Three days after the release of Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, Charles Bronson gave a rare interview to the Hollywood Reporter that reads more like a cry for help than ad copy. “I get about five or six scripts a week, I read 20 or 30 pages and realize they aren’t any different from pictures I’ve already made.”
Kinjite, his eighth film in seven years for the infamous Cannon Group, is not much different. Bronson knew what he was selling before Death Wish gave him the template: “I provide a presence.” Cannon banked so shamelessly on that presence that it produced a teaser for his unmade Kinjite follow-up entirely out of footage from previous vehicles and called it Bronson. The only thing separating Kinjite from that stock slurry is reprehensible taste, and that’s grading on a curve that includes a movie about a buck-naked serial killer and Death Wish II.
The film wastes no time getting to the Forbidden Subjects. After threatening to send a concierge “back to Mother India,” Bronson’s Lieutenant Crowe busts into the hotel room of a businessman stripping a 14-year-old prostitute. When the john refuses to testify against the pimp that supplied her, Crowe grabs the nearest dildo and gives him an off-camera taste of his own medicine.
While viewers are still reeling, the next scene sneaks in a moment of clarity. The domestic banter between Mr. and Mrs. Lieutenant Crowe is mostly boilerplate – she laughs off his penchant for sodomy as “extra-departmental manner” – until he mentions an escape plan: “Buying a little place up in Carmel, maybe a tavern.”
The plan happens to be exactly what fellow “Rawhide” vet Clint Eastwood did in 1971 with the Hog’s Breath Inn. He’d be sworn in as mayor in April 1986, the same month Bronson’s personal HBO drama about mine workers was drowned out by the release of “Murphy’s Law,” Cannon job #4. Eastwood, suffice to say, never needed to take their calls. (Meanwhile, Charles Bronson, here staring down 70, was cashing $5 million paychecks from a company famous for spending that much on entire movies to play his own Xeroxed ghost.)
Lieutenant Crowe is a parody of the Bronson-type, no longer the silent, stone-faced adjudicator but a grandpa-soft maniac who communicates only in racial slurs and human rights violations. When he corners Duke, the child-dealing pimp, Crowe makes him swallow a $2,500 wristwatch. To clear a traffic jam, he gets out of his car and tells all Japanese people in earshot to go back to Tokyo. Not even his quest to protect the underaged girls of Los Angeles – so committed that he considers waiting for the photographer of his 14-year-old daughter’s swim team in the parking lot – comes out righteous; a priest correctly diagnoses Crowe’s wrath as incestuous in nature. He only sees the error of these ways, some ways, by rescuing the trafficked daughter of another perverted father, the Japanese executive who assaulted his daughter.
Had six-time Bronson collaborator and known sadist Michael Winner helmed Kinjite, it would’ve been the kind of smut that inspires national legislation. With star-preference J. Lee Thompson behind the camera, ironically turning in his most handsome work for Cannon, the filth is so matter-of-fact that it begs second-guessing. Is it stealthily about the danger of forbidding subjects like teenage sexuality? A shared repression between Japanese and American cultures? Police brutality as a psychosexual side effect? For a moment no longer than a cut, the dots seem clear enough to connect – Crowe mercifully arrests Duke instead of letting him drown. Then he walks him into prison personally just to hear the first round of gang rape.
“I want to get away from the violence,” admitted Bronson in that same Hollywood Reporter post-mortem. “I still have a couple of films to do for Cannon and my agents are trying to get them to increase the budgets for better productions.” Despite blowing $12 million on Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top salary alone, the company’s full-court press for Hollywood legitimacy would never extend to the sexagenarian star keeping its lights on. Though he begged for softer material and a star to share it with, minus a criminally overlooked supporting role in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, Bronson’s only theatrical release after this was Death Wish V: The Face of Death, alone again and violent as ever.
If Kinjite has any legacy at all – and there are valid arguments to be made against the possibility – it’s that mythical Carmel watering hole. Here, in one of the sleaziest releases in mainstream American cinema, lies an honest lament for the road not taken. Unfortunately for the star with “a granite face of destiny,” he didn’t realize he was blazing a trail until it was too late to turn back. That trail continues today on VOD, where tough guys in twilight like Liam Neeson and Bruce Willis keep playing the hits on ever-smaller stages for ever-smaller crowds. Sure, the material may get dumber, meaner, and altogether less reputable, but the only mail coming in is five or six more identical scripts and bills. Consider it the Kinjite effect – it’s already a testament to that prototypical presence that most of the end products could still be called Bronson.
“Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects” is streaming on Amazon Prime.