Hong Kong phooey. M-G-M's own M.O.D. (manufactured on demand) line of hard-to-find library titles, the M-G-M Limited Edition Collection, has released Kill a Dragon, the 1967 United Artists cheapie Hong Kong actioner starring huffers and puffers Jack Palance, Fernando Lamas, Aldo Ray, and Don Knight. Some great location work in Hong Kong, along with the fun of seeing Palance shooting for James Bond (and not even hitting Dino's Matt Helm)...but a lot more action would have sure helped this combo Casablanca/Seven Samurai pastiche. An original trailer is included in this just-okay transfer.
He-man Hong Kong expatriate Rick Masters (Jack Palance) does a little bit of salvaging with his boat, and a whole lot of lovin' on the docks, mostly with "hostess" Tisa (Alizia Gur), who, um..."shoots pool" out of The World of Suzie Wong Bar in downtown H.K.. When besieged fisherman Win Lim (Kam Tong) literally breaks in on Rick and Tisa getting down in the hold, Rick must fight off Win Lim's pursuers: henchmen for gangster Patrai (Fernando Lamas). It seems that on Win Lim's tiny island, a "gift from the sea" has washed up, offering the possibility of prosperity for the desperately poor villagers: a half-a-million bucks worth of nitroglycerin, which Win Lim claims, rightly, as his own under the rules of international salvage. And now he just needs someone like Rick to transport the hidden nitro back to Hong Kong for a third of the action...before Patrai kills everyone and takes the nitro for himself.
Kill a Dragon used to show up occasionally on the late, late show when I was a little kid, but it's been years and years since I last saw it. Viewing it today is a classic exercise in "context," because watching it "straight," as it were, without allowances for its time frame content (pretty tame even by 1967 standards), budget (non-existent), and odd casting (Fernando Lamas as a Hong Kong gangster???) is going to yield you very little in the entertainment department. Enjoying Kill a Dragon is definitely a matter of appreciating what it isn't just as much as what it is. Some reviewers might facilely dismiss a movie like Kill a Dragon as "cheesy" (a term I absolutely despise because not only is it completely clichéd but more importantly, completely meaningless). However, if you're in the right mood, and you're familiar with and can appreciate the lame conventions of a low-budget 60s actioner, Kill a Dragon can work for you...even though it really doesn't work at all.
Right of the bat, Kill a Dragon is charmingly inept, with that kooky synth-Mood theme song with a back-up chorus that is completely out of tune (god they're awful). Then the sight of handsome Lamas, trying way too hard to be hard, laying on the henna rinse just a bit too much, with that Inspector Clouseau moustache and his J.C. Penny® "Action Wear" outfits, is hilarity in and of itself (don't get me wrong: I love Lamas precisely because he seems supremely unaware of what a hammy hoot he is). Then Ray appears, all high blood pressure-y and squeezed into a too-small, uncomfortable-looking jacket, one eye looking off-camera as if he's waiting to blow if the crew's lunch is late. And then Palance shows up, overdoing it something terrible as he tries (unsuccessfully) to spit out bad lines like, "Come on...get lost! I'm busy!" when he making hottie Gur, before going into his usual shtick with the breathing and the panting and the crazy eyes and the mouth hanging open like some kind of reptilian corpse. In other words, he's marvelous. With Bond and his pretenders dominating the action genre in 1967, it's obvious producer Leo L. Fuchs is trying to put Palance over as a devil-may-care adventurer/lover in the mold of Bogey in Casablanca, mixed with Connery's lady-killer moves. But what comes out is closer to near-crazed goofball as Palance stumbles clumsily during the sex and fight scenes while trying to toss off sub-par Connery one-liners like, "Restrain yourself until I get back," to the supposedly seething, heaving Gur. Not only doesn't Palance work here as one of those two-fisted he-men of the men's adventure magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, he doesn't work spectacularly.
When you get past the out-of-synch dubbing (this groaner has it all), the dialogue is frequently atrocious, such as when Palance tells Gur to "entertain" Win Lim and his buddies at The World of Suzie Wong pool table: "Why don't you show them a couple of tricks?" "Sure," she replies seductively, before Palance leers grotesquely, "No, I mean on the table." Or how about when Palance rescues Win Lim from Lamas: "How did you know we were here?" (a damned good question), to which Palance hesitates and then murders the line, "Chinese fortune cookie." And how about explaining some of the just...inexplicable plot developments here, such as Lamas playing Russian Roulette to somehow convince Palance he wants to do a deal (we know he's probably cheating at it, but tell me again how that's going to convince Palance?). Or the cringe-worthy, crawl-under-your-seat "comedy" moment of Aldo Ray in drag (!) trying to entice a bunch of Chinese sailors...who actually buy that he's a broad??? My favorite moment, though, has to be the furious "marketplace escape," where everyone, um...walks around as a lazy jazz score just kind of grooves you along. Classic. What action that does come is equally languid (is that the most inept karate you've ever seen from Hans Lee? I could do better than that, and I'm an idiot), but curiously, it comes over as that much more amusing when everyone overreacts like hell to the stupidest moves and threats and explosions. Kill a Dragon isn't a noteworthy "bad"/enjoyable movie...but it's just bad enough to amuse you for an hour and a half.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.