In China, around 200 B.C., a special amulet was used by a group of Buddhist monks to keep a demon in its place, namely at the bottom of a cave where it would be trapped within a special coffin with the item of sacred jewellery in a compartment on its lid. Once this duty had been done, the monks proceeded to kill themselves so nobody would ever know about the location of the demon, but in the nineteen-seventies, they reckoned without a visiting tourist. He was the chancer Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan) who was there as a student of kung fu master Luke Curtis (Warhawk Tanzania), and he did not realise the terror he was about to unleash on his home city of New York...
Blame Bruce Lee for all those kung-fu knock-offs that spread like a rash across international exploitation cinema, and not only the downmarket stuff, either - even James Bond tried his hand at the martial art. But not everyone had that kind of budget to play with, and the creators of Devil's Express assuredly were somewhere right at the bottom of the pile, a barely professional affair that showcased the antics of a collection of amateur combatants which was happy to break off from any semblance of plot to allow its budding Bruces to pretend to beat each other up. These sequences featured so many punches and kicks that missed by a good foot that it became a running joke.
There had to be a narrative excuse for the action, though you imagine if they thought they could get away without one they could, and here it was a gang war between an African American band unflatteringly named The Black Spades and an Asian American team known as The Red Dragons, but what had prompted this bad blood? It was that darn demon, which had been unleashed by the scuzzy Rodan (not the supersonic dinosaur bird) when he nicked the amulet for his own decoration; no sooner has he exited the cave than a fist bursts through the coffin and the little-glimpsed demon makes his comeback, initially by possessing a hapless businessman who stumbles around zombie-like.
For a very long time, seriously about five minutes of precious screen time was taken up with following the possessed chap with mad, staring eyes painted on his closed eyelids wandering off the ship he had travelled on, onto the streets of New York, and into the subway which apparently suited his needs a lot better. But padding was something you would have to get used to while watching Devil's Express - it wasn't even an hour and a half long, yet it felt like twice that when you had to negotiate all the ramblings, the wanderings, and the beat 'em up sequences that consisted of most of the production. Fortunately, though there were longueurs a-plenty, every so often the movie would surprise you with something genuinely - no, not good, something absolutely dreadful that would make you laugh.
Once ensconced in the bowels of the subway, the demon proceeds to murder anyone who crosses his path, actually he went further than that and lured people to their doom, attracting the interest of the police. Now, you might be wishing to see Luke set about his own investigation, but this cut-price Jim Kelly was absent for long stretches of the movie for some reason, despite being the project's biggest asset as far as anyone could see. We occasionally dropped in on him socialising or in bed with his woman (cue the terrible ballad – the funk music throughout was enthusiastic but hopeless), but you had to wait for the last ten minutes before he did anything about the demon (the gang war could look after itself, apparently), whereupon he donned his battle dress, a pair of golden, flared dungarees with no shirt. If that didn't have you chortling, then it was assuredly not worth waiting for, and Brother Theodore fans (there must be some) would be alerted that he was in this for about a minute. Terrible by any reasonable estimate, trash aficionados would dig deep to find a few pearls of absurdity.