I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for revenge flicks. It's such a simple formula, and one difficult to perfect, but watching a sympathetic character get horribly wronged and then proceed to wreak bloody havoc is one of my greatest pleasures. This formula was taken to the limit in the 1970s with movies like Rolling Thunder, Last House on The Left and (especially) Death Wish, a film which is obviously a big influence on this rather minor blaxploitation effort. Black Fist is filled with muddled dialogue, murky photography, and iffy performances, but when it works it works because of a tried and true plot and some interesting stylistic choices by the director(s).
Richard Lawson, who has a voice sometimes eerily similar to Samuel L. Jackson, stars as Leroy Fisk, a young street-fighter who rises quickly through the ranks after hooking up with a gangster named Logan (Robert Burr). Soon he's making money hand over (black) fist, but has to deal with scummy racist cop Heineken (Dabney Coleman, who is terrifically sleazy) and constant put-downs from his honky employer. After making a big payday, Fisk decides to quit the business and buy himself a club, but Logan doesn't take kindly to this and decides to retaliate by blowing up Fisk's car, with him in it! Things don't go quite according to plan, however, and it's actually Fisk's (pregnant) wife and brother-in-law that go up in flames. As you can imagine, Fisk takes this somewhat badly and is soon taking bloody revenge on gangsters, pimps, and anyone else who wants to face his BLACK FIST.
From very early on you'll know you're in familiar territory with Black Fist. We're barely introduced to the character before he's dabbling in street-fighting, and his rise is predictable and fairly bland, improved only by the charismatic lead performance of Richard Lawson, and some fun character work by future Miami Vice star Phillip Michael Thomas. In fact, Thomas gets to play two fairly ridiculous characters in the film, though their similarities make an already muddled plot even more confusing. This gets particularly egregious in the film's second half, where the dark photography sometimes makes it difficult to tell exactly what is going on. This is worsened by some choppy editing, with scenes seemingly ending early and a near-incomprehensible ending. The two credited directors probably had a hand in the confusing nature of the plot, as the movie seems to be patched up like a Godfrey Ho film.
Though it's marketed as a martial arts film (at least, in this collection), the fighting in Black Fist is more Pro Wrestling than Kung Fu (in fact, several of the opponents are played by 70s Pro Wrestlers). It's easy to scoff at these fights in the days of UFC and regular MMA events, but the fighting is fast-paced and spirited, and one of the directors was even smart enough to put in some awfully gratuitous breasts being exposed to keep things from ever getting too repetitive. There's nothing here that you would likely want to revisit, and don't expect expert choreography, but it's fun.
Part of the Millcreek 50 Martial Arts movie pack, Black Fist is a full-screen, faded, scratchy mess. The photography is dark, and the sound is inconsistent from scene to scene. I'd like to say that this adds to the drive-in feel, but in this case it makes an already confusing plot almost impossible to follow. Chapter selections are included for those who are looking to skip to the revenge portion of the film.
An occasionally worthy and well-acted revenge film, Black Fist is too confusing and jerkily paced to be very entertaining. The lead performances are a lot of fun, and the last half hour includes some entertaining scenes of bloody revenge (including Heineken being put on ice, and some brutal beatings), but the meager pleasures are simply not worth the frustration of watching such a mess of a film.