Imagine if a small gathering of very serious grade schoolers miraculously collected enough money to write and produce an entire motion picture. Now let's envision they cast their teachers, parents, and the latter's various associates from the PTA, borrowing plot points and music from other, legitimate Hollywood productions with nary a concern for copyright infringement to be had. Now picture them fusing their tale with the very sort of feverish storytelling one might expect from a bunch of little kids, but set amidst production standards akin to that of a posh community theater project (or perhaps something you might see on late-night Public Access TV).
Now, providing you can picture such a thing, you might be ready for the astonishingly mind-melting world of Turkish rip-off cinema. Better known to aficionados as "Turksploitation," this bizarre wave of jaw-droppingly cheap movies have become holy relics of bad filmmaking, sporting such (colloquial) titles as Turkish Star Wars, Turkish E.T., and Turkish Exorcist. Don't expect to find many copies of these movies in stores, of course: their blatant disregard for copyrights on-screen or off have made general distribution next to impossible in America ‒ a rare exception being 1975's Kiliç Aslan.
Indeed, the American Genre Film Archive's unveiling of Kiliç Aslan is a rarity in several respects. First, it is (probably) the only official release of a Turksploitation flick in the US, be it from a theatrical or home video perspective. Secondly, the source used for this AGFA Blu-ray hails from an English-dubbed 35mm print of the film ‒ from a 1982 release, at that, wherein the original title of Lion Man was changed to the more grindhouse-friendly moniker of The Sword and the Claw by the shysters at William Mishkin Motion Pictures ‒ making it quite possibly the only (?) English-language release of a Turksploitation title.
In what I can only describe as "a swashbuckling sword and sorcery variation of The Vikings à la Tarzan, based on a Turkish legend you've never heard of, bursting at the poorly-sewn seams with repetitive slapstick-style violence and characters culled from abandoned Spaghetti westerns" (and yes, you can quote me on that, kids), The Sword and the Claw stars Turkish cinematic legend Cüneyt Arkin. Cast as father and son, the film opens (complete with footage from another movie during the opening credits, which go abruptly silent when the William Mishkin title card is clumsily inserted in!) with the fall of King Solomon (Arkin).
But before the ousting and murder (and dismemberment) of the King by an evil Turkish John Saxon guy (Yildirim Gencer), the audience learns the royal member's legacy carries with it an unusual inherited trait: all of his kin sport a stenciled lion tattoo birthmark. Years later, the King's abandoned son (Arkin again), having been raised by lions (look, just go with it), saves the life of evil Turkish John Saxon's own son, Altar (Cemil Sahbaz). Attacking Altar's wouldbe assailants with a ferociously campy animalistic style, Arkin's Lion-Man is undoubtedly one of cinema's most bizarre feral fighters ‒ leaping into every scene with a hilarious "howling" which will leave you doing the same.
Between the hysterically awful English dubbing (featuring the laziest voiceover work I have ever heard), uproariously clumsy action sequences (a scene of Arkin slowly "ziplining" his way from one castle courtyard wall to another, inelegantly tossing obviously fake knives into the air which amazingly still manage to hit their marks had me on the floor), and the completely surrealistic approach to filmmaking so common in the realm of Turksploitation, The Sword and the Claw is unlike anything else you are likely to witness. Naturally, its flaws are the very things which make it so enjoyable. It's a perfect film to enjoy in the company of drinks and friends.
But the cinemasochistic pleasure this AGFA release offers doesn't end there. Also present here is a 1978 Asian martial arts film which ‒ according to the advertising campaign for this 1981 William Mishkin Motion Pictures release ‒ was "An Official Chinese Black Belt Society Film" starring "Black Jack Chan." Never mind the fact that the film known in the US as Brawl Busters (Sa-dae-tong-iue-moon) was actually made in South Korea. Or that its protagonist is a female, for that matter. Because the only thing that matters here is how much you can laugh over the course of this bastardized kung-fu messterpiece.
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with low-budget Asian genre films to see Joseph Lai and Tomas Tang ‒ who funded nearly all of cut-and-paste disaster artist Godfrey Ho's work ‒ listed in the credits as producers. In fact, the mention of these names may cause one to speculate if the notorious Mr. Ho was somehow involved in the editorial process of Brawl Busters, as it is just as dumb as many of the other guilty pleasures he stitched together. But at least the nasal Australian voice actors hired (and presumably, paid) to dub this South Korean wonder actually put some effort in, unlike the people responsible for The Sword and the Claw.
In fact, those voice actors from Oz really get into it ‒ especially the feller who dubbed the main bad guy, who never resists the urge to finish up a scene with some classy form of "Kill the bitch!" or another. Story-wise, Brawl Busters (I'm proud to say I once had a theatrical one-sheet poster for this one, by the way) centers on a furious female lead out to avenge the murder of her parents. There's also some guy who randomly pops up to engage in a fight or two, though his identity is never revealed ‒ something which could be attributed to the many splices in the well-worn grindhouse print used for this release. Again, though, this only makes everything funnier.
In terms of A/V quality, The Sword and the Claw looks surprisingly good for being such an obscure discovery. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (as culled from what AGFA claims is the only 35mm print in existence), the title is accompanied by a DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack featuring a highly bastardized mish-mash music score of unauthorized cues mixed with strains from Aram Khachaturian's Spartacus, which only add to the hilarity. Brawl Busters is also served up in a widescreen transfer, and the irreparable damage to the print used for this release embodies almost every frame. Shockingly enough, both titles feature English (SDH) subtitles.
While previous AGFA titles have sported bonus materials beyond a second feature film, The Sword and the Claw only carries an assortment of budget superhero movie trailers with it. That said, it's the perfect selection to wrap up this amazing must-have release for the very sort of folk who enjoy bad movies like these. Among the less-than-super-heroes assembled here are '60s favorites Argoman and the Fantastic Superman, Superargo and the Faceless Giants, two selections from Italy's excruciatingly painful Three Supermen series from the '70s, and a mid '70s Hong Kong oddity entitled The Supergirl of Kung Fu.
Featuring reversible cover art by Alexis Ziritt, the AGFA's issue of The Sword and the Claw and Brawl Busters may cause several of your friends to question their purpose in life. Heck, it may even toss you into an existential crisis of your own. Needless to say, this double-billing of ham-fisted fighting flicks comes Highly Recommended ‒ and its addition to the world of Blu-ray (let alone home video in general) leaves me very curious to see what else the American Genre Film Archive has lined up for us in the future.