Setting out initially to cover the largely uncovered section of IFD's history (check out the Wolfen Ninja review for a basic breakdown of their history and practices) concerning their presentations of complete gems from late 70s/early 80s Taiwan fantasy- and exploitation cinema, in reality what is also sadly unmentioned when bringing up their famous/infamous Ninja cut & paste productions often starring Richard Harrison is that some of the mixtures of an older Asian movie with newly shot footage with Westerners inserted is that some of them were actually good! Good from both Joseph Lai's and Godfrey Ho's camp and the original movie underneath. Or it was the case of IFD spicing up a completely unrelated movie so well, both movie A and movie B if you will thrived. For sure, many of IFD's Ninja movies and the likes were chores and essentially only coming to life when for instance Richard Harrison's or Pierre Kirby's scenes got showcased but this continuing coverage of IFD will primarily via this review and onwards focus on when IFD formula was golden not only for the market looking for anything Ninja-ish or bearing the IFD logo. This is the Thunderbolt-era where ninjas mostly weren't needed.
Majestic Thunderbolt have a fair amount of recognizable talent in main roles including Chen Kuan-Tai and Tien Peng (billed as Roc Tien here) and logically the movie would belong to the years between late 70s-mid 80s (IFD's own copyright is 1984) but personal research on Hong Kong Movie Database resulted in nothing actually. We're left with very little of a feeling of absence however as IFD's re-editing merging as good as a separate shoot with separate actors can reveals many of the true colors of the original gangster movie. Colors that not only are red for bloodshed but whatever color grave torture and sadism represents as well. All combining well with the fact that Godfrey Ho's scenes showing a Richard Harrison unmasked with his own mean streak are from a period where his direction under the IFD banner finally showed some life and inspiration (a case of having time and more creativity despite the cut & paste formula in essence being the same for this and whatever Ninja film IFD put out?).
Mixing together the plot of Richard Harrison's character after his stolen diamonds and after revenge for going after his woman, the target is Franco from the other movie but Richard settles for going after his men and in the end Phillip Ko who for unexplained reasons practices black magic. A climax awaits involving chickens, guns and swords await you. All while Alan (Tien Peng) working for Tiger Chan (Chen Kuan-Tai) is on his own revenge path of sadistic proportions...
Majestic Thunderbolt is a higher quality product as evident in IFD's own shot footage and in the original movie but in all honesty also, quality comes and goes as well as coherency. Traditional IFD stuff then and the stock shots of an amusement park as backdrop for the credits doesn't inspire but Godfrey Ho soon showcases one of his sequences being, for him, shock full of style, thought out shots and suspense as Richard and John Ladalski are ambushed. The action choreography was always up to standard when Ho involved ninjas and the change of pace in terms of quality also extends to the action as we get grittier, short brawls here. It should act as an eye opener for anyone who sat through the various Ninja movies IFD produced. Of note also is that Majestic Thunderbolt is essentially a huge anti-hero story with bad guys galore, including in Richard's case. It sets the stage for a free for all in terms of violence and for all its uneven stretches, basic direction, a way too crowded character gallery, the film scores huge points and continues to raise eye brows as the original, possibly Taiwan filmmakers spare few characters and us.
The colour that makes up the legacy Majestic Thunderbolt has built up for a few select fans also comes from the full blast of gangster- and revenge type of violence and the 3-4 scenes when Tien Peng's Alan goes to town taking out person by person, piece by piece in particular. An ingenious hitman or rather crafty torturer not only apt with a gun but setups involving crucifying a victim amidst a snake pit (a sequence so incredibly brave and graphic considering the actor is clearly amidst the snakes), planting bombs, acid coming through showers etc and while the latter concept doesn't sound like anything worthy of raising an eye brows, the original director of our gangster loves to linger on the after effects which also means we get a make-up showcase of note here.
Ranging from our bad guy Franco smoking through a mouthpiece looking more like a tampon and the out of place climax involving sex, chickens and a neat piece of choreography between Harrison and Phillip Ko, Majestic Thunderbolt is one of the few IFD products where the technique works surprisingly well as the movies are merged and we get an inspired showcase of gangster violence borderlining on horror. Only downside, the original filmmakers need more of a spotlight than what's possible at this time.
2014 EDIT: And now they do as the original movie is finally identified, as 1982's Red Rattlesnake. HKMDB entry here.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson