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Blu-Ray Review: Cauldron Films’ Shanghai Joe (Limited Edition) 

Shanghai Joe

Shanghai Joe is a fantastic piece of Western Martial Arts Badassery.  Cauldron Films has brought this cult film to life with a new 2K restoration!

The Film 

Make no two ways around it.  Shanghai Joe is a fantastic cult discovery.  A film that is keenly observed about the American West and its treatment of any non-white person.  Also, while being a keenly observed thrilling piece of Martial Arts action that devotees and fans will not want to see for themselves.  

The film’s plot of a recent immigrant (Chen Lee/Myoshin Hayakawa) who tries to make his way to find what anyone did during Western expansion; a place to call his own.  At every step, from the moment he steps foot onto American soil, he is treated with the kind of vile disrespect you hear about in history books or see as a “small section” of other “more important” historical epics.  Here rather than a white savior to show the man who would be dubbed Shanghai Joe, those whites attempt to con, enslave, and murder him.  Joe’s weapon against these racists is soft-spoken chances and brutal martial arts.  Always the first and latter … only if necessary.  Unfortunately, to the ignorant racists, the latter is always the necessity.  

Director Mario Caiano has created a film that empowers its non-white characters while vilifying the archetypes of the genre to smashingly entertaining effect.  Shanghai Joe relishes giving these violent disgusting people their comeuppance.  Caiano working with cinematographer Guglielmo Manocori there isn’t a moment of violence that isn’t beautifully detailed in its gloriously over-the-top gory execution.  

It would be enough that Shanghai Joe to do all this but the bonus of having a truly wonderfully controlled but deliriously nasty Klaus Kinski performance is the cherry atop this Exploitation Sundae.  Even better is watching Joe get his vengeance against not just Kinski but anyone that stands in his way of a peaceful life.  Shanghai Joe is a film so modern in its execution that it could not be made any other time than in the 1970s.  Almost all but forgotten for five decades until an audience ready and ripe for its discovery was ready.  

The Transfer

The 2K restoration from the negative is nothing short of fantastic.  The image is sharp and beautifully filmic.  There is nary a scratch or blemish on the transfer with a healthy grain structure giving the Blu-ray the look of a 35mm projected image.  The Blu-ray will please any fan of the film. 

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Samurai Spirit: Interview with Master Katsutoshi Mikuriya
  • East Meets West: Italian Style – visual essay by film historian Eric Zaldivar
  • Commentary with film historian Mike Hauss from The Spaghetti Western Digest
  • Trailer

Note:  The Limited Edition (1500 copies) includes the following additional added value content (which is not reviewable as it was not included in our review copy): 

  • Poster (folded) 
  • High quality slipcase 
  • CD soundtrack 

The commentary track with film historian Mike Hauss from The Spaghetti Western Digest opens with the various titles the film was released under and the recycled score used in the opening.  Some of the other details include how lead actor Chen Lee aka Myoshin Hayakawa (who was actually Japanese) was cast in the film; a discussion about the racism present in the film and how it is a critique of immigration; the work here and in their career of director Mario Caiano; how King Boxer and They Call me Trinity series were a huge influence over the film; the work of Hayakawa – a larger discussion of his personal life and professional life; details on various of the East meets West subgenres; a much larger discussion of the various Italian productions that filmed in Spain; a side conversation regarding the politics of the film and a lot of the films at the time; a discussion of director Mario Caiano; and much more.  Hauss provides an informative track about the film and a much larger discussion of the Italian Westerns as a whole.  

East Meets West: Italian Style – visual essay by film historian Eric Zaldivar (19:45) – in this visual essay Zaldivar discusses the Western Subgenre including its most famous versions including Red Sun; the history of the East Meets West; a discussion of the Spaghetti Westerns versions of this including discussions about The Silent Stranger – the trouble it went through; the rise of the Martial Arts film in the West during the late 1960s; how the Italians became to be involved in the East-West genre; discussions about Shanghai Joe; a discussion of its sequel The Return of Shanghai Joe – and it’s lacking disappointment; a discussion of The Stranger and the Gunfighter; and a discussion of The White, The Yellow, The Black – and troubling yellow-face; and much more.  

Samurai Spirit: Interview with Master Katsutoshi Mikuriya (9:11) – this all-new interview with the actor who played Mikuja (the primary Samurai Villain of the last third of the film) opens what drew him to Italy in the 1960s.  Some of the other details include how he was cast; how long he shot the film for; his experience on the production– which he labels as “interesting” and discusses from there; the fighting choreography and how it was handled; his relationship with star Chen Lee; and much more.  In Italian with English Subtitles.  

Theatrical Trailer (3:29) 

Image Gallery (1:49) – the 22-image gallery consists of Poster Art, Lobby Cards, Production Stills, and Press Kits.  The gallery runs automatically or can be paused but cannot be navigated still by still.  

The Final Thought 

Shanghai Joe shouldn’t be missed.  Cauldron Films has given its best foot forward with a great transfer and considered extras.  Highest possible recommendations!!! 

Cauldron Films’ Blu-Ray edition of Shanghai Joe is out May 16th

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