Hot Potato (1975) June 26, 2011Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1970s films, Bad Films, Non-Asian , trackback
Director: Oscar Williams Main cast: Jim Kelly; George Memmoli; Geoffrey Binney; Irene Tsu; Judith Brown Territory: USA
By 1975, Warner Bros were struggling to find a vehicle to propel Jim “Enter the Dragon” Kelly into the big time, and Hot Potato is a rather transparent attempt to recreate Bruce Lee’s hit on a smaller budget and with a wider audience in mind. And without Robert Clouse behind the camera…
Filmed entirely in Thailand, and with a deliberate variation on the Enter the Dragon score, Hot Potato is a sequel of sorts to the earlier Blaxploitation flick Black Belt Jones, although this is an entirely different animal. Whereas the earlier film was a low-budget, gritty, urban action film, this has a mainly white (and Asian) cast, comedy sound effects, and family-friendly humour.
The plot features a Han-lite villain in Mr Rangoon, whose villainy is somewhat vague but, of course, ruthless. He and his cronies kidnap a senator’s daughter for ransom, leading the US military to send in its top man – Jones (Kelly). Thankfully, he is not once referred to as “Belt” in this instalment. Jones recruits his team – a random pair of idiots – and heads off to find Rangoon and rescue the hostage. Along the way, they encounter their contact, who is…gasp…a woman.
For years, Hot Potato and its predecessor have only been available on grainy, full screen, bootleg releases. However, Warner Bros have now released these films, along with Black Sampson and another Kelly vehicle Three the Hard Way in their Urban Action Collection (sadly only available on Region 1 at present) and the difference is quite staggering. While the audio is still shaky (some performers’ voices appear to be overdubbed – quite badly), the widescreen, remastered (I assume) presentation transforms the film, making it seem much more than a cheap action movie. And for fans of Hong Kong cinema, you get to see Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying and Eric Tsang as stuntmen – although they reappear in virtually every action scene, making it seem like Rangoon has infinitely regenerating henchmen.
Sadly, it still doesn’t disguise the fact that it really isn’t a very good film. While well meaning, the crude and corny humour and “zany” characters can often irritate. The comedy isn’t particularly funny (and has dated very badly indeed) and the attempts at depth – Johnny Chicago (Binney) has a tragic secret, and falls for the senator’s daughter’s double - are entirely superficial. In fact, it’s the latter’s death at the hands of Rangoon that provides the best laugh. But don’t worry; the heartbroken Chicago gets over it very quickly.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! IT’S ALL HAPPENING AGAIN!!!”
Hot Potato is regarded very badly amongst genre fans – even more so than Black Belt Jones. And while I’m probably one of its biggest supporters, even I have to admit it is sometimes a bit of an ordeal to sit through. And what the title refers to is never alluded to – all of which means this particular potato is half baked indeed.