Review by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen
Dr. Wong (Jess Franco) sends his thugs to eliminate Mr. Jung. The “judoka shadow” of Bruce Lyn (José Llamas) is cast against a wall, swearing to take revenge. Meanwhile, Lina Romay and Albino Graziani, both of whom work for the British secret service, investigate Jung’s murder. Wong is also out to eliminate Macedo, a Filipino gangster involved in dubious dealings, with the purpose of having the whole market to himself. But Bruce and his judoka shadow (which does the fighting for him) interfere with his plans, leading him to send the beautiful Honey Eyes to do him in. Honey Eyes sets a trap for Bruce, but the latter is saved in the nick of time by the British agents. What follows are numerous fights and chases until Bruce and Dr, Wong finally meet, face to face. The issue is raised of a boat bearing a heroin cargo. The two secret agents find the boat, though this turns out to be manned by two corrupt millionaires. Bruce Lyn arrests them but then, on recalling that his masters had taught him to be compassionate, sets them free.
The plot of LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA CONTRA EL DR. WONG probably makes a little more sense than the above synopsis suggests, but in any case the feeling it is likely to foster once seen is one of a most formidable incoherence. Not that it really matters. From the very first scene, wherein an unidentified character gives chase to some other unidentified character in some unidentified Asian city, the viewer realises that the film is basically a game composed of clichés, a muddled, dog-eared comic book teeming with hilarious incident. Oriental villains, secret agents, gangsters, judokas and easily infatuated almond-eyed women all combine in a plot full of fights, chases, shootouts and other stock-in-trade ingredients. The film’s purpose was that of capitalising on the popularity of martial arts films in blue-collar quarters and in the very first video stores, and Jess, not one to turn down any popular genre, set out to make this film under the characteristically sparse production facilities of Emilio Larraga’s Golden Films. As the idea of making a Spanish martial arts film was not too “serious” for a start (even by the standards of the genre), Jess chose the path of over-the-top parody he had already rehearsed in other, similarly uninhibited B-move take-offs as DRÁCULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN or THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU. As in those films, basic genre mechanisms are taken up to be subverted, demystified and used as part of a highly unlikely game that must count on the viewer’s complicity. Those looking for a solid script, a surprise revelation or even convincing fight scenes should thus give this one a wide berth.
To make the formal deconstruction of the genre even more pronounced, LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA includes several scenes from some previous Oriental film that have been inserted into the body of the film without much of an attempt to conceal this device. I am not informed as to whether this was Jess’s or Larraga’s idea, but I’m inclined to ascribe it to the latter, who, in order to give the project a greater verisimilitude and a more genuinely Asian feel, may have come upon the idea of recycling scenes from one or several films of such origins whose rights he may or may not have held. Such a device, which Roger Corman had popularised many years before, would have been employed with as much discretion as possible, as well as a certain embarrassed desire to conceal its very use, but things are bound to be quite different with Jess Franco at the helm. One of the most prominent characters, Tai Chin, belongs to the other film, and we never know what her function or intentions are. But who cares, really: Tai Chin is a very cute Chinese girl and will always look good wherever you place her. The Tai Chin scenes might have been used for a flashback or a subplot, which would have been fairly unintrusive, but Jess, aiming as high as he can in his cinephile game, goes as far as editing a scene in which he himself, as Dr. Wong, is chased by the Chinese girl in a red car. And it works! In case that were not sufficiently audacious, Franco flirts with technical impossibility by having José Llamas fight it out with a Chiense character from the other film! With the help of fast editing and a neutral backdrop, Jess Franco, with Lina’s help at the moviola, takes creative editing to the limit.
Obviously, the intentions behind LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA when recycling scenes from other films are quite unlike those of the found footage films of Craig Baldwin or Peter Tscherkassky, but it won’t do to simply liken Franco’s approach to the pirate padding methods of Corman or Jerry Warren, the results being, in any case, closer to Woody Allen’s WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY, which didn’t even try to conceal the element of artifice but actually used as simply one more comic device, with Japanese actors being given comic lines in the dubbing. And, also, albeit in a less sophisticated and self-conscious way, it comes close to the very postmodern recycling of past films as carried out by the likes of Tarantino, Rob Zombie, or Guy Maddin, who, though without physically returning to old film material, almost literally make use of the scenes, styles, characters or even scores of other people’s films. One might say, in this respect, that – within the context of some hypothetical tacky, ultra-Spanish and incoherent parallel universe –LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA CONTRA EL DR. WONG almost comes across as the perfect doppelganger of KILL BILL.
I would like to be able to identify the film-within-a-film, to all appearances a typical Chinese film on ancestral masters and epic championships, very much in the line of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, although the Tai Chin scenes are probably from some other film, perhaps something to do with the Japanese Yakuza. According to the database of the Spanish Cinematheque, the only Asian film distributed by Emilio Larraga was STORMY SUN aka SUPER MAN CHU (Hong Kong, 1973), but I cannot verify if it was used or not for LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA. Perhaps somebody may help us out after seeing the Youtube video.
The film was shot on the Canary Island, probably in the same hotel as in LA MANSIÓN DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTES, making use of the most disparate “Asian” art direction elements, from paper lamps to a luminous Sanyo banner(!), a great idea of the kind only Jess could come up with, and one that moreover adds the most unsuspected dimensions to the film, invoking the current topics of globalisation and increasing Chinese dominance in one go. Now that we’re at it, I cannot help thinking of another direct connection: that with Olivier Assayas’s DEMONLOVER. For the time being, let’s leave it at that.
LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA should also serve as the confirmation of the comic talent of José Llamas, one of Franco’s eighties regulars, variously seen as a shameless lout, a hard-working porn partner for Lina and, in the present film, a kind-hearted judoka. His was a brief career, barely reaching five years, but his unmistakeable presence is representative of the sleaziest, freshest and most juvenile side of JF’s cinema, in addition to his qualities as a sex-symbol (according to Jess, he had been a photographer’s model). Lina, Albino Graziani and Jess himself –spouting such cod-Chinese lines as “Don’t you bleak my chops, you hallot” – have the time of their lives as serial archetypes, in the company of extras drawn from Chinese restaurants as well as (according to specialist David Domingo) that of Tino, Spain’s Taekwondo champion, who was concurrently involved in the making in Las Palmas of KARATE CONTRA MAFIA (Ramón Saldías, 1981), a minor classic of Iberian chopsocky cinema. Juan Soler was once again the DP, relying on the usual crazy movements and zooms of Franco at his freest, but applying his usual expertise to the lighting and achieving some absolutely brilliant 2.35 framing.
LA SOMBRA DEL JUDOKA would seem to be a vulgar and simplistic film, but it does make a very difficult demand on its viewers: to forget all prejudices one may have acquired about the movies and enjoy a dangerously amusing tightrope spectacle without a net.
1.12GB | 1h 22m | 498×242 | mkv