Infernal Street (1973)
Taking a bit of a left turn, today I'll be reviewing a nearly-forgotten, impossible-to-find Taiwanese kung fu movie. Like most of these mass-produced sandal-and-pajama karate flicks, it features non-descript cardboard characters hitting each other, wet paper-thin plots, a limited number of basic open-front building sets, folksy traditional music scores, and atrocious English dubbing provided by Australians and Kiwis who were just reading off a script and not watching the movie at the same time (it makes a difference, trust me!). But still, like most of these films, we are treated to a few impressive kung fu fights, featuring multiple combatants, crazy stunts, blood-like catsup flying everywhere, old men and little girls fighting like ninjas, and a satisfying end where justice is served and the Hero gets the girl. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night, I say.
On to it!
Infernal Street is set in contemporary Taiwan, in some gritty urban area. First let's meet the Doctor, a really great guy who gives out free medical treatment and is loved by one and all (for now). He looks a lot like Takashi Shimura from all those Toho kaiju movies, but he isn't (sadly).
The Doctor, so distinguished!
The Doctor has two 20ish kids that he has raised. One is his fine, upstanding daughter and the other is some slacker boy that he adopted who has anger issues and problems with authority. Both, of course, are kung fu experts (often called "boxing" here). This movie features the kind of kung fu where everyone flies through the air, can jump fifteen feet straight up, and no one has any respect for the laws of gravity. As well, it's clear that everyone's arms and legs are made of lacquered red maple, if the "thwacking" sound we hear every time someone hits someone is any indication.
The boy, who will be our Hero (called thusly from here out).
The girl, now the Heroine.
The Doctor and his staff run a small clinic in a dodgy part of the (unnamed) city (little more than a storefront with some tables and chairs). The clinic has been seeing a massive upswing in the number of drug addicts that have come stumbling through their doors in the last six months. Opium and morphine are the drugs mentioned, and they cause the addicts to lounge about and yawn a lot (when they're not twitching and begging for shots).
Addicts slumming about, get a job.
The rise in drug use in the area has corresponded to the opening of a "club" nearby. Off to that club now, which is really just a combination seedy whorehouse, gambling den, and drug shooting gallery. It's owned by ex-pat Japanese, but with local toadies running the daily business. While this is said to be a huge building, by the end of the movie we get to see only one room, redressed several times, and it may even be the same set as the clinic, just with different furniture. I should note that the costumes throughout are great, simple one-color cotton pajamas for the men, with multi-patterned two-piece outfits for the girls, all very traditional Taiwanese fashions. Hairstyles are generally greasy for the men and long and braided for the ladies. White socks and sandals or deck slippers round out the look.
Let's now meet the Japanese owner of the club, called only the "Chairman" (how the hell do I get a cool nickname?). For the first two acts, we never see his face or hear him speak other than just grunts, so he remains a mystery. He's portrayed as the single most evil, vile, violent, uncaring, uncouth man in the universe, but not because he's a drug kingpin/pimp/crime lord, but almost solely because he's a Japanese man in Taiwan (and a wealthy Japanese man at that, one who wears Western suits and leather shoes).
The Chairman‘s crotch, all we see of him for now.
If all the low-budget quickly-made kung fu movies I've watched over the years tell me anything, it's that the Taiwanese HATE the Japanese, just hate them, hate them, hate them! Maybe it's the memories of the occupation in the 30s and 40s, when the island was called Formosa, maybe it's the economic competition between these two post-war powerhouses, maybe it's because Japanese noodles are tastier or that Toyota makes better cars. Who knows, but this cultural/nationalistic hatred is often played out in crappy kung fu movies. Don't expect Japan to come running when China rolls Taiwan, I'll tell you that.
Ten minutes on google gives us the tale of the tape...
Taiwan: Taipei 101 Tower 1,670 feet
Japan: Tokyo Tower 1,091 feet
Winner? Taiwan, though Dubai mocks them both.
Percent of GDP spent on Olympic teams?
Winner? Taiwan, don't mess with their ping pong team.
Infant mortality rates?
Taiwan: 5.45 per 1,000 live births
Japan: 2.8 per 1,000
Loser? America, criminally high at 6.26 per 1,000.
Life expectancy of women from birth? Taiwan: 80.74 years
Japan: 85.59 years
Winner? Both, actually, that's amazing.
Number of cities nuked?
Number of times Godzilla has ravaged them?
Winner? Well, you'd initially think Taiwan, but without Godzilla, Japan would never have cause to develop Mogera, by far the world's coolest robot ever.
