Devil’s Express (1976)

Warhawk Tanzania is a man who takes no shit and fucks shit up. He gives no shit, but at the same time, he gives a shit, especially when it comes to ne’er-do-wells pushing drugs in his beloved Harlem. He’s got the body of Adonis, fists of steel, and a velvety, laid-back voice that’ll undress you. He’s an animal on the streets and a generous lover between the sheets. Warhawk Tanzania is an army of one, with the strength of a thousand men. I don’t know Warhawk Tanzania’s real name, and I don’t care. Even if his name were Weenus Leaky, he would still command power and demand excellence, or death. 

Back in ancient China, a group of monks hide a demon-raising medallion in a well. Fast-forward to 1976, when Warhawk Tanzania and his coked-out weasel pal Rodan leave New York City and head to China for martial arts training. Low and behold, Rodan finds the medallion and sneaks it back to Harlem. Now a dead man has transformed into a demon in the 135th Street subway station and mutilated, headless bodies are strewn across the tracks. But the trouble doesn’t end there. Rodan’s coke deal goes south—literally south to Chinatown—and the Red Dragon gang gets involved. Cue the fights in a downtown alleyway. Cue the fights on a basketball court. Cue the fights in a seedy bar. I should note that Warhawk Tanzania is wearing gold velvet overall bell bottoms, with no shirt. It’s a good look; the kind that only a man named Warhawk Tanzania can pull off. If I wore this, I’d be arrested by the fashion police, also known as my mother.

I’ve seen Devil’s Express several times, and each time it gets better and better. Even though it’s a slow burn, Warhawk Tanzania’s commanding presence and charisma keeps me engaged. His magnetism is undeniable and unstoppable. His laid-back aggression coupled with the poetic dialogue keeps the energy up, even when the plot isn’t exactly barrelling forward.

“In my head your story is fantastic, but in my heart I know that you’re speaking the truth.”

Devil’s Express does have a few cringey racist lines against Asians and what I like to call a “ching chong stereotype” (old Chinese mystical sage wearing a carcinogenic amount of pancake make-up), but this is sadly to be expected from a movie from 1976. Even empowering Black Cinema films have a few weaknesses in this area. Still, the movie is a triumph. There are goopy make-up effects, badass ladies, and a dopey cop who loves to talk with his mouth full. The lead characters are strong and well-rounded and there’s a hilarious scene where Rodan and his friend can’t stop testing the coke to see if it’s legit. Is it genuine? Let me taste. Is it actually coke? Let me taste. Hmm, not sure if this is coke. Let me test it again. How pure is this? Let me taste. OK maybe another little taste. Well, not sure, maybe taste it again. Wait are you sure this is coke? Only one way to find out. I’m thinking this is definitely coke, but just to be sure…yeah, definitely coke. Let’s test it again. Cocaine is one hell of a drug.

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