Showdown at the Equator
It’s a kung fu cop action flick from the late 1970s, so you know it will be full screen and dubbed terribly. The characters will be wearing outfits that make fashion police commit suicide, and the plot will only occasionally make sense. Throw in scenes that are just there for excuses for more fights and characters whose names change depending on who is talking, and you got yourself a movie. Just don’t hurt yourself getting down to the funky theme song. Because it’s the only thing that’s funky.
Showdown at the Equator is about gangs that extort protection money out of small business owners, and the cops that are bringing them down. The film doesn’t bother to tell us certain characters are cops (though it’s easy to deduce), and spends a long time putting together the reason why the plan is so complicated. But Showdown at the Equator does have a more unconventional final battle sequence, the characters that end up fighting aren’t quite the matchups you think they’ll be.
As part of the massive deluge of kung fu films pumped out to feed the overseas demand, Showdown at the Equator packs in a lot of action, even if it doesn’t make any sense. The action it does well, the choreography pretty decent for a film obviously made in a hurry with little money for fancy rigs or setups. It’s got that small budget charm that you get from picking a random martial arts vhs from the video store (if your store was cool enough to have a martial arts section!) I enjoy these films, but I recognize what they are, that they aren’t for everyone, and that Showdown at the Equator has a lot of problems that keeps it from being a film anyone remembers anything about. Good thing I took notes!
The Chen’s restaurant is targeted by extortionists and trashed. A drunk Yu Wang-Yeung offers them money to rebuild after they help him when he’s too drunk to stand up. He defends the restaurant from the gang, working his way up to meeting more and more important bosses – most of which are bald and fat for some reason. Yu Wang-Yeung even brings the fight to them after the restaurant is trashed a second time.
His fighting skill is good enough the gang takes notice and recruits him (after Yu demands a ridiculous fee, and kills three white fighters during his audition!) But his joining is just a ruse to find out who is the real boss behind the gang. As the B story we follow shows, the various busts of low-level dealers is going nowhere fast, and the police can’t figure out Steven is the one behind it all.
During all this, Chen Wan is falling for Yu Wang-Yeung, and hurt when he joins up with the gang that was terrorizing her restaurant and father. But all is forgiven when the truth is revealed, but she does get kidnapped at one point. Chen Wan is a good fighter, powerful with nunchucks but still wants to learn kung fu from Yu.
Eventually the gang is running short of enough members that the leader is identified and the cops can close in. Except Steven is more powerful at kung fu than he seems. He is Lo Lieh, after all! The fights with him are more violent and brutal, he even bests one of the main characters.
Showdown at the Equator delivers its batches of fighting, with constant scenes of people pummeling each other and cops chasing and gunning down random criminals. But the story is weak, and Nora Miao and Larry Lee Gam-Kwan don’t seem to have that much chemistry together. While Showdown at the Equator does what it sets out to do, it doesn’t bother to do any more, and is only notable because it’s honest by not having the cops be omnipresent with knowledge of the full extent of criminal empires. Often you don’t know who is in charge or how the structures go, and it’s difficult to get information into that world. But outside of that, the police are almost always outclassing the villains. There is little drama as to who will win in fights (until the end).
Nora Miao not being one of the police limits her role and her fighting scenes, but she does well with what little she is given. The female policewoman seen briefly in the film is Marrie Lee of Cleopatra Wong fame in one of her first acting roles. She doesn’t really do anything, so completests don’t need to bother. The low budget is most evident when Chen Wan, her father, and Yu go to a soccer match. It’s an actual soccer match the crew snuck a camera into, but the shots of them in the bleachers are chairs lined up on a film stage.
Despite some funky music and action sequences, Showdown at the Equator will only entertain those looking for an old school martial arts fix. Otherwise, there are plenty of other latitudes for you to have showdowns on!
Rated 4/10 (Dragon!, Pig Dog!, Goon, Goon Supervisor)
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