Spider-Man : The Dragon’s Challenge (1979)

Directed by Don McDougall

Written by Lionel E. Siegel

Run Time: 93 (70’s filled) minutes

The Dragon’s Challenge (alternatively titled “Missing in Action”) was released way back in 1979 as a made-for-TV movie comprising of 2 previously unreleased Spider-Man episodes. It’s a colorful story full of 70’s swagger, but unfortunately it’s hampered by a convoluted plot and a flat finale.

You see, Chinese businessman Min Lo and his cute niece, Emily, (your niece?…suuuuuure) are forced to flee Hong Kong after a frame up involving, deep breath, the murder of a teacher back in World War 2 by some American soldiers that worked for…and then the money disappeared…but showed up in somebody’s backpack…and then they were framed…oh God…Whatever. A one Mr. Zeider, token bad guy and Hong Kong steel mogul is in danger of losing a “billion dollar steel factory contract” which somehow revolves around Min Lo and the aforementioned murdered teacher. I think. If you care to watch the movie and figure all this out then suit yourself…I tried several ties without luck before I simply lost interest.

Upon arrival in New York, Min Lo looks his old friend Mr. Jameson, who happens to be the owner of, drum roll, the Daily Bugle, where a young reporter named, double drum roll, Peter Parker works. Remember that plot wrap-up I gave you in the paragraph above? Well, like I said, there are 3 former WW2 Marines that Min Lo insists can clear him of the murder charges if only he can find them. And hey, no problem! Peter wrote a story “a while back” about some guys in the State Department. One of his military contacts (Ted Danson!) agrees to dig around in the archives and dig up whatever information he can on these Marines. I’m pretty sure this is illegal, but whatever.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Bad Guys Inc. has sent a pair of thugs to dispatch Min Lo. Hilariously, Mr. Zeider lodges his hitman squad in a hotel room with a single-bed. I’m sure the production department didn’t even think about such a bagatelle, but it’s still kind of odd.

The boss couldn’t have splurged for a bigger room?

OK, relax, these toughees are no match for Peter and his “Spidey Sense” which always saves the day. I’m really not sure how this “sense” works, but whenever anybody with harmful intent even comes near Peter, his eyes glow and he can suddenly see through walls, albeit in totally weird colors. (It reminds me of the “playback” feature in R.O.T.O.R, but not nearly as useful.)

Spidey Sense!

Anyway, badda bing badda boom! the bad guys manage to steal Min Lo’s Dossier of Important Information that will clear him of any wrongdoing. Peter, Min and Emily decide to travel to Hong Kong and clear up this mess once and for all. Oh, one of the ex-Marines, Fleming, who is now a “Far East Studies” professor at the local college, also tags along. Now that was convenient! Upon arrival, they are met at the airport by a “friend of the family” and assigned a pair of bodyguards – portrayed by 2 of the most bored-out-of-thier-skull looking extras I’ve ever seen.

I feel safer already…

When Mr. Zieder finds out Min Lo is back in town along with Fleming who can potentially undo the whole steel mill contract-murder-thingee (yes, exciting, isn’t it), he hires some more thugs from a, yes, karate school. This “school” is more or less a bunch of Asian guys in sweat pants jumping around and practicing their 2-steps while a couple more energetic pupils show-off by kicking the heads off (paper mache) statues.

Hire this guy!

Queue more shinanigans and chases through crowded street markets, temples, and you-name-it. These, um, action scenes, are sandwiched between massive amounts of stock footage which really kills any momentum this film might have had. On the lighter side, when Spidey commandeers a speed-boat and chases the bad guys through the canals…now that is made-for-TV gold!

Cool or what?

Ok, the bad guys capture the Marine (surprise) and hold him prisoner in their handy country hideout. Peter cleverly disguises himself as a local farmer (!) and quickly tracks them back to the hideout with the help of his “Spidey Tracker”. (Ha! But damn, it’s still pretty cool.)

Shhhh…I’m undercover!

Ahhh, but they get away and the story lumbers on.

In a particular goofy scene (even for this film), Spider-Man is shot with a tranquilizer dart (don’t ask) and wakes up in the hospital still wearing his Spidey suit!. Don’t worry, he quickly recovers when the doctor gives him an acupuncture treatment because, you know, Asia.

Feeling better?

The story sputters to its predictable conclusion when Spider-Man scales Bad Guys HQ and dispatches a horde of karate-thugs who prove to be no match for Spider-Man’s wrist-deployed web-net thingee. OK, I have to admit that the web-shaped net is pretty cool, but after 3 or 4 times it loses its novelty…not to mention the obvious fact that if the bad guys had simply used, you know, guns!, Spider-Man would have been dead days ago.

Once is cool…4 times is boring.

Anyhoo, with Mr. Zider marched off to prison (I’m still not sure what he did wrong, but oh well), Peter kisses Emily goodbye, promises to keep in touch, yeah yeah, sure you will, and returns to the US just in time to be cancelled. Sad, innit?

Dennis Grisbeck (March 2017)

Afterthoughts

A quintessential 1970’s TV movie spliced together from two separate 45-minute Spider-Man television episodes that never aired due to the show’s cancellation. A feisty first half leads to a disappointingly turgid ending. About the only redeeming factor is Spider-Man’s costume, even if it’s hard to believe he could remain even somewhat incognito during his “sneaking” scenes: Subtle, Spider-Man is not. Let’s also give full credit to the stunt men scaling gigantic skyscrapers for the show’s climbing footage – remember kiddies, this was filmed long before the CGI that you all take for granted these days. Those guys had guts.

The plot is a far too convoluted tale of shady international business dealings, a murder frame-up, and other unnecessary complications that should never be the driving force of a super-hero movie plot. It’s simply unimaginable that anybody, especially kids, could have followed this story…if they even cared in the first place.

Amazingly, there was enough money in the budget to film a substantial part of the movie on location in Hong Kong…even if the bulk of the film’s third act was seemingly unending sequences of tourist bureau stock footage. Maybe the producers wanted one last “hurrah” on the studio’s dime as a symbolic middle-finger for cancelling them.

On the positive side: Great 1970’s funky music and Spider-Man’s custom is vibrant as hell. (I still don’t know how Peter manages to shift into it at the drop of a hat…) Oh, and a huge thumbs-up for Spidey piloting an outboard motorboat through the canals! One can only wonder what the locals were thinking when they saw that.

Final Judgement: Fun if you are nostalgic for 70’s super-hero shows, otherwise the impenetrable plot and endless stock footage quickly is a real drag.

Read more about Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge at

IMDB

4 comments to Spider-Man : The Dragon’s Challenge (1979)

  • Karl Hoegle

    Wow, I think that I remember this from somewhere! A heaping helping of 70’s golden cheesiness.
    Jameson helpfully clues us in at the beginning with some serious exposition. Our hero doesn’t show up for the first 10 minutes or so.
    I can guess why it was cancelled! Nice find!

  • We can all thank Sean for digging this one up for us 🙂 I want to say that I vaguely remember this show on TV when I was growning up…but then again, I think it might have just been some sort of Spider-Man short skits on a show on PBS called “Electric Company” or “Zoom” or something…ring any bells?

  • Joseph Fragosa

    I think I will pass on looking to watch this film. Great review. I did watch the amazing spider man when I was a child in the early 80s. Back then I thought it was cool.

  • @Joseph: Yeah, I don’t blame you for hopping over this one…it really reeked of low-energy made-for-TV; but it was fun to reminisce

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