DVD Review: Black Belt Jones 2 - The Tattoo Connection (1978)
David KnightView all articles by David Knight
The Tattoo Connection was made by "First Distributers (H.K.) Limited" in 1978. It was produced by H. Wong, and directed by Lee Tsao. The Tattoo Connection has also seen release as Black Belt Jones 2, and Black Belt Jones 2 : The Tattoo Connection.
Tin-Hao (Tao-Liang Tan) confronts a gang about one of their new members, who used to be in the same gang as he. Tin-Hao’s boss wants him brought back because he ran off with some of their money. The leader says that he can’t just give up one of his men to another gang… Without a fight. Tin-Hao defeats the leader, so is allowed to take him back. For Tin-Hao it is all about honour that his wayward fellow gangster be returned. On return, he realizes that for Boss Tan-Yu Lu (Sing Chen) it is about nothing more than enforcement. Tin-Hao convinces Boss Lu not to kill him, and Lu lets him live only if punished by Tin-Hao. Tin-Hao scars out the gang’s tattoo off his shoulder.
Then, we get opening credits with a theme song! Not many martial arts movies had theme songs, but it was common enough with the James Bond movies, and other 1970s films featuring African-American heroes, like Shaft. “Diamonds” was composed and sung by Anders Nelson, a Swedish immigrant who had been a popular Hong Kong pop singer back then (he is still involved in the industry to this day). The theme is not such a bad song, sounding a lot less dated than Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” and really sounds more pop than disco.
We soon find out the relevance for the song’s lyrics, is that Boss Lu’s gang has somehow been intercepting extremely covert diamond shipments. We see them take one more supposedly secret shipment, and then the insurance company that has lost all these shipments calls in a former CIA agent to look into it. This is our introduction to Jim Kelly’s character, Lucas. It is also our introduction to how uneven in quality the script by Chung Sun Yee and Luk Pak Sang can be.
The quality of dialogue varies greatly at times. We get awful lines like, “I have been known to be called the black Six-Million Dollar Man,” when we first see Jim Kelly’s character, Lucas. But, we also get fairly cool tough guy quips like, “Wherever I am, is mine,” when introduced to Tao-Liang Tan’s character, Tin-Hao. The good news is that after Jim Kelly’s cringe inducing introduction to his insurance company employers, everything else Jim Kelly about the movie is above average and worth watching.
As Lucas arrives and starts chasing down clues, Boss Lu’s gang kidnaps a diamond cutter to break up one of the largest diamonds they have scored. One problem with the kidnapped diamond cutter is that unbeknownst to Boss Lu he is stalling them along because he is so in love with the diamond’s beauty he can’t imagine breaking it up. Tension grows between Tin-Hao and Boss Lu over a girl that Tin-Hao loves, while Boss Lu just uses.
There are a lot of heist and gangster film elements that might seem to slow down the momentum of the story by typical kung-fu film standards.
After bribing information from a kid who steals cars for the gang, Lucas goes to a lumber yard that is one of their meeting spots. Lucas walks into a whole gathering of the gangsters, and fists and feet fly with typical Jim Kelly skill. We also get to see Lucas take on a gangster that tries to run him down in a car. It might look low-budget by today’s standards, but in context of the era I feel it was well done. This is real stunt work and real fight choreography. If this was made today, instead of having Jim Kelly, or (Fight Choreographer) Bruce Liang, or Lee Tsao working out all the action, some CGI guy would computer animate 90% of what goes on screen.
Bolo Yeung, who also appeared with Jim Kelly in the Bruce Lee classic, Enter The Dragon, shows up in The Tattoo Connection as one of Boss Tan-Yu Lu’s henchmen. This is a co-starring role similar to what he has played in dozens of other martial arts movies. As far as henchman roles go, this is one of his better performances though. He isn’t always in the background until it is time to fight, and he gets more lines than usual. He even stretches as an actor in a few comedic touches that work with the story. In one scene, while on the gang’s ship, he actually breaks into song and some of his fellow gangsters join in. Of course the intent is insidious and meant to taunt Tin-Hao for loving one of the gang’s “pass around” girls.
As the story winds up for the final conflict(s) there is a minor twist about how the diamond thieves set-up their prey, but if you blink you will miss it. Of course, it spoils nothing to say that Tin-Hao turns against Boss Lu, as that was pretty much telegraphed before “Diamonds” started playing. Tao-Liang Tan and Sing Chen rip up the deck with some amazing fist and foot action, then ice-pick versus chain, and then staff.
When Lucas shows up top-side, Kelly gets to let loose on the villains, hand to hand, then staff, and when most of the minor henchmen are done-in Bolo Yeung’s henchman character shows up. Kelly and Yeung’s fight escalates into a brutal chain fight to the death. No spoiler there, as there are at least half a dozen movies I can think of, where Bolo Yeung was a henchman, and he died (if Bolo Yeung went to a Star Trek convention he would be wearing a red shirt).
Tao-Liang Tan, had previously appeared in Snake and Crane Secret (1976), and Shaolin Deadly Kicks (1977), and later on in The Revenger (1979) and The Shaolin Heroes (1980) among others. Tan would even cast Bolo Yeung as yet another villain, when he wrote and executive-produced Breathing Fire (1991).
The Tattoo Connection is worth checking out for Jim Kelly fans as his fight scenes are among the best that he has ever been in. Bolo Yeung fans should also check this out due to his larger role than usual. The main thing purchasers and renters should keep in mind is that it is not a sequel to Black Belt Jones, but was likely titled as if it was a sequel merely for a marketing ploy. Also be aware that there are many DVD sleeve descriptions that are not accurate. For example, I have seen one that says Bolo Yeung teams up with Jim Kelly to take down the bad guys (!).