Friday, 6 November 2009

Day of the Panther (1988)

Yet another person falls victim to swine flu

From Brian Trenchard-Smith, the stunt-obsessed Australian director who brought us Stunt Rock and The Man from Hong Kong, comes Day of the Panther, an Australian attempt at the kind of martial-arts-heavy, revenge-based entertainment product that flooded the cinema and home video market in the 1980s.

After the most 80s credits sequence ever made the movie starts, as all movies should, with a monologue featuring the soothing, radio-friendly voice of John Stanton. Stanton is a Australian actor known for his commercial and voice over work so seeing him here as a martial arts master is really weird, like if the movie phone guy played Mr. Miyagi. It seems that Stanton is one of just three whiteys to be accepted into the Secret Panther School, an exclusive kung fu school that works for the Hong Kong Special Branch or something. The other two white Panthers are Stanton's daughter Linda (Linda Megier) and her partner Jason (Ed Stazak) and the movie opens with his initiation into the brotherhood.

Jason's full name is Jason Blade, which is pretty much the best name ever and the movie knows it. Normally when you go undercover you'd use some sort of alias. Not Jason Blade, he's got an awesome name and he's going to use it as much as possible. He'll even wear a ridiculous jumper stolen from Bill Cosby's closet and acid wash jeans when he's stalking the back alleys of Hong Kong with his partner. He doesn't give a shit. This must be why, as Stanton puts it, "Undercover surveillance is the most dangerous game we play". Naturally their operation goes tits up and Blade has to fight off a bunch of henchmen while Anna tracks the drug courier back to Perth, Western Australia. She calls Blade to tell him that she's tracked them to an abandoned warehouse, but before he can say "wait for backup" she hangs up.

After poking around the warehouse, Anne gets attacked by three masked henchmen, most notably a hairy, machete-wielding man in a pig mask. These are pretty dedicated disguises too, when she peels a skull mask off of one of the goons his face underneath is painted like a skull as well. It's got some good stunts but it's a long, long chase scene, made longer by the fact that it's inter-cut with Blade arriving on his plane from Hong Kong, checking into his hotel, being tracked by the local police force etc. By my estimation she has been chased around by these guys for at least two hours. Eventually she defeats the goons but is cornered by the drug courier from earlier and killed.

Blade is lounging around in a pink shirt in his all-pink hotel room when he hears the terrible news of her death. Determined to seek revenge, he visits Perth's top drug kingpin/boat salesman Zucor (Michael Carman, who looks kind of like Nic Cage) with the aim of infiltrating his organisation and ferreting out Anna's killer. Blade's idea of a job application is heading out to Zucor's boat showroom and beating the crap out of all his goons, but it works surprisingly well. Blade is invited to Zucor's pool party where he is introduced to Zucor's second-in-command (and Anna's killer) Baxter (Jim Richards) who dresses like a cross between Don Johnson in Miami Vice and Wham-era George Michael. He's an asshole to boot, he pushes a girl in the pool just for smiling at Blade. Blade is offered a job as exchange man in a drug deal but when he gets there it turns out to be a test, which Blade passes by dishing out roundhouse kicks to all present.

Blade also seeks Stanton's rich spiritual wisdom at his Asian-inspired country home, where he partners up with Stanton's niece Gemma. Later she seduces Blade in the gym with a sexy aerobics dance routine which he counters by making his sweaty pecs dance horribly. This is followed by a softcore sex scene, sax music etc. Ah, romance. There's also a comedy subplot about a couple of bumbling cops which follows the Last House on the Left rule of cinema by never, ever being funny. Why did they include this, did they really think there was some tension that needed relieving? Hell, seeing John Stanton walking around in a silk robe like Hugh Hefner is funny enough.

There is much discussion in the film of a massive annual martial arts tournament that Zucor runs, complete with illegal gambling. Baxter wins every year, so Zucor starts a rumour that Blade bested him in an unofficial match in order to drive up the bets. Naturally you'd expect the tournament to be the climax of the film right? Wrong! I don't know if they couldn't afford the extras or what, but instead Baxter does some snooping around Stanton's home and discovers Blade's true identity, forcing Blade, Stanton and Gemma to go on the run.

Blade learns that Zucor has hidden his stash of drugs under the outdoor amphitheater where they are holding the tournament, so the three of them head there to find the evidence that will bring Zucor's operation down. The final battle between Baxter and Blade is pretty cool but it keeps cutting away to the boring antics of Anderson and Gemma, ruining the fight's flow. For some reason Stanton lets Zucor get away and Blade pusses out on killing Baxter so we can have a sequel. As a title card at the end of the film states, "Jason Blade will return in Strike of the Panther".

A lot of this film is pretty terrible, especially the fashion (knitted mesh tank tops, really?), but the fight scenes are actually very good, superior to most of what was coming out of America at the time. Stazak is pretty talented as Blade and the battles are clearly edited and well choreographed. Sometimes it gets pretty ridiculous, such as when Blade beats up a gaggle of henchmen using what is clearly a plastic broom handle. Even Stanton has a brief fight scene, which is pretty terrible but bless him for trying. It's full of mistakes like when a crew member's hand appears quite noticeably in frame during a stunt. Still, if the idea of a jacked up dude named Jason Blade roundhouse kicking thugs while wearing high-waisted slacks sounds like a good time to you, then I'm sure you'll find something to enjoy here.

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