Blood Money [龍虎走天涯, Là dove non batte il sole] (1975)
AKA The Stranger and the Gunfighter, La brute, Le Colt et le Karaté
Starring Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Julián Ugarte, Erika Blanc, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Cheng Miu
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Expectations: High. I love Spaghetti Westerns and Kung Fu! This sould be a slam dunk, right?
On paper, Blood Money is the kind of movie I should love. A Spaghetti Western starring Lee Van Cleef, co-produced by Shaw Brothers and co-starring Lo Lieh. When I first heard about this movie a few years back, I imagined it as something similar to My Name is Shanghai Joe, only better since it had a great cast and the power of the Shaw Studio’s martial arts behind it. But man… that honestly couldn’t be further from the truth. Blood Money isn’t a horrible movie, but it’s definitely not taking full advantage of all the greatness at its disposal.
Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) comes to town with one thing on his mind: cracking the safe of Wang, a man said to have his fortune stored within. Dakota gets right to work, finding a sequence of locked doors within, each containing a picture of a prostitute who works for Wang. The safe’s final door requires some dynamite, and the blast not only opens the door but mistakenly kills Wang. Dakota retrieves the contents (another photo… and a fortune cookie), but he is arrested before he can get away. Word of Wang’s death reaches China, so Wang’s nephew Wang Ho Chien (Lo Lieh) is sent to investigate and find the missing fortune. His first stop is to question Dakota in jail, but this is just the beginning of the hunt for Wang’s treasure!
Unfortunately, reading that paragraph is probably more exciting than how it all plays out in the film. Dakota and Wang ride around picking up clues to the location of the fortune, but by the nature of where they’re hidden, the scenes kind of run together and make the film’s middle section very tedious and boring. The premise itself is a wonderful idea for an exploitation film, but it just can’t carry a whole movie. And what is this wonderful premise, you ask? Well, remember those photos Dakota found inside the safe? In addition to taking photos, Wang also tattooed a series of clues on the women’s asses, so each girl must be found and closely examined. See, it’s perfectly exploitative! It’s also a great example of how Blood Money is primarily a comedy. It has a western backdrop and there are Chinese elements to make it exotic, but it’s barely more than a dumb comedy.
The action offerings of the film are quite slim, limited to a few quick fights and some gunplay. The choreography of the martial arts is really weak, so even when Lo Lieh gets to throw some kicks it’s far from anything you’re interested in seeing. Less critical fans will likely enjoy it anyway (and I liked it as best as I could), but I have to call it like I see it. No one is credited for the choreography, so I don’t even have anyone to blame! In any case, don’t expect any kind of quality from the kung fu and you won’t be disappointed.
The one action scene that manages to entertain well is the film’s finale. It brings everything together in one last-ditch effort to gain your attention, and against all odds it works! Hahahaha, anyway there’s some nice gun work and standoffs, Lo Lieh gets to strut a bit, and Lee Van Cleef rides an odd chariot with a Gatling gun. It’s nothing worth hunting down the film for, but if you’re already here it ends the film on a definite high note.
Having just reviewed the Jackie Chan film Shanghai Noon, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities that Blood Money shares with it. The plots are different, but they’re actually more alike than not. A Chinese man is sent to the American West to recover a princess/fortune, and he eventually teams up with a gun-savvy thief. They have various adventures, including being in jail together and being saved from the hangman’s noose, etc. I wrote about how Shanghai Noon felt old, tired and behind the times, and Blood Money really reinforces this idea! Shanghai Noon is definitely a better production, but the same stereotypes and tropes define the ideas behind both films. At least Jackie got a little more to do than Lo Lieh does here.
I can’t recommend Blood Money for anyone but the most ardent of Shaw Brothers fans. It’s not even a good Spaghetti Western either, although I must admit that the Spaghetti Western comedy is by far my least favorite style of the genre. If you do track it down, you’ve been warned; hopefully you enjoy it more than I did.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Tseng-Chai’s second gambling action film, The Gambling Syndicate! See ya then!