168. TNT Jackson (1974)
Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Writers: Dick Miller and Ken Metcalfe
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Martial arts master TNT Jackson goes to China to investigate her brother’s disappearance and attracts the attention of a heroin smuggling operation.
Our movie opens in China where Charlie, an assistant to a local heroin distributor catches Stag buying drugs. Stag realizes he’s caught, tries to escape, but Charlie and his men corner and kill him. Why his buying drugs is a problem isn’t clear, but it’s enough to bring his sister, TNT Jackson, over to visit.
She goes looking for Joe’s place because that’s the last contact point she had for her brother. It takes her a while to get there because it’s in the bad part of town that the cabbie won’t go to. He drops her at the edge of the district where she’s immediately attacked by a group of thugs, each of whom she defeats using her sleepy Ambien-style kung-fu.
Maybe the first thing to note about the movie is the lead actors aren’t good fighters. The only good fight sequences are done by Shatnerianly obvious stunt doubles. That’d be okay if the actors were good actors, but they’re not.
Speaking of bad actors, a car with Angel, a white woman who alternates speaking in a low mumble or lazy whisper, picks up TNT and drops her off at Joe’s. As TNT’s talking to him, one of his customers gets handsy with his assistant and a fight breaks out. TNT joins in and Charlie arrives to watch her handily defeat all comers. She’s managed to capture his attention and esteem.
By the way, that’s three fight scenes in the first thirteen minutes. Well done, movie, well done.
Things inevitably progress, although lugubriously for a movie with a 71-minute runtime. Angel and Charlie both work for Sid, a white drug kingpin distributing million-dollar-amounts of heroin. He also has a Chinese assistant, Ming. For unexplained reasons, they all become obsessed with TNT, initially wanting her to join their group as a prostitute and then thinking she’s responsible for attacks on two of their drug deals. Charlie says she has nothing to do with it, Ming suspects her, and Angel is meeting with a mysterious figure on the side. Intrigue!
TNT learns her brother is dead, tries to infiltrate Charlie’s group, then, somehow (the transitional scene isn’t there), is chasing Angel through a graveyard. They have a fight, TNT wins, and Angel admits to being a cop trying to set up a large-scale sting operation to take down Sid.
Yadda yadda. TNT, naked (oh, that’s why she was cast), fights Ming and his crew in the dark then hooks up with Charlie. When she sees him light a cigarette with her brother’s lighter, she realizes he’s the killer. She follows him to an island festival where Sid has arranged a face-to-face meeting with all the major distributors in the region. Too much of his money’s been stolen in these foiled hand-offs for him to buy the drugs with cash and he needs to talk them into trusting him.
Various betrayals later, all the drug dealers are in the hands of the police, Sid and Angel throw each other out a window and presumably die (we don’t see them land or an aftermath), and TNT and Charlie have their Inigo Montoya moment. They fight, she literally punches a hole through him, THE END. No epilogue, no follow-up.
It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not a terribly great movie either. Despite the constant action, I was falling asleep twenty-five minutes in and the movie had a hard time holding my interest. So much of it feels perfunctory, which makes sense in its own way. This is from the same director as Fighting Mad which I reviewed in February. I said that movie “is the way it is because the producers sat down and said, ‘What’s awesome?’ Then they put it all into a script,” and there’s arguably the same process happening here, but with the producers asking, “what’s selling well now?” That makes it a little less joyful and a little more sleazy. The fight sequences, though, are just as hokey and poorly executed which provides its own layer of entertainment.
The movie is eminently riffable, especially if you get into the lightning-quick pushback against other characters’ overt racism without cringing too much at that very racism. It’s a fine line. Those moments produce some of the most viscerally satisfying “fuck you”s I’ve seen in movies lately, but you gotta hear a lot of really racist shit before they’re delivered.
In other words, this one ain’t for the kids and is certainly NSFW. However, if you have your beer-and-pretzels crew looking for something to inflict your wit upon, this is a good choice. The movie’s in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to the Internet Archive here. It might even be worth doing a Cirio Santiago double-feature with this and Fighting Mad, but if you only have time for one, go for Fighting Mad. It’s sillier, less sleazy, and goes so much further off the rails.