Jack Palance doesn't always get his due. With movies like Shane, Companeros, The Professionals, A Professional Gun and even City Slickers (among many more), Palance put together quite a career. Were they all winners? Not by a long shot with some real stinkers included in the list, but this is a name I'm always happy to see pop up in a movie's credits. It could be great, good, tolerable and sometimes, downright painful, but that's the fun! Where does 1967's Kill a Dragon fall? Read on...
A tiny fishing village near Hong Kong is in trouble. The poor, isolated village has stumbled into a potentially huge payday when some of the villagers discover a shipwrecked boat on their shores packed to the seams with an immense, highly temperamental load of nitroglycerin. The trouble? Though the village claims the nitro by salvage laws, the real owner, a ruthless smuggler and businessman, Patrai (Fernando Lamas), will stop at nothing to get his nitro back. He gives them just three days to turn the nitro over or else he'll wipe out the village. The village's only hope comes in the form of a soldier of fortune, Rick Masters (Palance), who offers to help for a sum of the profits. Masters assembles a small team to help him out, but they are going to need quite a plan. Patrai and his small army are waiting to unleash themselves on the village and time is running out.
I'm a pretty cheap date when it comes to most movies. If I'm entertained, I can look past a whole lot of faults or slip-ups. And every once in awhile, you just need a good B-movie to clear your head. This one? It's a B-movie, it isn't very good, it is pretty dumb, and it is entertaining. Don't expect anything too crazy -- or even particularly good -- but it is a mindless adventure flick made on the cheap that nonetheless kept me interested throughout its meandering but still brisk 91-minute running time. An obvious comparison is a tweaked version of the classic 1960 western The Magnificent Seven (one of my all-time favorites) with 1960s Hong Kong replacing 1870s Mexico. It isn't so noble or righteous in its story. It's mercenaries and smugglers and soldiers of fortune looking for a payday. Is that so bad?
There is definitely a so bad it's good feel to director Michael Moore's film. While I was entertained, not much goes on for much of the movie. Lots of talking, lots of intense stand-offs, with a chase here and there mixed in. Much of the action is saved for the finale in a tense showdown at the fishing village. As for the B-movie angle, it was clearly made on the cheap. My biggest suspicion? The cast looks to have brought their own wardrobe. Case in point...it is too much to watch Palance and co-star Aldo Ray run around Hong Kong in polo shirts, khakis, sweaters and very white sneakers. It is quite the visual look, not your typical tough guy attire but that's part of the goofy charm of this oh so bad but oh so entertaining B-flick.
Besides his business casual attire, Palance has some fun as soldier of fortune Rick Masters. We learn a little about his smuggling past and his heated rivalry with Lamas' Patrai, but mostly, he's that cool anti-hero who meets each sticky situation head-on, danger be damned. His scenes with Lamas are the high points, two hated enemies talking with smiles on their faces but ready to shoot the other in a flash should the situation arise. Lamas gets to ham it up a bit as the mustachioed villain, always impeccably dressed to boot. Masters' small crew includes Ray as Vigo, a former partner who's fallen on hard times and is a tour guide in Hong Kong and Don Knight and Hans William Lee as Ian and Jimmie, con men partners always looking for a chance at a sizable payday. There's also Kam Tong as Win Lim, the fishing village's leader.
Here's a movie that really has nothing hugely positive going for it, but just the same I enjoyed it. The action is kept under wraps until the finale, but I liked the payoff between Masters and Patrai. It's dumb throughout but entertaining dumb. How many movies can you watch where Jack Palance has this unexplained pull on Asian women wherever he goes? Look for Aliza Gur as hustler, possible hooker and mostly nude (strategically covered) Tisa and Judy Dan as the faithful, loyal young woman from the fishing village, , drawn to Masters...well, because the movie has to have something to do. Stupid, mindless fun, and you've got to stick around for the laughable final scene. So bad but so entertaining. If nothing else, it was filmed on location in and around Hong Kong and Macau so there's that!
Kill a Dragon (1967): ** 1/2 /****