Death Promise (1977)

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This action film has quite an interesting concept for a martial arts film in which greedy landlords are the targets and fans of independent American martial arts films may actually enjoy this.

In New York City, slum lords are resorting to using nefarious methods to evict tenants or have them leave so they can tear the buildings down for more commercial properties. One such victim is Charley Roman, a karate expert whose electricity and water has been shut off courtesy of the slum lords. His father Louis, a former boxer, has attempted to keep the neighborhoods in check and because he is a highly respected man, the neighbors don’t budge against the goons hired by the zoning board, consisting of Albano, Jackson, Mursky, corrupt judge Engstrom, and led by Alden.

When Alden attempts to make Louis an offer that is ultimately refused, Louis is found dead by Charley, who is seething with revenge. Under the guidance of his teacher Master Shibata, Charley heads to Asia to train under Master Ying and his other student, Sup Kim. Upon his return, Shibata gives Charley a letter that Louis had written for Charley in case anything happened. Along with his best friend Speedy, Charley begins to make a vow to his late father and that is to hunt every member of the zoning board down and kill them all in the name of vengeance.

Serafim Karalexis is quite an interesting figure in cinema. The Greek-born president of Madison (Boston) Film, he produced a documentary entitled The Real Bruce Lee, which introduced martial arts film fans to Korea Bruce-alike Dragon Lee. He would later help Ron Van Clief with his film career when he signed the veteran martial artist to play the legendary character to which Van Clief himself is nicknamed to this day, The Black Dragon. In 1975, The Black Dragon’s Revenge was the film debut of New York-based martial artist Charles Bonet. Karalexis was impressed with Bonet that he gave him the lead role to this film, which has quite the interesting concept of slum lords as the villains as they try to drive people out of their homes to demolish them to make more money by building commercial properties.

Charles Bonet definitely gets kudos here because he is actually a pretty good martial artist. If you know that you’re in for a 1970’s low-budgeted action packed film, then you know Bonet does his best to carry the film. The one-film wonder Speedy Leacock does quite well as Bonet’s best friend and sidekick who joins him on this mission because he’s got quite an agenda of his own in terms of the slum lords. The late Hong Kong actor Thompson Kao Kang makes the most of his screen time as Master Shibata while Bill Louie, another New York-based martial artist, channels his inner Bruce Lee as the very interestingly-named “Sup Kim”. The villains of the film don’t have skills as they let their main henchmen do all the fighting for them. Yet one can’t help but respect the diversity of our cast of villains, all of whom while being together in business, also have their own agendas outside of business.

The film’s fight sequences have a feel akin to the South African film Kill or be Killed and not that of the Hong Kong variety. That’s because three of the film’s stars also double as the film’s action directors and are highly skilled in karate. Lead actor and Hanshi Charles Bonet is skilled in Shorinkai Karate. Thompson Kao Kang was skilled in karate as well as Bill Louie, who is the founder of Chinese American Goju Ryu Karate. Some of the climactic fights are quite laughable especially when two henchmen, while being quite good in martial arts, also resort to overdoing it with the kiai yells. For that reason alone, one can’t help but laugh and the overall production truly deserves cult classic status.

Death Promise boasts an interesting concept with a martial arts film that is helped by stars Charles Bonet and Speedy Leacock on a mission of revenge. Bill Louie and Thompson Kao Kang make the most of their screen time and the film has some decent fights in the vein of Kill or be Killed. A fun cult classic.

WFG RATING: B-

Boston Film Company presents a Howard Mahler Films production. Director: Robert Warmflash. Producer: Serafim Karalexis. Writer: Norbert Albertson. Cinematography: Aaron Kleinman. Editing: Jim Markovic and Guy Bishop.

Cast: Charles Bonet, Speedy Leacock, Bill Louie, Thompson Kao Kang, Vincent Van Lynn, Thom Kendall, Abe Henry, Tony De Caprio, David Kirk, Bob O’Connell, Anthony Lau, Bob Long, Jason Lau,
Jerry Ng.

 

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