The late Jillian Kesner heads to the Philippines to look for her sister in this action-packed film from the legendary Cirio H. Santiago.
Martial arts expert Susanne Carter heads to the Philippines to look for her sister Bonny, who was an investigative journalist looking to help the police bust down a drug operation and illegal fighting ring. When she arrives, she finds trouble right away but gets help from ex-pat bar owner Pete and waiter Rey. She discovers that Chuck Donner, a martial artist with a notorious reputation may be connected and so she decides to go undercover herself.
Chuck works for Eddie, who runs the Arena of Death and is the mastermind of the drug operation. However, knowing her skills may not be enough, she learns the art of Arnis under Rey’s grandfather, an expert in the art. As Susanne gets closer to Chuck, she finds trouble constantly along the way. Soon enough, Chuck finds himself falling for Susanne and vice versa. However, when Susanne learns that Bonny has been killed and learns who is responsible, there is only one thing in Susanne’s mind now. And that is vengeance.
Cirio H. Santiago is a legend in the world of Filipino cinema and has quite a reputation in the United States thanks to his collaborations with the legendary Roger Corman. Co-written by Santiago and co-star Ken Metcalfe, this action film was meant to turn Jillian Kesner into an action star. The former karate champion gets to shine in this film as from the moment she arrives, within a few minutes, she’s already in a fight.
In a not-so-surprising move, there has to be then required “T-n-A” and in her first fight scene, Kesner is only in bra and panties against some local thugs. Then there is the scene where she faces off against two more goons midway through and she ends up topless but still ready to fight. Something similar would happen in 1994’s gender reversal of Bloodfist, Angelfist, which took elements from both that film and this film. Add to the fact, Kesner’s love scene with co-star Darby Hinton is one of the slowest and strangest, in which clothes are torn off via knives.
As for Hinton, who would later star in Malibu Express, an exploitative action film from the iconic Andy Sidaris, he actually looks pretty good when he has fight scenes. Whether or not had a martial arts background, Hinton actually looks impressive for a 1980s B-movie. Reymond King, who is actually Filipino martial arts action star Rey Malonzo, is quite fun to watch as he does a sort of Bruce Lee riff at times, but also proves to be a reliable ally, even helping our heroine learn the martial art of Arnis, a Filipino martial art involving sticks as weapons.
Firecracker is well, what you would expert from Cirio H. Santiago, an action-packed film that has its exploitation value, but is still worth watching. Jillian Kesner would go on to do a few more films in the genre (Raw Force, Operation Cobra) and while it was sad to hear her passing 15 years ago, what better way to celebrate her legacy than seeing her action breakout film.
WFG RATING: B-
A New World Pictures production. Director: Cirio H. Santiago. Producer: Syed Kechik. Writers: Ken Metcalfe and Cirio H. Santiago. Cinematography: Ricardo Remias. Editing: Gervasio Santos.
Cast: Jillian Kesner, Darby Hinton, Ken Metcalfe, Vic Diaz, Rey Malonzo, Pete Cooper, Don Bell, Carolyn Smith, Chanda Romero, Tony Ferrer.