I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Black Belt Jones

tn_blackbeltjonesFrom the director of ENTER THE DRAGON comes Jim Kelly as BLACK BELT JONES. Black Belt Jones is a cool, afro-sporting karate expert and sometimes government agent. He doesn’t have any other first name, but you can call him “B.B.” if you want. He tries to stay out of conflicts but then a crime lord named Pinky (Malik Carter) kills the owner of the karate school, Poppa “Pops” Byrd (Scatman Crothers). The government or somebody wants the land, so the mafia pushes Pinky, so Pinky is after the karate school. Pops wills it to a daughter nobody knew about named Sydney (Gloria Hendry from BLACK CAESAR), they use threats and kidnapping to try to force her to give it over, Black Belt helps out, etc.

Obviously it’s a silly movie and at times it’s sloppy, but it has many of the funny and absurd types of moments I look for in a movie like this. A couple of my favorites:

1. Robert Clouse’s directing credit is over a freeze frame of Black Belt aiming his gun at a dude who’s running away. When it unfreezes the bullet hits the guy in the ass.

mp_blackbeltjones2. Pops owes Pinky $1,000, but when Pinky shows him an I.O.U. it says 11,000. Then after Pops dies he shows the I.O.U. to Sydney and now it says 41,000. He keeps adding more lines to it!

3. Black Belt is not very enlightened about women. When Sydney wants to come along on some dangerous mission he tells her to stay and do the dishes. She shoots the dishes and says, “They’re done.”

4. Also he doesn’t wait for her to put on her panties when they have to make a run for it. Then he doesn’t understand why she’s still holding onto the panties and throws them out the car window. In my opinion he owes her a pair of panties.

5. In one scene we see B.B. on a beach with some hot chicks bouncing on a trampoline. It seems like it’s just there to show the kind of lifestyle a guy like this lives, hanging out on a beach with bouncing women. But later he ends up hiring them for a mission where they have to jump off of portable trampolines. Also, they call him “Mr. Jones.” I think he may actually be their trampoline teacher, but I’m not sure.

6. There’s a big jokey chase scene on a beach where Black Belt and Sydney flirtatiously fight until they end up stealing somebody’s sex tent. One of the goofiest jokes is when they break some fat hippie’s acoustic guitar, especially since it’s edited to match up to a guitar solo in the theme song.

There’s also weird ideas like a climactic fight in car wash suds (reminded me of samurai movies in snow) and a funky as hell theme song by the white-but-funky guitarist Dennis Coffey.

Kelly’s a good fighter on screen and an icon of both ’70s black cool and that decade’s explosion of popularity for the martial arts. They have an all black karate school that promotes discipline without being explicitly political like Black Panthers. Pinky still calls them “commies” though because they ask him to take his shoes off in the dojo.

I don’t know that much about karate, but some of the shit they do seems made up. For example I don’t believe it’s tradition to do a bunch of moves next to the coffin at a funeral. Also, I believe these kids should be allowed to wear shoes when driving a car.

Another thing that’s weird is that Kelly keeps doing those cat noises that his former co-star Bruce Lee did. It seems so goofy now because the only people who really make sounds like that are Bruce Lee and people imitating Bruce Lee in comedies. But I know Jim Kelly was really good friends with Bruce Lee, so it was probaly his tribute, since this came out the year after Bruce died.

Sydney is a funny character. She doesn’t put up with any shit. When a bunch of “Bogarts” as Pinky calls them threaten her she tells them “I’ll make you look like a sick faggot” and then beats them all up. She also tells Black Belt if he wants to have sex with her he has to “take it,” and when he says he doesn’t need any woman that badly she slaps him across the face and says “What’s the matter, you a faggot?” So she is not too good on gay rights or women’s issues but she’s hilariously self-assured. She doesn’t mean any harm, she’s just trying to show off that she can hold her own even with a dude like Black Belt Jones.

