“Patrai keeps talking about how he could kill anybody anytime and he’s such a bad dude. Ok, fine, but the worst thing he does in the whole movie is have his henchmen dump some rice out of a bag.”
One thing you can always say about Jack Palance is that he works. Which I’m sure is great for him, but it’s not always so great for the audience. For every Shane or Batman there’s a Cocaine Cowboys, a Cyborg 2, or this month’s selection, Kill a Dragon, which is nasty enough to make you wish Jack was more of a Type B personality.
Kill a Dragon has very little killing and no dragons; in their place is a ridiculous psychedelic theme song and a plot that never quite gets going. There’s a tiny island off the coast of Hong Kong where a bunch of poor people live, and one day a transport boat washes up on their shores, chock full of nitroglycerin. (Somehow the volatile nitro survives a shipwreck, yet later on in the movie people just look at it and it blows up.) The islanders are thrilled; now they can become black market chemical smugglers and reap millions in profits!
Not so, says Patrai (Fernando Lamas). That’s my nitro, he says, and I want it back. Patrai believes he runs Hong Kong and everything else (despite zero proof of his power or influence), and he gives the villagers three days to give back the nitro… or else.
The brave island leader Win Lim (Kam Tong), heads for Hong Kong and he stumbles onto the houseboat of Rick Masters (Palance), who’s just about to get it on. He offers Rick a third of the profits if he’ll hire a crew to smuggle the nitro off the island (never mind that Patrai will probably torch their island once he finds out what they’ve done.) Rick springs into action, hiring a doughy tour guide and two guys who fix boxing matches as his trusty assistants.
What follows is an example of what happens when a screenwriter has three or four different possible directions for a film and picks all of them. Rick’s idea to sneak the nitro onto his boat and steal away to Hong Kong at night. But wait, his actual idea is to use the wrecked boat to smuggle the nitro! No, that’s not it either, they’re going to use the original boat, but fake somebody’s death to somehow confuse Patrai. Wait, they have to get into a shootout with Patrai’s men, featuring the tour guide dressed as a woman! And then, as if we weren’t bewildering enough, Rick makes friends with Patrai, offers to join forces with him, then sells him out to the villagers.
I guess I could’ve lived with a movie that goes in ten different directions at the same time, if not for the last subplot. Look, Patrai keeps talking about how he could kill anybody anytime and he’s such a bad dude. Ok, fine. Then he shouldn’t spend all his time being really nice and helpful! Seriously, the worst thing Patrai does in the whole movie is have his henchmen dump some rice out of a bag. But he’s constantly offering Rick drinks, smokes, money, more time to think, and on and on. At the end of the movie, when Rick outwits Patrai and smuggles the nitro to Hong Kong, Patrai bakes him a birthday cake. I’m not kidding. There’s no bomb in it a la Diamonds Are Forever, there’s no poison in it, it’s “you stole a half million bucks worth of my property… but I like you.” Have you ever heard of a murderous kingpin who’s an honorable loser?
Kill a Dragon strikes me as the kind of movie somebody thought would make a few bucks for a week’s worth of work. Besides Patrai’s disturbingly friendly brand of evil, the only weirdness in the pic is Rick’s disgusting sex metaphors, most of which revolve around “lighting the candle.” This is a tough movie to find; if you catch it on cable, great, but it’s not quite good enough to make it worth tracking down.
“Psychedelic landscapes will be forming…” – theme song
“Thanks, little tiger… for showing your claws.” Rick, to his girlfriend
“Rick Masters! Old guy out here to see him!” Bartender
“I come to you as a last resort!” – Win Lim to Rick
“You know, I must be an idiot.” – Rick
“How did you know we were here?” Win Lim
“Chinese Fortune Cookie” – Rick
“Look, limey, you swish your way and I’ll swish mine!” -Vigo
“Take all the time you need… six hours” – Patrai