Written & directed by: Godfrey Ho
Producers: Joseph Lai & Betty Chan
Starring: Steve Daw, Jonathan Stierwald, Michael Chan, Chen Kuan-Tai, Lu I-Chan, Phillip Ko, Chu Mei-Yam, Shut Chung-Tin & John Ladalski
After being in business with the likes of Tomas Tang, distributing and even making martial arts movies, Joseph Lai started IFD Films & Arts and started looking to the export market with the following technique. Acquire sellable Asian action or genre movies but shoot footage with Western leading actors to be edited into the source feature and you have a sellable time. Although not at the point with Richard Harrison in the fold or containing any ninjas, Mission Thunderbolt is a landmark, a granddaddy if you will of IFD as by all accounts this is their FIRST cut and paste production. Re-editing the 1982 Taiwanese gangster movie Don't Trust A Stranger by Dung Gam-Woo (Massacre Survivor, The Buddha Assassinator) into Mission Thunderbolt, the feel is very familiar coming from IFD. I.e. the editing techniques, how they make characters interact between the movies and that it's all one incoherent combined with what looks like one compelling Taiwanese revenge movie. Not too different from what they did equally "well" for a number of years then but one thing is evident early too, Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho tapped into the fun of it all. Select audiences will always understand that and that we're not dealing with high art here. Wise to know your agenda from the start and not deviate from it until it's time to switch trends to ninjas and subsequently to kickboxers, Catman's etc.
Opening in similar vein as their acquired actioner Jaguar Force Thunderbolt from 1983, we see assassinations across the globe by John Ladalski's character, a gorgeous blonde (can't determine which of the IFD credited females this is) and finally we land in Hong Kong as the Serpent and Scorpion gangs are about to get a shake up by external forces. An Interpol agent (Steve Daw) is put on the case and starts targeting the boss (Phillip Ko) behind the plan to pit gang against gang. Meanwhile in the plot represented by the footage from Don't Trust A Stranger, Allison (Lu I-Chan - Queen Bee) is out to revenge her dead friend Rosie and starts being a hostess in the club run by female gangster Phoenix (Chu Mei-Yam) who's part of the Scorpion gang and she slips deeper into doing tasks for her while also getting closer to Rosie's murderer Panther (Shut Chung-Tin). Michael Chan also turn up as the leader of the Serpents and Chen Kuan-Tai sits at a desk or talks on the phone a lot as the cop heading the investigation to bring the gangs down.
As coherent as the above is, it really is not as well so you have to put yourself in a IFD frame of mind I suppose and come to terms with that it's going to feel random, pasted and rather cheesy now that IFD has stepped in. Truth be told, some of the footage Godfrey Ho (keep your eyes out for a cameo by the man) shoots is atmospheric, the blonde assassin who's really a Black Widow type of character evokes cool via her various means of killing (slicing necks, piercing heads, scratching a man to death) is cool and while the illusion of this being one movie can be maintained when mixing Western and Eastern cast in his footage, there's no true illusion here. Connecting the Interpol and Taiwanese police procedural via phone calls and no interaction really otherwise, an awkward and incoherent mix by IFD is usually rather golden, even if only as a concept.
One time IFD lead Steve Daw shoots, kicks, works out and makes love in a sauna sufficiently here and unlike Richard Harrison most of the time, is INVOLVED on some conscious level. Dealing with such content plus canned melodrama of his own, he still gets outlandish cinema time and memorable encounters with a knife wielding assassin, Phillip Ko at the end and gets to exact revenge using cats and rats against one of the assassins.
It is a shame though that Don't Trust A Stranger is quite buried in the mix but Dung Gam-Woo has lead Lu I-Chan to light up the screen with fury in her eyes as well as being game for brutality and action (including a fight against Michael Chan). There's bloody knife revenge to be had and grit and looking at the sparse evidence here, Don't Trust A Stranger fits neatly into the Taiwanese cinema revenge boom of the early 80s and is another standout on-screen splash for Lu I-Chan. Coupled with Mission Thunderbolt, its colors are somewhat muted but the fact that they ARE coupled makes sense as a leap off point for IFD. It would get better, weirder and even smarter once ninjas were brought in to play alongside horror movies, dramas and especially when Richard Harrison was awake during a movie or three.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson