Tuesday, July 23, 2019

DAY OF THE PANTHER (1988) & STRIKE OF THE PANTHER (1988) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: M
Duration: (Day) 90 Minutes, (Strike) (90 Minutes)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Brian Trenchard Smith 
Cast: Edward John Stazak, James Richards, John Stanton, Rowena Wallace

This pair of straight-to-video kung-fu crime fighting films were directed by ozploitation journeyman Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot), a guy who dabbled in just about every genre of film there is, from kiddie-friendly stuff like BMX Bandits (1983) and Frog Dreaming (1985) on through to Dead End Drive-In (1986), dipping his toes into horror franchises with Night of the Demons 2 (1994) and Leprechaun 4 in Space (1996), films that span the gamut from low-budget fun to low-budget awfulness, but they were at least always entertaining movies, if not great cinema. 

Trenchard-Smith was brought in as a director-for-hire to replace the original director who wasn't working out for the producers, a familiar scenario that played out several times during his career, the filmmaker being recognized as a capable craftsmen who could be brought in and bring a troubled film in under budget and on-time.  

The Panther films star 80's hunk Edward Stazak as Jason Blade, a kung-fu capable guy who at the start of the film is partaking of a graduation ceremony at the ancient Chinese martial arts Panther school, along with mentor William Anderson (John Stanton) and his daughter Linda (Linda Megier). The ceremony ends with the symbol of a panther being branded onto Blade's arm, all of this happening with some annoying narration by the character of Anderson playing over it. Sometime later we catch up with Blade and his lady partner, they're crime-fighters working with a drug task force of some sort, he's in Hong Kong and she's in Australia, both investigating drug kingpin Damien Zukor (Michael Carmen, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith) on different continents. In that pursuit she ends up inside a warehouse battling the drug-kingpins baddies, who are wearing rubber Halloween masks. Why exactly they're wearing masks when no one wears them again in the whole film is a bit of a mystery, but it looks cool and one of them has a spiked baseball-bat, so I just went with it. Oh, and when she removes one of the baddies skull masks he's wearing skull-paint underneath! She eventually beats them all, only to fall victim to Zukor's enforcer, the brutal Jim Baxter (James Richards), who looks a bit like 80's icon George Michael on steroids while visiting the set of TV's Miami Vice. 

Following his partners death Blade returns to Australia to avenge her and take out Zukor, who himself looks a bit like Peter Wellers mashed-up with Nic Cage. Arriving in Perth via jetliner Blade is mistaken by the local cops for a Triad assassin, and is tailed by a pair of dim-witted detectives who pop-up throughout the film. Blade manages to infiltrate Zukor's Triad-connected drug world, going undercover and kicking some major ass along the way with his quick-kicks, culminating in him taking on big-bad Baxter at an outdoor amphitheater during a karate tournament, kinda sort of. 

Day of the Panther is a cliched slice of  80's action that's poorly plotted and loaded with some totally trash dialogue, but for an 80's kung-fu crime fighting film it's plenty entertaining. Star ass-kicker Edward Stazak is decent looking guy, while his acting chops are not on par with his karate-chops, he fills the role alright and the non-stop shirtless 80's action rolls along at a decent clip. 

The sequel Strike of the Panther was filmed  back-to-back with Day of the Panther, opening with a whopping thirteen-minute recap of the first film, then we get straight into Blade setting about recruiting team members for a new task force. It detours along the way on a few random tangents, including an undercover trip to free a heroin-addicted prostitute from sex-slavery, which allows for some humorous encounters with the freaky frequenters of the brothel, including an adult man in a schoolboy uniform begging to be beaten and a guy in a chicken outfit. The main plot here involves the baddie from the first film, Baxter, escaping prison and setting about having his revenge on Blade, luring the shirtless hunk into a factory, which is booby-trapped with bombs, to fight to a group of ninjas wearing hockey masks! 

Like the first film it's super-80s, very cheesy, loaded with trash dialogue, and some aerobics, plus we get a few glorious mullets while also managing to crank-up the WTF-ery with a new, from-out-of-nowhere, telepathic power!   

Audio/Video: Both films arrive on a single-disc and region-free Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment with new 4K scans from original 35mm interpositive elements, framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in 1080p HD. The source is a bit thick looking, it doesn't offer the the most crisp or finely resolved looking image, with coarse grain and an inherent softness throughout. That said, it's still very watchable and is far superior to the crap versions I've seen in the past. There's some visible grit and debris in the source, with some white speckling and the occasional cigarette burns, but as I said, this is still the best I've ever seen either film look on home video by quite a margin. 

Audio for both films come by way of an English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 without the benefit of subtitles. It's a solid lossless option without much pizazz as far as stereo effects go but it is clean, and free of distortion and hiss, delivering the stilted dialogue and the 80's synth score well enough. 

The only extras on the disc are a pair of 2-min trailers for the films, it's a shame they couldn't lure Trenchard-Smith to do an audio commentary or give new interview, but from what I gather he doesn't view either film with much love. The singe-disc release comes housed in an oversized Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork, both sides featuring a new action-packed illustration from Umbrella's in-house designer Simon Sherry. My only slight niggle would be it doesn't feature the goons in the rubber masks from the first film or the guy in the chicken suit from the second! The revers side features displays the artwork without the ugly rating box obscuring the illustration. 

Special Features:
- Day of the Panther Trailer (2 min) 
- Strike of the Panther Trailer (2 min) 

Day of... and Strike of the Panther are silly kung-fu action-films, the sort of silly 80's action fluff that kept me glued to the television when I was too young to know better, and now that I'm certainly old enough to know better it turns out I still get a kick out both films. Sure, they're not fantastic martial-arts films, or even good movies, but they're solidly entertaining, even if there's a concerning lack of bloodshed and nudity in either film. Brian Trenchard-Smith walked into a troubled production and managed to craft a pair of fun, popcorn action films, glad to see then finally getting a release on Blu-ray. If you're looking for something to pair these up with I would suggest a triple-feature of Trechard-Smith's own - and much better - The Man from Hong Kong or the Andy Sidaris action, guns and boobies classic Hard Ticket To Hawaii (1987). 


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