OCTOBER 23 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : DEATH MACHINES
Okay, so Bruce Lee redefined the idea of martial arts action films with 1971’s “Fists of Fury” and 1973 martial arts epic “Enter the Dragon”, capitalizing on the success of these films Hollywood continued to churn out boring western, touching melodrama, and lots of cop movies. Meanwhile those with much fewer dollar leapt onto the kung-fu genre and held on like a starving Pit Bull on an A-1 Sauce coated bunny.
The whole kung-fu phenomena petered out pretty quickly due largely to the over saturation of the market by Golden Harvest Films of Hong Kong dumping every single piece of celluloid in their vaults into second run and drive-in American theaters.
Aside from the even shorter life span of Blaxploitation films and their use of kung-fu elements, most of America would ignore a domestic kung fu film market. However, there were a few exceptions.
Crown International Pictures, the creators and distributors of Death Machines, are still around. And considering they are responsible for such uber-garbage as 9 Deaths of the Ninja and Sidehack (as featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) is a feat in itself.
Death Machines displays everything wrong in American martial arts movies, and considering that this film was made in 1977, the genre hasn’t improved all that much. It is very easy to see how Death Machines led to America’s fascination with such action star luminaries as Jean Claude Van Damme and um... Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
I think both of them work the graveyard shift in a Hollywood Dunkin Donuts now, which is good news for film fans the world over.
Anyway, Death Machines is not a rip off of popular Hong Kong cinema, but a subtle blending of stunningly bad martial arts movie and incoherent mob drama with a hint of illiterate, unrealized revenge drama and a nauseating romantic tale of a one-armed “yellow belt” and the nurse who cares for him.
Sound like fun? Well, masturbating with a hand full of roofing nails sounds fun, but it doesn’t mean you should try it. So to save you the cinematic experience of Death Machines I will summarize it here.
We begin in a Japanese style garden where six men (two black, two white, and two asian) fight an extremely unimpressive martial arts battle while an asian woman with a mouth at least three sizes too small looks on approvingly. Three of the men die.
The three remaining are the Death Machines of the title. Why are they called Death Machines? I have no idea, and since they have no lines in the entire movie it isn’t made all that clear.
At the end of the fight sequence the Japanese woman sits in the dark while a guy with a mustache (also in the dark, and therefore, like the woman, completely obscured from view) offers us some expository dialogue as to the nature of the Death Machines. They are:
The greatest assassins ever
Ready to kill on his command
Need another test to make sure the first two claims are valid
Mustache guy (Who never reappears in the film) tells the Japanese woman to send the Death Machines after Mr. G, a local mobster, and his organization.
Mr. G., as it turns out, also has some people on his local hit list, a karate school instructor and a local banker. He sends his hit men out after these two targets while the Japanese woman sends the Death Machines out after the hit men hired by Mr. G..
Got all that?
Director Paul Kyriazi maintains the gripping realism of 70’s cheap action film making by ratcheting up the idiocy meter with each hit. A guy with a rifle attempting to shoot the banker is pummeled then thrown off the roof by the Death Machines, then another hit man attempting to shoot the banker (in another location) is blown to smithereens by the Death Machines and their trusty bazooka, yet another hit man, on the phone (in a phone booth remember them?) with Mr. G. is run over by the Death Machines in a Caterpillar Tractor.
In virtually any film these events could have been presented in an exciting manner. In this film what we get is absolutely inept direction. Kyriazi lingers on point-of-view long shots that, were the laws of physics not ignored completely for this film, alerted the hit targets to their oncoming demise.
What Kyriazi does do is have the characters not react to anything until it is in frame. So, the guy on the roof doesn’t hear the footsteps or see the men rushing him from 50 yards away until they are too close to avoid, the hit man stared through a scope while the Death Machines unload a bazooka from their trunk some 10 feet away, and he never notices, and the silliest of them all, the guy in the transparent phone booth FAILS TO SEE the oncoming Caterpillar Tractor until it runs him down.
It doesn’t help that the tractor is running at all of one mile per hour either.
Kyriazi has apparently never heard of the modern film technique known as the Jump Cut. Pioneered somewhere around 1900 the Jump Cut allows film makers to erase unnecessary time by removing frames between one event and another. For example, Bob gets in a car, jump cut, car drives away. We didn’t see Bob fasten his seat belt, turn the key, adjust the radio, roll down the window, scratch his crotch, or back out of the driveway. We don’t need to, knowing he is driving is enough, and since these other bits don’t contribute in any way to the story, they are left on the cutting room floor.
What we get in Death Machines are long stretches of mundane and useless footage. For example, and this is only ONE example, Mr. G. arrives by small plane to deliver money to the leader of his hit squad. We see the hit man guy drive all the way to the air strip, get out of the car, walk to the trunk, take out a suitcase (this is already like two minutes of film), the plane glide down to the strip, roll past the car, throttle back, turn 290 degrees and head back towards the car, pass the car AGAIN, turn AGAIN, slowly come to a stop, and finally after what feels like ten million years, Mr. G. awkwardly climb out of the cockpit.
