1978, Cosa Nueva

Cirio H. Santiago
Robert E. Waters
Cirio H. Santiago (story)
Robert E. Waters (story)
Howard R. Cohen (screenplay)
Ricardo Remias
Gervacio Santos
Robert E. Waters

James Iglehart (Doug Russell)
Carmen Argenziano (Morelli)
Leon Isaac Kennedy (McGee)
Vic Diaz (Crime Boss)
Joe Mari Avellana (Japanese Soldier)
Joonee Gamboa (Japanese Soldier)
Jayne Kennedy (Karen Russell)

The tagline for this action film involves former couple Leon Isaac Kennedy and Jayne Kennedy in key roles. However, the promotion is a bit misleading.

Doug Russell is a former Vietnam veteran who goes to the Philippines with two of his friends from his war days, Morelli and McGee. They steal a gold cache for a local crime lord, who pays the trio nicely for their effort before they head back home. Morelli plans to rise up in the underworld upon returning to Los Angeles and wants McGee to join him. However, to do so, they betray Russell by stabbing him, slashing his throat and sending him overboard.

Russell is washed up ashore on an island where he is rescued by two Japanese soldiers who have been living there since World War II. They nurse him back to health and teach him both karate and the ways of bushido. As he trains, back in L.A., Morelli and McGee have made their way to become the top underworld bosses. McGee has eyes for Karen, Russell’s wife and closes in on her. What will happen when Russell makes his way back to Los Angeles and goes to both find his family and avenge his betrayal?

This film was re-released in 1982 as Fighting Mad to capitalize on the success of former couple Leon Isaac and Jayne Kennedy. Leon Isaac had become well-known in 1979 for his role of “Too Sweet” Gordon in Jamaa Fanaka’s Penitentiary films while Jayne Kennedy had a successful spread in Playboy magazine. However, while they play very pivotal roles in the film, Leon Isaac Kennedy is not the actual star of the film yet he does play a charismatic scumbag of a villain while Jayne plays the typical damsel in distress.

The film’s real star is James Iglehart, who starred in the 1974 Filipino-made action film Bamboo Gods and Iron Men. Iglehart does quite well in this film. Many will see him as a Blaxploitation action star because he does fit the mold. While the first half of the film sees him as someone who just wants to get the job done so he can go home to his family, the second half turns him into a very angry man who while caring for his family, also wants revenge on his former war brothers. Bloodfist star Joe Mari Avellana is great as Russell’s martial arts teacher while Joonie Gamboa brings a little comic relief as the other soldier, who constantly bickers with Avellana as if they were still in the War. As the scheming Morelli, Carmen Argenziano does quite well yet at the same time, one is just waiting for him to get his.

Now, the surprising factor comes in the form of the film’s action. Normally, with a mix of 1970’s Blaxploitation and Filipino action, one would expect a slow pace in the fight scenes. However, in this film, it is the opposite. The action scenes are very fast-paced and nicely edited. The first training scene where Avellana uses a bamboo kendo stick against Iglehart is maginificent for its era. This is just a tip of the iceberg as while some of the stunt guys don’t seem up to par with Iglehart, a standout scene takes place in a martial arts school. The master of the dojo is quite a martial artist and shows a nice array of hand work and some decent kicks and Iglehart himself isn’t bad in the fight department, showcasing moves that are reminiscent of Fred Williamson. When Iglehart dispenses “samurai justice” on the bad guys as well, it is apparent that Iglehart did his training. While the stunt coordinator is uncredited, one can guess that possibly someone like Fred Esplana or Ronald Asinas could have done the stunt coordination. Whoever it was, kudos for making this a very watchable action film.

A bit of quick trivia: The Russells’ son is played by current TV actor James Monroe Iglehart, the son of our hero James Iglehart himself, making his film debut.

Death Force is an underrated mix of Blaxploitation and Filipino action thriller. James Iglehart makes for a bankable action hero of that era while future “Too Sweet” himself, Leon Isaac Kennedy, does well as the charismatic villain of the piece. Definitely worth a rental and for hardcore cult film fans, a worthy purchase.