T.N.T. Jackson (1975)
Hey, there. How about a severely dated disco-era kung fu movie to help you get yo' swerve on? I found this gem languishing in the Sargasso Sea that is public domain and just had to check it out, if for no other reason than the awesome afros. TNT Jackson was directed by legendary b-movie prince Cirio H. Santiago and produced by twice-as-legendary b-movie king Roger Corman, so you just know it has to be good. It was filmed in the Philippines and in Hong Kong and has a lot of the flavor of Santiago's later Asian action films, mixed with the funkiness of the 1970s Blaxsploitation genre that was popular in America.
On to the show!
Our heroine is the groovy Diana "TNT" Jackson, ex-con and hustler with a heart of gold, karate expert and a damn fine example of a strong black sister who knows what she wants and how to get it. TNT is played by 32-year old American actress Jeannie Bell, who has been in some other movies I've never seen and in some television shows that I've probably seen but don't remember her from. TNT is a short woman with the biggest girl-afro you will ever see, which does very little to improve her attractiveness, in my opinion. She was Playboy Playmate of the Month for October 1969, however, which has to count for something, right?
TNT Jackson, baby!
TNT Jackson, of course, follows in the platform-heeled footsteps of such household name black super-chicks as Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones, women of color who made men bleed red and ladies scowl with jealousy. Jeannie Bell is not that good an actress, frankly, and her martial arts ability is limited to what they can't use a stunt double for, but she does have a certain charisma and screen presence in this movie that makes up for her shortcomings.
TNT in the Tub! If that's not already an alt-rock band name, then it needs to be.
Our film opens as TNT flies across the Pacific to the island nation of Hong Kong from NYC. She's here looking for her brother, who disappeared recently without leaving any forwarding address. As soon as she steps off the plane we are reminded that this is 1975, with her all-encompassing afro, her bell-bottom hip-hugger slacks, gold hoop earrings, and the Tyler Perry sassiness with which she talks to everyone.
Ah, the '70s, can you dig it, man?
She goes to the dodgy end of town to meet a man named "Joe", for which she only has an address. Her airport cabbie won't take her to that area, as it's lawless and not safe, so she has to hoof it the last bit. This area, known as the "Yellow Zone", is pretty ghetto-fied, with ramshackle houses crammed on top of one another and hookers and pickpockets everywhere. As she walks along, a dainty suitcase in one hand, TNT can't help but draw attention from the unsavory locals.
The bad part of town.
And it's not long before she gets encircled by a half dozen thugs looking to take her stuff and do her harm. But these dudes don't know who they're messing with, this is TNT Jackson, baby! Now, Jeannie Bell is in good physical shape, and she's been coached in some basic martial arts stances and moves, but this opening fight is still pretty lame. Most noticeably, she can't seem to get her leg up very high to kick anyone, and she never seems to strike with any great force, but the bad guys still dutifully fly through the air from the "massive impacts" she delivers. We also see here the first of many to come instances where they use a stunt double, filmed from behind with matching clothes and afro wig. The problem is that, if you look closely on slow-mo, you can clearly tell that TNT's stunt double is a short but stout Filipino man.
That over, TNT gets a ride from an American woman who just happens to be driving by in a Mercedes. Her name is Elaine, and she doesn't really hit it off with TNT very well, as they both are a bit bitchy. Elaine is played by thirtysomething Pat Anderson, a tough and pretty blonde chick who looks like Tanya Roberts from Charlie's Angels and fights like a she-demon. Despite the tension, Elaine drives TNT to her destination, a night club downtown called "Joe's Haven" and drops her off.
TNT talks to Elaine at the car. She's asking TNT if she's really Erma Franklin.
Joe turns out to be a jolly smiling Chinaman who speaks English with a crispy Midwestern accent. Joe runs a night club in the seedy part of Hong Kong and is a karate teacher on the side. He's also a very nice guy, and I kept expecting him to die a horrible death at any moment to serve as a motivational tool for TNT, but it never came to pass. Joe is played by 47-year old mono-named Chiquito, who I read was a famous comedian in Philippines (which does little for me as I live in Indiana).
