The combination of kung-fu and blaxploitation elements seems like an obvious blending, seeing as that the two genres came to prominance in the U.S. at around the same time period (early to mid 70s) and both types of films had wide appeal to an urban audience. There were attempts to meld the two styles, particularly after the success of Enter The Dragon, but it would be expensive to fly your production to China, or to fly in Chinese talent, so generally homegrown talent (like Jim Kelly) was used instead.
TNT Jackson is a low-rent version of Kelly's Black Belt Jones, with a bit of Foxy Brown thrown in for good measure. Director Cirio H. Santiago at least attempted to add a bit of legitimacy by setting the film in Hong Kong (though actually lensed in the Phillipines) and casting asian actors in secondary roles, though the results are a mixed bag.
October 1969 Playboy centerfold Jeannie Bell stars as Diana 'T.N.T.' Jackson, who travels to the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong in search of clues to the whereabouts of her brother. After kicking the butt of some random attackers, she finds helps from the kind-hearted Joe (Chiquito) as well as requisite baddies Charlie (Stan Shaw), Ming and Heroin dealer Sid (co-writer Ken Metcalf) who may be involved with her brother's disappearance. TNT uses her spine shattering, bone blasting kung-fu skills to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Co-written by Roger Corman veteren Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood, Gremlins), T.N.T. Jackson's greatest pleasures (and limitations) come directly from its star. Jeannie Bell is attractive, but her fighting skills consist mostly of swinging her arms around until extras conveniently run into her fist. Occasionally she's doubled by someone (with a surprisingly manly figure) to show off with some flips, but mostly it's just her doing a weak impression of someone with actual martial arts skill. To cover this, Santiago speeds up the action by removing frames, making the fights look like outtakes from The Human Tornado (or Benny Hill).
Thankfully, Bell is supported by an able cast - particularly Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad!), who gets to show off both his huge afro and some generally convincing moves in his fight scenes. Chiquito, who was a massive star in The Phillipines, has to do most of the heavy lifting in the kung-fu department, and while the choreography (and direction) leave a lot to be desired, he's a lot of fun. The rest of the bad guys are pretty bland, though Pat Anderson as Sid's girl (with a secret) has some enjoyable bitchy interplay with T.N.T.
The film moves at a brisk pace, the brief 70 minute run-time working in its favor. Santiago, a veteren of exploitation films, knows how to keep things moving and throws in fights and a sprinkling of sex into mix when the pace threatens to slow down. Most memorably in a scene where Bell takes on a bevy of baddies topless, apparently having the advantage because the lights are off ("You want it black? You got it black."). Things come to a rather abrupt ending, and occasionally there seems to be some material missing, but the plot is thin enough that it's unlikely you'll ever be confused.
As per usual in the Millcreek 50 Kung-Fu film collection, T.N.T. Jackson is presented in a rough full frame transfer featuring plenty of print damage and grain throughout, though for once it feels appropriate. Sound is tinny and hollow sounding, but dialogue comes through clearly. You'll never forget the film's low budget origins, but it's watchable.
Like all of the films in the collection, the only extras are (four random) chapter selections. Hooray!
A lot of fun, T.N.T. Jackson may have risen above its meager ambitions with a more charismatic star in the lead (such as Pam Grier, who starred in Santiago's film Women In Cages), but as is it still provides a lot of entertainment value (and plenty of unintentional laughs). Definitely worth checking out - particularly since it's apparently in the public domain - but it's not one you're likely to return to, unless you're a sucker for topless kung-fu. Like me.