That's right gang, it's time for another surreal voyage into the fractured mind of Hong Kong director/cut and paste master Godfrey Ho! As readers of the Hall of Shame, you'll recognize his name from the Ninja Double Feature. And if you have stepped into a fading video rental store, or discount DVD sale, you'll probably have stumbled across any number of his 100+ films.
I picked up Devil's Dynamite for a whopping $.75 on VHS from my local video rental store. Gotta love a format replacement!
Anyway, like all other Godfrey Ho masterworks, Devil's Dynamite contains neither devils nor dynamite and consists of one unknown film spliced together with new scenes and completely dubbed with a new script, a little stolen music, and ninjas — Lots and lots of ninjas.
Before I try and sum up the plot of this, er, Frankenstein's Monster of a film, let's look at how this film is described on the box. Brace yourselves —
Action explodes when martial arts expert Alex (Bob Poe), the fearless "Shadow Warrior" battles an army of blood-thirsty vampires to stop a huge illegal smuggling ring. Against overwhelming odds, Alex fights to destroy the smuggling operation before it's too late, and in a final desperate showdown must use all of his warrior's skill and cunning to survive against a legion of the living dead!
Of course, having a passing familiarity with Godfrey Ho means that all of these plot elements probably came from different movies that in no way whatsoever contained script pages about vampires, shadow warriors, smuggling, or legions of living dead. But that's okay because Ho has a typewriter and he just wrote a new script, stripped all the audio from the original, and recorded a new vocal track.
In the case of Devil's Dynamite, the new script fits over about 15 minutes of hopping Chinese vampires, a Taoist Monk, his American controller and apparent smuggler, Alex and Tony (the heroic duo) shoehorned in to an early 1980's Thai revenge drama about buried gold.
I am not sure if Trans World Releasing Company did business primarily in the North American market, but Ho's approach to making cheesy, terrible, stupid-and-borderline-insulting ninja action movies makes sense as far as economies of scale. If the films were meant for English, or at least non-Chinese speaking countries, then whatever the original plot for the films was is moot because to our western eyes and ears, the dubbed vocal track matches up just fine with the lip movements of whatever original language was spoken at the time the original film was made. So Ho can make the characters spout whatever idiotic dialogue he saw fit to type.
We begin Devil's Dynamite with a Taoist Monk performing some ornate ritual to – er – do something. I have no idea really, but the ritual involves a moving bowl of rice, some little explosions, and him dancing around with a wooden sword. It's kind of like what I see in my minds eye as Mrs. McLargehuge watches endless hours of Food Network programming.
Enter the unnamed western crime boss. We know he's the crime boss because he's western. In the shadows, while watching the Taoist Monk, the crime boss says some magic words over a little voodoo doll. The Taoist Monk is now under the crime boss' control.
And what does this paramount of evil want with the Taoist Monk? Good question! Glad you asked…
See, apparently the crime boss needs vampires to help him in his smuggling enterprise and only the Taoist Monk has the skills to bring the dead back to life. Accomplishing such a resurrection requires yet another ornate ritual, oh, and some ninjas — but we'll get to those in a minute — before you can say, "what the hell am I watching this for when I could be cultivating a nest of carpenter ants in my scrotal hair?" a half dozen Chinese vampires leap out of their caskets and start hopping around the room.
I am not sure if it's old Chinese folklore or not, but vampires presented in Chinese films tend to have a few unique traits –
1. They all wear the identical clothes including jaunty hats
2. They hop on two legs instead of walk
3. They hop with their arms outstretched like cartoon sleepwalkers
4. They all know kung fu
5. They are usually under the control of a mortal, non-vampire
Devil's Dynamite ladles on all of these traits. And if you, like me, find the idea of hopping, stiff-armed, kung fu vampires side-splittingly hilarious, then you've got a good 15 minutes of silliness to laugh at.
Now with western crime boss in charge of his vampire army (all four of them), he needs to make sure they do their job as described by Taoist Monk. That is, slaughter western crime boss' enemies, whoever they are.
Filling in for the enemies at the moment are some trusted and well-liked employees of Western Crime Boss' organization. After a short round of "Gee thanks boss, we love working here" the four henchmen are summarily eaten. They do not, in the western tradition of vampire lore, become vampires themselves (I am guessing the cost of four more matching outfits and hats would have broken the budget).
