Forces of Geek delves into the video vault for a double bill of high kicking Ozploitation helmed by the one and only Brian Trenchard Smith, director of everything from Turkey Shoot (AKA Death Camp Thatcher!), BMX Bandits with a young Nicole Kidman to the original Man from Hong Kong which starred The One Armed Swordsman himself, Jimmy Wang Yu, alongside one-time James Bond, George Lazenby.
In the late 80’s, Trenchard-Smith would return to the world of martial arts movie making with the films Day of the Panther and Strike of the Panther, introducing the world to an Antipodean martial arts hero played by Edward Stazek, it’s time for Forces of Geek’s Man from Hong Kong and Panther fan extraordinaire Big Mike Leeder to look back at both films…
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING FILMS DO FEATURE VERY 1980’s MIAMI VICE INSPIRED FASHION, HAIRSTYLES AND MUCH MORE..CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
The temple of the Panthers…it hadn’t changed much in all the years since I’d walked where my daughter Linda and a young man called Jason Blade, now walked towards the final initiation. My name is William Anderson and I was leaving after 20 years in Hong Kong Special branch, leaving and going home and my daughter and this man Blade would follow in my footsteps, here and into the service.
The ancient and secret order of Panthers combined the most vigorous training in the martial arts with a high sense of correct behaviour and Zen mastery of the self. Once again as he had for me, the Grand Master spelt out the ideals obligations of the Panthers. For Linda I was both fearful and proud, as for Jason Blade, even the Chinese agreed, with his courage, his modesty and his supreme skill was exceptional…this ceremony was the final test!
The movie opens in Hong Kong as Jason Blade (Eddie Stazek) and Linda (Linda Megier) are inducted into the super-secret martial arts organization known as The Panthers, under the watchful eyes of William Anderson (John Stanton).
Now in true Kung Fu style, the final test involves burning a symbol, in this case a Panther onto your forearm, which is something I’ve always thought might not be a wise move as not only could it leave you horribly scarred and crippled if it goes wrong, at the very least you’re marked for life with a symbol that might be a little hard to explain under certain circumstances. “Hey, he’s got the symbol of the ancient and secret order of the Panthers burnt into his arm, do you think he might be one of their men?”
As Blade attempts to infiltrate the Chinese underworld, Australian crime lord and 80’s fashion victim Zukor (Michael Carman) has sent his enforcer Baxter (Jim Richards) to make some big trouble in little China.
The trail leads back to Australia where Linda manages to fight off a team of less than inconspicuous masked villains (Pig Man, Old Man and Skull Face) before falling foul of Baxter, forcing Jason Blade to walk the road of vengeance and return home to take deadly revenge. Upon arriving back in Australia, a grieving Anderson introduces Blade to his world champion aerobics instructor niece Gemma (Paris Jefferson), she’s got a penchant for jazzercise and the ability to look good in a leotard at all times.
|Would you believe they were all out of Spider-Man masks?
Blade decides the easiest way to bring the fight to Zukor, is by infiltrating his organization by walking into its headquarters and instead of filling in a job application, letting loose with an awesome display of brutality on some of his hired goons.
This leads to Zukor inviting him to a party where Blade gets to meet Baxter, who doesn’t take to the attention being shown to Blade and shoves one girl into a swimming pool for smiling at him. Sent to prove himself on an assignment for Zukor, Blade gets to let loose once more when it turns out to be a trap to test his skill and loyalty. Having proved himself to Zukor, Blade celebrates by seeking spiritual wisdom from Anderson and hitting the gym, only for Gemma to unleash the classic 80’s seduction technique of sexy aerobic dancing to good effect.
