About a week ago, I mentioned that I’d recently bought myself a copy of the 1974 classic Black Belt Jones, and the response from the ISB’s readership was immediate. No sooner was the post online than I was besieged with requests–nay, demands–to review this one.
Unfortunately, I can’t do it. Black Belt Jones is just too awesome for one man to handle, even someone with my experience with cinematic awesomeness.
And that’s why I had to bring in some backup. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a very special guest to tonight’s installment of the ISB:
The Human Tornado!
That’s right, folks: this is an event so titanic that we’re putting aside our bitter rivalry for a team-up with one mission in mind: Rocking Your Face. So when you’re done here, head over to Dave’s Long Box for his side of the story.
Now then, on with it!
First things first: If you’d like just a small sample of how mind-blowingly awesome this movie is, download the original 1974 radio ad and give it a listen, because that just about sums it up.
In the title role of Black Belt Jones, we have none other than Jim Kelly, and like the ad says, you’ll probably remember him as Williams from Enter the Dragon,where he gets a pretty raw deal. Originally, that movie was planned to end with Roper, John Saxon’s character, getting killed with Lee and Williams taking on Han in the big climax. However, when Saxon’s agent complained, the roles were reversed, and Kelly’s character took a powder so the future star of Mitchell could get a little extra screen time.
Fortunately, Jones suffers from no such problems, as it’s pretty much wall-to-wall Jim Kelly beating ass for about eighty-four minutes.
It all gets started with Jones–who, as we’re about to learn, is the baddest mothertrucker on Planet Earth–doing a little bodyguarding on the side for some vaguely Latin American ambassadors, which leads directly into what is unquestionably the greatest opening credit sequence of the ’70s:
The opening sequence in Black Belt Jones is one of the greatest beginnings to any movie. Ever. It may SEEM like Black Belt Jones is moving slow, and that the guys he’s fighting are drunk, but I assure you that’s not the case. In order to get an “R” rating they actually had to slow the film down because audiences in the Seventies could not handle that much brutal action. They just weren’t equipped for it back then.
Interestingly enough, the assassins don’t bother to actually go after their target, instead preferring to wait their turn while Jones completely demolishes them–and a police car–in a truly incredible four-minute sequence while three gentlemen who may or may not be “The Man” look on with interest.
Admittedly, it’s actually more like a two minute sequence dragged out by the fact that it freeze-frames for a good twenty seconds every time Jones punches someone. And really, why wouldn’t it?
Once the preliminary ass-kicking and a scene where Black Belt argues with his boss (thus characterizing him as a loner who doesn’t play by the rules) are out of the way, we get the basics of the plot: There’s a new Civic Center being built, and the mob’s bought up all the necessary land, with the exception of one last holdout: Pop Byrd who runs the Black Byrd Karate School when he’s not out, and I quote, “gamblin’ and ho-chasin’.” And yes: He is played by Scatman Crothers.
Black Belt Jones is the best movie Scatman Crothers has ever been in. I’m counting The Shining, too. He kicks 100% more ass in Black Belt Jones than that Kubrick wankfest.
As you might expect, the Black Byrd Karate School holds a special place in the heart of its foremost student, Black Belt Jones. Unfortunately, all of Pop’s aforementioned gamblin’ and/or ho-chasin’ have caused him to get in debt to local facial-hair afficionado Pinky:
In addition to the duties of maintaining that luxurious beard of his, Pinky’s also the local gang boss, which is revealed in a scene where he threatens to knock a young Socialist’s teeth out with a billiard ball because, as he says, “no teeth, no cavities.” Suck on that, Crest.
Anyway, the Mob goes to him with their problem, and so he sets about leaning on Pop by taking his crew of unarmed flunkies to a Karate school and starting a fight.
You might be wondering how that works out. Well…
…it’s about like you’d expect.
And here’s the thing: That’s just the students. Jones, meanwhile, is across town, hanging out on a beach with his shirt off and watching hot girls jump on trampolines.
