(Check out that double-bill to the left. Cirio H. Santiago and Sonny Chiba on the same program for one price! Too bad I was too young back then.)
The real hero is played by James Iglehart, who may be best known to American cult film fans for his appearances in Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and The Seven Minutes. He plays Doug Russell, a Vietnam vet wrapping up his tour of duty with a side project that involves smuggling contraband in coffins. It's not drugs, but gold, and it means a big score for Doug and his accomplices, Morelli and Magee (Leon Isaac). But Morelli, a veteran criminal for whom 'Nam was a vacation, figures that the payoff splits easier two ways than three. As he pitches it to Magee:
Morelli: That man's going back to a wife and kid. He ain't ready for what we're getting into. You could be going home to that lady. He could be just another war casualty.
Magee: You asking me to kill one of my own kind?
Morelli: Oh, don't give me that brother shit. The only brother's the man on the dollar bill -- and he ain't black.
Doug [reviving from delirium]: Those mother-humpers...
Officer: You said that in your sleep. What does that mean?
Doug: Nothing...some 'friends' of mine....
Enlisted Man: Hmmm, they do that to you? They ain't no friends. We your friends. We mother-humpers!
Discipline's broken down on Occupied Island, as the poor grunt Ichikawa back-talks to his superior all the time. He tells his commander that, had they stayed in Japan, he'd be a general by now, but the commander comes back by noting that by now he'd be Emperor. All the officer really has left is the personal discipline of the samurai, which he improbably imparts to the recovering Doug. As our hero regains his strength, the Japanese teaches him some martial arts and shows him how to chop coconuts with a sword. With this comes a moral lesson: "It's not for you to learn how to fight," the officer says, "but learn how to live."
Santiago is a master chef of cinematic junk food. He keeps things going at a good clip throughout, constantly intercutting between the villains' conquest of LA, Magee's menacing courtship of the now-jobless Mrs. Russell, and Doug's samurai training. He makes sure that not too much time passes without some action or bloodshed, and he knows to save the best (or worst) for last. He knows that the one thing that can top an hour's worth of machine-gun mayhem is some serious head-cutting. The effects are awful, of course, but Santiago builds enough momentum to get you caught up in the spirit of the exercise. When you're ready to see heads roll, heads will roll. What more can you ask from exploitation cinema? In this case, I have to give the Filipino filmmakers credit for a perhaps-unusually sympathetic portrayal of Japanese soldiers, and for an idiosyncratically sentimental soundtrack featuring a love theme sung by J. Kennedy and a cute motif for our Japanese friends.