Klaus Kinski Scares a Lady with a Comb

THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE aka The Dragon Strikes Back; My Name is Shanghai Joe; Il mio nome è Shanghai Joe; Mezzogiorno di fuoco per Han-Hao; Der Mann mit der Kugelpeitsche; Mein Name ist Karate-Jack (Dir Mario Caiano, 1974)

Basic plot: Shanghai Joe moves to Texas with the hope of getting work as a cowboy there.  As an outsider and foreigner he finds it harder than anticipated to be accepted and he encounters racism and ignorance everywhere he goes.  Finally he appears to get his wish when he is offered work on Stanley Spencer’s cattle ranch.  Joe soon realises, however, that it is not cattle that his boss trades in but slaves smuggled in from Mexico. Fighting against this injustice Joe angers his boss, resulting in Spencer offering up a reward of $5,000 to anyone who can bring him the head of Shanghai Joe.

 Cast: Scalper Jack – Klaus Kinski; Shanghai Joe – Chen Lee; Burying Sam – Gordon Mitchell; Pedro, the Cannibal – Claudio Undari; Tricky – Giacomo Rossi-Stuart; Spencer – Piero Lulli; Mikuja – Katsutoshi Mikuriya; Cristina – Carla Romanelli

Release date: 11 January 1974

Availability:  The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe is available from Amazon for less than £3 brand new on US import DVD as part of a double DVD set, with four other films: Vigilante Western Collection.  The film is dubbed, as usual, but the bonus is you get four other westerns to watch and one of them features Klaus Kinski: And God Said to Cain

The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:

It’s 1882 and Shanghai Joe is in San Francisco.  He’s decided he wants to make changes – he doesn’t want a job ironing shirts for $1 a week; he doesn’t want to wash dishes; and he doesn’t want to serve meals in restaurants.  Shanghai Joe’s already done that kind of work back home and now he wants to relocate to Texas – anywhere in Texas – and become a cowboy.  Joe is told that real cowboys are fast and mighty strong but that’s okay because Joe is pretty fast and strong himself; we know this because we see him cracking a coconut open with just one flick of a yoyo.

So, Joe might have the qualities that make a real cowboy but acceptance is not exactly forthcoming and he encounters a lot of racism and ignorance on his journey to Texas.  In fact, the clerk at the train station would rather colour in the nipples on a photo of a nudie lady than serve the incredibly polite Shanghai Joe. 

The Americans Joe encounters never give him an easy ride – from insisting that he rides on top of the stagecoach instead of with the other passengers; to trying to con him in a game of five card stud; to making pathetic racist comments and poor jokes at his expense (“Why do the Chinese use chopsticks to eat with?  Because they’ve never seen a fork.”  I didn’t laugh and neither did the man who said it when he found of just what Joe could do with a fork.), Joe is constantly derided and told that he is “not like everyone else”. 

Sometimes Joe takes these insults and the unfair treatment with a smile (when forced to ride atop the stagecoach, Joe takes the opportunity to wave at passing children as he rides away), but other times he’s just happy to outsmart the perpetrators whether with his lightning fast reflexes or his other special abilities.  But there are times when Joe has to make use of his skills in martial arts and fighting.  Most of the fighting is done with great humour, however, even if it is bloody.  And there’s always the sense that the idiots are only getting their comeuppance anyway.

Eventually after gaining himself a much-deserved reputation as someone who can handle trouble when it comes, Joe is offered a job working for Stanley Spencer, the biggest cattle raiser in the area.  Spencer’s men tell Joe that they are losing cattle to rustlers every day and they could do with his help.  But he doesn’t even have time to collect his first pay cheque before he realises that Spencer is smuggling from Mexico – but not cattle, he’s running a slave trading business with the ranch serving as cover.

When the Mexican army arrive to bust up the operation and to find out who is responsible for the slave trading just at the moment 28 new recruits arrive, Spencer’s men suspect that Joe has set a trap for them.  In order to make sure there are no witnesses to name the recruiters, Spencer’s men open fire and shoot at the Mexicans. 

As the soldiers advance Joe beats up Spencer’s men and then flees the scene.  Once the soldiers have gone Joe inspects the scene of the crime and finds one Mexican is still alive.  The Mexican man begs to be killed but instead Joe bandages his wounds and gives him water.  He helps him onto a horse and tells him: “Go home and tell them that slavery is far worse than hunger.”

