The early ‘70s was all about the martial arts fighting in the wake of Bruce Lee’s international cinema stardom, Kung Fu‘s success on TV and the radio blasting “Kung Fu Fighting.” Roger Corman couldn’t miss out on this open hand action. But he needed to do more than rip off the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest. He had to find that unique twist to exploit for his movies. He teamed up with Filipino filmmaker Cirio H. Santiago to create the guaranteed crowd pleaser: Topless Kung Fu. Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature Lethal Ladies Collection bares hands and bosoms in Asian locations.
TNT Jackson (1974 – 72 minutes) brings together chop-socky, sexploitation and blaxpolitation in the form of Jeannie Bell (Disco 9000). She arrives in Hong Kong looking for the man who killed her brother. Turns out he was mixed up with the drug underworld. She thinks she’s found local help in Stan Shaw (The Great Santini and Cutthroat Island). Turns out she’s really found her brother’s killer. But will she uncover the truth before she gets uncovered and sleeps with him? Bell’s not quite the martial arts expert like Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones), but she’s got OK moves when she goes into motion. She’s imposing when serving the karate chops with her shirt and bra missing. For those paying attention, most of the Hong Kong action takes place in Manilla. Manilla was the Toronto of Asia.
Firecracker (1981 – 78 minutes) revives the script with a major change in the casting of Jillian Kesner (Kung Fu Cannibals). She’s hyped as a winner at the Black Belt Olympics so she know how to dish out the blows. She arrives in Manila looking for her missing sister. She once more goes into bad places and finds friendship in Chuck Donnor (Malibu Express). Little does she know that he’s the reason her sister is missing. The fighting scenes are great since Corman used the soundtrack from Shogun Assassin. The love scene between Kesner and Donnor turns into knifeplay as the couple slice each other naked. This is like a bonus fetish film in the middle of a Kung Fu epic. Firecracker is crackling cherry bomb.
Too Hot to Handle (1977 – 86 minutes) stars a buttkicking female lead reading a completely different script. She not in Manila to find a lost relative, but to lose a few people. Cheri Caffaro had already made her name with the Ginger trilogy of low budget spy roughies. Too Hot to Handle sizzles compared to her earlier efforts. She’s an international assassin that will go to any extreme to whack her target. She gets kinky with whips, slaps on the brown face, turns lesbian and even hits up the cockfights to get her victims. Caffaro does plenty to upset grandma. The intercutting of a sex scene with the cockfighting is something you won’t see in an Angelina Jolie flick. The ending is as explosive as they get in the world of roughie spy flicks. If you see only one Cheri Caffaro film, let it be Too Hot to Handle.
Lethal Ladies Collection is a dynamic threesome. The only thing lacking in this boxset is Angelfist. That’s the third and final time Santiago remade the TNT Jackson script for Corman. Firecracker is all the excitement promised by the trailer. This film deserves the cult following received by TNT Jackson. If you’re a fan of females kicking ass, Lethal Ladies lives up to their title. Topless Kung Fu was the best way for Corman to separate his titles from the numerous chop-socky fighting for screens across America.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic for all three films. The transfers are sharp. The Filipino locations dazzle on the screen. Stephen Colbert will thrill to the feathers flying in the cockfight. The audio is mono. The mix is fine for a low budget action creation. The best part of Firecracker is when the Shogun Assassin score kicks into high gear.
Audio Commentary on Too Hot to Handle features star Cheri Caffaro. She’s go plenty of memories of her time overseas.
Still Gallery are a dozen shots from the set of Too Hot to Handle.
Trailers include Jackson County Jail, The Big Bird Cage, The Hot Box and Firecracker. This is good news that The Hot Box is coming. Jonathan Demme worked on this Filipino production that combined the nurse theme in the prison setting.
Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature Lethal Ladies Collection delivers a three punches to the nether regions. TNT Jackson is an iconic blaxplotation flick. Firecracker serves up even more topless Kung Fu. Too Hot to Handle burns with wicked assassinations. This is hotter than a summer night in Manila.
Shout! Factory presents Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature Lethal Ladies Collection. Starring: Jeanne Bell, Stan Shaw, Jillian Kesner, Darby Hinton and Cheri Caffaro. Boxset Contents: Three movies on 2 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 25, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Bruce Lee, Kung Fu, Roger Corman