TNT learns her brother has been missing for a while, Joe is the last person to have seen him (maybe he even lives here with Joe, unclear). TNT and Joe then bond by teaming up to beat up some drunken patrons who were abusing one of the staff girls. This is another badly-paced mix of shots of Jeannie Bell waving her hands around like she's doing tai chi and flailing weakly at extras who act like they've just been hit with a sledgehammer, and shots of a be-afroed stuntman posing as her, leaping off stairs and doing whirling leg kicks. The music is pretty funky, though.
Let's meet our movie's bad guys now, a drug dealer and his henchmen. This group deals in heroin and is the most powerful such band in this area of Hong Kong. They keep the cops at bay with bribes and threats, and everyone fears their wrath.
The drug gang.
The leader is Sid, a middle-aged American who looks like he should be selling you a stereo at Circuit City and then going home to his one-bedroom apartment and his microwave dinners and falling asleep watching gay porn every night. Sid is played by Ken Metcalf, who was also our film's head writer (as well as the writer of 1985's Warriors of the Apocalypse, another Santiago production from the same year).
Sid's woman is Elaine, the blonde who we met before, though she's more of a partner than just your typical gangster's moll. Elaine is not shy in expressing her opinion, even if it runs counter to Sid's, and doesn't back down from anyone.
Sid's Chinese middleman is Ming, a slimy and unscrupulous dude who works the lines between Sid and "the suppliers" on the Chinese mainland. He kinda looks like an Asian Charles Bronson, but that's just me.
And finally, there is Charlie, a big strapping black American ex-pat who serves as chief enforcer and bodyguard for Sid. Charlie is played by 23-year old American Stan Shaw, who in real life was a judo and karate expert, as well as an actor (though I remember him only from 1998's Snake Eyes). Charlie is the epitome of 1970s militant black power, a hard-fighting, morally-suspect, smooth-talking hustler who walks into a room and owns it. Women swoon to his side, men respect him or get a foot to the face, and the laws of gravity are so scared of him that they allow his afro to rise to heights unheard of in the natural world.
Charlie, looking like Artis Gilmore from the old Kentucky Colonels.
TNT meets them all one night when they come to Joe's nightclub. TNT ticks off Sid by refusing to come work for him, though Sid lets her off easy (too easy). Charlie goes to tell TNT that Sid is a dangerous man, but he'll protect her. TNT doesn't need Charlie's help, though, she's tough enough to watch her own back. You can see here that TNT and Charlie are sexually attracted to each other from the get-go, even though they are on opposite sides of the fence, and you just know that they will end up boinking at some point. Charlie is full of silky words, like, "I think you're a fantastic lady, what's your line?".
Joe goes to a local theater where TNT's brother was killed by Charlie when a drug deal went bad (which we saw in a pre-credits scene, but I'll just tell you here). And yes, he wasn't a saint, just a small time drug dealer who got in over his head and got shived, but he was still TNT's baby brother and she wants answers. Joe isn't able to get much info as two dudes (henchmen of Ming) jump him in the empty theater. Guns are drawn, shots are fired, and Joe ends up killing both men before fleeing. This is the lawless part of Hong Kong, so the cops never know what happened.
Fight! Once more!
We now see a shipment of Sid's money for a drug buy being ambushed! A large number of submachinegun-toting men swarm the overmanned and anonymous henchmen carrying the suitcase full of cash, gunning them all down. This is the price you pay when you lead the life of crime.
Ambush! A man dies in the dust (overacting badly).
Blame naturally falls on TNT, as she's new in town and has already caused a lot of trouble. Ming wants to just shoot her and dump her in an alley, but Charlie disagrees. His motivations are suspect, however, as he's more interested in her fine black booty than her presumed innocence. That fact is not lost on Ming, who never really has trusted the American, even if Sid keeps him around.
The gang chats about what to do next.
Charlie says he'll take full responsibility for the next shipment. To help in that he puts out word for the best karate fighters in Hong Kong to come audition for him so he can form a crack security team. This seems odd as it's 1975 and all, and you'd think that the primary skill needed would be firearms proficiency and not hand-to-hand combat. As it looks, however, all the dudes that Charlie picks are black belts with bad hair.
