Credited with having made over 1,000 features since its formation in 1958, Hong Kong production company Shaw Brothers has largely focused on domestic product, but the ’70s martial-arts craze expanded the company’s international reach. That period also found Shaw Brothers attempting co-productions with companies that were established in specific genres, hence the dizzyingly weird The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), a kung fu/vampire mashup made with Hammer Films, and this buddy movie set in the Wild West. Coproduced by Shaw Brothers and Italy-based spaghetti-Western outfit Champion Films, the picture blends comedy, gun fights, kung fu, and a liberal sprinkling of sex. Accordingly, The Stranger and the Gunfighter begins with a truly bizarre sequence. As rootin’-tootin’ outlaw Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) breaks into a bank vault, he discovers still photographs of naked women. Close-up shots of the photographs trigger vignettes during which a Chinese gentleman named Mr. Wang tattoos artwork onto the buttocks of the women in the photographs. Keep in mind that Dakota doesn’t learn about the tattoos until later in the movie, so why the vignettes are featured in this scene is a mystery.
Anyway, Dakota gets captured by authorities and sentenced to death. Meanwhile in China, Mr. Wang’s nephew, Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh), graduates from kung fu school, gets into a fight with a gangster, and is told he must travel to America and recover a fortune that Mr. Wang hid somewhere. Faster than you can say “plot contrivance,” Ho treks to the U.S. and rescues Dakota from the hangman’s noose. Then they’re off to find the women in the pictures, since the tattoos collectively form a treasure map. A crazed preacher chases after Dakota and Ho, intent on seizing Mr. Wang’s treasure for himself. The plot is mildly imaginative, in a farcical sort of way, and some of the culture-clash jokes generate brainless amusement. (For instance, the naïve Ho can’t understand why Dakota reacts with alarm every time Ho says, “I want to see ass!”)
Furthermore, The Stranger and the Gunfighter moves along at a decent clip, even though the iffy dubbing common to both martial-arts films and spaghetti Westerns of the era guarantees a weird soundtrack. Similarly, the heavy use of comedic music and wacky sound effects makes action scenes feel cartoonish. On the plus side, there’s so much plot that the movie doesn’t get overly mired in fighting scenes, the ladies in the supporting cast are lovely, and the stars are cast well—Lieh blends impressive martial-arts abilities with childlike sweetness, while Van Cleef ably personifies a brute whose boastfulness often exceeds his skills. While not necessarily a standout amid the small subgenre of martial-arts Westerns (which also includes 1971’s gonzo Red Sun and the amiable Shanghai pictures of the 200s starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson), The Stranger and the Gunfighter offers a pleasant sampler platter of sensations from two popular genres.
The Stranger and the Gunfighter: FUNKY