At the same time there is also a supposed comedy subplot involving two bumbling cops which seems to have slipped in from a bad 60’s movie, while we hear about the annual martial arts tournament hosted by Zukor (will we see an Enter the Dragon styled finale? Visions of hundreds of Karate Gi suited fighters and Blade battling his way through them?) Baxter has won the tournament every year, so Zukor puts the word out the Blade defeated him in a street fight to drive up the anticipation and betting…but instead of getting to see the tournament, Baxter uncovers the truth about Blade’s identity (Now the fact that Blade arrived in town, and introduced himself to everyone as Jason Blade, might not have helped his alibi!)
|I’m starting to see your “point” when it comes toward anonymity|
Blade, Stanton and Gemma go on the run with Zukor’s men in pursuit and head to the outdoor amphitheatre where Zukor hides his drugs, only for Zukor and his men to capture them and Baxter and Blade get to have their epic fight to the finish.
It’s a pretty cool fight, but intercut with Zukor being bitchslapped by Anderson and Gemma being chased by incompetent goons. Blade gets the upper hand in the fight but doesn’t kill Baxter, proving the Mercy is one of the traits of the Panthers….and setting up Baxter’s return in the sequel.
As the screen fadehe title card : Jason Blade will return in Strike of the Panther appears…
- Watch out for the hands of cameraman Caro Buralli popping into frame to prevent one Australian stuntman from wiping out on a combination of the camera and barbed wire. Something that if a Yugoslavian cameraman had been willing to do, could have saved Jackie Chan from his near fatal injury during the shooting of Armour of God.
- Eddie Stazek’s sweater in the Hong Kong restaurant fight was indeed borrowed from The Bill Cosby Show.
Strike of the Panther
I’d wanted to be there at the finish…but with a gun at my back, I wondered if the finish was to be my own? Down there on the deck, two gladiators fought, my friend Jason Blade was one of them, the other Baxter, the thug who killed my daughter…
It was to be the end of a long struggle that began a long time ago in Hong Kong…
The first film ends announcing the sequel Strike of the Panther, which was shot back to back with the first film, and released shortly afterwards. The sequel begins with a The Shadow styled for those of you who came in late recap…that lasts seven minutes! Short version, Blade is a kick ass martial artist, Anderson is his mentor, Gemma is his girlfriend and Baxter is still alive!
The film begins with Baxter escaping Freemantle prison, by climbing over the wall of the high security prison using bed sheets as rope, presumably leaving Zukor to rot or possibly enjoy some soapy showertime with the fellow inmates, while Baxter plans his own deadly revenge!
Blade has meanwhile abandoned his undercover activities, and is now training a new crime fighting task force in the previously top secret techniques of the Panther school with the assistance of police psychologist and SWAT team officer Andrews (Rowena Wallace). Blade is given the assignment of rescuing a politician’s strung out daughter from a high class brothel in the Australian suburbs. Blade goes undercover and is persuading her to leave with him when his cover is blown, and its time for a shirtless Blade to deal out some high impact justice to various thugs while dodging perverts in chicken suits and schoolboy outfits!
Blade is also trying to deal with relationship issues as Gemma wants him to make a serious commitment, promising only to do sexy aerobic dancing for him and him only, but Blade doesn’t want to put her in danger. By the way she’s now also somehow become a member of the new elite crime fighting force, without there ever being any previous discussion of her even being a member of the police in the first film. Sure enough, the next day she gets kidnapped and Anderson gets hospitalized in a hit and run by the baddies, and spends the rest of the film in a hospital bed, although he’s still able to offer Blade advice and guidance at times of danger thanks to his previously unmentioned telepathic powers.
Jason! Above you! Look out! Over there, no the other side, behind that box…oh sorry it was nothing.
The big bad is revealed to be Baxter (I mean ,who else did you think it was gonna be?) who has holed up in the nearby abandoned power station, having assembled an army of ninja styled mercenaries but with hockey masks and a more varied assortment of weapons than normal, not just your average katana, nunchucks and throwing stars, but spiked baseball bats and blow torches!
Blade is told he must enter the power station and battle his way through shades of Game of Death, without Police interference or else Baxter will blow up the power station and thus rain down hazardous waste across Western Australia.
