In the ‘70s, the Philippines was a hotbed of exploitation filmmaking. B-movie distributors like New World and American International Pictures knew they could stretch a dollar much further in this country so they produced a lot of action fare there. A thriving group of homegrown filmmakers rose up to meet this demand and cranked a lot of fast-moving, trend-conscious quickies well into the ‘80s. Bamboo Gods And Iron Men is a prototypical example of Filipino exploitation cinema during that golden ‘70s era, covering both kung-fu and blaxploitation while delivering a lot of unpretentious fun.
The script, co-written by star and Filipino film regular Ken Metcalfe, revolves around a pouch containing a secret formula developed centuries ago. It’s stolen from an ancient grave as the story begins. The guy who stole it is killed by the hired guns of the crime boss (Metcalfe) who hired him but not before he slips it into the luggage of Cal (James Iglehart), an American boxer on vacation with his new wife (Shirley Washington). Pretty soon, the big boss’s men are attacking Cal at every turn — and the only help he can count on comes from Charlie (Chiquito), a Hong Kong native he rescues from drowning. Luckily for Cal, Charlie is a kung-fu expert and this ensures plenty of high-kicking throwdowns before the mystery of the secret formula is revealed.
The end result is a solid example of ‘70s Filipino exploitation filmmaking at its most efficient. The script boasts a colorful, surprisingly twisty narrative with likeable heroes, plenty of action and a little dollop of sleaze for extra spice. It also boasts a surprising amount of comedy, with the mute character of Charlie doing a lot of silent comedy schtick. Iglehart and Washington make a likeable lead couple, with the former acquitting himself nicely in both the humor and action departments. Chiquito is an able performer in the fight scenes and does fine with the silent comedy, the best bit being his bashful reactions to suddenly finding himself in a massage parlor. Filipino flick fans will be happy to see Metcalfe as well as local veterans like Vic Diaz and Subas Herrero in smaller roles.
Director Cesar Gallardo was a prolific director in the Philippines during this era and he hits all the marks with efficiency, getting maximum production value from his island locations and delivering an action setpiece at least once per reel. The martial arts are hastily choreographed but energetic. Highlights include a massage parlor brawl where the opponents knock holes in the thin walls while topless women run for cover and the energetic finale, which intercuts two kung-fu brawls, a catfight and a gunfight before delivering a fun twist ending and a memorably un-P.C. slapstick comedy coda right out of a Tex Avery cartoon.
Simply put, Bamboo Gods And Iron Men delivers all the fun an exploitation flick fan could hope for from a Filipino drive-in quickie. If you’re interested in exploring this country’s b-movie heritage, this flick should be added to your list.
DVD Notes: this film was recently released as part of Shout Factory’s Action-Packed Movie Marathon Vol. 2 collection, a four-film/2-DVD set. The transfer is really impressive: there are a few minor bits of age-related damage but the majority of the transfer is crisp and colorful. The mono audio mix sounds nice and clear, too. This film has been hard to come by for a while and most likely has never looked as good on home video as it does here. For those interested, the other films in this collection are Bulletproof, Trackdown and Scorchy.