A secret strike force known as the Panthers enlist the best of the best when considering agents and those who pass the Panther’s rigorous training will become part of the fight for good organization. The Hong Kong Panther branch graduates two Westerners, Jason Blade and Linda Anderson, who become a perfect undercover team. When the pair uncover a Triad drug ring, the investigation sends Linda ahead to Perth in West Australia to initially track down Jim Baxter, a lethal enforcer in the drug dealing business. Anticipating losing the tail on Baxter and disregarding Jason’s wishes to wait for his arrival, Linda surveils and sneaks into the Baxter’s hideaway only to be falling into a trap that ends in her demise. Jason vows vengeance and infiltrates Baxter’s organization for leads and information, using his martial arts expertise to gain him complete trust and access to the kingpin.
“Day of the Panther” is part one of this two part film series which has been released onto Blu-ray courteously by Umbrella Entertainment and, perhaps, even showcases Australia’s most famous martial arts superstar! Released in 1988, “Day of the Panther” combines fisticuffs, roundhouse kicks, and an arsenal of quips into a panache of action hailing from the land down under. Hard to phantom that Brian Trenchard-Smith, man behind “Dead End Drive-In” and then later went on to direct demonic anarchy in “Night of the Demons 2” and a couple of those pint sized “Leprechaun” sequels, one including space, was at the helm, steering eight glorified and unstoppable fight sequences complete with “Street Fighter II” punch and kick sound effects. “Dangerous Game” stunt coordinator and writer, Peter West, pens the script that leads Jason Blade down a road of vengeance for a slain colleague in a formulaic and cliché trope driven plot, but this Ozploitation is more entertaining than uninteresting for a younger audience.
In “Strike of the Panther,” the break a politician’s drug addicted daughter out of a brothel and inclusive crime fighting Panther, Jason Blade, returns when Jim Baxter holds hostage’s his girlfriend, Gemma Anderson, after a deadly prison escape. Fortified in a ready to detonate vacant Perth power plant, Blade and his crime task force attempt to beat the information out from Baxter henchmen before sieging a rescue. Baxter declares his own brand of revenge toward Blade that not only includes high yield explosives that could wipe Perth from off the map, but the brute also summons every malign martial arts fighter he can muster to cloak themselves in amongst the power plant rafters, lying in wait for Blade and the police to storm their holdup. Blade must go for Baxter alone to not only save his girlfriend, but save Perth as well.
What is essentially Jason Blade part deux, “Strike of the Panther” retreads over old footsteps in this 1989 release with Brian Trenchard-Smith and Peter West filling in once against as director and writer. The obvious back-to-back shoots suggests that not much has diverted from the original tone of the film and with that truth, Jason Blade continues his trend of human punching bags without so much of breaking a sweat. The sequel, much like the first film, is good, clean action without much blood, without much cursing, and without much perversion. “Strike” might be edgier with a few more side boob scenes. That’s about it.
