It may be a surprise to some of you, given the average subject of the posts on this site, to know that I am obsessed with martial arts movies. The choreography appeals to me because one of my most serious hobbies as a kid was dance. Other than the fight scenes, though, the movies all pretty much run together, like all the screenwriters filled out the same Mad Lib: you [verbed] my [noun] and now I’m going to [verb] you in return. This makes them difficult to write about.
Enter the Italian director Mario Caiano and his spaghetti western martial arts movie Shanghai Joe. Nope, it doesn’t have a great plot, like that was a surprise, but it does shake things up considerably. Joe (Chen Lee) comes to America because he wants to be a cowboy. He encounters racism in the Old West, so he travels around defending himself from all the mean and nasty guys who would rather see him washing clothes than roping cattle. He has so many trials that he’s like some kind of Chinese Hercules. The film starts with him beating up three guys in a saloon using a yo-yo, a bowl, and a fork, but progresses to the point where he’s speed-plucking eyeballs. So basically it seemed like it was going to be a Jackie Chan movie, and then ended up closer to Five Fingers of Death, but I’m not complaining. When Joe gets to the final boss of the movie, he reaches into his chest in order to kill him! You can’t complain about that kind of action.
Along the way, Joe falls in love with a Mexican lady (Carla Romanelli) and breaks up a ring of slave traders. (By the way, there are no women in the film until an hour into the running time. This is a decidedly un-Italian characteristic, unless that’s typical for spaghetti westerns, a genre I’m not that familiar with.) Also, Joe kills a charging bull with one kick to the skull. In the end it is revealed (I think) that he’s actually got supernatural powers, and he may have been on a mission to end injustice rather than just to be a cowboy. What ever the hell he is, in one scene he flies into the air and teabags the face of a guy on horseback! I believe they call that scrotum F.U.
In case you are a fan of the fiend, Klaus Kinski receives second billing, but he’s just one of many villains. I don’t know if Shanghai Joe is representative of how Italians do martial arts movies, because I’m not aware that they made any more, although I’m open to being wrong about that if you have any information. I do know that I chose this movie based on nothing but the title and year of production from the back of a box of sixteen martial arts movies we recently bought as a set, and was thrilled when it turned out to be Italian. Here’s to useless psychic powers. Cent’ anni!