Who has the prettiest girls?
Taiwan: Exhibit A
Japan: Exhibit B
Winner? Me! And the Indiana state criminal court system...
Overall winner? Neither! I'd say that all available data clearly supports Burkino Faso's case as the best nation on Earth. This is not open to debate.
Anyways, enough of that, we have a movie to finish. The Doctor decides to give pro-bono medical help to the addicts, out of the kindness of his heart, and posts signs to that effect around the neighborhood. The club owners see this as a direct threat to their business (it is) and resolve to "handle it". First the Boss (a local guy) sends a lackey in to investigate, posing as an addict. Watch as the Doctor determines if he's really an addict just by checking his pulse on his wrist for three seconds (his time in med school was well spent!). The Boss then comes in with more goons and claims the Doctor is a quack for not treating the faker.
Written sign (anybody read Mandarin?).
The Hero, who is here in the clinic, has had enough of this foolishness and steps up, smacking them around a bit before being called back by the Doctor. After the Boss admits he's with the Japanese club, he gets down to the business of extortion. He says he will "protect the Doctor's reputation" for a price, as well as making sure the clinic stays open for an additional fee, which is the textbook definition of a protection racket. The Doctor pays up, he knows he has little choice. In the background, the Hero is boiling with impotent rage.
The Boss gives him an offer he can't refuse.
Do we need a flashback scene to help us understand the Hero's inner turmoil and pain? Oh yes! As a young boy, the Hero's dad was an addict and he died in front of him (emotional trauma!), a half-minute later his grieving mom may have smashed her head on a wall to commit suicide (double emotional trauma!). The young boy was then taken in by the Doctor and raised, if not as his own son, at least under his watchful eye. So, fifteen years or so later, the Hero has a strong hatred for drugs and a soft spot for those who wish to help the needy.
Flashback (a lot of the really gory stuff has been cut out of my print).
The Hero borrows the Heroine's "lucky dollar" and goes to the club to recon. All throughout this movie, when people have a silver coin they flick it and quickly put it to their ear as a "pwinging" sound is foley'ed in. Why are they doing this? Is this how you check the metallic content of a coin? Anyway, the Hero finds that the house is cheating on its games and calls them out. The scruffy patrons are hopping mad and they want their money back. There's a big fight and the Hero kicks some ass, and eventually leaves with 100 silver coins as repayment. He gives it back to the clinic but doesn't tell them where he got it from (yes, he's like Robin Hood, only in Chinese pajamas and canvas loafers).
Pissed gamblers (is that the Unabomber?).
We need more characters! Let's meet a Husband and Wife, (though once they dub in "father"). The Husband is a bigtime morphine addict and has his Wife working at the Japanese club to support his habit. She loves him and wants him to get clean, so she takes her husband to the clinic for help. She knows the Heroine (from somewhere) and seems to have a bit of a crush on the Hero (not a surprise as the Husband is like twice her age and is a drug addict). The Wife lets slip that the Hero smacked up the club and the Doctor is steamed at him. He's the ultimate Amish-like pacifist, and he's royally ticked at all this, sure that the Hero's antics will cause nothing but trouble for them.
Husband and Wife.
And he's right. The next day the Boss and his goons come back and trash the clinic. Another fight develops as we see that the clinic staff (even the receptionist) are all skilled kung fu experts! The Doctor calms it down before anyone gets hurt, ever consolatory even in the face of evil. He apologizes and gives back the money (the Boss wants it doubled). The Hero is flabbergasted at the Doctor's wimpyness and threats are passed around like a bowl of gravy at the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner ever. The Doctor and his staff are in a pickle now, saying that "we have to live in this place, that's why we want to settle this thing, not because we are scared." The bad guys have the police in their pocket and there is a legitimate fear that the club owner will "import real killers from Japan".
Talking it over.
Now we have a flashback for the Doctor (two in one movie!), going back 20 years to when he was a teacher at a local martial arts school (shocking...). The Doctor had to fight some goons of a drug kingpin because he was all "drugs bad, karate good!" with his students. He was roughed up badly by a Japanese enforcer with Iron Fingers (hell yeah!), who could drive his extended fingers through five inches of wood without so much as a grimace. Crippled by a back hit from Iron Fingers, the Doctor was forced to close his school and became a medical doctor (a true renaissance man). Listen for some subtle-as-a-hammer foreshadowing as he wonders aloud what happened to Iron Fingers. DUM DUM DUM!
