REVIEW: Chinatown Connection (1988)

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A new Bruce Lee-impersonator and the son of the Six Million Dollar Man join forces in this late 80’s B-movie.

In Los Angeles, a wave of crime has been sweeping the city. In Chinatown, tainted cocaine is being sold and the user suddenly dies. Meanwhile, gang activity has been rampant. For Warren Houston, it is all about taking the bad guys down. When Houston takes down members of a gang inside of a church, his actions on the news cause his captain to re-assign Houston to the Chinatown district. There, he is forced to partner with John Lee Chan.

Chan is not only a veteran detective, but he has been assigned to become the martial arts instructor for officers who are known to have attitude problems. While dealing with his latest “student” Estes, Chan and Houston attempt to get along despite their differences in methods. Their journey takes them to a notorious crime lord, Hong, whose number one man, North, is responsible for the tainted drugs on behalf of Hong. As the partners begin to bond, Chan also turns his students for anger management into a special task force to help with this case. Will they be able to stop Hong and his men, or is something else in store for them?

Only one word can describe this: Wow! This clearly low budget movie from director Jean-Paul Ouelette was perhaps made to capitalize on the 1987 hit Lethal Weapon and used the mismatched partners to a tee in our screen heroes Chan and Houston. What makes this the more interesting is to who play our heroes.

Playing Chan is a new Bruce Lee-alike credited as Bruce Ly. Naturally, Ly has absolutely zero resemblance to the martial arts icon and he also served as the film’s martial arts coordinator. However, according to many sources, the identity of Bruce Ly is that of Henry Yu Yung, a former classic kung fu star who continued work until just about a decade ago. As for Houston, the role went to the marvelously named “Lee Majors II”. Yes, for some strange reason, the actor opted to use a “II” rather than “Jr.” as he doesn’t bear a resemblance to his famous dad. One can only think of Ly’s character as the martial arts version of Murtaugh while Majors II plays Houston in a variation of Riggs.

Many martial arts film fans will know the name Art Camacho for his work both in front and behind the cameras as a prolific martial arts director of films. This film marked one of his first roles as he plays the hot-headed officer Estes, who is forced to join anger management through martial arts in Chan’s class. This subplot gets to show how martial arts can truly lead to self-discipline as is the case with Estes. As for the villain, Fitz Houston is truly slick and menacing as North, the one responsible for the tainted drugs and muscle to crime boss Hong. North truly has the size and even at times skill set when needed, showing brute strength. While the action is both a hit and miss depending on how one will see it, overall, there has been worse.

Chinatown Connection is quite an interesting kung fu-gunplay meshup in the vein of Lethal Weapon with its even more interesting core duo of Bruce Ly and Lee Majors II. A now cliched 80’s action film that is not at all truly terrible.

WFG RATING: C+

Esseff-Arpaia Productions presents in association with BCD Productions. Director: Jean-Paul Ouelette. Producer: Michael S. Emerson. Writer: Joseph Berry. Cinematography: Jack Anderson. Editing: Skip Williams and Lee Harry.

Cast: Bruce Ly, Lee Majors II, Pat McCormick, Art Camacho, Susan Frailey, Scott Richards, Fitz Houston, William Ghent.

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