Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Strike of the Panther (1988)

Oh Jason Blade, you're just so dreamy.

Fans of the Day of the Panther's protagonist, the kung-fu-master/wearer-of-high-waisted-pants Jason Blade (Edward Stazak) - and who isn't a fan - will remember that at the end of the first film we were assured/warned that Jason Blade would return in Strike of the Panther. Here they make good on that promise, which probably wasn't hard since the two films were made back-to-back and released the very same year. Those of you who aren't completely up-to-date on your Blade-ology needn't fear, because the film recaps the plot of the first film in meticulous detail, a process that takes over seven minutes, even though the only thing you need to know is that Blade hooked up with a girl named Gemma (Paris Jefferson) and pussed out on killing his nemesis Baxter (Jim Richards).

After the proceedings of the first film, Baxter is sent to Fremantle prison but, fueled by a burning hatred for Jason Blade, manages to escape by, uh, climbing a sheet rope over a wall. A fittingly retro escape for a prison built in the 19th century, but such lax security was probably a contributing factor to the prison's decommissioning a couple of years after this film was made. Zucor, the criminal mastermind from the first film, is nowhere to be seen so I guess Baxter left him to rot in jail. I can't really blame him since he was kind of an asshole, but this means that the villain of this film is basically the hired muscle, like if there was a sequel to Enter the Dragon where the villain was Bolo Yeung. Actually that sounds pretty awesome.

Meanwhile, Blade has found work in the West Australian police force, training up a new criminal task force in the supposedly top-secret Panther school kung fu. A criminal psychologist from Interpol, Sgt. Lucy Andrews (Rowena Wallace), shows up to lend a hand and Blade is given the assignment of retrieving a politician's crack-addled daughter from a high class brothel. Going undercover, Blade infiltrates the brothel and finds the girl, but with the madam busting into their room every five minutes to distribute fresh towels, it's not long before his true identity is discovered. This gives Blade a great excuse to rip off his shirt and beat up some thugs, all the while dodging pervs in full-body chicken suits (Blade's incredulous response: "You're sick!!") and Angus Young schoolboy outfits.

Gemma is also up to her old tricks, seducing Blade with her sexy dance routines while he impresses her with his shirtless kung fu and frequent work-out sessions. There's also the kind of cultural exchange that is a hallmark of a burgeoning relationship; Gemma learning some kung fu moves and Blade awkwardly step-kick-stepping his way across the dance floor. It's not all leotards and sweaty pecs though. It seems that Blade is having trouble committing. Blade claims that he doesn't want to put her in danger, and he's got a good point because the next morning Gemma gets kidnapped by a couple of Baxter's hired goons.

Also returning from Day of the Panther is veteran Australian actor John Stanton as Blade's mentor (and Gemma's uncle) William Anderson. He gets hit by a car while trying to save Gemma and is stuck in a hospital bed for the rest of the film. Luckily he's still able to provide Blade with fighting advice ("Jason! Above you!") thanks to a telepathic ability that isn't explained but I guess is part of their secret Panther School training. I wish I had a psychic link with Jason Blade. Or John Stanton for that matter.

Baxter holes up with Gemma in the old Fremantle power station and demands to see Blade by 6pm that night or he kills her. Usually in a movie like this the hero would just strut right in without hesitation, but Jason Blade is a prudent man and gets Sgt. Andrews to stall Baxter while he finds out some more information. After tracking down some of Baxter's goons, it turns out that Baxter has assembled a team of expert martial artists to ambush Blade as soon as he enters the power station. Baxter has dressed them up like ninjas with hockey masks and armed them with knives, swords and kamas as well an very un-ninja-like weapons such as butterfly knives, baseball bats and blowtorches.

Thus armed with information, Blade busts into the power station while a SWAT team, led by Sgt. Andrews, breaches from the opposite side. The ninjas try to freak them out by flitting about in the shadows and one particularly brazen ninja, no doubt hearing about Blade's woeful dance moves, tries to intimidate him by break-dancing and moonwalking. Blade triumphs, thanks to the telepathic advice of his mentor, but the SWAT team get completely wiped out save for Sgt. Andrews.

Eventually Blade finds Gemma and has his final battle with Baxter while Andrews nervously defuses the time bomb that Baxter has planted on the station's transformers. After an appropriate amount of back-and-forth fisticuffs, Baxter gets kicked into a junction box and electrified, despite the fact that the power plant had been shut down years ago. This film is directed by the stunt-obsessed Brian Trenchard-Smith, so you'd think Baxter would burst into flames like in a (fellow former stuntman) Craig R. Baxley film, but here he is disappointingly restrained and Baxter simply thrashes around and expires with some cheesy sparks and smoke.

Actually this film doesn't have a lot of the awesome stunts you expect from Trenchard-Smith. There's a pretty cool moment when Blade chases a guy up the side of an apartment building and down again, only for him to get creamed by a passing car, but there's no real good car chases, explosions or gun fights. Granted the first film didn't have a lot of that either, but the action/non-action ratio seems a lot lower here too, even after cramming in some unrelated fight scenes such as Blade beating up some punks who are trying to steal his car. Like the first film, the fights are nicely choreographed and edited, and Stazak has some great moves. Probably not as good as Day of the Panther, but it's still the second best West Australian kung fu flick of 1988.

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