Flashback (at first I thought this was stock footage from a different movie, but it seems it was newly-shot and just tinted).
Back in the club, the Boss whines that the Hero is too powerful for him and his goons. The Chairman is pissed at all this trouble and he calls in his favorite Japanese enforcer, who (no joke) looks like Adolph Hitler, with a trimmed mustache and his hair slicked back. If this was an intentional parody of Hitler, then it's proof once again how anti-Japanese this movie is. Hitler-san says he'll take care of the Hero, "do it properly, try and cripple him, so we can forget about the doctor". Just curious, but why no guns, why not just shoot him in the head and be done with it? What's the timeframe here again? 1970s? 1930s? 1740s? So far only a five-second shot of goons unloading drugs from a Datsun car trunk suggests this is anytime after the 18th century.
Hitler-san lures the Hero into a field and six goons surround him (four locals and two Japanese enforcers, not that they are any better fighters). Hitler-san offers to just break his leg and let him go, but the Hero chooses to fight. In a five minute battle royale, the Hero thumps the six goons real good like. This wild outdoor fight is actually pretty lame, badly choreographed and blocked-and-cut oddly. While the frenetic action is graceful and ballet-like, kicks and punches miss by ten inches and stuntmen recoil in "pain" before the "blow" is even delivered. It's like no one signed their liability waivers (or the production company couldn't afford the premiums) so everyone is working really hard to make sure that no one gets hurt. I also suspect that the actor playing the Hero might have been hired just for being pretty, as his kung fu skills are lacking under scrutiny. After a lot of hitting and stuff, it's down to just the Hero and Hitler-san now. The Hero spits in the dirt and growls, "The Japs, those pigs shouldn't live!" Hitler-san comes at him with samurai swords, but he can't strike a blow. Seriously, how hard is it to hit an unarmed man with a four-foot long sword? [Editor Pam: In real life, it probably isn't that hard. I know several people who have studied various martial arts for years, and they all say the first thing you're taught in real martial arts classes is that you're no match for someone with a knife, let alone a gun. Apparently swords aren't under consideration. Some of them say you later learn that this isn't 100% true, but in general, it's a bad idea to take on an armed opponent. Of course, we're in Movie World, not Real World, and martial artists who can leap 15 feet in the air and have arms and legs as hard as wood can probably outfight somebody with a machine gun, so perhaps this movie is an accurate depiction, after all.]
Sword fight! In some shots it's painfully clear that a stuntman has taken the Hero's place.
Since he's the Hero, he bests Hitler-san and takes his swords from him, using them to hold them all at bay. He lets the locals go free, if they promise to not go back to working for the Japanese. The two Japanese thugs, however, will not get off so lucky. The Hero cuts one ear off of each of them and sends them running away! He then approaches Hitler-san (who begins to grovel most punkishly) and cuts both his ears off before sending him back to his boss with a message to stay on guard. This is the last fight scene we will have for a while, so I hope you enjoyed it.
Cutting off ears.
Whoa, whoa, what's this? The Heroine, who is the Doctor's daughter remember, wants to marry the Hero now? Isn't the Hero the quasi-sorta-son of the Doctor, and therefore her kinda-brother-ish? And dad is perfectly ok with this? Why? We watch the two lovebirds as they play-fight and kissy-kiss and I just have to shake my disapproving, neo-con Red State head at this. Ok, sure, he was like five when he was taken in, and they're not technically related so it's not like there's any shared genetic material, but still, they've grown up together, in the same house, sharing the same bathroom and stuff. It's like marrying your cousin (especially my cousins...).
The man wisely fakes his own death to escape the clutches of the woman…
And now we learn in a mid-show twist that the Boss is banging the old addict Husband's Wife! Oh, she is a bad, bad girl. This does explain how she can live in a big house when supposedly she only works at the club to support her husband's habit. Knowing that the Hero has a soft spot both for helpless women and for the Wife in particular, the Boss and she cook up a plan that will get the Hero out of their hair for good. So the Wife goes to the Hero and tricks him into helping her, allegedly because her Husband is going to sell her into prostitution. She cons him into coming alone to her house late one night, and then she puts the moves on him! The Hero, being chaste, declines her advances, but he's still put himself in a compromising position just by being here.
Nekkid Asian chick behind a curtain! Again, I am as predictable as the setting sun.