After further battles with Spencer and his men, Joe heads off to see the Marshall to report to him that Spencer is a slave trader; unfortunately Joe does not realise that as far as everyone else around there is concerned Spencer is the No 1 citizen.  So instead of the Marshall taking action against Spencer, he proposes to arrest Joe for stealing a horse from Spencer’s ranch.  Joe doesn’t hang around to be arrested.

Hearing that Joe has tried to dob him in to the Marshall, Spencer declares that Joe is a menace to one and all and offers $5,000 to whoever brings in Joe’s head.  Several characters are suggested as ideal for the job and most likely to succeed:  Pedro the Cannibal; Burying Sam; Tricky the Gambler; and Scalper Jack.

Joe discovers the plot to have him murdered when a love interest arrives on the scene – Cristina, the daughter of the Mexican man who Joe had helped following the Spencer gang attack, comes to tell Joe that she’s heard that Spencer has hired 4 killers to track him down and kill him.  She invites him to go off into the mountains with her (she’s a bit forward like that) and to live with the Mexican people.  Within seconds Joe and Cristina are in love but Joe keeps his mind on the job in hand and says he should stay in Texas in order to stop the Mexican slave trading from starting up again. 

Staying in Texas means facing the killers, of course…  The killers are all played by great character actors – Pedro the Cannibal is big and hairy; Burying Sam is tall and spectre-like; Tricky the Gambler fancies himself as a bit of a looker and a dandy – and the attempts at killing Joe are played for laughs.  But even if they give him some trouble, none of the killers is a match for Shanghai Joe.  So this is where we finally encounter Scalper Jack (Klaus Kinski)…   

Joe has just bid farewell to an incredibly batty but kind-hearted Doctor who came to see Cristina to treat her for glandular fever.  Scalper Jack lies in wait to have a quiet word with the Doctor to find out Joe’s current whereabouts. 

Scalper Jack, we’re told, is not really evil, he just has one great vice in life: scalping his victims whilst they’re still alive – “because it’s no fun scalping a dead man.”  The Doctor is utterly dismayed to come across Jack at the roadside. Moments earlier he had been telling Joe that he had planned to leave the West because “America’s got some of the biggest bastards God created.”  Unfortunately he left it a bit too late…

Seeing the Doctor’s wagon, Jack wakes himself up, gets off the rock he’s been dozing on and, hands in pockets, saunters casually over to the Doctor, who simply exclaims, “Jack!”.  Jack’s obviously got a terrible memory as he then asks the Doctor, “Do you know who I am?”  Nah! He just got lucky when he plucked the name Jack off the top of his head; the top of which Jack is about to cut off with his mighty fine scalping knife collection if the Doctor does not tell him where Shanghai Joe is currently residing.  Like the crazy but kind-hearted fool that he is, the Doctor resists and Jack’s knives come out. 

Jack gets the Doctor on the ground and tears off his glasses, throwing them down – but they must have been fitted with elastic as, in a classic continuity error, they are back on the daft Doctor’s furry fizzog just 3 seconds later.  Jack tells him, “Don’t move or you’ll really get hurt.”  Think about that proposition for a moment: you either sit still and get scalped alive, or you move and you really get hurt…?  There’s not a lot to choose from, is there?

Either way the Doctor’s scalp ends up on Jack’s person and Jack having, one way or another, discovered the whereabouts of Shanghai Joe watches the property until Joe makes an appearance.  When Joe exits the house, from his hiding place Jack gets Joe in his sights and shoots him twice – once through each leg.  Then, moving in closer on horseback, he admires his handiwork (should that be legiwork?), riding in circles around the maimed Joe, clearly delighting in the damage he has done. 

One moment he displays a smug toothy grin; the next his expression changes and darkens as he brings the butt of his rifle down to smash Joe in the face.

When Joe eventually comes around, he is back inside the house and is wearing shackles.  Jack is sitting at the bottom of the bed combing the hairpiece that came courtesy of the Doctor and singing to himself.  Cristina is snivelling on the bed, and probably hoping that what she’s seeing is a result of some severe side effect to the glandular fever medication (you know, the type, affects from 1-in-10000 to 1-in-100000), but unfortunately it’s not; Scalper Jack is no hallucination, he’s a living nightmare.  He’s the kind of living nightmare that manages to scare a feverish lady by waving a comb in front of his face and telling her to shush. 