This is not a great piece of filmatism like, say, SHAFT, and not a home-made affair like DOLEMITE, it’s somewhere in between. I guess I would put it in a category with CLEOPATRA JONES as one of the more enjoyably absurd blaxploitation pictures. Too bad they don’t have a good DVD of it yet (the one I watched was clearly transferred from VHS.)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 at 1:50 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

32 Responses to “Black Belt Jones”

  1. BlackFrankWhite

    June 17th, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for the review, Vern. You reminded me how much I love this movie and why. Btw, I think this is actually better then Shaft although Shaft was the first and it’s kinda hard to fuck with that.

  2. “She shoots the dishes and says, “They’re done.””

    Vern, you just SOLD me on this movie.

  3. One Guy From Andromeda

    June 17th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Gotta check this out (and normally you can chase me with blaxpolitation AND kung fu movies)…

  4. One Guy From Andromeda

    June 17th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    That’s what they call it now by the way – blaxpolitation…

  5. Along with “Enter The Dragon” this is the closest thing Robert Clouse has made to a watchable/good movie (enjoyably bad movies like ‘Gymkata’ & the ‘China O’Brian'(s) don’t count).

    On the DVD the ‘Enter’ producers sure want to give Clouse the lion’s share of the credit for that film’s success but when you watch his other shitfests you immediately find out they just wanted to be nice.

    This film also makes me wonder if a Clouse film is only as good as it’s lead (see: “Enter”) but then Clouse goes and makes “Battle Creek Brawl” (Jackie and motherfucking Mako) just to ruin that thought.

    It should be impossible to make a boring Jackie Chan movie but Clouse found a way. All he had to do was just film the first & second act of Lee’s ‘Game Of Death’ scriptment (fill in some blanks of coarse) but why do that when his ideas are so much better.

    I’d love to see ‘Dark Than Amber’ though. Since that’s the one Lee watched which lead to him choosing Clouse (from what I know of it has no video) I wonder if it would be a case of like Brett Ratner’s ‘Money Talks’. You watch it to see why Jackie picked him to direct ‘Rush Hour’ and then you go “Wha…?” Well it happened to me.

    My rant about who HKfilm.net calls “the Joel Schumacher of his time” aside. “Black Belt Jones” is a hell of a lot of fun. I always wondered why Jim Kelly didn’t become a bigger star (he was black) because I thought he had a tremendous amount of charisma and likability about him. I loved Gloria Hendry in this as well; A truly memorable female protagonist (a very rare commodity). They definitely don’t make them like this anymore.

    -which is a shame because I can only imagine how good/fun this type of film would be if it where directed by someone who is not Robert Clouse.

  6. I didn’t know about Darker Than Amber. I’m gonna have to check that out. Also I thought based on this and Enter the Dragon that Robert Clouse deserved some credit. I liked The Big Brawl too, but I saw it back when Jackie Chan was a novelty so I don’t know what I’d think now.

    I gotta stick up for Money Talks though, I love that fuckin movie and watch it over and over again. I guess you gotta think Chris Tucker is hilarious like I do to appreciate it, but it does have a few clever subversions of the Lethal Weapon style buddy movie formula, including that the white guy is a total douchebag that you enjoy seeing humiliated for the whole movie.

    I know I’m alone on this one, I don’t know many Chris Tucker fans, but there are at least ten parts in that movie that make me laugh just thinking about them. And I won’t apologize for it. In fact, I can’t say it’s as good as the 48 Hours movies, because it’s obviously a rip-off of them, but to me it’s way funnier.

    Ratner is actually a huge Enter the Dragon fan and I think that’s why he has Lalo Schifrin score almost all his movies, and always in a retro style. I was bummed when the rumor that Schifrin was scoring X-Men 3 turned out not to be true. But I think you got it backwards, Ratner was on Rush Hour first and wanted to make a movie with Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. Those movies (well, the first two) are mildly amusing but kind of the definition of mediocrity because they’re PG-13 Chris Tucker and American Jackie Chan. Neither is allowed to shine. Money Talks and Friday are where it’s at for Chris Tucker.