But, back to the story...
Mr G. meets with the Japanese lady (who has no name) and her associate, a Japanese guy (who also has no name) who inform him that from now on they will be supplying the hit men for all of Mr. G’s assassinations.
Meanwhile, Mr. G’s driver/bodyguard is having dinner (on Mr. G’s orders) in a set designed to look like an Italian restaurant of the variety featured in Lady and the Tramp complete with ethnically stereotypical Italian owner who finishes every word with “A”. For example, “You like-A that spaghetti Tony-A? I make-A it E-specially for-A You”
Well, the bodyguard is run down after retrieving a laughably large red Buddha statue from his plate of pasta. He’s run down IN THE RESTAURANT. The funniest bit is that everyone in the restaurant sees the headlights of the oncoming pickup truck outside the window and runs away screaming while the bodyguard simply sits there staring at his food.
Mr. G really needs to hire better people.
One of the Death Machines appears in the restaurant with a basket and we cut back to Mr. G and the mysterious unnamed Japanese guy eating dinner. The Japanese guy explains that he will offer proof of his hit-excellence, just then the Death Machine with the basket appears and places the basket down on the table.
It contains the hit man from the restaurant’s head.
Mr. G is so impressed he gives the names of the guys he wants killed, the karate school instructor (who is apparently selling drugs) and the bank manager. Why he wants the bank manager dead is anyone’s guess at this point.
We cut to the karate school where the instructor is teaching a class of adults something about Shaolin Kempo Karate. For what it’s worth, Shaolin Kempo Karate is a money making enterprise and teaches little of value in the realm of self defense (I say this as a Karate snob currently studying Hapkido), Here we get our first glimpse of the hero of this picture, a yellow belt at the Karate School, Frank (John Lowe) just before the Death Machines leap in through the window and kill everyone.
Here’s the scene setup, the Karate teacher asks the class who left him a gift of a red Buddha figure. Uh oh, we know that means DEATH in this movie. The Death Machines leap through the window (was the door locked?) and A SCHOOL FULL OF SELF DEFENSE STUDENTS is cut down like tall grass by a Weed Whacker.
See, Shaolin Kempo... waste of money.
Frank has a lucky streak though and doesn’t die, here merely gets his hand cut off,
which is in no way due to his prowess in Karate, but due to his passing out mid attack once he realizes he will have to masturbate left handed from now on.
The film switches to gritty police drama mode following the karate school attack as Lieutenant Forester and his assistant Jerry sift through about forty dead gi-clad bodies to determine who killed all these karate dudes and dudettes.
As is standard in all cop drama/action movies, Lieutenant Forester and Jerry don’t get along well with the other officers in the department, and have an especially bad relationship with their commander the hilariously named Captain Green. Why is it funny?
Captain Green, incidentally, was must have been made up by a novice production assistant or something because his normally African-American brown skin is nearly puke green, except for the areas around his eyes which are pink. He looks like a Bizarro Raccoon!
The scenes in the detectives office play like a low rent version of the old Barney Miller TV show, and had I not remembered the writing being better on Barney Miller, it’s possible that entire script pages from those tele plays ended up jammed into this script.
The scenes never, ever work.
Forester and Jerry talk briefly with Frank and he admits that he could identify the men who attacked his Karate school if he saw them. Frank then makes the single silliest pronouncement of the entire film, “if I see them first I’ll kill them all.”
Yeah, okay yellow-belt man, just keep deluding yourself.
Forester and Jerry leave and we get the beginnings of the moronic love story aspect as The Nurse tries to comfort Frank with reassurances that he can wear a “cosmetic hand”.
These are easily the most cringe-worthy scenes in the film.
Okay, The Death Machines are sent to kill Frank while he convalesces in his hospital bed under the watchful eye of “Officer Kevin”.
The Death Machines arrive and sneak up on Officer Kevin, which isn’t too hard I guess, the white Death Machine leaps into Frank’s room and plunges a knife into the bed.
He fails to check whether anyone is in it.
As the Death Machines flee like little girly-men, Officer Kevin shoots the blonde one in the back.
He gets up.
Officer Kevin shoots him in the chest.
He gets up again.
This goes on two more times until Officer Kevin decides to aim him, and one bullet later, drops the blonde Death Machine like JFK.
Forester and Jerry return to the hospital where Frank thanks them for their clever ruse. Forster then mentions that their new plan is to move him to a new hospital under an assumed name.
Forester then casually (how he knows this is anyone’s guess) mentions that Frank’s boss at the bar wants him to come back to work.
Frank, in a funk of self-pity, admits that he’d be useful because every bar needs at least one freak.