If she’s scared of that she has not yet noticed the scary looking doll hanging in a hammock.  Scalper Jack has though and he seems to have taken a shine to the funny looking thing:  “You’re so pretty.  Pretty.  Sweet.  Ha ha! Pretty.  Pretty.  Ha ha!”  He likes the doll so much that he lets it wear the Doctor’s scalp.  Looking for a replacement for the scalp, he goes over to inspect Cristina’s rather fine head of hair.  She doesn’t like being so brutally inspected as Jack straddles her and pulls her hair, and she whimpers loudly. 

Seeing Joe looking at him, Jack sneers “What are you looking at?” and then approaches Joe, having decided to take his scalp first instead.  Cristina snivels and Joe fights back as Jack takes his knife to Joe’s head, breaking out of the shackles and, despite the bullet wounds to the legs, taking on Jack for a short but exciting fight.  Poor old Klaus, dead in less than 8 minutes’ screen time, but what a part he played!

RIP Scalper Jack…

Jack’s scalp is despatched as a kind of love token to Spencer – obviously not what he’d expected as he did not appear to be best pleased with the gift.  One of his men says, “There’s no doubt about it, that’s Jack’s scalp.”  I wasn’t so sure myself as the hair was black rather than blonde but this is the world of Shanghai Joe where production props and continuity are not important.

Joe is more interested in getting rid of the bullets from his legs with just acupuncture for pain relief.  Bullets gone, he’s immediately in training for his final show down.  He doesn’t know who the next potential killer will be but Joe has been in training for the fight against evil all his life.  We’re told he’s put himself through several years of strenuous training; he can bear hunger; he can bear pain; he can bear thirst.  His body is as flexible as a reed but as hard as steel. 

Just as well, really, as the next killer has been through exactly the same training as Joe and knows all the same tricks and techniques.  Unlike the crazy killers Joe has faced up until now, the next guy Spencer engages knows what he is doing and is a fair match for Joe.  Yes, this guy went through exactly the same Fire Lotus training that Joe took but unfortunately he must have been off sick the day they covered the most important lesson: the Fire Lotus knowledge should not be used to commit an act of injustice or else the Lotus will wreak its vengeance.  Yes, I don’t know what I’m talking about and I don’t know the guy’s name either but, trust me, this is all covered right at the end of the film in super quick time.

Anyway, the mysterious guy tracks down Joe to Cristina’s village.  He reveals his Fire Lotus tattoo and says he has betrayed the law and wants to kill Joe.  So Joe, somewhat surprised to see a fellow Fire Lotus disciple (they’re few and far between), prepares for the final showdown.  Without going into detail, the fight and its end are spectacular.  And, of course, having held the Fire Lotus law sacred Joe is repaid with good.  But he cannot live with Cristina in her village because he’s a man on a mission; a man alone.  His life belongs to the victims of injustice and not to just one woman, even if she is beautiful.  With that Joe rides off into the distance looking for evil so he can repay it with justice.

Kinski’s acting methods:

As ever, Klaus has his hands in his pockets:

And it took him a little while to remove them:

There was the usual great close up of his eyes (or eye in this case):

A bit of hat wearing, a lot of weirdness, he kills, then he dies, the usual really.

This is Scalper Jack resting his chin on the scary doll, which is wearing the scalp.  If that’s not creepy, I don’t know what is…

The first sighting of Jack is 1 hour 7 minutes and 48 seconds into the film and with a total on-screen time of less than 8 minutes it’s surprising that Klaus is credited as “co-starring”.  Nonetheless, he’s the star as far as I’m concerned; his appearance is what I was waiting for and I was not disappointed.

Wearing a silly hat, Klaus’ ears appear to stick out.  He looks like a cross between Dopey and Michael York; not the most flattering look for my idol – but he still manages to look handsome at times…

Click the image to purchase from Amazon

About tinynoggin

I love films (anything from exploitation stuff to stylish Eastern European cinema, but I'm not really into blockbusters and modern Hollywood), music (Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, Michel Polnareff, Left Banke, Francoise Hardy, The Seeds, Love, The Zombies, etc) and books (Kurt Vonnegut, Julian Maclaren-Ross, Michel Houellebecq, Patrick Hamilton, Alan Sillitoe, and more). I take photographs with my Lomography Diana F plus or my Olympus Trip and like making stuff in my spare time.
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