    Anyway, I’ll have to watch some more Robert Clouse movies, but at this point I am not prepared to agree that he was holding Black Belt Jones back. I think he deserves credit for a fun movie. I’ve also noticed that most of his movies have great theme songs, that seems like a motif for him. He had good taste in theme songs I guess.

  7. I don’t hate Chris Tucker either. I go even so far and say that Ruby Rhod was my favourite character in The Fifth Element. He made me laugh tears in almost every second he is in that, right down to the timing of his screams during the big shootout.

  8. I’m one of the five people on Earth does not feel that Tucker ruined ‘The Fifth Element’. The only movies I did not like Tucker in were ‘Rush Hour 2’ & ‘Rush Hour 3.’

    It’s been a while since I read Chan’s autobiography but I’ve always been under the impression Chan was on ‘Rush Hour’ first but I do remember from his biography he pretty much states he had final decision on the director and he picked Ratner after they screened ‘Money Talks’ to him while Chan was filming his last good (or at least great) movie ‘Who Am I.’

    It’s been years and years since I’ve seen ‘Money Talks’ but I remember it being funny. I don’t hate it at all it’s just that if your like me and you watch it with the knowledge that Chan picked Ratner based on this film. Though the rumor/urban legend I heard why Chan has never worked with an established director is because of his experiences in America back in the 80s. Clouse directed ‘Enter the Dragon’ so everyone assumed he knew what he was doing even though his subsequent films proved otherwise (actually Brawl bombing is pretty much what did in Clouse’s career and he was regulated to TV and low budge B-movies after that). Hal Needham (Cannonball Run(s) was quite a hot name back in the day. James Glickenhaus (The Protector) was an up-and-comer who expected to be the next big thing apparently. As a result when Chan came back he apparently just wanted “young up and comers” who idolized him (none of the 80s directors gave a shit who he was) so he could have more control or at least have at least some thing turn out his way.

    Ala ‘Jason Goes To Hell’ I recently rewatched my copy of ‘Battle Creek Brawl’ as I used to have a soft spot for that film and defended it many times and now I’m not sure what I saw in it as the only thing it has going for it is Lalo Schifrin’s score.

    As for my insinuation of me feeling Clouse held ‘Black Belt Jones’ from being even better, I’m just going off the rest of the man’s filmography and from that evidence I’m forced to say ‘Jones’ was a fluke or Kelly got to call alot of shots on there. To see the type of movie Clouse put his all into just watch his other 70s films which were movies he actually wanted to make.

    So with that I still stand by my Clouse-sucked thinking. I enjoy the hell out of ‘Enter the Dragon’ but only because of Lee, Kien (Luke his dubber needs mention), Kelly, Schifrin, and the production design. When those are not on play the film drags to a screeching halt, you can really tell which parts Lee directed/had control of and which parts Clouse did. Yul Brynner couldn’t save ‘The Ultimate Warrior’ and Mitchim couldn’t save ‘Amsterdam Kill’ (further ruining my lead actor theory) & ‘The Pack’ had Joe Don Baker. Then we have ‘Game of Death’ which was 99% under his complete and total control (he didn’t even use half of the Lee footage!). With ‘Game of Death’ alone I rest my case/opionion/whatever and since this is the internet and you still wont agree with me… Vern, I’m sorry I love ya, but I will be forced to question your sexuality and intelligence.

    Just kidding. I think I will give ‘Money Talks’ another shot though as it’s been years.

  9. I haven’t seen Darker Than Amber, but it’s based on one of John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee books, of which I am a huge fan. McGee was a Florida boat bum who happened to have a lot of friends who got into trouble all the time and needed his help getting out of it. He wasn’t a detective, per se. He was the guy you called when somebody had your money and wouldn’t give it back. The books seem a little outdated now, with their mix of late-20th Century world-weary philosophizing and tough-but-sensitive manliness, but I love them all the same. The books can get a little preachy, but the shit that McGee rails against (commercialism, pollution, Big Brotherism) is still going on decades later, and he somehow always finds a way to break your heart by the end. It would be a tough tone to get right, and I somehow doubt Clouse had the chops to pull it off, but I’m still curious. Any idea who the star was? I picture a young Nick Nolte, but polished up a bit.

