Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature
By: Stuart Giesel on August 11, 2013 | Comments
Lionsgate | Region 1, NTSC | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 287 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Meng Hua Ho; Arthur Marks; Jack Hill
Starring: Evelyne Kraft, Danny Lee, Feng Ku; Hari Rhodes, Alex Rocco, Vonetta McGee; Robbie Lee, Joanne Nail, Monica Gayle
Screenplay: Kuang Ni; Orville H. Hampton; Jack Hill
Country: Hong Kong; USA
External Links
Purchase
This three-film, single DVD release has the full, unwieldy title of Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures Presents Triple Feature Presentation - The Mighty Peking Man, Detroit 9000, Switchblade Sisters. Credit goes to the now-defunct Miramax, Lionsgate and to Tarantino himself for giving these films a new lease of life, but with Tarantino's name and face blazoned across the DVD cover you have to wonder what's the actual selling point here.

The movies themselves, championed by Tarantino, are three solid genre pieces that certainly deserve a new lease of life on DVD. They are nothing truly outstanding, but are supremely entertaining 70's productions that give us three different slices of exploitation. The Mighty Peking Man is a goofy King Kong rip-off with dire effects. Switchblade Sisters from Coffy and Foxy Brown director Jack Hill is a street gang film with plenty of tough talk and knife violence. And Detroit 9000 is a terrific blaxploitation film, an urban crime drama with lots of bloody mayhem.

Seen any version of King Kong? Then you've seen The Mighty Peking Man, essentially, although you won't have seen any version of King Kong as camp or idiotic as Peking Man. An earthquake unleashes a massive ape, and a team of hunters including Johnnie (The Killer's Danny Lee) set out to track him down. Johnnie is separated from the group and befriends a wild girl (Evelyne Kraft, who spends the entire movie in loincloth) who was raised by the ape after she was orphaned thanks to a plane crash. Soon enough, the ape is brought back to Hong Kong to be paraded for cash, but - guess what? - it escapes and wreaks havoc.

The opening, complete with obvious model sets and terrible effects, shows us how an earthquake in a remote village unleashes the ape (who clearly suffers from some sort of retardation) who proceeds to kill off the village. This sequence provides some amusing errors of scale - the ape, who's so large he can kick over a brick hut easily, wields an immense boulder that he throws at a group of people, but in the next shot is barely half the size of the man who gets knocked down by it. It's this sort of attention to detail that gives Peking Man much of its charm.

Rather than break down individual pros and cons about The Mighty Peking Man, it's probably easier to rattle off a bunch of disparate elements that await you. So, in Peking Man, we have the following in no particular order: shitty 70's clothes, pink blood, giant rubber hands, horrific title sequence music, Danny Lee with a mullet, cheaper city sets than anything seen in Godzilla, big plastic fruit, ridiculously exaggerated sound effects, a snake bite that induces orgasm, horrible continuity, a blonde female Tarzan, completely fucked creature costumes, unconvincing deaths, an overblown adventure score, the worst blue screen effects imaginable, awesome tiger-wrestling, a military official with a huge zit on his chin, cliched flashbacks, cheap camera wobbles to simulate earthquakes, Tonka truck and Hot Wheels toy props, and a completely unconvicing hero/heroine love scene complete with slo-mo prancing through the jungle and leopard piggy-backing and twirling! In other words, it's great.

Logic doesn't come into play. It's the sort of movie where one of the hunters asks where the ape is, when it's towering over the only building in the area in clear sight. The sort of movie where the ape changes in size throughout. The sort of movie where the crummy visual effects and the terrible dialogue and wooden acting actually helps rather than detracts. It's ridiculous stuff, but vastly entertaining.

Less silly, but almost as camp, is Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters, also known as The Jezebels. The "Dagger Debs" is a girl gang aligned with the male-centric "Silver Daggers" and its leader, Dom (Asher Brauner). The gang recruit a new member, Maggie (Joanne Nail), who Dom takes a liking to, much to the annoyance of the leader of the Debs, Lace (Robbie Lee), who happens to be Dom's girlfriend. It soon becomes clear to all that Maggie is far more talented than Lace when she pulls off a risky dare against rival gang leader Crabs (Chase Newhart). As the rivalry between Lace and Maggie increase, so too does the rivalry between the Daggers and Crabs' gang, and it's not long before the bodies hit the pavement.

Although Switchblade Sisters starts out like some of Hill's Women in Prison films, it soon breaks out onto the streets, populating the film with garish 70's costumes, tough-guy talk and even-tougher-girl talk. Whilst the film involves elements such as drug pushing at school, rape and murder, it's a little hard to take the gang members seriously when they look like rejects from a dark Happy Days spinoff. And whilst the film is entertaining overall, there's an unpleasant and decidedly on-the-nose "kind-of-sort-of-rape-but-she-really-wants-it" scene early on in the film, the sort of thing that caused outrage in Peckinpah's Straw Dogs in the UK. It doesn't really sour the film entirely, given that the interplay between the characters is interesting and Hill keeps the action rolling along smoothly. The mayhem doesn't get too outrageous until the very end, which you might find either ridiculous and offputting, or ridiculous and entertaining.

