Appellate Judge Tom Becker would rather train your dragon than kill it
"I'm gonna make a run for the junk!"
It's Jack Palance as you've hardly ever seen him before—as a good guy.
The perpetual psychotic heavy—best known for his roles in Shane, Sudden Fear, a whole bunch of Italian crime movies (including Rulers of the City), and of course, City Slickers—goes white hat (and tight white pants) for his role as Rick Masters, a knock-about guy in China who comes to the aid of an impoverished village. No, Rick doesn't aid the village by helping build a hospital or a chapel; instead, he helps the villagers grub a few bucks by smuggling some explosives on their behalf to sell in Hong Kong.
If there's a good guy, then there has to be a bad guy. The bad guy here is a high-living, urban mobster/pirate named Nico Patrai, played by the inimitable Fernando Lamas (100 Rifles). Patrai believes that the explosives—which washed up on the shores of the poverty-stricken village and are thus subject to the "Finders-Keepers" rules of sea salvage—are rightfully his. Patrai has no real reason for believing this, it's just his schoolyard-bully mentality.
Of course, were Patrai a genuine schoolyard bully, he could have just forced the villagers to tell him where they were hiding the explosives and been on his way—the head villager's pretty daughter seems to have "victim" written all over her—but then the movie would only run about seven minutes.
Instead, Patrai's henchmen follow some villagers into town and give chase. The henchpeople follow the villagers as they seek refuge in a random shack, which happens to be where Rick is about to make love to a Bond girl (Aliza Gur, From Russia with Love). Comedic interplay and rugged fisticuffs ensue, and soon, Rick becomes the mercenary savior (he's taking a cut of the proceeds) for these quaint island people.
Seeing Jack Palance play a hip action hero is like seeing Tim Tebow at a Black Mass: the guy's way out of his comfort zone. With a creepy smirk and odd shock of black hair, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Patrick Swayze, but with a nervous twitchiness replacing Swayze's easy charm.
While Palance is surrounded by "colorful" supporting characters—including Aldo Ray (Haunted) as a doughy American ex-pat whose cross-dressing scene is a weird and disturbing highlight; Don Knight (The Hell with Heroes) as a wily British ex-pat; and Hans Lee as a martial arts fighter who has little to do, martial arts-wise—this is really the Jack and Fernando show. The B-movie titans square off over cigarillos and polyester shirts, scowling at and trying to intimidate and outsmart each other. There's little doubt how everything's going to turn out, though we do get a kind of creepy, sequel-threatening surprise at the end.
Kill a Dragon is ultimately a lower-rent variation on the aging-hipster-tough-guy genre that was briefly popular in the '60s thanks to the Tony Rome and Matt Helm films (James Bond was on an entirely different level). Its low production values and far less-charming hero make it a mere footnote.
Given his resumé, Director Michael D. Moore should really be a film historian's pin-up boy. Born in 1914 (and according to IMDb, still with us), he was a child actor in silent films, appearing in such fare as The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln and the original King of Kings in 1927. After outgrowing juvenile roles, he evidently worked at the studios for a while doing props and other behind-the-scenes stuff, and in the '40s, became a second-unit director. He was at that for more than 50 years, with films like Patton and the first three Indiana Jones films to his credit.
In between his second-uniting, he found the time to direct a handfull of films, including Paradise, Hawaiian Style (with Elvis!), The Fastest Guitar Alive (with Roy Orbison!), and Mister Deathman (blaxploitation with Stella Stevens!). Kill a Dragon is just an undistinguished notch on his otherwise ample belt.
The disc is from MGM's on-demand line, and as such, it's not an especially demanding affair. The transfer looks like it would look if you were watching this on television during a rain delay of a sporting event. The audio offers a clean-enough representation of the scintillating dialogue and Asian-infused lounge-and-action score. The only supplement is a trailer.
Kill a Dragon is a pretty awful movie, but it's almost worth a visit to see the weird pairing of Palance and Lamas.
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