A bunch of karate dudes try out for the team.
For some reason, TNT decides to go down and try and get on Charlie's team (which makes zero sense, other than to give us another fight scene). Charlie isn't too keen on this at first, but TNT's saucy blackness appeals to him. He tells her that if she can beat him in a sparing match, she can be on the team.
TNT puts her case forward. That's Joe's girlfriend there on the right, she took TNT here when Joe refused.
And so they fight, in a circle while the other men watch and cheer. This must have been a tough scene to choreograph, as Stan Shaw is twice Jeannie Bell's size and he's a legitimate martial arts master and she knows little more than how to stand in one spot. The "fight" is edited in such a way as to make TNT seem like she's a female Bruce Lee, however, and Charlie gets his butt whipped by her. He calls uncle, but he's now more than ever sexually attracted to her.
Sparring with an audience. Apparently getting beat up by a girl is a turn-on.
So they go back to his pad (that's what they call it, I love the '70s) to talk. This is just an excuse for Charlie to woo her with his suave Billy Dee Williams impression, mixing drinks behind his shag carpet bar while funky music plays on his 8-track. TNT is receptive, but keeps her cool, she's all about business today. The scene ends strangely, and it seems that she didn't make the team after all, or maybe she turned down the offer.
Charlie works his mojo. Hey, Hendrix called, he wants his hair back.
Anyway, some time passes. TNT and Joe get word of where the drug dealers are making their next exchange, and she insists that they go observe. They go and spy on the proceedings, which take place in what looks like a coffin factory. Charlie is here, taking a load of cash from Sid to buy a shipment of heroin. Not sure why they are watching, but probably just so that TNT can try and get some more information on what her brother was involved in.
Drug deal amidst the coffins.
As they spy on the bad guys, they notice that Sid's girlfriend Elaine is also watching from a hidden spot! TNT gives chase and they have a wicked girl fight in an open courtyard. Girl fights are always entertaining, or so YouTube tells me, and this one is no exception, even if both actresses are trying hard not to hurt each other. Elaine has some impressive fu, even more so than TNT it seems, but in the end she's knocked out cold.
Girl fight! Is that Marva Whitney?
They take Elaine back to Joe's place and tie her up. When she comes to, however, they learn that Elaine is a "government agent" working undercover to bust up the drug ring! Who knew? TNT is not amused, and calls her a "pig" about ten times with a sneer. Remember, she's a rogue herself, so any thought of her working with the police on anything, even if it's to her benefit, is unthinkable. In fact, Joe has to talk TNT out of killing Elaine and disposing of her body! She's quite the anti-hero, isn't she?
TNT is not happy Elaine is a copper.
Meanwhile, the second shipment is also ambushed, the money stolen just like before. Charlie, despite giving assurances to the contrary, is humbled by his inability to safeguard the shipment and vows revenge on whoever did this. Sid and Ming are now more than ever sure TNT is involved somehow, even if Charlie is still reluctant to finger her as the culprit.
The second ambush, which causes damage to a Toyota sedan beyond what the warranty will cover.
Nevertheless, Charlie comes to see TNT at Joe's, walking in as she and Elaine are talking. Elaine, ever the cool undercover agent, bluffs her way out of the room and convinces Charlie that she and TNT were together all day, thus giving her an alibi. Charlie seems to buy this and leaves as well.
Charlie is amused at Elaine's story. And he looks like Oscar Gamble.
Despite what Elaine and Charlie says, Ming goes after TNT anyway. He and his goons trap her in her room and menace her unpleasantly. Ming tears open her shirt, exposing a fairly small set of 1970s breasts, and threatens her with a cigar branding if she doesn't tell him what happened to the money. TNT isn't talking, though (she really doesn't know, but that's beside the point).
Endangering the boobs with a lit cigar, that's not cool.
In the best scene in the entire movie, TNT gets free and starts kicking ass. She snarls, "You want it black, you got it black!", and gets down to business. She strips down to her black panties, flips the light switch off, and uses the cover of darkness to pummel Ming and his henchmen in a rather amusing topless kung fu melee. It's distracting enough for you not to notice that in a few shots she's wearing different color underwear.