  10. RE: Clouse’s choice of theme music:

    Shiffrin’s theme for Battle Creek Brawl was also fucking awesome. I don’t hate that movie like everybody else seems to (and I flat-out love The Protector) but it probably wouldn’t even be watchable without that music.

  11. Money Talks is awesome, and I’m totally not down with Ratner. But it is a damn funny movie.

  12. Oh yeah, I forgot about The Ultimate Warrior. That was actually the one that made me give up on trying to watch all the Robert Clouse movies. Not that it’s terrible, but it definitely didn’t live up to my hopes.

  13. Speaking of which, am I the only one who heard there was a movie called The Ultimate Warrior as a kid and thought that’s where the WWF’s Ultimate Warrior theme song came from? And figured the main character had face paint, long hair, and tassels around his biceps? Once I heard there was no relation I lost interest. I was also similarly bummed out when I heard the theme song of The Midnight Express (from NWA) was not from the movie Midnight Express.

  14. to neal2zod:
    Do I have the video for you!
    http://www.spoonyexperiment.com/2009/05/21/atop-the-fourth-wall-warrior-1/#comments

    If anyone here is able to track down a copy of ‘Darker Than Amber’ please drop me a line as that’s one of those titles I’ve been searching for for quite some time.

    Since looking back over it I fear I was a dick let me say that me saying “Wha..” to ‘Money Talks’ getting Ratner the ‘Rush Hour’ job (allegedly) is like when you go back and watch ‘The Duelist’ and go “Wha…” to the fact that that was the movie that got Ridley Scott the job for ‘Alien’. Just to furthur clarify I wasn’t knocking your film as I knew before hand (from a talkback) that you thought highly of that movie.
    -and I don’t hate Ratner but ‘Rush Hour 3’ taught me that I can try pretty damned hard

  15. No need to apologize. I have spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to convince people of Money Talks’ merits, but with no luck so far. It might just be me.

  16. Cleopatra Jones has a cracking good car chase.

    I’m thinking Sydney could kick BB’s ass.

  17. Well, Vern, you convinced me. If you’re going to go to bat for Money Talks like that, the least I can do is queue it up.

  18. note: if you don’t think Chris Tucker is funny, you will hate it. So don’t hate me afterwards.

  19. Vern – off-topic, but remember when Chris Tucker originally was supposed to be attached to that lame BLACK KNIGHT?

    Now that shit was more appropriate for Mr. Martin Lawrence.

  20. I haven’t seen any of the Rush Hour movies, but Friday is a classic and his little role in Jackie Brown was pretty memorable. Also, for the record, he didn’t ruin The Fifth Element, although I’ll bet his boys back home are still clowning him for that shit.

  21. Loved Tucker in the first two RH, Money Talks, Jackie Brown, and the Fifth Element, but RH 3 made me to jam corkscrews into my eyes and ears.

  22. Pretty much agree with you there Brendan. ‘Jackie Brown’ is my favorite Tarintino film and am a bit bummed it is his least liked movie (well until the also underrated ‘Death Proof’ that is) and Tucker was great in it, barely in the film but yet remained memorable in a film filled with A-list actors playing memorable characters and dammit I love Ruby Rod.

    ‘Rush Hour 3’ is the film that taught me that maybe I can learn to hate Ratner like the rest of my internet comrades. Hyperbolic exaggeration of coarse but that was hands down the worst movie I saw that year (from memory). Ratner is not fully to blame as Chan was phoning it in and obviously didn’t want to be there (that went for his choreography as well) and the script was pure shit. It seemed every single (high-ranking) member of that film was just doing it for the payday with absolutely no creativity at all. It recycles the old Abbot & Costello ‘Who’s on first’ gag. Nuff said.

