Blaxploitation History Month Review #4: Black Belt Jones

Blaxploitation History Month ends with Michelle's review of Black Belt Jones

"Check out the size of my sack!"
Kung Fu films have always enjoyed popularity in African American culture but in the past did not have any prominent black martial artists portrayed. Jim Kelly (a black world champion karate master) changed all that by co-starring with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, which opened up new opportunities for more diverse casting in martial arts movies. After the blockbuster success of Enter the Dragon, director Robert Clouse decided to give Kelly a starring role in his own feature film, Black Belt Jones.  While this film isn’t nearly as high quality, it still has a cheesy Blaxploitation charm that is infectious and fun to watch.

Jim Kelly is Black Belt Jones. That’s his official name. He even answers the phone: “Hello, Black Belt Jones here, whatchu want?!” A local dojo has got into trouble with the mafia and they enlist the funky fresh fighting skills of Black Belt Jones to help them out. The story is very silly and has that schizophrenic quality that poorly edited movies tend to have. It doesn’t weigh down the film too heavily though and things move along at a quick pace (even if it doesn’t make sense most of the time). 

"Whachu talkin' bout Willis?"
If I can offer a female perspective for a moment: Jim Kelly was a very good looking cat. He spends a lot of time without a shirt on and is in very good shape. Just saying…ahem. There is nothing cooler than seeing a guy with a giant afro, bell-bottom pants and sky-high platforms roundhouse kicking some fools in their chest. He also has a fondness for punching people in their beans and franks, if you get my drift. The fight scenes are poorly choreographed, to be honest, but you can still tell that Kelly is a talented fighter and they do pick some ingenious locales for the battles. There is also a female fighter that gets to kick a whole lot of ass and that’s always a joy to watch. Scatman Crothers makes a cameo appearance as well and provides some extra comic relief.

Black Belt Jones is pretty average as far as kung fu films go but it had the distinction of featuring a mostly black cast and paved the way for classic films such as The Last Dragon. It’s worth a watch for martial arts film fans and as a curiosity piece.

-Review by Michelle Kisner