Oh, and Taoist Monk controls each vampire via a scrap of paper magically stuck (taped) to the front of the vampire hat. This, of course, sets the stage for innumerable jokes where the punch line has something to do with Post It Notes.
Now the vampires are ready for their first test that doesn't involve eating the staff.
Send in the ninjas!
You knew the ninjas were coming right? This couldn't be a Godfrey Ho film if it didn't have at least two scenes of black-pajama-clad kung fu extras in it. In fact, I am surprised Ho titled this film Devil's Dynamite at all, a more typical title would be Ninja Explosion, or Ninja Dislocation, or Ninja Washer Dryer Combo, or even Ninja Pu Pu Platter.
We get Devil's Dynamite, go figure.
Anyway, The ninjas first flit from tree to tree using the magic of jump cutting then attack a group of Chinese peasants locked in a shed. They ask where Steve Cox is and when the peasants don't answer, the ninjas kill them all. Probably not the best way to get information out of people now that I think about it.
Back outside the shed, the ninjas are standing around when the hopping vampires attack and bite them all, turning them, the ninjas, into vampires too.
Wait, let me rewind the tape — Yep, that's what happened. Godfrey Ho, why have you forsaken me!?!
Who is the Steve Cox character anyway? Oh wait, the ninjas were supposed to release him from a prison or something (after the fifth rewind I figured this out).
Conveniently, this ninja-spawned prison break allows us to meet our heroes, Alex and Tony who, aside from having to thwart the whole vampire/smuggling part of the story provide the needed bridge to the Thai revenge drama that is about to enter the storyline. Why? Well, rather simply, because that film has two guys who speak, twice, to the main character who in their own way (dressed the same) resemble Alex and Tony. And, when I say "in their own way" I mean, like Alex and Tony, they too are in a movie, they wear clothes, and one is older than the other. Also, both men in both films are Asian, which for us westerners — at least as it seems in the Asian eyes of Godfrey Ho — we can't realty tell one from the other, right?
For what it's worth (about a buck) Tony is the older of the two, the Obi Wan to Alex's Luke, the Mr. Miyagi to Alex's Daniel Larusso, the Kermit the Frog to Alex's Gopher.
Where was I? Oh, right. Tony and Alex in the restaurant — They discuss so far unmet character Steven Cox and his wife Mary and how Steven is finally being released from jail and how no one has been able to find the stack of gold bars he stashed before he was locked up. Before you can ask "what the hell does this have to do with anything at all that we've seen so far?" The vampires attack the restaurant with in all their vampire-hopping-fu-slinging glory.
Alex and Tony immediately enter the fray, and before you can say Kung Fu theater, Alex transforms into a silver-clad, helmet wearing, space attack ninja or something. Tony refers to him as "Shadow Warrior", and judging by his look, Godfrey Ho cribbed the costume from Invasion of the Neptune Men starring Sonny Chiba.
The hell? This doesn't make any sense… How can Alex be a "Shadow Warrior" when he's festooned in glittering silver sweats and a kids superhero space helmet?!
Shadow Warrior beats back the vampires and we cut, rather abruptly to, Alex and Tony recapping everything we've seen so far, the vampires, the jail break, the missing gold, the smuggling. All signs point to the hitherto unseen Steve Cox.
Welcome to the Thai movie where Steve Cox is trying to exact revenge for wait — what's with the film stock? And why have the clothes changed from somewhat normal Chinese kung fu movie stuff to mid 1970's Discoriffic polyester? This allows the fake Tony and Fake Alex to canoodle briefly with Steve Cox to fill us in on a little necessary exposition to stitch these two very dissimilar films together. And by "little" I mean, 10 or 12 minutes of exposition.
We meet Steve Cox as he's entering a casino.
Mary is Steve Cox's ex wife and now runs the casino in his absence. She's divorced him while he languished in prison and she isn't happy to see him now. Especially on the eve of her marriage to a new much younger fellow. Steve is nonplussed by all of this and walks away.
Meanwhile, a pretty young woman is trying to get the house to buy her diamond ring so she can cover a bet. Steve sidles up to the table, agrees to buy her ring, then tells her to be even. She does and wins. The house isn't happy at all that he's figured out their dice game, and before you can say "hey this looks like a Zatoichi movie" he's beaten up the dice roller and a couple of goons.
