As we get ready to open our Christmas presents from Hollywood (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo! Tin Tin! Uh, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked!) we thought it was worth remembering that eternal truism: Sometimes the wrapping is prettier than the gift. So, with that, let's look at the greatest packaging Hollywood has ever bestowed on moviegoers: the greatest movie trailers of all time.
The Black Dragon (1975)
Alex Pappademas:0:13: Voice-over guy tells us that after Bruce Lee’s death, “Kung Fu people especially mourned the loss of their most popular hero,” and then we see some kung fu people in traditional Chinese dragon-dance costumes, presumably grieving. This movie is part of the Brucesploitation genre, which thrived after Lee’s demise turned him into the Tupac of chop-socky. The true masterpiece of the category is probably The Clones of Bruce Lee, a.k.a. Death Penalty on Three Robots, which starred Lee impersonators Bruce Le, Bruce Lai, Bruce Thai, and Dragon Lee.
0:18: “The early reports of his death were unclear and confusing.” Implication: This movie’s going to clear everything up. Implication-undercutting hint that maybe this movie itself operates in the same zone of ambiguity its marketing promises to dispel: The fact that the title cards can’t decide if the movie is called The Black Dragon or The Death of Bruce Lee. (On IMDb, it’s listed as The Black Dragon’s Revenge.)
0:21: Our hero, would-be Jim Kelly successor Ron Van Clief, is introduced; he has received an autopsy photo of Bruce Lee in the mail. Ron Van Clief, to camera: “Man.” He looks confused. This is going to be an amazing documentary.
0:32: “A Chinese millionaire from San Francisco was willing to pay $100,000 up front to find out the truth. The assignment went to the most feared man in America — Ron Van Clief.” Wikipedia facts about Ron Van Clief: He was the fight choreographer on The Last Dragon; he made history in 1997 as the oldest man ever to fight in a UFC event (and get choked out after four minutes by Royce Gracie); he was supposed to be in a movie called The Art of Cliefing, but funding was pulled at the last minute “due to widespread protests in Korea,” a nation historically inhospitable to Cliefing after Hawkeye Pierce invented it during the war.
0:38-1:19: Voice-over guy lists Van Clief’s qualifications for this fake job; Van Clief meat-tenderizes a bunch of dudes. You just experienced the Art of Cliefing, motherfuckers!
1:30: “No, baby, it’s the real shit.”
1:39: Fast-motion eye-gouge!
1:55: “His connection: Charles 'La Pantera' Bonet — the Puerto Rican Terror!” Who looks like a nunchaku-wielding Pete Townsend, kind of, but who we’re assured is “unsuspectingly, one hell of a kung fu man, something the Chinese didn’t expect to see.” No one expects the unsuspected!
2:36: Slow-motion groin-stomp!
2:54: Sleazy porn-funk groove over title-card reading “Serafim Karalexis presents THE BLACK DRAGON.” Karalexis was still in the picture business as late as 1995, associate-producing something called The Steal, with Alfred Molina. The IMDb page for The Steal has a picture of the DVD box for another, unrelated movie called Steal. Wiki-synopsis of that one: “Slim, Frank, Otis and Alex are a group of youthful bank robbers who commit their crimes in innovative ways involving extreme sports such as skating and snowboarding.” Because there are so, so many banks located at the top of sweet black-diamond snowboarding runs. Stars of this “Steal” include Stephen Dorff and Natasha Henstridge, the Stephen Dorff of women.
3:22: “We’ve said enough. Now we’ll let him do the talking.” Someone kicks Van Clief from behind. “Why, you creep!” he says. Maybe he should not do the talking.
3:44: V/O: “None of that jumpin' around and flying through the air, because this is the real shit!” For your consideration: THE BLACK DRAGON!
4:18: “Also starring the Latin Terror — Jorge Esparga,” and his Freddy Fender mustache. There is some real transcultural outreach going on here; you get the sense that only scheduling conflicts and/or DGA rules about one movie being too awesome prevented them from including Patrick “The Human Shillelagh” O’Flanrahan, the Hebrew Hammer, and some guy from Finland who gets mean when he drinks.