The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe Review (Scherpschutter)
The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (Il Mio Nome è Shanghai Joe) See Database Page
A Chinese immigrant (who has no trouble at all to make himself understood in the new country) travels to Texas, looking for honest work, but all he encounters is racism, racism and more racism (oh yes, he also meets a girl who falls for him). He soon impinges on the interests of a slave trader called Spencer, ending up with a price on his head. When our immigrant turns out to be expert martial artist Spencer and his friends hire the four most terrifying bounty hunters of the West, among them a cannibal and a scalphunter.
With the spaghetti western in decline and the martial arts movies from Hong Kong flourishing, it was no surprise that some film makers would combine elements of both genres. The British-French-Italian Red Sun had shown the way two years earlier and a couple of low budget hybrids were released the same year (at least one of them, Storia di karatè, pugni e fagioli, prior to Shanghai Joe). The movies from Hong Kong usually lacked a decent budget and good-looking locations; the same sets and outdoor locations were used over and over again, leading to a visual monotony, only remedied by the virtuoso fighting skills of some of the lead actors. Shanghai Joe was made with a decent budget and therefore has a more sophisticated look than most martial arts movies from Hong Kong, but what it lacks is - of all things - a virtuoso fighting star. Most fans of martial arts movies disliked this movie for its poor action scenes. On Coolass Cinema, the movie is called 'execrable' (1).
Lead actor Chen Lee looks more Japanese than Chinese; for this reason it has been suggested that he was a Japanese karate instructor, but according to director Caiano he worked in a laundry, not in a dojo, and he was chosen because he looked a little like the young Dustin Hoffman. Giusti thinks his real name was Mioshini Hayakawa, which is indeed Japanese, not Chinese (2). Unlike Lo Lieh in the similar hybrid movie The Stranger and the Gunfighter he isn't escorted by a major spaghetti western star. Lo Lieh had Lee (van Cleef), Chen Lee has to do it all by himself. The movie also lacks all possible coherence; while the martial arts sequences flirt with parody and slapstick, the western action is blood-spattered, unpleasant and gory. In the middle of some parodist martial arts nonsense, one of the bounty hunters has an eye gauged out. Absolute madness.
Admittedly, the movie has a few things speaking for it. Bruno Nicolai recycled the main theme of Buon funerale, amigos!... paga Sartana, but his score is so good that we don't mind. The first forty minutes or so are no more than a series of often unfunny vignettes, but the film picks a little in the second half, with a couple of guest appearances by the likes of Kinski, Mitchell and Undari. Alex Cox calls it a surrealist horror-western in the tradition of Questi and Corbucci (3). French critic Jean-François Giré thinks it's the only successful fusion of martial arts and western action Italian style (4). Forum member John Welles, whose opinion covers a middle ground (7), wrote that: "This Western tries to say some interesting things about the West, and how Chinese immigrants helped do a lot of the "dirty" jobs that Whites wouldn't do. Sadly, most of this is drowned under its comic book style and some pretty bad kung-fu."
In China the surname precedes the personal name, family or clan being more important than the individual. Tracing a Chinese actor (or other person) is always difficult, if only because of the limited number of Chinese family names. There are no more than 538 traditional Chinese surnames (8); thanks to small variations, the actual number is about 4000, but that is still a very small number for such an immense population (9). Some 35% of the immense population has one of the five most common surnames, Zhang, Wang, Wu, Zhao or Li. So looking for a certain Li Jing or Zhang Hua in a city like Shanghai or Beijing is like looking for a needle in the biggest hay stack you've ever seen.
Director: Mario Caiano - Cast: Chen Lee, Klaus Kinski, Claudio Undari, Gordon Mitchell, Katsutoshi Mikuriya, Carla Romanelli, Carla Mancini, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, * Piero Lulli, Federico Boido, George Wang, Francisco Sanz, Roberto Dell'Acqua, Tito Garcia - Music: Bruno Nicolai
- (1) In a review of another movie: http://www.coolasscinema.com/2009/01/fugitive-1972-review.html
- (2) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'Italiana
- (3) Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die, p. 298
- (4) Jean-François Giré, Il était une fois le western européen, p. 309
- (5) Kathy Flower, China, a quick guide to customs & etiquettes
- (6) Wikipedia: List of Common Chinese surnames and their meaning