Karate Ghost Poster

Karate Ghost (2023) Review

Karate Ghost, aka Black Belt Joe and not to be confused with Kung Fu Ghost, begins with a message from WWE’s The Godfather (Charles Wright, Teddy Told Me To, Killer Waves 2)  and a narrator telling us about Black Belt Joe (Joe Borlik, You’re Melting!, I Got a Bullet with Your Name on It!) a sadistic martial artist who kills his opponents with Jiu Jitsu, an art so deadly they have no defence against it.

His most recent victim was Rick Lazsr, whose brother Nick (James Balsamo, The Rideshare Killer, From Dusk Till Bong), after being told by their father Mick, swears to become a martial arts master and avenge him. But first, he passes out drunk and has a vision telling him to find Wong Chong Smitch (Garrick Lane, Bad Ass Killers) if he wants to defeat Black Belt Joe.

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With a villain whose name riffs on the titular character in the late Jim Kelly’s Black Belt Jones and dialogue that sounds like it came from a badly dubbed Brucesploitation movie it’s obvious what Karate Ghost’s writers, Balsamo, Borlick and Bobby Canipe Jr. (Mom n’ Pop: The Indie Video Store Boom of the 80s/90s, Intinction) who also directed are going for in the opening act.

Surprisingly the match between Nick and Joe isn’t at the end of the film but at the end of the first act. And as you can maybe guess from the title Nick gets his revenge. Ten years later Nick works at the Kali Filipino Martial Arts Dojo whose owner Allen (Cagney Larkin, Babe Beach, The Wise Guys), and his girlfriend, Selena (Morrigan Thompson, The Curse of Lilith Ratchet, The Sluagh Awakens) manage to bring Joe back from the grave looking for a rematch.

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Balsamo usually directs his own scripts but Karate Ghost is very much in the same style so if you’re familiar with them, you know what to expect here. Plenty of absolutely ridiculous dialogue, intentionally cheesy acting and plotting that has no time for things like reality or good taste.

That’s especially true after the first act when Karate Ghost goes from parodying traditional martial arts films and sets its sights on films like Shaolin vs Evil Dead and Kung Fu From Beyond the Grave. Despite the title, Joe returns complete with a physical body as a reanimated version of himself rather than a ghost which means we get gore gags mixed in with everything else. That said the amount of blood, as well as celebrity cameos and bare skin for that matter, is restrained compared to most of Balsamo’s films.

Much of the humour comes from the intentionally bad fight choreography and editing that will bring back memories of Saturday afternoons spent watching Kung Fu Theater. Entire fights are represented by two sets of hands grappling and shots where it’s obvious the actors aren’t coming close to hitting each other abound.

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Other scenes, such as the black belt that is the source of Joe’s power slithering across the dojo floor or Nick wandering around with his hobo stick like a monk from a wuxia movie provoked a laugh. On the other hand, Allen’s obsession with breasts was a bit overdone and went from funny to tiresome by the film’s end.

Like all comedies, how much you get out of Karate Ghost will depend on your own sense of humour. That and how much of a fan of old kung fu films you are. I was entertained and I’m a bit more hopeful about the director’s upcoming film Amityville Ripper.

Karate Ghost doesn’t seem to have a trailer or to be streaming anywhere but it is available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can check the website for more information. If you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can point you in the right direction.

Our Score
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