You will notice that there is not even an iota of kung fu in this fight.
Steve Cox is thrown out of the casino anyway but that doesn't stop Steve Cox. Oh, and I call him "Steve Cox" throughout the entire review because that's how they refer to him in the film every time he's mentioned. And since I didn't have an IMDB page opened while I watched this, saying Steve Cox became a running punch line for we who braved Devil's Dynamite.
Who's that pushing up behind you? Steve Cox!
Who don't you want up your ass? Steve Cox!
Oh no, a Steve Cox fight has broken out!
You get the idea.
Steve gives the girl her ring back and she pledges to look out for him forever. Thus, in keeping with the awesomeness of Godfrey Ho's writing, this girl never utters another word in this film.
Cut to Mary entering her palatial home, the bedroom of it actually, and Steve Cox, freshly roughed up from the casino, is already sitting there. Mary draws a pistol from her bureau and threatens to shoot him if he doesn't leave. She knows he was at the casino, they spoke and she told him pointedly, to get lost.
But getting Steve Cox off your ass isn't that easy.
See, this house used to be his. He was ace top smuggler in these parts, but after he and Mary married, she screwed him in more ways than one, and he went to jail for it. Now Steve Cox wants his house and business back. Oh, and he's been in jail for 10 years prior to the new footage of ninjas releasing him.
10 years? How the hell old was Mary when these two were married? Steve Cox looks to be about 45. Mary looks to be 20. Was she 10 years old? What the hell??
Mary says, effectively, "screw you" and pulls the trigger.
Steve Cox shows her the bullets he's already removed from the gun. Steve Cox then, er, jumps out the window just as Mary's henchman, led by one guy with an eye patch, burst into the room.
This allows us to return to the baffling vampire movie we started with as Alex and Tony try and figure out where the vampires came from and why they are indiscriminately attacking people.
Cut again to our western villain laughing maniacally, now cut, AGAIN, to some ninjas.
I'll wait a minute for you to regain your balance, because that's the kind of guy I am….
Back at Taoist Monk's place, he performs another Rachel Ray-esque ritual to put the ninja vampires under his control. "Just a little EVOO, and some frozen peas, and some jarred spaghetti sauce, and some boxed cake mix, three orphan fetuses, and voila! Yummo! Now I will consume it all before gang banging the staff on my counter! Come on boys!!!!"
I mention that Mrs. McLargehuge watches a whole lot of Food Network, and that I hate that channel, right? Good.
With that done we are transported back through time to Bangkok Thailand and Steve Cox's problems. Actually, most of this Thai film is centered around Mary's gang trying to get the location of Steve Cox's gold out of Steve Cox and anyone he knows. Which is okay because we don't care about this confusing plotline anyway. It gets even more confusing when characters in the Thai film occasionally mention Taoist Monk and vampires and smuggling rings and Shadow Warrior even though these elements will not exist until some 20 years after the Thai film was shot.
Now we're at a kid's birthday party where a boy and girl are carrying a present. I think the girl is the kid having the birthday, she looks to be about 6, and what I think is her brother is dressed like a Chinese vampire and hopping around. Suddenly, the ninja vampires storm the party and everyone except these two kids runs off.
As soon as the vampires recognize that the kid dressed as a vampire isn't one, they get ready to eat them, but Shadow Warrior materializes from a puff of smoke and beats the ninja vampires. They all disappear in puffs of smoke.
Awesome party kid! Wow! All I had was a creepy clown and a chocolate cake!
With that out of the way it's back to Alex and Tony to reiterate the last 20 minutes of the film for us. First though, Alex thinks he knows where the vampires are coming from, and while Taoist Monk is doing his best Barefoot Contessa/Bruce Lee recipe making, Alex starts taking pictures of the front door.
Taoist Monk, immediately aroused by the lines on the script page, goes to investigate and talks briefly with Alex who cannot for the life of him sound just like a regular tourist taking pictures of a shrine. He stumbles through his reason for being there until Taoist Monk waves him on, but not before having a good look as Alex leaves.
Cut back to Steve Cox and his gang. Now Mary's one-eyed henchman and some thugs are digging up a grave with the expectation that Steve Cox's gold is there. It isn't. One of the gang is shot and left for the cops.
