I've been meaning to take in some Ozploitation after watching the downright excellent NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (streamed via Netflix). DAY OF THE PANTHER is meant to fit right in with a lot of 80s martial-artist-takes-on-gangs flicks; mostly it feels like FORCED VENGEANCE made to have sex with an episode of MIAMI VICE while James Bond watches. It's directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, who also did the really-that's-a-movie STUNT ROCK (also highly recommended). Quentin Tarantino's a big fan of Trenchard-Smith, and it's easy to see why. He directs action cheaply and well; he's not above a flat-out gag or two to keep things lively; and he likes to play with expectations.
Plot, right, the plot: Jason Blade (which sounds extra awesome when Aussies say it) and Linda Anderson, both graduates of the Panther School of Fighting (TM), are partners with the Hong Kong Police. In 80s movies, that means they are after narcotics. Movies and tv have long held up the Hong Kong police as the gold standard for effective law enforcement, and these two are no exception.
Straight out of the graduation ceremony, where Jason brands the symbol of his school into his forearm, we get a long sequence where Jason comes from Hong Kong to Perth intercut with Linda fighting for her life. Linda doesn't look like much, but she does everything right. When three masked goons come for her, she splits. She runs until she gets one alone, then she kicks the holy hell out of the guy. She runs some more, peels one away, beats his ass. It's often shot like she's about to give up and get killed, but she doggedly keeps at it. This culminates in a pretty great fight on top of what doesn't look like the sturdiest industrial roofing in Perth. But she kicks the skull-head guy's teeth in and gets away.
Well, no. Then she meets Baxter, the biggest physical villain of the piece. He dismantles her like she can't even ball a fist. This is pretty disappointing, except that what's happened is something you actually don't see much nowadays: a measured escalation of threat and capability. Linda did great up to this point; but Jesus if I did all that running and kicking I wouldn't be much use against a five year old after all that. It sets up Baxter's level and lets us know Jason's gotta step it up.
Also, Linda threw off her jacket to fight the last guy--that's fight movie code for that being your last fight in the scene. It was just one too many bad guys. In fact, DAY OF THE PANTHER has a good code to assess threat levels. Almost every time a group of dudes tries to kill Jason, there are five of them. He can handle five. When a trap is set for him in a basketball stadium (I know, right?), there are eight guys and Jason's immediate plan is to run and pick off guys like a certain tough gal who got killed early in the movie. It got to the point that when I took a headcount at the top of a fight, I'd know if Jason would be ok.
Our big baddie is Zukor, your standard rich white bastard with parallel legal and illegal businesses. Nothing seems to promote jealousy and anger among crooks like that one guy who can also run a chain of Dairy Queens on top of the smack business. Baxter is Zukor's guy, so Jason wants to take them both down--so does Linda's dad, William. Turns out Jason, Linda, and William are the only three Westerners to graduate from Panther School. This is observed by the extremely ineffectual cops and their wise old man boss. They also observe that Jason's rep is that he's actually a Triad enforcer. When asked about this by wise old cop, Jason smiles and says the Triads make it look that way, as they owe him a favor. So Jason rides this rep to a job working for Zukor.
Zukor tests Jason, Jason passes. Baxter hates Jason; Jason finds clever ways to irritate the hell out of Baxter. Zukor says things to Jason like "You're sharp, Blade. I like your style," although my favorite Zukorism is "I have no better nature."
Enter William's niece, Gemma, who is a lovely addition to the plot that Jason can have sex with. She woos him by Jazzercising around him while he works out in her gym. The second you see the huge-ass boombox, you know it's on. Gemma's no martial artist, but she's fit and clever and survives the movie, unlike the woman Jason doesn't have sex with.
The movie builds toward a fighting tournament that's clearly not in the budget, so Trenchard-Smith pulls a switch and has Baxter figure out that Jason and William and Gemma and Linda are connected and that Jason's really the Hong Kong cops. The fight's still on, but now it's for an audience of one--Zukor. There's something refreshing about two competent martial artists fighting without wires and whatnot; it's no S.P.L., but for 1987 it's just fine.
Everyone gets a threat to overcome. Jason beats Baxter, William beats Zukor, and Gemma nuts and beats the crap out of a goon that tries to rape her. When the goon starts grabbing her, Gemma immediately starts giggling and says "I quite like this, actually." So the goon lets her turn and face him and she puts her foot right between his boys. All this takes places at Zukor's amphitheater because a) it was available for the shoot and b) because Australians saying AMfeeTHEEtah is hilarious. I know they don't do these things just for me, but I like to think so.
At the end, we get "Jason Blade will return in Strike Of The Panther", and IMDB confirms that he did. May have to check that one out too. This was a lot of fun.
Stayed awake for the whole thing because of lines like “I’ll wipe the floor with the prick” and (reading headline) “Unknown Fighter Fills Casualty Ward”. Six wide awake eyes for this one. (One eye equals 15 minutes of runtime.)
John Ira Thomas writes graphic novels for Candle Light Press. He has also never wiped the floor with a prick.
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