Cut back to the mansion of evil where the Japanese woman enters her room to find the black Death Machine sitting there. This is the first time she speaks at length, which is not surprising consider she can’t deliver a single coherent line.
I think part of the problem is her mouth is at least three sizes too small, the other is she appears to have had extremely recent dental work and a few times I swear I saw cotton in her cheek.
I guess she has sex with the remaining Death Machines but it isn’t all that clear, especially because her dialogue comes out like, “margle... floop-piddle-paddle?.. Poffy slibble abby gloob!!?”
Back at police headquarters Officer Doyle, the asshole officer of the department, is about to question the still alive blonde Death Machine. How he survived a head shot no one will ever know, but he did, and now sits in the hospital like a goober.
Detective Forester and Jerry are none-too please about all of this.
Before you can say James Cameron, the blonde Death Machine snaps his handcuff chains and commences opening a six-pack of whoop-ass on the whole police department.
The whole thing plays like an NRA wedding. Cops are shooting cops all over the place yet no one can seem to hit the black tee-shirted blond guy flinging people around like rag dolls.
He escapes leaving an entire police station in chaos.
Now the film switches gears again and becomes um... well... confusing?
The blonde Death Machine, riding in a stolen police car, ends up at a diner where all the customers are really nice to him, offer him free meals, and helpful advice like “read the bible alot”.
Now, ask yourself this... Would I even talk to a guy who walks into a diner where I’m eating lunch if he is:
Wearing broken handcuffs
Has a head-wound
Is covered in hundreds of bleeding cuts?
No, you wouldn’t and neither would anyone else in the real world. But, since this is a shoddily made film, they do. Adding to the surreal turn this film has taken, a biker gang also enters the diner and STARTS MESSING WITH THE GUY IN THE CUFFS WITH THE HEAD WOUND AND HUNDREDS OF BLEEDING CUTS!!!!
Of course a fight breaks out but not before the other Death Machines track their blonde friend to the diner. Before you can even suppress that laughter yet another fight breaks out as the Death Machines stomp all over the entire diner and its occupants.
Strange as it sounds, this scene was lifted almost completely and placed into a terrible movie named “Universal Soldier” where Jean Claude Van Damme was playing the part of the blonde Death Machine. It ends the same way too.
The blonde Death Machine leaves with his friends.
Now we see the inside of a bank office where the manager receives the Japanese associate of the Japanese woman. He tells the manager to drop his job and split town. The manager refuses, of course. The Japanese guy has a basket, the same one that Mr. G’s driver’s head was in. Inside the basket is a laughably crude dynamite bomb.
The bank manager is handcuffed to his enormous file cabinet and the bomb is placed on a table just outside his reach.
This could have been a very suspenseful scene if it were not filmed by a complete idiot. See, the bomb has an analog clock fastened to the front as a timing mechanism. However, the clock has no numbers or other distinguishing marks on it, so we have no idea, as viewers how long the bomb has before it explodes. What we do get is a scene of the bank manager begging his secretary for the key to his file cabinet and finally... KABOOM!
Cut to the Karate school where Frank and the Nurse, who has become his love interest, pass the time by staring at forty or so chalk outlines on the floor. They then proceed to the bar where Frank has taken up his old duties as.. um... janitor? Barback? Punching bag?
A really tired looking nude girl dances slowly in a bar so tiny only Frank, the Nurse, and three or four extras can fit in the set. A fight breaks out, of course, and Frank is wailed on by two old men. No really, these guys are ancient, and the kick the ever-loving shit out of Frank. Adding insult (you’re ugly) to injury (you have no right hand) the old men do it in front of Frank’s girlfriend.
Poor Frank doesn’t even land a punch.
They drive off and are passed at a traffic light by... The Death Machines! Now considering Frank just had his ass handed to him by a pair of octogenarians, what chance do you think he will have against the Death Machines?
Well, don’t worry, Paul Kyriazi doesn’t even pretend to give us a super-Frank. Instead we watch as he drops off The Nurse, so she can call the cops, then sets off after the Death Machines.
He parks approximately ten feet from them, but they don’t notice because Paul Kyriazi is a terrible director, just as Mr. G (remember him!) lands in his plane, taxis past the Death Machines, turns, taxis back past the Death Machines again, turns, and comes to a stop.
Mr. G hands off a suitcase full of money to pay for the two hits, gets back in his plane, and taxis away from the Death Machines as they pull a bazooka from their trunk, turns, and gets blown into a million pieces.
The Death Machines depart with Frank in hot pursuit. By hot pursuit I mean tailing v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y behind. The Death Machines arrive at the manor house and enter.
Frank watches the men enter then runs towards the door. Careful viewers will notice that his missing hand has been replaced by a black glove. But that’s nowhere near as important as the strange shift in the space-time continuum we get as Frank desperately tries to get to the house, which originally appears about 50 yards directly in front of him is not 250 yards ahead, then 10 yard ahead, then 500 yards ahead.
