Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Meet Jack Palance, international man of adventure.

Not for our hero the high-class world of the Sixties superspy. In Michael D. Moore's movie Palance plays Rick Masters, a smuggler and salvager who lives on his own boat with his pool-hustler girlfriend (Alizia Nur). Their happy repose is interrupted one day when a trio of elderly Chinese gentlemen seek shelter on the boat. They're being pursued by agents of Nico Patrai (Fernando Lamas), a Portuguese who runs the so-called "Mafia of Macao." We were introduced to him earlier as he negotiated in typical hardball style with the Chinese elders on their native island. A ship carrying precious "Nitra-II" explosives has run aground on the island. It belongs to the islanders by right of salvage, but Patrai demands it for himself, or else. The islanders can't move it themselves and can't defend themselves against Patrai's goons. But after seeing a shirtless, shoeless Masters defend himself quite well against several of the goons who storm aboard the boat, they invite him to pick up the Nitra II and move it to Hong Kong. They offer him 1/4 of the take, but he negotiates it up to 1/3.

Fernando Lamas (finger upraised, right) would be a Bond villain if he could.

Masters puts together a motley team including a Scots-Chinese duo who stage fixed boxing-karate exhibition matches and his old pal Vigo (Aldo Ray), now an unenthusiastic tour guide. They battle their way into Patrai's compound to rescue the kidnapped island elders, then finesse their way to the island and the Nitra II. For a while, there's a little suspense over whether the crew will sell the islanders out to Patrai, or whether Palance will score with the island girl who persists in calling him her brother. But in time, of course, the gang will have to fight their way back to Hong Kong....

Don't let the "Dragon" in the title fool you. This isn't a martial arts film unless you count the art of brawling. The title actually refers to the legend of St. George, with whom a surprisingly cosmopolitan island elder equates Rick Masters, Patrai being the dragon. This is really an enthusiastic adventure film with a lot of old-timey pulp flavor, the stuff of contemporary "men's adventure" or "sweat" magazines. It has to be considered a B movie, but vivid location work in Hong Kong and environs and the help of an island full of extras enhance Kill a Dragon's production values beyond its budget. The virtual tourist in me thrills to the Hong Kong footage and the complete lack of fakery involved in filming them. The story itself is silly, the dialogue corny. The elders are prone to proverbs like "Every dragon give birth to St. George who slay it" or "It is the honor of the murdered that he is not the murderer." Even the villain has a hard time taking the story seriously; Lamas can't seem to help cracking smiles or smirks when he's in the power of his enemies. But the story here doesn't have to be taken seriously. It's the star performances that carry the film, whether they're intentionally or unintentionally entertaining.

Above, tourists appear to flinch from the breath of Your Tour Guide, Aldo Ray. Below: "Look, limey, you swish your way, and I'll swish mine!" is authentic dialogue from the movie.

Palance is clearly having fun playing the hero and doing all his own fight scenes in manly fashion, while Lamas is endearingly ludicrous as a vicious criminal overlord in a club jacket and loafers. Aldo Ray seems to have been hammered for the entire production, and that's a shame considering where his career had been, but I can't deny that his shameless turn here, including some time in a dress, added to my admittedly guilty enjoyment of this savory chunk of cinematic junk food. Kill a Dragon is a wild world of cinema campground I'll recommend to anyone who shares my pleasure in the cityscapes of the past, the meta-drama of troubled careers, and Jack Palance kicking ass. Oldtrailer09 has imported the Kill a Dragon trailer from TCM to YouTube. Check it out.


KC said...

I love Palance, but I've got to see this because I want to check out Lamas in that jacket.

venoms5 said...

I had this on my DVR for a few months and never got around to watching it outside of the first few minutes. I should have at least skimmed through it anyways.