Martial arts expert Edward John Stazak is quintessentially the Chuck Norris of Australian cinema, but whereas Norris has a prolonged career in the film industry, with credits out the wazoo, Stazak’s success in the biz never took a jump kick flight. Not even with Jason Blade, a character who sounds like a fighter straight out of a Mortal Kombat installment, could boost a lustrous vocation. Stazak’s likeability is only shorn by his lack of expressive versatility as he’s virtually one dimensional, showing no range of emotion when the scene calls for it or even when in the rare instance of being bested at a fight, but the handsome, muscular Aussie can sell a hand-to-hand skirmish with one or ten opponents without wondering too far into cheesy coordinated territory, which Stazak co-assisted in the fight sequences alongside screenwriter and stunt man Peter West. The lack of a good and powerful antagonist also spikes “Day” and “Strike’s” well-rounded action status. Jim Richards as the tough Jim Baxter wasn’t a formidable adversary for Jason Blade. Baxter never challenges Blade’s weaknesses because Blade doesn’t have any weakness so it seems. Even with Gemma Anderson is kidnapped, Baxter never really leverages the opportunity. Jim Richards also looked out of shape in comparison to Stazak, who routinely went sleeves and, more frequently, shirtless to show off his physique, but Richards is also a well-known self-defense instructor who has worked with military personnel. In short, Stazark looked better for the camera. If you’re not an actual fighter, you’re an actual actor, such is the case with John Stanton and Michael Carman who brought a little thespianism to the “Panther” films. Stanton presented a fatherly figure, playing a Panther named Wes Anderson at the tail end of his tenure with the organization, to Stazak’s Blade. Andersen’s barely copes to the loss of his daughter, Linda, but that’ the Panther way or so it’s assumed as he puts it, “life goes on.” That such detached reality can be said about Zukor, the drug kingpin of Perth, played by Michael Carman (“The Devil’s Playground” and “Quigley Down Under”). Carman provides the aggressive affluent with has thugs to do his dirty work. Unfortunately, Carman does not continue with his Zukor role in “Strike of the Panther,” but Zukor and Wes are the fire and ice that motivate the marionettes into action at least in “Day of the Panther” while Wes pivots on a strange character tangent with supernatural abilities that’ll be explored later. As far as Love interests go, Paris Jefferson fills that void as Gemma Anderson. The “Xena: Warrior Princess” star becomes the niece to Wes Andersen, taking care of her uncle while she takes care of Jason Blade’s needs – wink wink. Jefferson’s stout feminine performance perfectly outcasts any kind of frail attributes typical of a damsel in distress that’s is trope-laden in action films; think Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “Live Free, Die Hard.”
Overall, as action films, “Day” and “Strike of the Panther” are fairly conventional martial art films for the 1980’s with a few eye brow raising quirks. For instance, Jason Blade is infallible. Perhaps, too foolproof as he single handily breaks down drug structures with a one-two punch simplicity, as if the level setting was on easy mode. Another what? moment stems from the character Wes Anderson in the sequel film when he suddenly obtains empathic powers after being grazed by a fleeing car and he’s able to reach Jason Blade on a subconscious level as he enters the power plant’s maze and takes on ninja-cladded warriors. Lastly, for back-to-back shot films where the release dates are stack closely upon each other, the need for an in-depth recap was terribly excessive that perhaps only required a tiny bit of exposition to fill in the gaps. “The Evil Dead” series is an ideal candidate for comparison of prologue recaps. Ashley Williams explains, with accompanying depiction variants, in “Evil Dead II” and “Army of Darkness” his misadventure to a cabin in the woods and his poor Linda becomes a Candarian demon plaything, but the Sam Raimi directed cult horrors are also at least five years separated. Brian Trenchard-Smith concentrates his direction of “Strike of the Panther” to detail almost every plot point through a Wes Anderson voiceover and rehashed footage. There are also awkward workout and dance scenes reused for the sequel that are not a nod back to the first film, but are used as current storyline. Talk about your deja vu!
Umbrella Entertainment release “Day of the Panther” and “Strike of the Panther” onto a double bill Blu-ray, a first for the Ozploitation gems. The two-films on a single BD50, region B disc is presented remastered in a high definition 1080p widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, from the original 35mm interpositive negatives, scanned and restored in 4k. Despite some minor strip issues (i.e. some cigarette burns and a few translucent scratches), the picture has tremendous stability in color and in natural grain. However, the framing seems a bit off as if the cropped, but that could also be very much intentional by cinematographer Simon Akkerman. The English language 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track has full-flavor robustness and balanced across the board. Remember those Street Fighter II sound effects? Dialogue has good distinction with solid range and depth with the soundtrack and ambience. No subtitles are available on this release. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features on this release either. The Brian Trenchard-Smith back-to-back films, bustling with endless wrangle, hail from Australia for the first time on Blu-ray and while might seem excessively obsolete in contrast to today’s action film, “Day of the Panther” and “Strike of the Panther” are ravishing relics that are extremely priceless to martial art cinema collectors.