You know, when I heard the radio ad, I always assumed that Black Belt’s “army of girl high jumpers” were, y’know, paratroopers or something. But, as it turns out, they’re just ladies who really, really like to bounce. And somehow, that’s way better.
Anyway, after giving Pop a lecture on changing his ways and devoting more time to the school, Black Belt decides to lay a trap for Pinky’s men, who return that night to find Jones and another karate instructor laying in wait to beat the living crap out of them in the dark, flipping the lights on every three seconds to keep the thugs confused.
Under normal circumstances, a fight scene with no lighting would be pretty rough, but this one manages to become one of the greatest scenes in cinema history with the addition of one line:
Ray: Who the fuck hit me?!
Black Belt Jones: BATMAN, MOTHERFUCKER!
It’s hard to pick a favorite line, but I liked the bit where BBJ says to the karate students: “We’re going to McDonalds!” and they all scream: “MCDONALDS!!!!”
Unfortunately, they can only delay Pinky for so long, and he eventually catches up with Pop on one of his Ho-Chasin’ outings and roughs him up to the point where he accidentally kills him. Thus, control of the dojo falls to the mysterious Sydney, who turns out to be Pop’s estranged daughter, who–if you’ll remember–is a super chick who’s a smash at Karate and really means business.
Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Gloria Hendry:
And she does, too. In fact, the first thing she does after burying her father is to go find Pinky’s men in their pool hall hangout and then kick the hell out of ’em. It’s just how she rolls.
Of course, that’s not without his consequences: Realizing that he’s now facing down two karate experts, Pinky decides to hire a band of more competent thugs, and ends up with a gang of guys so tough that when they bust up into the dojo to find Sydney, they’re able to bounce one of the students off of a trampoline…
…and through the damn ceiling.
Clearly, action must be taken, and in order to bust this case wide open, Black Belt needs proof that the Mob’s been behind Pinky’s attempts to get the dojo. Thus, he recruits the only people you want to turn to when you’re up against the deadly scourge of organized crime:
Trampoline Jumping Bikini Girls!
By the way, their names are Charlene, Mary, and Pickles.
Pickles. Jesus Christ.
You know, it occurs to me that this is probably the most trampoline-centric action movie of all time.
Anyway, despite hitting a snag–I know, with all the careful trampoline training, it’s hard to believe it didn’t go off as smooth as they wanted–that part of the plan’s a success, and after a scene where Black Belt proves how awesome he is by using his karate skills to hit even the freakin’ elevator button, it’s time to go rescue Quincy.
Who’s Quincy, you ask? He’s this movie’s federally mandated Scrappy Kid Sidekick who was kidnapped when the new set of thugs took on the karate school, which means that at this point, Pinky’s been holding him at gunpoint for like four days. But really, why sweat the details? All you really need to know is that the whole thing ends with Jones showing up and kicking pretty much everybody through windows.
Still, Pinky’s not quite out of the game yet, and after he convinces the Mob that it’s Jones who’s at fault for the missing $250,000 that he’s been skimming off the drug trade, they send him after him for one last shot.
Jones, meanwhile, has moved on, and taken Sydney to the beach for a little romance. Except that “romance” is here translated as Sydney telling him he’s “gotta take it,” backhanding him twice, and… let’s just say that she casts aspersions on his sexuality. This, I guess, is Action Movie Foreplay.
Black Belt Jones: I’m gonna make you sweat. One way… and then the other.
Unfortunately, before they can get much sweating done, Pinky and his boys show up kick off the Big Fight, getting into a car chase with a shirtless Jones–who at one point throws Sydney’s panties at them after telling her “You don’t need these!”–that ends up with Jones and the thugs throwing down in an automatic car wash.
And yes: it is awesome.
Dave says: It’s a testament to the originality and daring of this film that there has never been another martial arts brawl in a sudsy car wash in movie history. It’s like, why bother? You can’t touch Black Belt Jones!
Agreed, Dave. After all…
…if they have karate battles in Heaven, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what they look like.