The depth of Kill or Be Killed, a new Occidental martial-arts film, may best be shown by the following colloquy: When Steve and Olga, our black-belt heroes, are trapped in the big desert with their conked-out Volkswagen, my 11-year-old son, with whom I saw this epic, piped up, "I know how they're going to get out." And he proceeded to explain precisely what, in fact, would transpire on the screen. How, asked I (the proud father), did he so cleverly anticipate this escape? "Oh," he replied, "I saw that once in a cartoon on TV."
To suggest, however, that Kill or Be Killed is hand-me-down Flintstones would be doing it a terrible injustice. Goodness knows, Shakespeare never had an original plot in his life, and the narrative here (or what is known as "the back story" in Hollywood parlance), developed by screenwriter C.F. Beyers-Boshoff, is certainly one of the most inventive of our times.
Baron von Rudolf, a bearded Nazi with the map of Berchtesgaden on his face, was the coach of the Third Reich karate team, which lost, in 1941, to Hirohito's finest, in a match contested in a special arena designed by Albert Speer. Himself. This resulted in the baron being sent packing by A. Hitler. But the baron, not a good loser at all, became convinced that his Nazi karate stars had taken a dive, enticed by diamonds that were given them by the wily Japanese coach, Miyagi. "Dogs are not man's best friend. Diamonds are," C.F. Beyers-Boshoff has the baron explain at one point.
But the years have been good to the baron, and he lives in the middle of the biggest, sandiest desert you ever saw, in a white castle that looks approximately like the hamburger emporium of that name. It is, however, larger because, among other things, it has a dungeon into which Olga can be thrown. The castle is also peopled by many guards in road-show Foreign Legion uniforms and by the baron's only friend, who, as you might have suspected by now, is a dwarf. His name is Chico, and despite his small stature, Chico has a heart as big as all outdoors. Lucky for Steve and Olga.
With huge diamonds that Miyagi is foaming at the mouth for, the baron entices his old Rising Sun nemesis to bring an all-star karate team to the castle for a rematch with the baron's own juggernaut, and when these titans clash, anything can happen and usually does!
Kill or Be Killed is so bad it would be wonderful except for the interminable stretches of karate. These are expertly done and will thus please you mightily if you are a dojo groupie but drive you mad with ennui if you are not. There are, it seems, plenty of devotees of this pastime. Bruce Lee, a cult figure in life and death, showed there was a market, and Kill has been high on the money-grossing lists lately, even though it has been released only in very select parts of the country. (I finally ran it down at the Twin Cinema—No. 1—across from the very handsome Little League park in Seaford, Del.)
Bruce Lee's alter ego in Kill, our put-upon friend Steve, is one James Ryan (above, in black g‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬Æ pants), who jumps backward especially well. The movie also contains the obligatory head-smashing of boards, high kicking and nauseating guttural screams. And a number of fellows come through closed doors without bothering to use the knobs. But Kill has a local cultural edge over the films of the late Mr. Lee because, according to the billing, it is "The Greatest Hollywood Martial Arts Movie Ever Made."
Now, this is important. Led mostly by the soccer propagandists, there has been a concentrated effort recently to make Americans feel somehow odd (and guilty) that we have preferred our own hand-eye games. In fact, even the most cursory reading of history proves that the United States rose to eminence in the world as a nation of hand-sporting people, beating the tar out of all nationalities who were so manually indexterous that they had to go around kicking and butting balls and/or one another.
But, alas, ever since the alien soccer/ martial-arts cartel gained a toehold here and started browbeating our youth with the idea that there is something inherently different about being good with the hands, we have backslid. I don't have to tell you about what's happened to our embassies and the dollar. Why we are pressed to emulate kangaroos and rhinoceroses in our sports is beyond me, and I certainly hope Ronald Reagan looks into this get-America conspiracy.