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.

TheBG&IM-pos 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.