    Other than that Ratner is alright, sure he seems like a douche in real life if his interviews, commentaries (where he mainly sucks himself off the whole time), and candid behind-the-scenes stories. But as an “artist” (snicker) he’s give or take for me.
    ‘Money Talks’ – rewatching it soon but remember it being funny
    ‘Rush Hour’ – “OK” buddy cop movie and one of Chan’s better English language films
    ‘Family Man’ – I’m a huge Frank Capra fan and a sucker for these throw backs to his work (‘The Majestic’ was one of my favorite movies the year it came out) and even as a non Nic Cage fan I enjoyed it but must admit I can’t remember it too well and only saw it once but I remember liking it, maybe will have to give that one another shot
    ‘Rush Hour 2’ – shitty sequel
    ‘Red Dragon’ – “OK” suspense/thriller, liked ‘Manhunter’ better
    ‘After the Sunset’ – Bland & generic heist film
    ‘X-Men’s Last Stand’ – (see my Terminator Salvation comment for more) “OK” (but had great potential) sequel to two movies I loved and it’s biggest crime seemed to be not being as good as the prior and just having that whole ‘What would have Singer done?’ vide that unfairly plagued it. Hell I remember everyone bitching about the lack of action & robots in Singer’s films, which Ratner delivered, and then they bitched that X3 had too much action and the robot cameo was a cheat or some shit. Hypocritical much? Oh wait forgot where I was.
    ‘Rush Hour 3’ – in a year that gave us ‘Transformers’ & ‘AVP-R’ Ratner somehow made a movie with Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker and made it worse than those prior mentioned films. That has to require some talent to pull off.

    So until 2007 I never really understood the whole hate Ratner bandwagon other than he’s apparently a smarmy asshole (actually I’m not sure the backlash ever even existed until he was announced for X3). I mean sure he was attached to that awful Superman: Flyby script b… nevermind he was attached to that thing and ‘Rush Hour 3’ so I guess maybe the hate is warranted after all.

    Anyways to get (kinda) back on topic we can all agree they need to release a goddamned soundtrack to ‘Battle Creek Brawl’

  23. I actually think much higher of Ratner then you do. I haven’t seen the first two Rush Hours in a little while, but I remember genuinely enjoying them, in particular the Chris Tucker parts. I liked Money Talks and Red DRagon, and in fact I as much as I’m not a fan of X3 I don’t blame him for that movie’s crappiness, he managed to make something watchable out of rather unbeatable circumstances. The only movie of his I out and out hated was RH3. That movie really sucked.

    I love Jackie Brown and Death Proof, but better then Pulp Fiction? Nah, not unless you’re counting that movie’s overexposure against it.

  24. No Ratner is not to be blamed for any short-comings of X3 as he came on only like a week or two before filming. Matthew Vaughn was the one who helped cultivate the script into what we saw, so any concerns over creative decisions with the story more falls on his hands than Ratner’s (oh yeah and Tom Rothman not approving an X3 till a year before the film was released and driving Singer away to Warner Bros, he deserves a very large portion of the blame).

    The one thing I’d really lay blame on Ratner for that one is that he is not an actor’s director as the acting in the film is nowhere near what it was in the first two. Other than that he was a hand-for-hire and the film would have turned out pretty much the same no matter who directed it.

    As I stated already though I didn’t hate X3 and enjoy it a lot more than other’s it just seems on the internet nothing can be merely “OK” it’s either “the worst thing eva!!” or “the best best thing eva!!”
    As stated in the above I agree the only terrible thing he’s been attached to was ‘Rush Hour 3’ other than that I can give or take him and his biggest crime is that ‘he lacks the ‘ol vision’ as vern rightfully accused Ron Howard of but I also feels applies to Ratner (this is me foreshadowing Ratner getting an Oscar for something in the future).