Just what in the Hell is going on here anyway? Oh right, terrible editing...
Cut to the interior as the Death Machines tromp up the stairs and elbow the Japanese Lady out of the way. She has a distinct look of disgust on her face, which not surprisingly, is the only look she has.
She says, “garble mumble flinkle poop!” and her little Japanese accomplice takes out a tiny .22 caliber pistol. We are led to believe that he is going upstairs to “put the Death Machines down.”
Consider this, so far we have seen several of the Death Machines shot but much higher caliber weapons than that .22 yet they never even wince. NOW we are expected to believe, and he is expected to sell the idea, that such a little pea shooter can do anything other than really piss off the Death Machines.
Of course, he fails miserably and they kill him.
Frank finally overcomes the rift in the space-time continuum and enters the house. He climbs the stairs and is attacked by the Japanese Woman now wielding a sword. He falls down the steps and runs screaming from the house.
Detective Forester shoots her and she dies.
Cut to the Death Machines in the airport, notice the ludicrous bow tie on the Black Death Machine...
This is where I usually say “Roll credits... stuff face in food processor” or something to that effect. Well, there are no credits just an extremely long still shot of the Death Machines.
There is just so much wrong with this movie. Aside from the bad acting, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, script, and complete inability to focus on a single plot line for more than ten minutes, Death Machines has exactly one twenty second loop of terrible synthesizer music, which I will try to capture here in phonetics.
Wooo-weeeeeeeee... weeeeee woooo-woooo weeeee woooo-woooo weeeee woooo-woooo-wooo-wooo-wooo weeee wooo-wooo-wooo... repeat ad nauseum.
The film presented by Rhino DVD contains 4 sets of chapter stops and the trailer.
A word about the trailer here... IT’S AWFUL and seems to advertise a completely different science fiction movie about ROBOT assassins. What the hell they were thinking when that was produced I have no idea. Perhaps they looked at the finished product and realized it was a pooch of a movie.
This is a film that makes me long for the insane kinetic stupidity of a Godfrey Ho ninja flick.
OCTOBER 23 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : DEATH MACHINES
A reader wrote to recommend this, telling me it’s a very 70s film that features a badass mustachioed gangster with gold chains and a hairy chest who runs around barking orders and generally being an arrogant macho asshole, and I thought: JUST MY TYPE! So to the top of my list it went.
We open with a graphic of this extremely pointy pyramid with faces on each side—it totally looks like an Earth, Wind and Fire album cover—which abruptly splits open to reveal the title. The still, poorly hand-animated nature of this illustration gives you a clue as to the level of quality you’re in for. While this is going on, we hear a song apparently called “Devil by the Door.”
Now we see this Japanese couple watching three kung fu matches taking place in their Japanese garden. The winners of each match are their “death machines,” three highly-trained assassins under mind-control to the couple. Their assignment is to take out Mr. G., the bigwig of contract killing in town. He is the big mustachioed gangster mentioned earlier, the kind of guy who barks to his current female playtoy “Aaaayyy! Get your ass back in bed!” The Death Machines [DMs] first take out two of his assassins, and ambush two others. We see each of these fights, because they are the things that is going to take up the time of this movie.
So then the dragon lady, whose very existence is the highlight of the film, with her massive beehive hair and strange little kitty voice. She tells Mr. G that she is going to be taking over the contract killing in this town.
Next this guy is having dinner when he finds a little Buddha in his spaghetti. It actually kind of works to create mystery because the Buddha is red, and blends in with the spaghetti. Anyway, this is apparently the Japanese syndicate’s way of telling you you’re about to be killed. They then bring him a special delivery, which is the head of the guy stationed outside who was supposed to be guarding him. He is soon killed. Between action scenes, there is a lot of synthesized “Weeeew weeeeew weeeew’s” on the soundtrack.
Then we meet Forester, who is the requisite tough cop. He has been avoiding his required human relations classes [“Screw that human relations crap!”] because he needs to work on solving this case! Turns out there’s a witness to one of the killings at the hospital, under police guard. The three assassins sneak in and kill him. They are wearing bulletproof vests, which doesn’t stop the cops from continually firing at their chests. Like idiots. At last one cop thinks to shoot one in the head. One of the DMs is taken into police custody.
But not for long. The DM beats up the whole police office and escapes, whereupon he takes to a local diner. He is being accosted by this religious nutcase when a bunch of bikers come in and, as bikers always do, start raising a ruckus. This naturally requires a large-scale brawl, while religious music plays—so ironic!
Somewhere in here Mr. G has been killed—don’t remember where. There are more brawls, some Black Panthers, an insipid woman or two, and finally the cops close in on the dragon lady and her husband/assistant. They attack the cops ad are eventually killed, freeing the DMs, who, no longer under mind control, decide to all three go in on a Quiznos franchise location.
