GOLGO 13 from 1977 – sometimes subtitled ASSIGNMENT KOWLOON, but not to be confused with ASSIGNMENT MIAMI BEACH – is the second adaptation of a popular Japanese comic book. Sonny Chiba plays an infamous assassin known as Golgo 13. But fuck the code name, his real name, or at least the alias he’s living under, is “Duke Togo.” I mean why would you even want people to call you Golgo 13 if you’re normally called Duke Togo? Just stick with the one awesome name, in my opinion. Don’t hog ’em.
This is a great role for Chiba because he’s just full of larger than life swagger. He wears flashy suits and sunglasses, he has boxes of weapons delivered to him at his hotel, he satisfies women, he’s the very best at killing people and outsmarting everybody. He’s Shaft times James Bond but sort of the bad guy, which makes him kind of cooler than either one. And director Yukio Noda (BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION) shamelessly drapes it in the stylistic cliches of the time. A good thing.
An opening about Hong Kong police responding to a murder moves to a small boat off Miami where a white man named Rocky Brown is expecting to meet the legendary assassin Golgo 13. He’s worried because he doesn’t see any boats around, when suddenly Golgo climbs right out of the water onto the boat with scuba gear. Two other white men watch on a telescope from a hotel balcony, discussing who he is, explaining him to us. Suddenly Golgo pulls out a rifle – is he gonna betray this guy that wants to hire him? No, he fires at the hotel, taking out both of the exposition guys.
Golgo is hired to assassinate a Hong Kong drug kingpin who’s been stealing from the organization, and who they fear may plea bargain with Smithy (“Callan,” aka Lun Chia), a detective who’s been breathing down their necks. And it’s not a bluff, he’s killed three previous hitmen who have come after him. (Golgos 10, 11 and 12?)
As he takes the job the title pops on the screen and a singer sings “Golgoooooooo!,” again acting like it’s a James Bond movie or something. It’s one of these movies where we just know by the music how awesome the title character is. That’s something that has been sorely lacking in cinema for decades. We need more movies where the music denotes extreme awesomeness. We need the funk back, really.
So, you know, there’s all kinds of intrigue and double crosses and what not. He goes to assassinate a diplomat at a big public ceremony only to see some fuckin white lady do it first and then run off. So he gets blamed and doesn’t even do it, has to figure out what’s going on, who’s paying who, etc. Actually, similar to what happens in the first (and in my opinion only) MACHETE.
There’s a night club he goes to where women throw knives as entertainment. A good way to establish that also they’re gonna throw some knives at my man Duke. He meets alot of women, some he has sex with, most try to kill him. He’s one of these guys – we still have them in action movies – who is able to have a battle to the death while also having his dick in somebody. See, he’s doing this girl from the night club when he notices a gun reflected in her clock radio. So he flips her over and shoots into the curtain, and the woman with the gun drops dead. He got her between the eyes.
Maybe it would be a different story if he had already busted a nut/wasted his life essence, but we know for sure that a boner does not get in the way of his reflexes and marksmanship.
This was a better time, when even cops wore polyester shirts with pointy collars and Asics sneakers. You know, clothes are generally more comfortable and breathable these days, but there was something to be said for those shirts. Every day that we are not all dressed like this we as a society are missing out.
But even if we all still had those threads we couldn’t compete with Duke Togo in the style and swagger department. I cannot understate how important his fashion is to this character. He sports several great looks in this movie.
You got this kind of safari meets MIAMI VICE look:
And this one that would still work for Daniel Craig on a talk show or red carpet:
And this pinstripe suit/sunglasses combo that makes me think Ed McMahon:
Sometimes his hair looks like a GI Joe doll:
Of course when a guy is awesome as Golgo 13 you’re gonna want to have some scenes where people talk about how awesome he is. His legend precedes him. Take for example the conversation between two gangsters about this unknown killer they’re dealing with:
“What does he look like?”
“An Asian with eyes like a razor, and an excellent karate fighter. He dodged Nyudo’s knives and shot him between the eyes.”
“What? Between the eyes?”
“What is it?”
“It must be Golgo 13.”
“You must’ve heard of him. He’s the best there is.”
And he really is. It’s not just attitude, style and sex-shootouts. He’s also an acrobat. There’s a Jackie Chan type stunt scene where he jumps into a moving double decker bus, climbs out the window onto the top, grabs onto a pole and does a whole gymnastics thing and climbs down like a monkey.
And then Smithy describes it as “He got off the bus.”
There are other legendary assassins in the world, but who the fuck do they think they’re fooling trying to go after Golgo 13? Case in point: this white guy named Schulz. Schulz chases Golgo into a junkyard. He’s hiding somewhere in there, but it seems like he’s cornered. Then all the sudden he drops from a crane and throws a pipe that he found and it impales the motherfucker!
To Schulz’s credit he manages to hit Golgo in the thigh when he’s on his way down. And he brags about it with his last breath. “I guess you know aiming at falling objects isn’t easy,” he says. A fuckin show off to the bitter end.
Golgo does have a sensitive side. When he zeroes in on a drug smuggling diplomat named Polansky (Jerry Ito, MOTHRA) he sees that the guy has a little daughter. And he doesn’t immediately kill her. So that counts as a sensitive side in my opinion compared to what we should expect of him from previous behavior.
He also meets a nice lady who he helps out with some troubles, and she lets him hide out on her houseboat a little bit. That’s where he does self surgery and drops Schulz’s slug into a China bowl (an Asian variation on the cliche that all removed slugs are immediately dropped onto a metal tray).
Golgo is so in control that he sets it up so he can sit out the final act. He lets Smithy and his men storm Polansky’s compound while he just climbs up a mountain, finds a place to hang and just waits around. There’s a whole suspense sequence where Polansky sits in his safe room terrified as the cops take out his security cameras and his screens go fuzzy one by one. But Golgo knows that the guy’s gonna try to escape in a helicopter, he’s figured out its route and he’s placed himself at the right height where he can swing out on a cable and take a shot.
It’s an amazing ending. The guy is flying away, smiling and showing affection to his sweet little daughter, and Golgo puts one right in his forehead. It’s okay! The little girl doesn’t get hurt. She just watches her dad get shot and fall out a helicopter and flip around as he plummets and hits the water. Golgo wouldn’t do any more than that. It wouldn’t be professional.
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.