against Kelly. What we get instead are fight scenes...lots and lots and lots of fight scenes.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Sweet!!! I love well done, exciting, and expertly executed martial arts sequences, especially when they are well directed and amped up for maximum excitement." Well, here's some advice. Go out and rent any other kung fu film in the local Bloodbuster or Holyweird Video vaults and realize that they will contain fisticuffs that are 1,000 times better than the boring brawling that goes on here. Heck, Rudy Ray Moore in The Human Tornado had more karate skills to slay the ills than the majority of the stunt people in this paltry excuse for an action film. Kelly has to react so slowly, setting up and delivering so perfunctorily on every body blow that the whole thing starts to look like a Village People waltz. You can literally see the pulled punches as the cast counts down in their head amid the moves. Between the inert love story, the complete lack of chemistry between Kelly and his supposed booty call, and a lecherous henchmen that looks like Salvador Dali's sloppy, retarded stepbrother, you've got a series of failing facets that will doom any attempt at drama and intrigue. Black Samurai would be better titled Bleak Samurai.
Long available as separate DVD titles, BCI has decided to maximize the manure and cram these two catastrophes together -- perhaps as punishment or as a result of a lost wager? Both films look old and moldy, with Shaolin showing its age with faded colors, lots of grain, and a deliberate diorama of dirt. The 1.33:1 full screen image is below average, but not the worst available on the digital format. Surprisingly, Black Samurai looks pretty good. The 4x3 presentation is passable, with fewer of the flaws found in said Dolemite dung. Both aural offerings are decent, but someone should remind the people putting out Rudy's redux that if we are supposed to laugh at the newly written and recorded lines, we should be able to hear them clearly. Usually, they are muddy and muffled, buried way down in the Dolby Digital Stereo mix.
As for extras, we get a few introductory moments from Rudy (he puts on his poet rap hat and it almost works...almost) and some extended deleted scenes (nothing interesting at all). Black Samurai is context free, to go along with its lack of entertainment and professionalism. Frankly, no amount of bells and whistles could keep this paltry pair from being anything other than a complete and utter disaster. Even Troma tried and failed to revive the "overdub" comedy film format (with both Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters and Parts of the Family), and if Lloyd Kaufman and his toilet humor tenets can't enliven the idea, why even bother trying? As for Kelly, he's an unfortunate bystander that can't help but add his own unique brand of boredom to the bedlam. When a show like Hong Kong Phooey offers a livelier take on the entire martial arts genre, you know it's time to jump the judo ship. There is nothing here worth wasting your time on.
Review content copyright © 2006 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice, Black Samurai
Perp Profile, Black Samurai
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, Black Samurai
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
Scales of Justice, Shaolin Dolemite
Perp Profile, Shaolin Dolemite
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Distinguishing Marks, Shaolin Dolemite
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* IMDb: Black Samurai
* IMDb: Shaolin Dolemite