It was random 70s kung fu b-movie crap. Maybe if you’re really into this sort of thing it would be amusing—it certainly had some amusing elements, especially the dragon lady—but for me its not so much my thing. This is empty grindhouse fare whose main purpose is to fill out its running time with as many fights as it can, and I just don’t care for that. This was one of those things where I watched the first half, then felt obligated to finish the rest to be able to add it to the site, although I had completely lost all interest. If you get off on ludicrous grindhouse kung fu movies, however, go for it.
SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?
If you’re into this kind of cheap kung fu trash.
OCTOBER 23 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : DEATH MACHINES
Overview: "Death Machines" follows a trio of martial arts assassins who don't really know martial arts and don't assassinate that many people. The closest thing to an actual "death machine" in this movie is a bulldozer.
Directed By: Paul Kyriazi, 1976.
The Case For: If you liked "Bio-Dome", you'll love "Death Machines"! Which is to say, if you like shitty movies you will love this, because it sucks.
The Case Against: How can you make a kung fu movie without involving a single person who actually has any idea how to perform kung fu? How would you like it if the Chinese made a Hollywood action film without a wacky black character that shouts a lot?
Spastic troll Quentin Tarantino likes to state that a lot of his love for filmmaking comes from watching shitty 1970's grindhouse flicks and old kung fu movies. If this is the case it only helps prove that he is a crazy asshole because no one in their right mind would ever want to emulate a movie like "Death Machines". When the movie started and I had my hair blown back by a $10 synthesizer screeching some semblance of a menacing theme song while a little cartoon showed a metal pyramid sliding open to reveal the movie's title, I thought it was kind of retro-charming, kind of like a rerun of an old 70's TV show. Soon enough, however, I realized that it was just horrible, like a movie based on an old 70's TV show.
The movie starts with a young Asian woman supervising martial arts training outside some sort of secret compound. It's clear that the woman is in charge of the operation because not only does she have a perpetual frown, but her hair is done up in a hairdo that resembles a beehive but actually has more in common with the giant African termite mounds that take twenty years to build. She watches grimly as two martial artists face off on a small bridge over a stream, vying for the privilege of being first chair in the evil organization's orchestra of pain or whatever the hell it is they call their varsity squad. As the two warriors shuffle back and forth on the narrow bridge they occasionally launch a feeble attack which suggest some degree of martial arts skill but not enough that they would demand more than the catered breakfasts and bag of blow that the movie was able to offer as payment.
The two fighters continue to engage in mortal combat as the camera moves to a second fight, where two more martial artists face off while balancing on rocks dotting the stream. Without drawing undue attention to the fact, I found it interesting that the first set of fighters were both Asian, while the two fighters in the stream happened to both be black. I didn't think much of it until the camera again moved to show a third pair of fighters, both of whom happened to be white. I guess this just goes to show the movie's age, since any evil organization nowadays would be required by federal law to ignore race in their hiring practices, but it was a different era back then so I'll let it slide.
As the Asian woman with the thirty pound hairdo observes, the three pairs of fighters continue to deliver feeble kicks and slow, telegraphed punches. Eventually winners begin to emerge -- first one of the Asians is sliced with a sword, and then one of the black fighters is stabbed with a spear. Meanwhile the two white men continue to appear evenly matched when one of them, spotting a momentary opening, gains the upper hand by DRAWING A GUN AND SHOOTING THE OTHER ONE. I suppose he could have just done that at the start of the fight, but maybe he wanted to soften up his enemy's chest with a few punches and kicks before he propelled a bullet through it.
Once the three champions are assembled, they head inside where the Asian woman and her fu manchu-mustached assistant rub their palms together and cackle about what they have accomplished. "These three men will form the nucleus of the most deadly group of assassins the world has ever known," the woman says. Actually it sounds more like "thee fwuh muh wih foh foh oog mmf zp" because she has the thickest, most unintelligible Japanese accent I have ever heard, something not helped by the synthesizer score which continues full speed ahead and steamrolls over what little portion of her enunciations might be otherwise intelligible. "They are programmed to kill on my command fewf puh ng soh kwm dprg," she continues, her neck visibly straining under the weight of her comically gigantic wig. The three newly crowned death machines look at each other and pretend to understand what is going on.
As the death machines lounge around waiting for something to do, the scene shifts to the office of a local crime lord who calls a hitman agency ordering that two men be killed: a Chinese karate instructor and a bank vice president. I didn't think Chinese people generally ran karate dojos in America so that might explain the former, and the latter is probably corrupt or something, I don't know. The crime lord demands that both men be killed within the week. Since neither target seems to be a particularly important person I don't know why the crime lord has to contract a hitman agency instead of just ordering some of his thugs to wait in an alley and shoot the marks when they walk by. The best reason I can come up with is that the movie might take place in New Jersey where people are legally barred from pumping their own gas or assassinating their own enemies.
