Joe Bob Briggs
Sho Kosugi is the best kung-fu man since Bruce Lee.
Forget Jackie Chan. Forget Jet Lee. Forget Bruce Lei, Bruce Li, Bruce Lea, and Bruce Leigh.
It's no wonder that they're giving Hong Kong back to the Commies. They haven't turned out a world-class thwacker since 1974, when Bruce's head blew up.
Pray for Death, which I discovered in France in the 1980s, is the first movie ever made about a Japaheeno ninja who joins a neighborhood-improvement group.
All Sho wants to do is take his little Japaheeno wife to Houston, buy an old house, lay a little bathroom tile, replace some wood shingles, and play some Frisbee with his Yokohama young guns.
Unfortunately, there's this mush-mouth mobster named Limehouse that gets his jollies out of pouring gasoline on people and saying, "Hey, how about a Viking funeral?" And he decides a Japaheeno family would be just the right people to take the blame for some missing California nose candy.
So first he kidnaps Sho's little kid, then he gets two Cro-Magnon men in a pickup to run over the other kid and Sho's wife, and then he sneaks into Sho's wife's hospital room, fiddles around with her life-support equipment, and goes, "Whoops!"
Pretty soon we got one p.o.ed ninja in a business suit.
Unfortunately, we also got some Communist censorship going on here. The version I saw over in France is not the one that was released in the United States.
The guys on the national censor board decided Pray for Death needed an X rating for violence, and so that meant they couldn't advertise in the newspaper, and so that meant they had to go back and take out some of the scene where Limehouse burns up an old man and the scene where Sho's wife gets her plug pulled.
They've been doing stuff like this ever since some mommies complained about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Scum a few years back. Good thing we got Sho in charge, though, 'cause he rises above the scissors and turns this into Enter the Dragon, Death Wish, and Halloween all rolled into one flick.
Back when I first had the pleasure, Pray for Death went immediately to Numero Uno on the JBB Best of '86 list, surpassing the previous best horror flick--A Chorus Line.
* Forty-eight dead bodies (17 before the opening credits). Two breasts. Nine gallons blood.
* Ninety-eight on the Vomit Meter (84 in the censored version).
* Chest-carving. Wrist-slashing.
* Six kung-fu brawls. Motor-vehicle chase.
* Kung fu. Ninjitsu fu. Kid fu. Hypodermic fu.
* Ax fu. Chainsaw fu. Lumber-mill fu. Crowbar fu.
* Big Wheel fu. Gasoline-and-a-Bic-lighter fu.
* Shinto Temple rigamarole about fire and sword and death and prophets.
* Gratuitous mall shopping. Gratuitous Batman.
* Two exploding cars.
Drive-ln Academy Award nominations went to...
* James Booth, who wrote this sucker and also played Limehouse, a guy so mean he says, "I'm gonna burn you, kid, like a roman candle."
* Sho, the master, who keeps saying, "I'm sorry--my fault--so sorry."
* Kane and Shane Kosugi, Sho's kids, for excellent midget fu.
* And Gordon Hessler, the director, for his best flick since Scream and Scream Again.
Four stars. Joe Bob says check it out again.
Joe Bob's Find That Flick
This week's melon masher comes from...Ronald Miller of Dallas:
"Back in the mid-1960s, I remember seeing either a short film or short dramatic film on television.
"The actors did not have any dialogue. The entire thing was narrated and may have been a poem. The story concerned a trumpet player and his obsession with his instrument.
"As the story progressed, he got better and better with the horn, then got a girlfriend, whom he promptly lost because he was obsessed with his playing.
"He was searching for a note that had never been played before. At the end of the story, he was playing in a bar when a blast of high-pitched sound came out of his horn, followed by a bright light that enveloped him, causing him to vanish.
"Any ideas on the title or author of this film?"
A video will be awarded for the correct answer. (The winner chooses from our library of titles.) In the event of a tie, a drawing will be held. Send "Find That Flick" questions and solutions to Joe Bob Briggs, P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221. You can also fax them to (213) 462-5982 or e-mail them to Joe Bob on the Internet: email@example.com. (E-mail entries must include a postal mailing address.)
We Don't Have a Winner!
Richard Levine of Richardson, Texas, wrote:
"I was told by two different people that there was a movie made in about the last five years from the biblical book of Esther.
"I was also told that the title contains the word or number 13, and that one of the stars was Olivia Hussey. However, my search of film indexes has failed to turn up any such movie.
"The Book of Esther, also called the Megillah, tells the story of how Esther is chosen by the King of Persia as his wife in a sort of biblical beauty contest.
"Later, she and her Uncle Mordechai save the Jews of Persia from extermination by the wicked minister, Haman. This story is the basis of the Jewish holiday of Purim.
"The Book of Esther is part of the Apocrypha, which is printed in most Roman Catholic Bibles and in some Protestant Bibles as well.
"Why is it a 'drive-in' kind of movie? I understand most of the emphasis in the film is on the beauty contest!
"I hope your widespread and knowledgeable readership can help me find this flick."
For the second week in a row, we had zero correct answers. We will still award a video for late entries.
To discuss the meaning of life with Joe Bob, write Joe Bob Briggs, P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221 or fax him at (213) 462-5982. Joe Bob even hangs out on the Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1996 Joe Bob Briggs (Distributed by NYT Special Features)
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.