Meanwhile the Husband, who is complicit in all this (anything to get drugs), tricks the Doctor and the Heroine into coming to his house to supposedly catch the Hero and his Wife boinking. As they arrive, the Boss and his goons also show up and together this mob calls out the Hero. They surround the poor boy, who is really quite befuddled, and call him "lecher!" over and over as they point fingers and make insults about his manhood. The Doctor and the Heroine are equally pissed, and the Hero is at a loss to defend himself against these false accusations. What are they trying to do here, shame him into running away? Does this work in Taiwanese culture? Is adultery really that taboo there? Why go to all the bother to discredit him and ruin his once-sterling reputation? Why not just SHOOT HIM!!? The last straw is when the Wife comes out and lies that the Hero raped her. "You lying bitch!", the Hero screams at her, but the damage is done, the Heroine slaps him and calls him a beast, casting serious doubt upon their impending nuptials. In a tussle, the Wife is killed by a blow to the head, which is blamed on the Hero, but really the Boss hit her on head while they were arguing. The police show up (ah, with modern rifles, so this is 1970s...) and take the Hero away for murder and adultery.
The Boss comes to the clinic to get the Doctor, the Chairman wants to see him (insert ominous music). Some things are said, some hot buttons are pushed, and a mega fight explodes! The Doctor and the Heroine and his two staffers duke it out with the Boss and a gaggle of goons in a gangbang of gory gristly g-violence. The Doctor apparently hasn't forgotten all his kung fu skills, and will never again be a wimpy pacifist. The fight is going well, but one of the goons has a knife and he kills the two staffers! The Doctor and the Heroine are captured.
One of the staffers bites the dust.
Back with the Hero now, we see that the cops are actually fakes, on the Boss's payroll! They take the Hero to the club and turn him over, while a bandaged but arrogant Hitler-san laughs at him and smoothes his mustache. The Hero is tied up and beat senseless, though notice that he's such a stud that even a bullwhip across face causes nothing but a slight red mark and a mouth full of stage blood. Once subdued, the Boss offers to join forces, to "get rid of the Japs", as he wants the drug business for himself. The Hero turns him down flat, and it's not exactly clear if the Boss's offer was even legit or not.
The Hero's googly eyes betray his anguish.
The Chairman comes to see the Doctor (who is all tied up) and we have the Big Reveal. Yes, the Chairman is Iron Fingers! ... you know, Iron Fingers? The dude who mangled the Doctor 20 years ago. From that flashback way back in the first act? Remember? Anyway, they recognize each other quickly and within seconds they both demand a rematch (tsk, men...). The Chairman makes an elaborate show of slowly removing his white silk gloves, revealing his...Iron Fingers (which, not surprisingly, look like ordinary fingers but with a zooming close-up and electric guitar music cue whenever we first see them in all their hairy-knuckled manicured glory)!.
The fingers! The Iron Fingers! Oh the humanity!
Meanwhile, the Hero is freed from his chains by another prisoner (a cute girl who has no other role in the plot). He stops the fight between the Chairman and the Doctor, beats up the Boss, stabs one goon with his own knife, thumps up a bunch of local goons, mangles the Chairman's two Japanese bodyguards (also wearing gloves), all the while spending an inordinate amount of screen time striking stupid ninja poses and flexing his skinny arms. During all this fighting, I should note, the Doctor and the Heroine (both accomplished fighters) just stand there and do nothing to help him, even when he's totally outnumbered and taking hits (nice job).
Watching the fight. Maybe they put down a quid on one of the goons and don't want to mess up the bet.
It's now down to just the Hero and Chairman for final duel (as it should be). There are lots of kicks and punches, lots of swinging arms and flailing legs, and lots of close-ups of sweaty faces making determined grunting noises. The whole Iron Fingers bit really doesn't get much play, to my surprise, but the Hero does manage to spit a broken tooth at the Chairman, embedding it in his forehead! At the end, the Boss comes in with a rifle and starts shooting, accidentally shooting a Japanese bodyguard before the Chairman takes the gun away from him and shoots the Hero in stomach! But the Hero is still coming, watch the Chairman try and work the bolt with a broken arm (he does a rather good job of it). The Hero kicks the Chairman the instant he pulls the trigger and the gun blows up in his own face! Down he goes and the battle is over.
Looks like a Lee-Enfield rifle.
Why is the Hero still alive and not lying on the floor with a gut-shot wound, writhing in agony with his intestines coiled around his bloody fingers? The Heroine's lucky dollar was in his waist pouch, and it stopped the bullet! A 3/16th inch piece of silver stopped a high-powered rifle bullet from five feet away. Right! And abruptly, that's the end of the movie, leaving me little time to worry about this insanity.
Written in July 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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