The contract hit agency aims to please, so they immediately send out assassins to take care of the two marked men. The first hitman goes up onto a rooftop and pulls a disassembled sniper rifle out of a briefcase, quickly screwing it together and drawing a bead on the karate instructor who is taking a walk on the street below. The assassin aims at the instructor's head, then waits for about thirty seconds while the target passes behind thin tree branches and other nonsolid obstacles. Finally, just as the karate instructor is about to enter a building, the assassin squeezes the trigger -- but the shot goes astray as one of the death machines pulls the rifle out of his hands. Apparently the death machines have telepathy as well as mediocre kung fu skills because they somehow knew exactly where and when an assassin was going to take out a target they had no knowledge of. Before the assassin can protest that this makes no sense, the death machines hoist him up and throw him over the ledge, where to add insult to injury, he lands right on his own car as a meter maid is writing him a ticket. His next of kin is going to be pissed that not only does the car he just inherited have a giant corpse-dent in the hood but he has an outstanding fine. This helps show just how monstrous and inhuman the death machine trio really are.
Next, the scene shifts to the second assassin, who has tracked his bounty to a local park where the bank VP is going for his daily jog. The assassin pulls up in his car, then pops the trunk and pulls out a giant sniper rifle, making no attempt to hide it despite being in an exposed public place. As he steadies the rifle and aims it at the jogger, the death machines drive up behind him, where they too pop their trunk and pull out a giant rocket-propelled grenade launcher, which makes the sniper rifle look as innocent as a stick of gum by comparison. Just as the assassin is about to take out the bank VP, the black death machine fires the RPG, blowing the shit out of the car and the assassin. They probably could have walked over and karate chopped him to death or something, but I guess the evil organization's munitions budget is a use-it-or-lose-it sort of system.
Now that the evil death machines have saved two innocent people from being murdered, the real mayhem begins. The president of the hitman company calls up the crime lord from a payphone to explain that both of his hitmen have been mysteriously killed in the line of duty. As the crime lord berates him, the hitman CEO fails to notice a bulldozer slowly driving towards him until the last possible moment, when there's little he can do but turn around and scream and flail his arms for a few seconds as the shot cuts away because the movie doesn't have the budget to destroy a phone booth. The crime lord, hearing screaming and crunching on the other end of the line, begins to wonder if something odd is going on. "Hello? Hello? Are you there?" he asks, then taps the hook a few times just in case the sounds of entrails being flattened by a Caterpillar tread was actually just a bad relay. Finally he hangs up in consternation and the phone immediately rings. He picks up again and it's the Asian woman, wig and all. "Veldt jynx grimps waqf zho buck," she says, or roughly translated to a human dialect, "all contract killings in this city are under my control." Turns out the plan all along was to eliminate all the competition so the evil organization could run the show, a strategy similar to that of Wal-Mart.
I guess the crime lord decides this is perfectly fair as far as he can tell because he immediately gets on a plane and flies into town to meet with the evil organization and make sure they are a trustworthy and upstanding institution of murder. After his tiny Cessna lands and his driver takes him to a secluded mansion to meet with the Asian wig woman, he tells his driver to go to a nearby restaurant and wait for his call. "Don't you want me to come in with you?" the driver asks, but the crime lord is positive that there's no danger in meeting with a gang of assassins who already killed two of his hirelings in cold blood.
As the crime lord and the wig woman sit down to discuss matters over dinner, the scene shifts to the restaurant where the driver is apparently an old friend of the embarrassingly Italian proprietor. "Mamma mia!" the mustachioed restaurateur shouts, seating the driver in a booth and fawning over him like a tanooki suit. "I-a make-a you a nice-a plate-a spaghetti-a!" He bustles off to the kitchen and soon the driver is served a big heaping plate, which he digs into, before finding a big red Buddha statue hidden under the noodles. He calls Tony or Luigi or whatever the owner is named over and complains, making Luigi slap his cheeks with indignation and resolve to fire whoever did this immediately. As the fuming driver sips his drink, suddenly a pair of headlights flick on outside the restaurant window! Amazingly, the driver notices the truck barreling down on him in time and manages to dive out of the way before it comes crashing through the wall of the restaurant. The driver escapes out the back door where the Asian death machine is slowly twirling a sword, waiting for him. The driver is in no mood for games and shoots the death machine, who falls down but immediately stands back up, continuing to swing his sword in a circle, when the driver shoots him again. This keeps going on again and again until the driver runs out of bullets and is set upon by the death machines, who return to the house and deliver his head in a basket to the crime lord. The crime lord is so furious to see that an anonymous underling has been killed that he immediately pulls out a gun and shoots a nearby waiter, whose wine bottle explodes as the bullet conveniently passes right through it. Having thus dispelled his rage, the crime lord immediately calms down and passes along the vitals about the two targets he needs eliminated.