The major detriment has to be Robbie Lee's staggeringly stiff line delivery. As the leader of the Dagger Debs, you would assume its leader is charismatic and able to motivate the gang with a series of stirring speeches. That's presumably how the character was written. Unfortunately, Lee's embarrassing delivery hamstrings all of her scenes. That's not to say that her costars are in the league of Daniel Day-Lewis, but they may as well be compared to Lee's performance. Joanne Nail fares better as the new girl Maggie, and look out for That 70's Show Don Stark as gang member Hook - don't assume his nickname was given for the most obvious reason that comes immediately to mind.

What Switchblade Sisters desperately needs is an anchor with the style and charisma of Pam Grier, so for that reason I will always favour Coffy and Foxy Brown in Jack Hill's filmography. But this is something of an underappreciated gem. It's not a serious gang film by any means, but under Hill's accomplished eye it's an extremely watchable, if lurid, one.

The best film in the set is Detroit 9000. Initially you may believe it to be a typical blaxploitation crime thriller, but in truth there are some more interesting elements here than you might expect. A gang has robbed the "Hail Our Heroes" celebratory event that just happens to also be a fundraiser for the election of grubby local politician Aubrey Clayton (Rudy Challenger) to governor. The gang are completely masked, so no one knows whether it's a white gang wanting to rob the electorate of its black representation, or a black gang wanting to put blame on the whites. Two detectives are put on the case - one black, Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) and one white, Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco). As the detectives piece together the events of the fundraising night and follow the clues left by the thieves, you might think that we're up for a bit of 48 Hours-style buddy-cop interplay, but in truth Williams and Rhodes are more professional than that, and Detroit 9000 doesn't always stick to genre conventions. Both Williams and Rhodes appreciate the powder-keg of a situation they have on their hands, what with the racially-charged environment and their superiors demanding quick results for political reasons. Bassett has a wife in a psychiatric hospital to whom he's loyal, but he's nearing the limits of his patience with her (and she proves to be a hideously unsympathetic character). And the denouement isn't quite what you might be expecting from a blaxploitation cop/crime film.

Directed by Arthur Marks, who also made Bucktown, Friday Foster and J.D.'s Revenge, Detroit 9000 is a solid crime drama interspersed with bloody gunfights and some creatively-staged action - there's a great chase scene late in the film which involves mounted police and even a POV/Doom-cam shot! The film falters when it delivers some of the expected tropes of the genre, like cars that explode at the slightest knock, and a character's convenient exposition to police at the brink of death. And, yes, the blood is bright crayon red, and there's even a rip-off of the Dirty Harry "do you feel lucky?" scene. But Detroit 9000 has a strong sense of pacing and style that overcomes these flaws. The dialogue is a wonderful product of its un-PC times, with terms like spade, honky, broad and nigger thrown about with carefree abandon. The clothes are as hideous as always, but the acting is uniformly great, with Alex Rocco (you've seen him before in something, guaranteed, especially if you watched any 70's or 80's TV) for the win.
The Disc
The Mighty Peking Man is presented in its original aspect ratio, but as is typical of Hong Kong films of this period given a cursory release on DVD, the picture is overly soft and infested with artefacts. The picture quality on both Switchblade Sisters and Detroit 9000 is far superior, with better clarity and fewer distracting imperfections. Considering Lionsgate have crammed three movies onto the one DVD the overall quality is better than I was expecting, but just understand that we're not getting DVD reference-quality here.

Unfortunately, we're only given a shitty English dubbed version of Peking Man. Normally I wouldn't care about the provision of a dubbed version, provided the original audio track and English subtitles come with it, but Rolling Thunder Pictures presumably doesn't give much of a shit about preserving the film as it was intended. In truth, the dub isn't horrifically done as much of them can be, and it does suit the silly tone of the picture. The English mono tracks for Switchblade Sisters and Detroit 9000 are perfunctory; dialogue is clear, and the funky tracks of Detroit 9000 sound pretty good.

Because we are provided three films packed onto one DVD, there'd be no room for any special features unless you wanted the movies in a resolution lower than we got.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
It's easy to see why the three films in this set appeal to a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino. This triple film set gives the viewer a royal serving of cheese, lurid thrills and cheap action - everything you'd want for a great night in. The Mighty Peking Man is goofy adventure shlock, Detroit 9000 is a solid blaxploitation entry and Switchblade Sisters is classic Jack Hill sleaze. The disc is bare-bones and not the ideal presentation for any of the three featured films, but if you can pick up this DVD release for cheap, it's easy to recommend.
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