Topless Kung Fu Melee! Why the hell is this not a funk revival band name?
Once Ming comes limping back, Charlie goes to find TNT, just to talk. They end up having the inevitable sexual union, which starts almost immediately after he enters the room and starts undressing her. Why TNT consents to this is a mystery, as she knows that Charlie is a fairly evil man, a drug dealer's enforcer and a cold- blooded murder. Still, he's got that raw bad boy sexual energy that women seem to go for (there is indeed no help for me) so she can't help herself. My cut is edited badly, so there is barely anything here R rated to see.
Sex, though hard to see in the dark.
As they lay in bed afterwards, TNT notices that Charlie has a cigarette lighter, one that she recognizes as belonging to her lost brother. She puts two and two together then and realizes that Charlie killed him! She doesn't say or do anything, though, and Charlie leaves. I guess she was in too much shock at the moment to act, but later is consumed with rage. Her only quest now is to kill Charlie, despite Joe trying to talk her out of it for her own safety.
TNT checks out the lighter, it has her inscription on the bottom.
Back to the drug dealers. Sid, being critically short of cash now that two of his shipments were jacked, has to go to meet the suppliers in person. He wants to try and arrange a buy on credit, which is not something that drug dealers normally do, so he's taking a chance. They agree to meet at a fancy hotel offshore, seemingly renting out a conference room for the sit-down. Sid and Elaine get a room in the hotel and wait for the evening meeting.
At the hotel.
Once she learns the time and place of the meeting, Elaine sneaks out to go and inform the police. She meets with a plainclothes cop in a diner and they pass info. The problem is that Ming's men catch the cop and the jig is up for Elaine. Sid is furious with her, slaps her around a bit, but leaves her alive on the bed while he goes down to the meeting. It's clear that she'll be killed when he returns.
Elaine on the bed, knocked out.
But Elaine isn't going down without a fight. Left alone with just a few henchmen to watch her, she awakes and becomes a whirling dervish of pain. Showing some pretty good moves (considering she's wearing a bathrobe and the stuntmen aren't really trying too hard) she punches and kicks her way through the guards and out into the hotel's lobby.
Elaine and her puke green robe do battle.
Meanwhile, at the meeting, to no one's surprise, Charlie stands up and takes over. It was he who arranged the ambushes on the shipments to gather enough money to take over the business from Sid (scoundrel!). The suppliers simply don't care, they just want their money, so they quickly align themselves with Charlie. Sid and Ming try and put up a fight, but Charlie overpowers them. Ming has some low-grade fu, but Charlie thumps him good.
Charlie takes over, check that pimpilicious satin jacket over his shoulder,
he be lookin' like Lionel Ritchie.
Out in the hallway, however, Ming's henchmen and Charlie's henchmen begin to brawl in support of their respective benefactors. Elaine has by now reached the police and the hotel is swarmed by armed cops, who quickly arrest everyone. Too bad all the kingpins will be free on "technicalities" within three hours.
The cops arrive.
A few loose ends are tied up and a few leads are given some final sceentime. Joe shows up to beat the crap out of some unnamed henchman, who before now has not had one single line of dialogue, in a pointless long scene. Elaine gets into a fight with Sid, and they both plunge through a plate glass window and fall to their deaths (did NOT see that coming).
Needing a much more grandiose end than handcuffs and a mugshot, Charlie escapes the police raid and runs off into an empty theater. He's pursued by TNT, who just showed up looking to get her revenge against Charlie. Charlie and TNT now have that epic final fight that we've all been waiting for (and we'd honestly be pissed if it didn't happen). This fight shows more inventive choreography than all the other fights in the movie combined (rightfully, always save your best moves for the third act), though we again see the limitations of Jeannie Bell's physical abilities.
The final showdown, Stan Shaw really has to pull his punches here, literally.
It ends when TNT (and I'm fucking serious) punches all the way through Charlie's stomach, her stiff-fingered hand emerging out his back in a spray of blood!
Charlie stumbles away after TNT pulls her hand out of his intestines. Roll credits.
Written in May 2008 by Nathan Decker.
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