The scene moves to the karate dojo, where a group of students punch the air for a while until the marked-for-death instructor tells them to stop. One student in particular keeps lingering in the camera frame, suggesting he might be more central to the plot than the other expendable karate idiots. The karate instructor addresses the class while holding up a red Buddha statue, asking if it belongs to anyone. When no one answers, he exclaims that he just might keep it. In case you haven't figured it out yet, the red Buddha statue is the calling card of the death machines, who enjoy giving big obvious knick-knacks to their targets BEFORE they hit them, possibly to get the media excited and earn themselves nicknames like, uh, "the Red Buddha Killers" or something. In any event, the death machines immediately burst through the window, slaughtering everyone left and right with their ninja swords. Amazingly, the death machines have mastered the art of killing without actually having to have the sword penetrate the human body, or leave any sort of visible wound or blood, or make any sort of cutting noise whatsoever, or in fact anything that would suggest that they were doing anything more than running around pretending to kill people with swords. The karate students ineffectually fight back, but this must be one of those crooked McDojos because the death machines shrug off their attacks like fake swords off a karate uniform. In fact, the only student with any visible wound is the one that the camera loved not long before, and when he engages the death machine he immediately gets his hand cut off and collapses, setting up a running theme of getting his ass kicked that will continue throughout the film.
The next morning the cops arrive and tally the grisly scene, where they discover that Frank Thomas, the handless wonder, is in fact still alive, and they cart him off to the hospital to recuperate. In the hospital, two detectives visit Frank. "I've only got one question," a detective says. "Could you identify the men who did this?" Frank says he could, and the detectives immediately leave without asking who the men were or what they looked like or anything. I think the detectives didn't actually care but they just liked the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing there actually was a witness who could theoretically identify the killers if they ever happened to catch them. After the detectives leave, a nurse tells them that a package has come for Frank with no return address. Opening the small box, the detectives find a small red Buddha statue inside! Could this possibly mean something, like the last two Buddha statues sent to men who were immediately murdered? As the detectives ponder this, a pretty young nurse flirts with the bedridden Frank, who responds by moaning and groaning and feeling sorry for himself and generally being a little bitch.
That night, the death machines infiltrate the hospital to take out the witness to their murders. Disguising themselves as a mixed-race cadre of doctors, they walk up to Frank's room, where they karate-kick the guard and burst through the door, stabbing the lump in the bed hidden beneath the sheets and then exiting before determining if the lump was in fact a human being or maybe, say, some cleverly arranged pillows. While trying to leave, a policeman spots them, and as the black and Asian death machines dive out a window, the white death machine is shot from behind. He slowly gets up and turns to face the cop, then shuffles towards him while the cop reaims and shoots the white death machine a second time. The death machine gets up and is shot again, and gets up and is shot again, until after the sixth or seventh shot the cop gets bored and shoots the death machine in the head, which makes him start screaming and, I assume, fall down at some later point after the movie has cut away.
Back at the evil mansion, the wig woman's assistant informs her that the death machines have not only failed to kill the target, but one of them was captured. This so enrages the woman that she slaps her assistant, who pretends to be so utterly devastated by the limp-wristed smack that he staggers back and holds his cheek in a state of shock and pain. She then walks over to the death machines and attempts to slap the black one, who grabs her wrist before she can follow through. I think this is supposed to be setting up a strain of insubordination and free will in the death machines, or maybe he didn't feel like putting up with her shit. Later the woman goes up to her bedroom, where the black death machine is waiting for her in his undershirt. "Mimsy borogove mome raths outgrabe (you are forbidden to enter here)!" she proclaims, and is met with stony silence. Somehow satisfied, she then snuffs the candle and the scene ends. As near as I can tell, the movie is insinuating that they have sex, but I don't understand why or what it has to do with anything, unless the Asian woman was just working through a bout of jungle fever.
The white death machine is led into the local police precinct in cuffs, where the detectives argue over who gets to interrogate him. Finally the stereotypical asshole detective wins out, and he leads the death machine into a questioning room, where the death machine begins doubling over and groaning. "Take off his handcuffs!" the detective says, because police procedure regarding captured kung fu assassins is to unshackle them at the first sign of trouble. The death machine immediately flips out and essentially beats up the entire police precinct in a flurry of poor jump kicks, not counting the three or four cops who manage to get shot by other inept cops when they get in the way of someone's gun, then escapes through the window and gets away on foot. The death machine soon finds himself in a diner, where the old couple that owns the place decide that a bloody, out of breath man with a handcuff hanging from one arm is just the sort of person who most needs Jesus, and they give him a free meal while showering him with Jack Chick pamphlets. As the death machines eats his cheeseburger, a biker gang invades the diner and begin doing what bikers do: namely, hassle everyone and generally be a total asshole for no apparent reason. One of the senior bikers begins shouting at the death machine, who ignores the biker and keeps eating his cheeseburger. Upset that his repeated shouts of "hey, man" have gone unanswered, the fat, balding biker gets in the death machine's face, who immediately flips out again. Unfortunately this time his martial arts slaughter is cut short when a biker throws a chair at his head, knocking him unconscious. You don't learn that in cop school, I guess.