Cut to Alex and Tony leading Fake Steve Cox (the guy dressed in similar clothes and hat) into a house. They want Steve Cox and his growing gang of friends to stay here where they can be protected. We get this scene as Tony talks to intercut and overdubbed footage of Steve Cox's face.
Cut to Mary sunning herself on the beach. Steve Cox, as if without a care in the world, walks up and demands to know why she screwed him over and divorced him. She says that irrespective of all the shit she's put him through, she'll share the gold stash with her if he'll just take him back.
Steve Cox starts to stangle Mary to death.
Coming to the aid of Mary is her new boytoy and soon to be husband. Steve Cox and he wrestle briefly and before the kid can beat Steve Cox senseless, Steve Cox shakes off the whole argument and tells to the kid to watch his back because Mary is ruthless and evil, but he can't stop being in love with her.
Gag! Puke! Vomit! What utter crap!
Sorry, had to say it, contractual obligations and all.
May's eye-patched henchman is now hiring some new muscle to take care of Steve Cox and his growing collection of friends. The new gang boss appears to be a drug dealer. He also appears to be the Thai equivalent of Gilligan's Island's Bob Denver. At any rate Gilligan, as he will be named throughout the rest of this review, aggress to take care of the Steve Cox problem for a boatload of cash.
And eye-patch guy wants it done before the wedding. Steve has already crashed the engagement party (where he was beaten up) and such an event can't be allowed to happen at the wedding proper.
Alex and Tony agree (via a jump cut and some exposition), this allows us to return to – Steve Cox and his coming battle with the gang in Thailand. Ho manages to shoot a whole ninja/vampire kung fu attack scene and cram it into the big Thai gang fight so no matter how many times you watch it, the whole event makes no sense. A car is on fire at the end.
Suffice to say Steve Cox and his gang get away, well, some of them do. I think.
Did I mention there were ninja vampires?
Cut to Shadow Warrior in Taoist Monk's kitchen of death. He discovers the source of the vampire scourge. The fights lasts like ten minutes, all of it loaded with mediocre-fu of the most mediocre order.
Tony shows up (I guess he was in the neighborhood) and hands Shadow Warrior and "anti-sorcery mirror" and says "USE IT!" Another fight ensues, this time Tony gets bitten badly on the neck, and Shadow Warrior realizes the vampires can be controlled by a little bell, which he throws out of the kitchen of death.
Enter another Taoist Monk, who for the purposes of this review I will call Hi Liter Man.
Hi Liter Man is dressed in a flowing yellow gown, matching hat, and boots. He looks like a Hi Liter, hence the name. He says that Tony is badly poisoned and can't be cured.
Alex and Hi Liter Man leave.
Tony staggers from the bed (which is a wooden box covered with a sheet and canopy and listens at the door as Hi Liter Man says Tony will become a vampire.
Tony stabs himself to death.
Hi Liter Man and Alex watch Tony die.
Cut back to Eye Patch Henchman and Evil Gilligan where Evil Gilligan is haranguing the others about their lack of skill in killing Steve Cox. They have, in fact, only managed to kidnap a little school girl. I literally, do not remember this happening in this movie. Perhaps it was the girl from the birthday party or something, but after rewatching the film I still can't find the scene.
At any rate, it's this school girl that will bring Steve Cox into the clutches of Eye Patch Henchman and Evil Gilligan. "I know the perfect place where we can finally be rid of Steve Cox and get our hands on all that gold and be done with the vampires."
Seriously, that's an actual quote from this scene.
Hi Liter Man and Alex hold a funeral for Tony. In attendance are Alex, Hi Liter Man, some extras, and some stock footage of Steve Cox and a member of his gang.
Eye Patch Henchman and his thugs invade the funeral and take Steve Cox without a fight.
For the life of me I don't understand what the hell is going on. I mean, Alex is right there at the funeral. He's the Shadow Warrior, right? Oh wait, I guess the Hi Liter Man and Alex scenes were just pasted around the whole funeral for a guy we don't know lifted from somewhere in the Thai revenge movie so because they weren't actually there 25 years ago when it was filmed they can't intervene? Or something?
Someone call Steven Hawking to explain this to me.
