— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) November 7, 2020
As I mentioned in a blog post about The Doll Squad (1973), I first found out about Ted V. Mikels in a wonderful book called Incredibly Strange Films, published by RE/Search. His most famous films, it seemed to me, were The Doll Squad, The Astro-Zombies (1968) and The Corpse Grinders (1971). I can’t recall if Mission: Killfast (1991) was talked about in the book, and it was certainly not on my radar at all until I bought the special Blu-ray edition of The Doll Squad released by Vinegar Syndrome. Mission: Killfast was included as a second feature on that disc, and I was excited because I knew absolutely nothing about it.
What I have learned about it, since watching it last Friday, is that Ted V. Mikels shot most of it back in the early 1980s, which makes it primo home drive-In material. There are no hard rules about what qualifies a film as a “drive-in movie”, or “home drive-in movie”, as I like to say. Basically, the “home drive in” is the home video experience that occurred in the 1980s. People used to go to the drive-in to see marathons of horror and cheap exploitation films. Thanks to VCRs, people could stay home and watch the same kind of films all night long if they had the inclination (and you know I had the inclination).
A typical home drive-in marathon would have included traditional drive-in movies of the past (like The Doll Squad and The Astro-Zombies) but also more current horror films and B-movies (current, as in made in the 1980s), such as Chained Heat (1983) and Hell Night (1981) – yes, Linda Blair was a home drive-in superstar. So now, when I programme a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, I tend to include movies from roughly 1930 to 1989. I have, on occasion, included a movie from the early 1990s, when it is particularly drive-in worthy for some reason. I figured that Mission: Killfast qualified on both counts, having been mostly shot in ’82, and then released in 1991.
Mostly shot in 1982? I had thought it was entirely shot in 1982, but according to Ted V. Mikels, he actually shot the bulk of it in 1980, then had to finish it in 1989. He even brought back three of the actors, including (I think) the star, Cheng-Wu Yang, or Tiger Yang as he is sometimes known. Luckily, Yang (if he was indeed one of them) and the others looked exactly the same nine years later!
Tiger Yang plays Tiger Yang in this movie. So, much like The Doll Squad may have been the pre-cursor to Charlie’s Angels (1976-81), Mission: Killfast may have been the pre-cursor to shows like Seinfeld (1989–1998), in which the stars play “themselves”. If only Mission: Killfast had been released BEFORE Seinfeld, Ted V. Mikels might have gotten the recognition for being a trailblazer that he truly deserved. Or maybe not.
Tiger Yang had made several films in Hong Kong, so he was undoubtedly the real deal in terms of martial arts mastery. But you wouldn’t necessarily get that impression by watching Mission: Killfast. I actually spent a few years studying the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t help but notice that Tiger Yang’s martial arts school in Mission: Killfast featured the Korean flag. Was he a Tae Kwon Do master? I’m not sure. But it made me feel a certain connection to him, and I could tell that he was genuinely skilled at martial arts.
However, from what I know about Hong Kong movies, they can spend days or even weeks shooting one complex martial arts scene. Knowing what I know about Ted V. Mikels, they were probably lucky to have a few hours to complete the action scenes in Mission: Killfast. So, you can’t really fault Tiger Yang, or any of the actors, for not looking as good as they might have in another production.
Don’t get me wrong. Slightly inept action sequences are one of the many charms of Mission: Killfast. The phrase “so bad it’s good” can, and has been, applied to this movie. I would suggest that it’s not quite that simple. The action scenes aren’t totally inept, as they might be in a film that features actors who have no martial arts training. I’ve seen much more over-the-top examples of “so bad it’s good” in my time at the home drive-in – but the camp factor is certainly at play here.
For my taste, it’s the story that makes this film worthy of (re)examination. I would try to summarize it, but that would require a reasonable understanding of it – and after only one viewing of this film, I’m not sure that I can claim to have that. It seems deceptively simple on the surface, but there are a lot of different pieces in play, and I’m not sure how they all fit together. Perhaps it is a symptom of having been shot during two different production periods – nine years apart. Some story threads may have been suddenly dropped, or picked up, depending on the requirements of the current production. Honestly, I’m not sure. But the movie managed to keep my attention, and I was left with the distinct feeling that I needed to watch it again.
It should be noted, by those who may be looking to me for an answer as to whether or not they should watch this movie, that I have a very high tolerance – and in fact an appreciation – for movies that most people would dismiss as “bad”. And therefore, it is difficult for me to give a definitive answer. “I enjoyed it” is often my response. But this is no guarantee than any other normal human being would enjoy it. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I loved Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) when it first came out, and most of my friends thought I was crazy. Halloween III has recently enjoyed a sort of renaissance, during which it has been re-evaluated and found worthy by many people – which is nice. I don’t think that Mission: Killfast will be experiencing a similar re-evaluation any time soon. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be an undiscovered gem for people with just the right taste – and tolerance – for trash.
I noticed that one reviewer of Mission: Killfast said: “It’s a martial arts film made by Ted Mikels…need I say more?!” and then went on to give it a seriously negative review. The basic thrust seemed to be, if it’s made by Ted V. Mikels you know it’s going to be “bad”. This is a fair review, only in the sense that Mission: Killfast IS a Ted V. Mikels film, and if you KNOW what Ted V. Mikels’ films are like, then you have a pretty good idea of what your response to this one will be. I happen to like Ted V. Mikels’ style of cinematic schlock, and I admire his ability to get things done – even after a nine year hiatus. So I enjoyed Mission: Killfast very much. It is undoubtedly #NotQuiteClassicCinema – although some might say nowhere near classic cinema – and I will definitely be programming it again on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.