Thursday, June 13, 2019

Triskaidekaphilia: '13 Style Strike' (1979)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

I've written about numerous martial arts movies over the course of this project, and they've almost all been terrible: cheap-looking, poorly written, incomprehensibly plotted, broadly acted and completely lacking in suspense or excitement. Probably that's a byproduct of the kinds of movies that end up being retitled for home video with the number 13 in them; most of the horror movies I've written about suffer from the same problems. But since I have a general aversion to martial arts movies, I probably have less patience for these shoddy examples than I do for the many, many terrible horror movies I've seen over the years. I tend to tune out during even the most elegantly staged fight scenes, which I find inherently repetitive and dull. That's not to say that I've never enjoyed a martial arts movie, but it's often other elements (plot, character, set and costume design, cinematography) that draw me in.

All of which is to say that 1979's 13 Style Strike (also known as Eighth Wonder of Kung Fu) is very bad, and not just because it's a cheap martial arts movie. The plot is more or less incomprehensible, the characters are difficult to tell apart, the editing is choppy, and the fight scenes are sloppily staged, with punches and kicks that often land only vaguely near their targets. Some of the flaws can be blamed on the English-language version available to watch on Amazon Prime, which in addition to its laughable dubbing may have been edited for the American market (it runs just 76 minutes) and had its sound effects added or changed (the entire soundtrack, not just the dialogue, sounds like it was overdubbed). Amazon's video was clearly copied directly from VHS (including multiple tracking problems, which are always hilarious to see on streaming video), and no one's bothered to restore this poorly made obscurity.

I've thus far avoided recounting the plot, because I'm not quite sure I know what it is. There's a kung-fu school in what characters keep referring to as Shanghai, even though the movie is from Taiwan. A couple of white American businessmen have imported an American martial-arts champion to fight against Chinese kung-fu masters for some reason. There are references to the combination between Western and Eastern styles (maybe 13 of them?), and in an early scene, one of the kung-fu champions fights an American boxer, complete with boxing gloves. I'm tempted to credit this movie with inventing mixed martial arts, but that would imply that I understood what was happening.

There's also a rivalry between local kung-fu masters, one of whom is also a crime lord, maybe. There's a kung-fu champion taking the fall for an accidental killing by his brother (or student?), getting sent to jail, breaking out of jail, becoming a kung-fu clown (?), and then triumphantly returning to take on the American challenger. I guess this guy is the hero of the movie, although he doesn't really seem any more important than any of the other characters, whose relationships to each other are always unclear, until the movie gets close to its climax. There are a handful of cool moments in a late-film fight sequence at a construction site, but otherwise the action is listless, and since it's hard to figure out what the characters are fighting for and why, there's very little rooting interest in these anonymous ciphers. This certainly isn't a kung-fu movie for anyone but the most dedicated schlock fans.

No comments: