The Big Brawl (1980)

bigbrawl_8The Big Brawl (1980)
AKA Battle Creek Brawl

Starring Jackie Chan, José Ferrer, Kristine DeBell, Mako, Ron Max, David Sheiner, Rosalind Chao, Lenny Montana, Pat E. Johnson, Mary Ellen O’Neill, H.B. Haggerty, Chao Li Chi, Joycelyne Lew

Directed by Robert Clouse

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


It’s ironic that Golden Harvest would send Jackie Chan to America in an attempt to recreate Bruce Lee’s success with Enter the Dragon, just as Jackie was finally gaining major notoriety on his own terms with films like The Fearless Hyena and The Young Master. After fighting to break free from Lo Wei’s control and desire to make him the next Bruce Lee, he landed in a more well-funded version of the same dream. Unfortunately, this was never Jackie’s dream. The Big Brawl is the resulting film and it’s definitely not the best way to introduce Jackie Chan to the American audience.

The story casts Jackie as Jerry Kwan, the son of a restaurant owner who is being bullied by some mobsters. Jerry knows kung fu and wants to show ’em what for, but his father forbids him from fighting. The mobsters catch wind of Jerry’s martial prowess, though, and they hatch a plan to force him into fighting for them in the Battle Creek Brawl in Texas. Why? I don’t honestly know, but that’s the plot. It’s not much of one, but that’s all you get. Oh, and just because there weren’t enough clichés, the mobsters also use kidnapping Jerry’s loved ones to force him into doing these things he otherwise wouldn’t be doing.

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Conan the Destroyer (1984)

conanthedestroyer_2Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Sarah Douglas, Olivia d’Abo, Pat Roach, Jeff Corey, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Bruce Fleischer, Ferdy Mayne

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Expectations: Super low.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Sequels are tricky business, perhaps harder to get right than the first film in a franchise. Conan the Destroyer is a film that had all the odds stacked against it right from the get-go, as it had the burden of attempting to follow one of the greatest fantasy motion pictures of all time. So instead of trying to bang out a rehash of the first film, the new creative team decided to go in a completely different direction. Conan the Destroyer represents a different side of Conan, much like many of Robert E. Howard’s original stories that represent an unexplored side of the character at different places in his life. Conan the Destroyer is definitely not anywhere near as awesome or as well-made as Milius’s original film, but it is a nearly non-stop parade of B-Movie fun.

Conan the Destroyer presents us with a story that Conan gets mixed up in, not one that is integral to the character. This immediately hampers the film from being the deeply resonant tale of woe and revenge that the first film was, but that’s OK — this one has crystal castles, wizards and crazy monsters! While praying at an altar, Queen Taramis of Shadizar sends in her guards to attack Conan. He easily bests them, slicing their nets and punching their horses. Upon his victory, the Queen tells him of a quest, one that if he succeeds will allow her to resurrect Valeria from the dead. Wanting nothing more than Valeria back in his life, Conan agrees and we’re off on a thrilling fantasy adventure.

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Conan the Barbarian (1982)

conan_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valérie Quennessen, William Smith, Luis Barboo, Franco Columbu, Leslie Foldvary

Directed by John Milius

Expectations: Extremely high.

fourstar


Conan the Barbarian opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” A far better actor than many give him credit for, Conan the Barbarian provided Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance at destiny. The films leading him to the role of Conan were of varying quality, but the fires of Pumping Iron or The Jayne Mansfield Story tested, trained and forged the steel of his resolve like the steel of the sword that is forged during Conan‘s opening credits. These experiences shaped Arnold into the hulking beast of a man awaiting his rightful place in the spotlight of Hollywood’s explosive action films. He seized this opportunity like a champion, delivering a muscular, vengeful performance that continues to resonate over 30 years later. Conan the Barbarian is a stunning achievement, and one of my favorite films.

Conan the Barbarian tells a very simple tale, but like all great fantasy stories, there is a focus on grand adventure that sets Conan apart from other films of its vintage. Watching it this time, it reminded me a lot of Richard Donner’s Superman, in that it takes a story that many would have made into a trashy genre film and treats it with respect and verisimilitude. Conan is not a B-Movie with swords, it’s an epic journey of revenge across the wide plains of Hyboria.

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