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  Kill or Be Killed He Hit Me First!
Year: 1976
Director: Ivan Hall
Stars: James Ryan, Charlotte Michelle, Norman Coombes, Daniel DuPlessis, Raymond Ho-Tong, Ed Kannemeyer, Douglas Baggott, Stuart Parker, Jorg Henrichsen, Steve Coetzer, Klaus Zungler, Phillip Gerber, Bevan Baggott, Ian Bell, Pieter Burger, Lorraine Robinson
Genre: Martial Arts, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Baron von Rudloff (Norman Coombes) used to be a successful Nazi until he was disgraced in the eyes of his cohorts sometime at the end of the Second World War, an experience he still suffers vivid flashbacks about. To make up for his perceived humiliation, he has been building his own army of karate experts out in an African desert, miles from anywhere to ensure that his recruits cannot get away for there is nowhere to go: they would surely perish in the harsh conditions if they attempted to make a run for it now they are aware of von Rudloff's true nature. Still, they are being paid handsomely for their services, though that does not prevent Steve Hunt (James Ryan) from grumbling...

Keep your eye on Steve, for he is our hero and our last line of defence against Nazi karate killers in this low budget but high ambition South African production. Ryan was actually a dancer rather than a martial artist, but he was athletic enough to be convincing under the direction of Ivan Hall and the expert trainers, making for a briefly shining star in the beat 'em up firmament. Although completed in the mid-seventies, Kill or Be Killed won a wider release at the start of the eighties, and thanks to a heavy advertising campaign it wound up as a fair-sized hit, so much so that Hall and Ryan reteamed for a hastily filmed sequel in 1981. This effort was where their international exposure began, however.

That really only lasted for two movies, though they continued to work in South African cinema, usually in action flicks, and this has the curious tone and shape of filmmakers trying to emulate Hong Kong and Japanese works which had become a worldwide phenomenon after the death of Bruce Lee, yet not quite achieving what made them appealling. It wasn't the fact that these were white guys throwing themselves around rather than Oriental experts, though that can speak to a lack of authenticity if you're a real purist, it was more the way everything seemed slightly off-kilter, as if you knew what they were aiming for, they knew it too, yet they were not able to conjure up something to match the greatest martial artists from the East.

And yet that was not to say you were watching a bunch of amateurs flinging themselves at one another, because the trainers were evidently dedicated to rendering the combat at least halfway convincing under the circumstances. Or as convincing as watching a dwarf karate his way through a fight with a bunch of far taller opponents could be: Chico (Daniel DuPlessis) appears to be on the side of his boss von Rudloff, but is really endorsing Steve, which gets him into a spot of bother and that skirmish with the Baron's henchmen which for some is the highlight thanks to its craziness. All credit to him, he does manage to make a decent account of himself, even throwing an attacker over his head, and all because he wants his hand puppet back (or something).

But it was Ryan who we were supposed to be watching for, him and his girlfriend Olga (Charlotte Michelle) who was also a recruit but has been dismissed by von Rudloff for being a total girl. Steve vows to leave with her, but as he's the best fighter his boss doesn't wish to see him go, so makes life difficult which is why before long Steve and Olga are travelling across the desert at speeds of up to five miles an hour in a converted Volkswagen Beetle decked out with a huge sail. I mean, obviously. That said, Hall was more interested in restaging Enter the Dragon, so to prove his army's worth the baddie sets up a tournament against the men of a rival, Mr Miyagi - before you get excited, there's no waxing on and waxing off, this is a different Mr Miyagi (played by Raymond Ho-Tong), though you have to wonder if the makers of The Karate Kid were aware of this before making their similarly Eastern-emulating hits. The finale includes Steve driving a jeep with ludicrous wild abandon and a throat-kicking punch-up to keep you happy; listen for the wacky library music in the score.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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