    As for me liking ‘Jackie Brown’ more, just personal preference is all. I can say I love everything about that movie, even Pam Grier I really liked whom I remember alot of people knocking her performance. I think it’s Tarentino’s most mature-minded film and he was rewarded for his efforts by all his fans calling it boring. Don’t get me wrong I love me “Pulp Fiction’ I do not hold it in as high regard as everyone seems to though. It’s not my favorite of the 90s but it’s up there. I could list my only real problem with it is that the 2nd (Bruce Willis) half isn’t as good as the first but that would just be plain damned stupid because the Willis part is still one of the best things to come out of cinema in the ’90s. I will agree with you (and everyone else for that matter I know I’m in the minority here) that ‘Fiction’ has/had more of a “fresh” “original” approach but “Brown” worked for me more though. I don’t count overexposure because that would be silly, that will go away eventually and the film will stand on it’s own. Though overexposure seems to have led to the ridiculous ‘cool to hate Tarintino’ fad going on now or it may just be the internet culture.

  25. I’m with you on Jackie Brown. I’ve been watching Death Proof a lot more than any of his others lately but I’d have to say Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Too flip-flop as my favorite Tarantino movie. (Though Jackie Brown usually has the edge for the soundtrack alone)

    I like DeNiro’s line after him and Fonda bang it out. “That was fun.” “Yeah, that really hit the spot.” Also the chemistry between Pam Grier and Robert Forester…I could watch those two do nothing but drink coffee together forever.

  26. Guys, RUSH HOUR 3 was like LETHAL WEAPON 3, a souless emptyheaded expensive trip to the ATM machine. Thats it. Nobody involved with RH3 had an idea for why to comeback, except replinish their bank accounts.

    Yeah AICN at the time pissed on Tucker and Chan getting ridiculous paychecks and huge chunks of gross points, but you know what? They’re the stars. You cant do a RH3 without them. What shit I don’t understand is, why they paid Brett Ratner 5 million?

    Ratner isn’t exactly an auteur standout, if you get my drift. A poor man’s fratboy Richard Donner. Point is, hire a competent director, and RUSH HOUR 3 we wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

    Oh and THE FIFTH ELEMENT was pretty good, with Chris tucker getting a chance to be Prince of the future. What comic wouldn’t love to play that schtick?

  27. So wait, a bunch of people who are paid to make movies put together a soulless, plotless, jokeless shit fest, and because we all agreed beforehand that there wasn’t going to be any artistic value in it at any level, it’s OK for them to churn out run of the mill pap and call it ‘entertainment?’ Fuck that. I don’t care what it’s origins are, how it started out, who was trying to make money off of it, a film should always try to be more then the sum of its parts being surgically stapled back together Frankenstein style. I’m insulted by RH3 and how it is clearly the product of a bunch of hacks who believed that if you simply have pictures and words come off the screen in some kind of coherent fashion, then us idiots would all giggle and drool and accept it as “More of the same summer fun.” Fuck those fucks and fuck that movie.

    And for the record, Pulp Fiction isn’t my favorite Tarantino movie. That’d be Kill Bill.

  28. I enjoyed this article thanks for contributing :) Cheers! Good job!

  29. Now wait a minute, I can’t stand idly by and listen as people try to make the argument that Chris Tucker’s performance in “the 5th Element” is not easily in the running for the worst on-screen performance of all time.

    Now I’m not trying to say Tucker isn’t funny, cuz Friday and Money Talks obviously put the lie to that. But Tucker is without question the worst part among many terrible parts of that movie.

    Not trying to be an asshole but come on people, this needs to be said.

  30. ” But Tucker is without question…”

    Opinion doesn’t equal fact. I thought under Dubya, you would realized that.

    “this needs to be said.”

    Me too.

  31. heh, well, OK. Point taken. But the haters need to be represented too!

  32. Oh, is that so, Lewis Robinson? Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know where I can purchase some scaffolding boards, would you?

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>