Force Four (1975)

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Four karate experts unleash their skills against a mob boss and his goons in this cult classic 70’s Blaxploitation-martial arts hybrid.

A courier holding a case with an African statue has been targeted by a group of thugs on the streets of New York. When he is struck down and killed, it leads to a major problem. The people who were supposed to have the statue for a local museum has hired Jason, a martial arts expert and leader of a vigilante group to retrieve the statue. Jason employs his friends Eric, Adam, and Billy to dispense justice against those responsible.

The perpetrator responsible is local crime lord Z, who has his reasons for wanting the statue. When he learns Jason and his team have been inquiring about the statue, this leads to a series of battles. However, Z’s men learn the hard way that Jason and his team don’t play. When the group discovers that Z plans to sell the statue at a high price to rich businesswoman Felicia, the team comes up with a plan to stop both Z and Felicia in an effort to discover why the statue means so much to them.

At a time where the martial arts films from Japan and Hong Kong have made a major impact on the United States, at the same time, Blaxploitation was at its high point during the mid-1970s. It was also at a time where indie film producers would make local productions, whether they are in California, New York, or Florida for instance. This indie flick set and shot in New York features some martial arts champions who are highly skilled in the arts of Nisei Goju Ryu Karate.

The late Owen Watson plays Jason, the leader of the titular Force Four, as what’s expected as a Blaxplitation action hero. He’s the calm, cool, collected leader who also has a heart of gold. This is notable when before one of his fight scenes, he is seen showing a local kid (played by his real-life son) some moves before offering him money for a soda. Malachi Lee is the also calm and cool Eric, who has the street smarts. Warhawk Tanzania’s Adam is the more outgoing member of the team as when he fights, he unloads a dose of kicking and screaming. As the only female member of the group, the late Judie Soriano as Billy is great and when needed, unleashes her kicks. Sam Schwartz makes the most of his time as bad guy Z. Sure the dialogue delivery is just funny to watch, but we are talking a local production in the mid-1970s.

Remember the movie Honor and Glory, where even anyone on the street just shows martial arts in their fights? This is a precursor of that film as most of the cast are students of Frank Ruiz and his Nisei Goju Ryu school. Ruiz himself even appears as Z’s henchman Juan as we are treated to him fighting first a fellow crew member before facing off against Jason later in the film. Watson and Lee are responsible for the film’s fight scenes and they come quite frequently. A good portion of the film is spent with the team asking various people on the street about the statue and then it’s where the real action starts. However, the introduction of the team leads to them doing various demonstrations with Watson using a long knife against a band of candles and blowing them out with the knife without touching it. Ruiz himself choreographed this particular demo scene.

Force Four is definitive cult classic material as a martial arts Blaxploitation film with a cast of karate experts that capitalize on the market of the time. It’s definitely not on the level of other films, but is still something worth checking out for fans of the genre.

WFG RATING: C-

A Landmark Systems Inc. film. Director: Michael Fink. Producers: Michael Fink, Joel Schild, and Marvin Schild. Writers: Leonard Michaels and Janice Weber. Cinematography: Paul Glickman. Editing: Marvin Schild.

Cast: Owen Watson, Malachi Lee, Warhawk Tanzania, Judie Soriano, Sam Schwartz, Sydney Filson, Frank Ruiz, Wilfredo Roldan, Elsie Roman, Alex Sternberg, Thomas LaPuppet, Bill Lin, Moses Lyllia, Roscoe Richardson.

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