Sunday, November 21, 2010

TNT Jackson (1974)

Diana "TNT" Jackson (Jeannie Bell) comes to "Hong Kong" to look for her brother Stag/Stack (Stack-o-lee?). She doesn't know yet that he has been killed in a drug deal gone very bad. With the help of friendly, two-fisted bar owner Joe (played by beloved - or so the Internet tells me - Filipino comedian Chiquito; not doing any comedy), TNT finds out the truth about her brother soon enough.

The young woman swears vengeance on the killers of Stag, planning to do some punishing with her superior martial arts. Her plans are made easier to accomplish by a few helpful factors: firstly, the drug cartel TNT is after is not as united amongst themselves as it should be. Someone has begun to attack their deliveries and make off with the product. Secondly, Charlie (Stan Shaw), a high-ranking member of the cartel who also just happens to be the killer of TNT's brother shows a lot of interest in her. And thirdly, a female government agent (Pat Anderson), has managed to penetrate the inner circle of the gang.

Looks as if the vengeance business isn't as lonely and difficult as people say.

I've got my reasons for usually being quite hard on the films Filipino exploitation mega-producer Cirio H. Santiago directed himself, namely that the man's directorial style is terribly bland, and that his ability to make the most boring movies out of perfect exploitation ideas is maddening to the extreme. Because of these dubious tendencies, I go into Santiago's films with a large amount of trepidation, quite certain the director will be able to ruin even the best of set-ups through a special brand of wilful apathy only paralleled in certain late period Santo movies.

So it comes as something of a surprise that Santiago's TNT Jackson left me enjoying myself quite a bit. As was often the case with Santiago's movies, TNT was co-produced with Roger Corman for the American's New World Pictures, and therefore made with a large eye on the US market, with Santiago's native Philippines a secondary concern that could be satisfied with a local star like Chiquito in a secondary role.

Obviously, TNT's attempts at crossing the blaxploitation film with a very US American version of the martial arts film (that is to say, a version that mostly lacks people in front of or behind the camera even vaguely acquainted with the basic concepts of fighting on screen) do not add up to a "good" film of any kind, even before you have witnessed this film's particular idiosyncrasies, but they do end up being pretty enjoyable through sheer persistence.

This time around, Santiago actually manages to completely avoid his most debilitating weakness, the love for long and painful - often painfully long - scenes of filler. Being Santiago, he goes even one step further and seems to just have decided to throw any pretence of a coherent plot out of the window. The whole film is just a massive conglomeration of stuff that just happens to vaguely centre around TNT's vengeance, but never comes together as anything I'd call a story.

It's all bizarre dialogue, ridiculously choreographed fights during which clearly no bodily contact is ever made (cleverly emphasised by the lack of any exaggerated sound effects - we don't want people to think anyone's trying to hide his or her lack of martial arts skills here, right?), a heroine played by a woman who looks even more ridiculous in a fight than anyone else here (which is quite an achievement, once you have seen Stan Shaw waggle his legs, or, as the film calls it, "fight") with a stunt double who looks nothing like her (but can do acrobatics, hooray!), random naked fu, random moments of Chiquito being likeable and being the only competent person on screen (even his few fights look sort of believable!), and so on, and so forth. All this random stuff is presented without even the slightest attempt at making it gel dramatically. In place of all that high-falutin' logic and emotional depth, Santiago sets random, silly crap. But this once, the director/producer also seems to have realized this amount of silly crap needs to be presented with complete earnestness to be charming instead of annoying, and proceeds accordingly.

It's a laugh a minute, but I found myself laughing with the film, and not at it.


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