International criminal Mr King has uncovered a rare book, a journal written by an ancient Chinese scholar which details his discovery of a mysterious element which he claimed could be used to take over the world - or destroy it. Many have been keen to get their hands on this, but King believes he knows where it is, having dispatched his henchmen to dig up the scholar's grave and steal a leather pouch from it. Could this be where the secret is contained? Don't ask American boxer Cal Jefferson (James Iglehart), who is honeymooning there with his new wife (Shirley Washington)...
And that's pretty much a running joke, that nobody really knows what it is they're looking for or what it can do; indeed, the Jeffersons don't know there is any secret to be found when they buy a wooden Buddha from an antique shop to take home with them. But they were not the only stars here, as this was a Filipino movie and one of their biggest celebrities was Chiquito, practically unheard of outside their nation but locally one of the most beloved actors (and politicians) they ever produced. He appears as a mute Jefferson called Charlie, who is introduced to us while trying to save a woman from being gang raped.
This results in another running joke of sorts, as he and the other heroes frequently end up getting beaten up for their trouble, not your usual martial arts conventions, but this did appear to be a comedy, and Chiquito was best known for his acrobatic skills as a comedian. Anyway, once Charlie is thrown into the harbour, he manages to get fished out of the water by Jefferson and is so grateful that the boxer has saved his life that he vows to stick by him through thick and thin - whether his new friend wants him to or not. After all, he's on honeymoon and has other things on his mind, but the bad guys think he knows more than he does thanks to the missus purchasing that wooden artefact.
Not only does Charlie insist on being their constant companion, but when the couple get a moment alone their hotel room is invaded with bees (!) and the Buddha is stolen. You'd think that would be the end of the matter, but when Mr King gets the statue karate chopped to pieces, inside there is no secret to be found! So he sets out to ask Jefferson politely where it is - or rather, he sends another henchman to use strongarm tactics on the couple to find out something they still have no idea about, continuing the film's wavering between action (Chiquito was most accomplished in this capacity) and more straightfaced humour. Iglehart, best known for his Russ Meyer movies, was more than the stooge, however.
Charlie teaches him kung fu in an afternoon so he can join in with the fighting, but even then they both still get overpowered with absurd frequency. There's a massage parlour scene which offers nudity as well as fisticuffs, and ends up with both our heroes hightailing it down a busy street - the story has moved to the Philippines by this stage - wearing nothing but towels. Bamboo Gods and Iron Men was one of those plentiful co-productions between A.I.P. and its Filipino cousins led by Cirio H. Santiago, so naturally Vic Diaz has to show up at one point, but where a lot of those were merely genre flick stodge in an exotic location, this little item had a sprightly quality thanks to the chemistry between the actors who seemed to want the audience to have fun with this. The way it draws to a close, with all the main players laughing in blackface, may not be the most obvious finish to an action movie, but sums up the silly nature of proceedings that may not be sensible, but is endearing. Music by Tito Sotto.