Blade enters the power station, as a SWAT team led by Andrews tries its own infiltration mission. The ninjas really show no respect for either Blade or the SWAT team, and are frequently jumping out of the shadows and leaping about in full view, while one particularly sarcastic fellow unlashes a mixture of intimidating break dancing and moon walking moves to show his disdain! Blade is able to battle his way through the Ninja’s, using his own skills and Anderson’s telepathic warnings while the SWAT team are wiped out in a matter of minutes except for Andrews who tries to defuse the bomb.
Blade enters the control room where the sawn off shotgun wielding Baxter waits, with Gemma strung up for his entertainment and instead of letting loose with both barrels, Baxter decides he wants physical satisfaction and the two have a final battle royal which ends with a Double Impact Bolo Yeung styled death for Baxter as he’s electrocuted, and Blade and Gemma are reunited.
I’m a big fan of both Panther movies, and really feel that with the right projects, leading man Eddie Stazek could have made quite a name for himself as a martial arts hero. Both films were given a strong release in the UK by Guild Home Video in the late 80’s and both Stazek and Jim Richards heavily promoting their release. While the films are flawed at times and yes do have a very 1980’s feel to them they are great fun and well worth watching if you’re in the mood for a bit of non-heavy thought provoking martial arts entertainment.
The director for both films was Australian genre legend Brian Trenchard-Smith, cited by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favourite filmmakers. His credits include everything from the Jimmy Wang Yu classic The Man from Hong Kong/The Dragon Flies, BMX Bandits with a young Nicole Kidman, Stunt Rock, Dead End Drive-In, Leprechaun 4, the highly controversial Turkey Shoot and many more. And he keeps both films going at a solid pace, even if some of the comedic and romantic elements don’t really work too well. Trenchard continues to work as a director to this day, and there’s a great interview with him about his work on the Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood, which disappointingly never covered these two films.
Stazek makes a likeable leading man. He has a Jeff Speakman-Perfect Weapon-era styled physique which is displayed perhaps a bit too often, and his martial arts skills are damn sharp and his kicks look great. Veteran stunt performer Jim Richards plays Baxter in both films as well as proving the films fight and stunt choreography, and while not on a level with classic Hong Kong action, it easily compares with 80’s American martial arts action found in such films as the Chuck Norris and American Ninja movies.
When the films were made, there was talk of further adventures for Jason Blade, and I remember shortly after arriving in Hong Kong, being asked to accompany American Wushu maestro Jeff Falcon (Six String Samurai, Outlaw Brothers) to a meeting, where a possible Australian financed martial arts movie was discussed. The producer wouldn’t go into too much detail at the time, apart from discussing bringing Jeff in to play the main villain and have him and former Wushu champion Zhung Zhor-ho (Burning Ambition) choreograph the action. Sadly that was the last we ever heard from the producer.
I’ve always wondered if the hinted at third Panther movie would have incorporated some Hong Kong styled choreography to add variety to the action and get these films a little more attention and bring them to the next level. I like Jim Richards work, but it’s does at times get a little repetitive. There’s a lot of high kicks, roundhouses and big punches but he does have a tendency to repeat a lot of similar moves, although there are moments when it works well, with Blade unleashing chain punches and using a variety of technique in certain scenes.
Richards continued to work as a stunt performer through the 1990’s popping up in such projects as Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme and No Escape with Ray Liotta. John Stanton continues to appear on Australian TV in various commercials and series including Macleod’s Daughters, while Paris Jefferson would appear in the Highlander series as well as Xena Warrior Princess.
But what of Jason Blade? Did Edward John Stazek return to the temple of the Panthers? Or has he chosen to live in seclusion until his martial skills were needed once mor?, and then we’d see the Return of Jason Blade?
But recently we found him, he’s still involved in the entertainment industry these days, focusing on the musical side these days as part of Red Dash Black, who deliver the sensual sounds and feel of Argentinean tango across Australia. We’ve made contact and hope to be able to interview him shortly, and get the inside story from the man himself about Jason Blade and martial arts action movie making down under.
While there’s as yet no slick double disc set of the Panther films filled with interviews and commentaries, come on somebody! Both films have turned up on various grey area compilation discs and can be found on VHS on eBay etc., now if anyone has either movie on Laserdisc, give me a call!