Fighting Mad (aka "Death Force") (1978)
Starring: James Inglehart, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Carmen Argenziano, and Jayne Kennedy
Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
Doug (Inglehart) and two other American soldiers (Kennedy and Argenziano) are returning home from Vietnam with a cache of gold earned by working with the black market when his partners-in-crime betray him and throw him into the ocean for dead. Rescued and befriended by a pair of soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army who have been living secretly on an isolated South Sea island, Doug is taught the ways of Samurai. Eventually making his way back to the States, he reunites with his wife (Jayne Kennedy) and sets about taking revenge on the men who betrayed him, by first dismantling the criminal empire they've built and then taking their lives.
"Fighting Mad" has all the making of a REALLY bad movie. When Doug was rescued by a pair of Japanese soldiers who didn't know WW2 was over, I was certain I was in for a stupid movie as well as a bad one. However, as ludicrous as the notion of him just happening to wash up on a desert island with a pair of old Japanese soldiers (one of whom just happens to be an honest-to-gosh samurai), it all worked.
Full of 1970s-ism such as pimps in big hats, Italian gangsters loving restaurants, references to Black Muslims, vengeful martial artists, and corrupt, twisted Vietnam veterans, this film turns out to be a rather engaging revenge flick. The Japanese soldiers turn out to be more charming than laughable, and the training period that Doug goes through is one that starts to feel believable. The same is true of the rise to power of the Vietnam vets turned Los Angeles crimelords in an age when gangsters still had a veneer of businessmen about them. The movie overall is a rather engaging, old-fashioned crime/martial arts fantasy with the villains who are such nasty pieces of work that it's a delight to watch our hero--reformed by the tutalage of an honorable warrior and the love he has for his wife and child--take them apart.
If the editing of the film had been just a tiny bit less abrupt--it seemed like there were only two establishing shots in the whole movie--this could have easily have rated a Seven or perhaps even an Eight on the Tomato-scale. The script was well done, tne acting good, and the action well-staged.
"Fighting Mad" is a movie that anyone who enjoyed "Kill Bill" or movies like it. It's also a movie that carries with it a curiously modern message of racial harmony, something that wasn't exactly common in "drive-in" type movies like this one back then. The man villains are a white and a black man working together with hired muscle that's mostly Italian or Hispanic, while the hero is trained by Japanese on the desert island, teams with a Japanese cabbie Stateside, and is helped along in his quest for revenge by one of the few white cops not bought off by the villains.
(Oh.. if someone out there reading this knows Brian De Palma, point this movie out to him. It's got those corrupt, murderous United States soldiers he's so fond of telling the world about. Maybe "Fighting Mad" will become a favorite and he'll be inspired to make a movie that's entertaining.)
"Fighting Mad" is included in several different low-priced DVD multipacks. It can also occasionally be found under its original title "Death Force."