PCR past banners
   Now in our tenth calendar year
    PCR #504  (Vol. 10, No. 47)  This edition is for the week of November 16--22, 2009.

Holiday Movie Preview  by Mike Smith
"The Blind Side "  by Mike Smith
Texas Terrors: The Late Night Films of Larry Buchanan Part Two  by ED Tucker
USA Network’s Black Belt Theater  by Jason Fetters
The Top 30 Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror Actresses, #16-13  by Lisa Scherer
Lebron James Changes Number .... No More ‘captain’ In It For The Nfl? .... Guess There Still Is Some Left In The Tank! .... Chris Simms .... Belichick The Bonehead? .... .... .... by Chris Munger
Do You Think We'll Make The Sullivan Show? .... Zack Attack! .... And The Oscar Goes To .... Passing On .... Last Week In "my Favorite Films" .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2 by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2009
Archives 2008
Archives 2007
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR

USA Network’s Black Belt Theater

I have written about how Creature Feature influenced me from around 1976 through 1984. In 1985, a new love emerged replacing Creature Feature with Asian filmmaking thanks to USA Network’s Black Belt Theater. On the weekends Black Belt Theater would show an old, cheap kung fu movie and I remembered the cheesy We’ll-Be-Right-Back-After-This-Commercial-Break featuring a fortune cookie suddenly breaking apart and a message on white paper with something written on it such as: “Confucius says wise man must maintain his patience because we will be right back.” Each week the message got a little cornier. Unlike Creature Feature, there was no martial artist host or fan to tell jokes between segments and I often wondered how that would have worked out.

Black Belt Theater would show a mixed bag of films from the cheap Kung Fu Inferno which was a terrible film that was likely made in the 70’s to cash in on the disco craze to a young Jackie Chan in Snake Fist Fighter. In Snake Fist Fighter you won’t see any jaw-breaking stunts, beautiful martial arts choreography, or kung fu blows with any power behind them. It basically had Chan and the usual villain slapping each other around. This was before Chan was making kung fu comedy so even the humor was missing making Snake Fist Fighter a dry film and a far cry from Jackie Chan’s better work. Still, Snake Fist Fighter did show a young Chan full of energy and a hint of the potential that was to come.

The best part of the old 70’s and early 80’s kung fu movies was the lack of stars, which made sense at that time. If you wanted to see Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, you could go to Blockbusters and rent something. However what those old starless kung fu movies had was a lot of cool action sequences and bizarre scenes that would be improbable in reality. I recall one strange scene with a monk taking a teacup and throwing it through the air and knocking down some misbehaving student from 20 feet away.

Another cool thing was how those old movies would mix genres like the horror kung fu crossover Kung Fu Zombies. That film had its wonderful silly moments, such as the scene with a zombie dressed up in traditional Chinese clothing suddenly jumping up from a grave and immediately began kicking and punching.

There are so many good examples of the strange and unusual in the movie Shaolin Drunkard. In Shaolin Drunkard you have a Chinese vampire who lives in an elaborate temple complete with Indiana Jones-style obstacle course that the hero must survive just to get to him. There is even an interesting fight scene between one really ugly toad, who just happens to know kung fu, and a random kung fu fighter. Shaolin Drunkard even has its humorous moments including a weird scene of play acting involving a man who has a painted a face on his thumb who is talking to another man who has a painted thumb face. Why they couldn’t just speak to each other is something I will never understand, however that’s what made the scene special and how I can remember it all these years later. The Chinese vampire gets in many cool, bloody kills scenes when he takes on the local villagers. There is even a sequel to Shaolin Drunkard that is even more bizarre than the first with some type of creature that looks a lot like Pac Man kung fu fighting. The highlight from both movies is the way the hero deals with flying spears and trap doors from the villain’s obstacle course. If I ever get the chance to become a martial arts fighting villain, I have my own obstacle course planned and a big back up plan should the hero figure out how to evade everything.

Besides all the fun that kung fu movies can generate in young imaginations, those movies also showed political concerns that I wasn’t aware of at 14. In The Brave Lion you see Japanese World War II soldiers beating up and abusing Chinese workers until kung fu fighters show up. I would have never thought of war atrocities watching The Brave Lion. There was also a rape scene that was not shown but hinted at suggesting how bad things probably were back then.

Mostly what USA Network’s Black Belt Theater had in abundance was fun action scenes. Whether it was two random guys slapping each other around, weak punches thrown so wide that no one could get hit, to high flashy kicks, and amazing feats of acrobatic skills that would be any Olympic gymnast proud. I always loved the scenes with one guy suddenly leaping 20-feet in the air to randomly perform 30-plus mid-air back flips, then returning back to solid ground to resume fighting.

Sometime in the 80’s or in the early 90’s Black Belt Theater changed to USA Network’s Kung Fu Theater. Regardless of which title the program was called, those movies greatly influenced a number of directors from Tarantino to the Wachowski brothers. I find it interesting just how far those old movies have come along in the US when Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon actually won an Academy Award. Kung fu movies have a come a lot way from cheap quickly-produced entertainment films to critically-acclaimed art films. I will keep watching kung fu movies as long as they are available because they offer something you just can’t find anywhere else.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2009 by Jason Fetters.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.