Cut to a slow motion shot of the birthday girl from like 100 years ago in this review. She's jumping rope and being menaced by the other little kid still dressed as a Chinese vampire.
Alex shows up and tells the vampire kid to cut the shit. The kid explains that he knows that Alex is the Shadow Warrior. Another real Chinese hopping vampire appears and yet another kung fu fight breaks out. Alex manages to kill this one though using the awesome power of an electrical stun-gun spark on his hands.
Shadow Warrior then demonstrates his awesomeness by returning to his Alex form in a puff of smoke.
This allows us to return to scenic Thailand where the Gilligans Island Gang and Mary's Gang have cornered and captured Steve Cox and tied him up. They torture him for information leading to the treasure.
Evil Gilligan explains to Mary, who is still at home, that they are trying to get the information about the gold from Steve Cox and then will kill him. However, success depends on a guarantee that his army of Thai castaways will be well paid for their efforts.
She also demands that they be sure to keep him away from her wedding.
Cut to the dock where Evil Gilligan and Eye Patch Henchman argue over money, (the Money that Mary promised for the death of Steve Cox I think).
But Steve Cox won't talk.
Eye Patch Man has an idea. He offers Steve Cox a trade, he'll stop the wedding and kill Louis (the boy toy) if Steve Cox will give up the location of the gold. That way Steve Cox can go back to Mary (or something…)
Steve Cox is reluctant because Louis is an innocent.
Eye Patch Henchman then says if Steve Cox doesn't turn the gold over, he'll have his men kill Louis immediately.
Huh? What? Wait? I don't get it. First it's a bargain, then a threat? Where did this dude learn how to negotiate?
Amazingly (not for this film), Steve Cox agrees to lead Eye Patch Henchman and Evil Gilligan to the gold in exchange for Louis' life.
Cut back to Western Smuggler and Taoist Monk explaining that their plan cannot go forward without the vampires. What the hell is their plan anyway? I have no idea and neither will you.
Cut to Hi Liter Man's kitchen of death, he says he knows the Taoist Monk and it's strange that he's up to no good. He does his Alton Brown Fu and makes a potion to rub over his eyes through which he sees that Taoist Monk is under a spell. He tells Alex he must teach him advanced techniques that are very dangerous to learn but with this new skill he can kill the vampires.
Cut back to Thailand, and a boat then an island beach. Steve Cox leads a group of men to a spot where he says the treasure chest is buried. They force him to dig it up. Steve Cox wants to know who told Eye Patch Henchman about the gold.
"Madame Mary" is the answer but how he didn't know this is beyond me.
Cut to the wedding where Louis is asking the cops to be extra vigilant at keeping the wedding trouble free.
Back on the beach, Steve Cox digs up the treasure chest (and actual pirate style treasure chest) filled with gold bars. Cox immediately turns all the men against each other. Did I mention these were dumb henchmen? No? Well, they are.
The henchmen all immediately start to kill each other before they are swarmed another gang. Cox tells them to take the money and start a business, but nothing illegal.
I think Steve Cox is fixing to die, don't you?
He goes off to kill Mary and deal with the evil priest and all the vampires.
Amazingly, Ho's script actually has him say this as a way to just close down the Thai revenge story and set up the denouement.
The gang kills the last of Mary's henchmen.
Cut to the wedding where Louis is called away from the altar to answer the phone from 25 years in the future. Alex is calling in to warn Louis that Mary was responsible for Tony's death. Huh? As if he could possibly give a rats ass —
Mary grabs the phone and tells Alex that Steve Cox is to blame for all of this, even the vampires.
What? Huh? Oh, I give up!
Cut back to the wedding ceremony where a nearly dead guy staggers in and dies. The police inspector postpones the wedding briefly to search for Steve Cox.
The power goes out and everyone panics. Mary gets trampled to the floor by the guests (some wedding!). Louis rescues her and sends her upstairs alone (when will they ever learn?). Mary lights an oil lamp just before Steve Cox attacks. He snatches her and disappears. As it turns out there's a secret tunnel in the house and he's snatched her through there. He stabs her to death in the tunnel (nice guy that Steve Cox). Luis and the cops give chase into the bowels of the house and find Mary's body. Louis breaks down.
Cut to Hi Liter Man doing more silly-fu during which he appears to be hanging socks to dry via the most complex Wu Dang routine every committed to film.
