Friday Fisticuffs: Black Belt Jones (1974)

I think it’s best to watch Black Belt Jones as if it were a cartoon. Not only do you get overly ridiculous fight scenes, compete non sequiturs, inhuman sound effects, but also a live action performance by Scatman Crothers who voiced characters like Jazz on Transformers and Hong Kog Phooey (I’d never seen him before and thought he looked exactly like Phooey’s human counterpart Henry, if he was a man). Though most people are familiar with star Jim Kelly thanks to his turn in Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, don’t expect that level of movie here. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun to watch and especially listen to, but this is not a serious movie. The following clip has some NSFW dialog.

So, the story goes that Crothers’ dojo is being eyed by some bad dudes for…something (can’t remember why). This brings a bunch of hoods down on the locale, which you can see in the above clip. SPOILER Crothers winds up dying pretty early on which brings his daughter into the picture. She and Jones, the dojo’s protector even though it’s literally filled with brothers who also know karate or whatever, of course, wind up falling for each other and fighting with one another (both on the same side and opposite). It hits pretty much every note you’d expect this kind of a flick to hit, but it’s the extra ones that really make it a strange treat.

For instance, the climactic battle takes place at an overflowing car wash that looks an awful lot like the outdoor version of the annual foam party I enjoyed attending in college. Note how Crothers’ daughter continually throws dudes into that garbage truck, making sure to hit the compress button. I’m pretty sure that murdered each of them even though you can hear their voices later on. There’s also a scene right before this one where Jones and the woman decide to kind of sort of fight at the beach, chasing each other. They go from looking they want to murder each other to making out in someone else’s tent. In the middle, they destroy a man’s guitar for no apparent reason, that really stuck in my craw.

You’ve got two of the bigger action scenes in the movie embedded here which gives you some idea of what you’re getting when watching this flick. I like Kelly and know he’s got skills, but they really don’t come across in this movie. Maybe it’s because everyone else seems to have no idea what they’re doing. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of money for a fight coordinator. Whatever the reason, the fight scenes all feel slow, sluggish and a little hammy. I’m still curious about his other movies and have Seven Needles on the top of my queue and a VHS copy of Hot Potato I bought in college, so I’ll see how those go. I hope he’s got a movie out there that really lives up to his Dragon role.

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