Before the bikers can beat the crap out of the fallen death machine, his two compatriots magically appear in the doorway and flail at all the bikers until they are all defeated. After returning to the mansion with the white death machine, the three immediately leave again to take out the bank VP. However, instead of finding the banker, they burst in on his angelic virginal college coed daughter, knocking her down and taking pictures of her. The fu manchu assistant then takes these photos to the bank VP, ordering him to resign and move to another town. I guess when the crime lord ordered him "killed" there was some wiggle room involved in just what that meant, but whatever. The VP decides that his daughter was kind of a pill anyway and refuses to be bullied by an evil crime syndicate, resulting in the assistant handcuffing him to a file cabinet and pulling a time bomb out of a basket. After setting the time bomb, which appears to be made out of a hollowed-out red Buddha, the assistant locks the main door then exits via a side entrance, leaving the banker to scream and flail around and try and reach the bomb for literally two and a half minutes before it finally, mercifully explodes.
Now that the death machines have accomplished their mission, I guess there's nothing more for the movie to do! Except follow the life and times of Frank, one-handed stick in the mud wimp, whom we rejoin wandering around the dojo, still sticky with blood and covered in chalk outlines of bodies. Again my theory that the police don't particularly care about catching the murderers holds water since no one seems to be around or caring that Frank is disturbing a crime scene. As he mopes around and thinks back to that horrible experience where Mr. Right left him forever, the nurse from the hospital wanders in after him. She starts talking him up, mentioning that she tried to see him at the second hospital he was transferred to, but he won't have it. "YOU DON'T KNOW HOW IT IS FOR ME," he whines pathetically to a woman who works in a hospital and sees people that are a million times worse off than him every day. I think that the nurse must have peeked down his gown and liked what she saw because she refuses to give up on Frank. "Why would you even want to try?" Frank asks. "I don't know," the nurse replies. "Maybe by the time I get used to you, you'll be used to yourself." Maybe she has a condition where she mistakes pitiful pathos for raw animal sexuality.
To celebrate their newfound love of some sort, Frank takes her to his workplace, which turns out to be a run down titty bar. While Frank somehow moves heavy boxes despite only having one hand, a old white-bearded drunk grouses about life and eventually blows his top when a jukebox won't work, allowing Frank to heroically try and save the nurse, but instead get a pool cue cracked over his head, and then the Hemingway-esque ancient withered man lays out Frank with one punch before leaving. The nurse runs over and cradles Frank as he lies on the bar in a haze of tears and self-pity, and this is so overwhelmingly erotic that the very next scene shows the two lovebirds in a post-coital afterglow, where Frank keeps moping, maybe because he wasn't able to get it up without his right hand, if you know what I mean. The nurse tells Frank they should get away from it all for a few days and he agrees to take her to the ocean, probably for more of his special brand of complaining and emotional distancing.
As the two set out for the coast, they happen to drive by a car packed full of the death machines, who are going to kill the crime lord for some reason. Suddenly all of Frank's unrepressed frustration and anger bubble up to where they were already. He pulls over to the side of the road, seething with wussy retributive fury. He tells the nurse to get out and call the cops, then takes off after the death machines, presumably to kill them or something, despite the fact that one of the three managed to dismember him while the other two were occupied, and then later an old man laid him out with a single punch. Luckily Frank thinks better and merely sneaks after the death machines after they stop their car at the airfield, where the crime lord is flying in to deliver the payment for the assassinations. The crime lord gets out of the small private plane with a briefcase full of cash, gives it to the men, then hops back in, and as the plane is taxiing around the runway to take off again the death machines slowly and deliberately assemble their RPG launcher and blow the plane and its passengers to hell. That will teach the crime lord to pay the evil syndicate for services rendered! He'll never do that again!
Frank follows the death machines back to the mansion, where the wig woman meets them and tells her assistant that he can "take care" of the death machines now, since I guess they were trained and selected for the sole purpose of killing two inconsequential and defenseless local schlubs. The assistant nods and takes out the smallest derringer pistol I have ever seen, then heads upstairs where three gunshots are heard. Surely the death machines, who have repeatedly shown they are impervious to gunfire, are dead! Frank hears the gunshots and decides to head inside to see what he can find, because that is the most logical course of action. Once inside he immediately heads upstairs, where the wig woman bursts out of her bedroom with a sword and chases Frank back outside just in time for the cops to arrive and shoot her dead. Upon searching the house the cops find that the three death machines are gone, finally having attained the freedom they so desperately sought, as evidenced by the black one preventing the Asian woman from slapping him and then having sex with her. The movie ends with the three death machines about to board a plane, ready to, I don't know, continue killing indiscriminately, or maybe seeing if they can get a nice retail job. "Death Machine" looks good on a resumé.