Cut to Western Smuggler who lears from an extra that Steve Cox has killed Mary. Now it (whatever it is) is up to he and Taoist Monk and the vampires.
At this point, viewers may notice a profound throbbing at the rear base of their skulls. This would be your spinal cords trying desperately to throttle your brain stem.
We're almost in the home stretch now so brace yourselves.
Cut back to Hi Liter Man writing symbols all over Alex.
Cut to Taoist Monk sticking new Post It notes on the ninja vampires who immediately begin dancing around like robots then fighting with each other.
What the fuck? Did someone slip me some LSD?
Cut back to Hi Liter Man finishing his essay on Alex's chest. Then writing on dolls and throwing them at Alex.
The colors man! I can seeeeee the music?!?! FAR OUT!!!!
Alex then does his robot dance and Hi Liter Man finishes his ritual. We know this because Godfrey Ho gives up 10 zoom in eye shots of both men. Alex transforms into Shadow Warrior and we cut back to Taoist Monk's place where the vampires are a hop-hop-hopping.
Yet another baffling recipe ritual is in progress when Shadow Warrior enters and another vampire vs. man in silver costume fight breaks out. It looks exactly like all the others scenes like this we've seen so far too so what was all the point of that ritual stuff? Oh wait, I see, Alex now shoots something like toilet paper at the vampires who explode into upholstery stuffing. Now the ninja vampires attack and it's the same sort of long kung fu fight. The ninjas manage to beat Shadow Warrior up pretty good this time though. He's knocked flat.
Hi Liter Man to the rescue! He and his flaming Post It notes of death scare off the ninjas long enough for Shadow Warrior to recover. He fights them using robot fu this time and kills them all.
Hi Liter Man and Taoist Monk start to fight as Alex kills Western Smuggler. Hi Liter Man frees Taoist Monk from the control spell.
Thank god that's over… Oh wait, what about Thailand?
The police surround Mary's house and Steve Cox shoots out at them. He still has Evil Gilligan as a hostage (that must've happened when we were watching the kung fu ninja fights). Steve Cox shoots Evil Gilligan and the cops blast the house. Louis wants to go in and bring Steve Cox out.
The cops start the house on fire to smoke Steve Cox out. Cut to some stock footage of a burning house then back and forth between Steve Cox and the flames. Steve wants to have his last words with Louis and promises not to hurt him. Louis runs into the house and demands that Steve Cox surrender.
Steve Cox says he really loved Mary but she betrayed him blah blah blah.
Louis says Mary had changed, she didn't have a criminal bone in her body.
Evil Gilligan says "she was the leader of the underworld. She controlled the vampires."
At this point we were all laughing so hard the rest of the movie just vanished in a hilarious explosion of guffaws that took the house, Steve Cox, and Evil Gilligan with it.
End movie, mail self to Thailand and look for gold bars, hop around like a vampire, and dance like a robot ninja.
Now, I love these idiotic movies. I really do, but only when I watch them with a bunch of friends because they are so stupifyingly awful it's impossible not to laugh all the way through. Godfrey Ho's cinematic effluent is funnier than virtually any intentional comedy ever made, and that isn't meant as a slight. I mean, the earnestness in these things is suffocating. The actors, at least in the bits that he shoots to stitch onto some long lost Asian gangster movie, take their roles with utmost seriousness. And when you see a guy dressed in glittery silver and a space helmet trying his god-damndest to deliver this insane dialogue like he's part of the Royal Shakespeare Company you can't help but begrudge a little respect. I mean, I'm guessing these actors never even saw the Direct to Video abominations that resulted from all their hard workl, right? Making this even funnier is the overdubbing, which is delivered in alternating flat reading as if someone is reading the ingredient list of a cereal box, or hyper insane screaming anger. There is absolutely no middle ground.
Oh, and there are probably only three voice actors, total, doing the lines for every character in these films.
Ho's claim to fame, aside from somewhat successfully working ninja into virtually any movie title, is that he could make five films for the paltry Hong Kong budget usually spent on one. And, due to the slick advertising on his Direct to Video VHS boxes, consumers never knew what the hell they were getting into when these were rented or purchased.
Godfrey Ho now teaches filmmaking, I kid you not, in Hong Kong.