Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Without a doubt, Jim Kelly is best known for his starring role in the 1974 martial arts/blaxploitation flick Black Belt Jones. In my opinion, this is a goddamn shame.
While Black Belt Jones IS an undeniably sweet movie, Kelly went on to star in even better films later in his career, none of which received the recognition or cult following of Jones. Take 1978's Death Dimension (left), aka Black Eliminator, aka Dead Dimension, aka Death Dimensions, aka Freeze Bomb, aka Icy Death, aka The Kill Factor, whose plot summary on imdb.com sells itself: "The Pig has a plan to eradicate some people with a freeze bomb that instantly freezes people to death. It is up to Detective Ash to stop him and protect the woman with the secret to the ice bomb embedded in a microdot under the skin of her forehead". Dang.
But quite possibly the greatest Jim Kelly film of all time was 1977's Black Samurai. Let's take a look, shall we?
Holy shit, man!
A movie that features Satanic cults, hot 70's chicks, and fight scenes involving vultures, jungle cannibals, and at least two midgets can't be that bad! Jesus.
Jim's big screen debut (besides a forgotten 1972 film called Melinda) was in the highly successful Bruce Lee vehicle Enter The Dragon, in which he played a fighter known only as "Williams". The 1970's blaxploitation movie machine recognized a similarity between the two, and Kelly was soon dubbed "the black Bruce Lee", a point driven home in a painfully obvious manner in Black Belt Jones. Producers even went as far as dubbing in high pitched, Lee-esque whooping and hooting over his fight scenes. Ouch.
Other 70's film appearances of note were Three The Hard Way (1974), Hot Potato (1976), and the curiously-titled Mr. No Legs (1979).
Not a bad track record.
Not to be confused with 1990's Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly (although he did excel in sports at the high school level), the REAL Jim Kelly grew up in Kentucky, where he studied Shorin-ryu karate and eventually obtained a black belt in Okinawa-te karate under the tutelage of Shihan Gordon Doversola.
Kelly also won the 1971 International Middleweight Karate Championship, at which point he proceeded to open his own martial arts school. Like fellow ninja ass-kicker (and 'Semi-Obscure Action Star of the Week' alumnus) Cynthia Rothrock, he's a real-life ninja that could probably take out 20 armed henchmen without breaking a sweat.
Currently, he resides in Southern California and gives tennis lessons. If you are interested in taking tennis lessons from Jim Kelly, click the link. I'm serious.
Though his film career in the 1970's was nothing short of illustrious, Kelly slowed his roll, film-wise, at the end of that decade, appearing in only 3 films (and 2 episodes of Highway To Heaven) since 1979. His most recent appearance was in 2009's Afro Ninja (right), which I have little to no desire to actually see. For obvious reasons.
Here's a couple clips of Jim kicking some major ass in Black Samurai:
Check out the trailer from Black Belt Jones, also followed by a highlight clip:
Next Week: No one. I'm done with this series.