Blaxploitation And Kung Fu

The 1970’s marked the beginning of the one-two combination of Blaxploitation and Kung Fu. It happened when taekwondo champion Jim Kelly appeared in Bruce Lee’s film Enter the Dragon. Kelly proved to be a popular character actor who would sign with Warner Brothers for a few more action films, thus creating the first crossing over of these two prolific genres. With his funky Afro, super cool attitude and superb karate skills, Jim Kelly was instantly identifiable and became one of the top martial arts film stars of the early 1970’s. Jim Kelly was an integral part of the Black and martial arts cinematic explosion of this era.

Jim Kelly was born on May 5, 1946 in Paris, Kentucky. He grew up there, but later moved to San Diego, where he developed an uncanny athletic ability in high school. He was a gifted athlete who was involved in sports such as track and field, football and basketball. He was also voted most inspirational junior high athlete in the entire city of San Diego. He initially pursued a football career, but decided otherwise after leaving the University of Louisville as a freshman.

Shortly after leaving UL, Kelly moved to Lexington where he began his study of the martial arts under acclaimed instructor of Shorin-Ryu karate, Parker Sheldon. It was that decision that would cement his star status. In 1971, Kelly proved he was an excellent fighter, by capturing the 1971 International Middleweight Karate Championship. Realizing that he had a potential career in the martial arts, Kelly opened a karate studio.

His recognition as a champion fighter gave him the opportunity to appear in a movie called Melinda (1972). The part wasn’t big, but it led to other offers.  Six months later, Kelly was flown out to Hong Kong to showcase some of his fighting techniques to Warner Brothers. Kelly had no idea he’d be getting a part in one of the biggest martial arts films in cinematic history. Kelly was asked to play ‘Williams’, one of the invited guests to the deadly Han’s Island in Enter The Dragon (1973) co-starring Bruce Lee. It was that role that brought him ‘star status’. Enter the Dragon’s huge popularity, largely due to Bruce Lee, showed that fans were eager to have a new kung fu hero.

Kelly quickly cropped up in several more martial arts influenced “blaxploitation” films. In 1974, Jim Kelly made his first appearance in the lead role in the film Black Belt Jones with Robert Clouse, the director of Enter the Dragon, with its interesting fight finale in a soap filled car wash. In 1977, he starred in The Black Samurai, directed by genre veteran Al Adamson. He went on to make several other films which include: Three the Hard Way (1974), The Golden Needles (1974), Hot Potato (1976), The Tattoo Connection (1978) and Death Dimension (1978). Kelly retired after a string of low budget movies. His last appearance was in a movie called One Down, Two To Go (1982).


More athlete than actor, Kelly retired from the screen to pursue a successful career in professional tennis. A talented athlete, he won ranked titles both in tennis and karate. Jim Kelly still gets offered roles in movies, but simply says that he ‘just doesn’t dig the scripts’. He wouldn’t mind acting again, but he wants the roles to be respectable. He’s also very proud of the movies he did, and doesn’t want to spoil that image. So where’s Jim Kelly now? He’s almost 63 years old, and can still be considered one of the best ‘ass kickers’ in the history of cinema. He’s made various appearances and done interviews. He is currently studying Brazilian grappling and is developing his own style of hybrid fighting. Recently, he appeared in a Nike commercial in Japan with LeBron James.

Black Belt Jones Comic Book

New York Times Movie Review

Black Belt Jones (1974)

Screen: Kick-and-Slash:’ Black Belt Jones’ Is Played by Jim Kelly The Cast ‘ Black Belt Jones‘ Is Played by Jim Kelly


Published: January 29, 1974

The  Hollywood production team of Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller, who, with Robert Clouse, the director, gave us that Hong Kong-based kung fu bash, “Enter the Dragon,” last summer, now have come up with the Hollywood-made “Black Belt Jones” to prove that travel isn’t broadening.

This latest of the slew of kick-and-slash melodramas, which is playing at the Cinerama and 86th St. Twin 2 Theaters, is as basically silly as many of the previous, similarly action-packed adventures it imitates and is as obvious as a karate chop.

A minor change in the norm should be noted, however. In this case, “Black Belt Jones,” played by the young, handsome, black, muscular martial arts devotee, Jim Kelly, one of the heroes of “Enter the Dragon,” is ably assisted by Gloria Hendry, a photogenic soul sister who is just as roughly efficient as her tough, stoic partner in dispatching squads of white or black bad guys.

What they’re fighting about is not really earthshaking except to indicate that Mafia-like citizens, with the aid of black hoods they have strong-armed, are trying to take over a karate school building owned by Scatman Crothers, our hero’s beloved mentor, and our heroine’s father, in order to make a big realty killing.

Of course, the fearless team, assisted by the school’s students and, unexpectedly, a covey of pretty trampoline experts, take the opposition in stride and also manage to make it romantically. But the succession of clashes and explicit street language tend to become repetitious and as unwittingly comic as the cast’s largely mechanical performances. This “Black Belt Jones” is stale and over-trained despite all the chops, kicks and belts.

Black Belt Jones Cast
BLACK BELT JONES, directed by Robert Clouse; screenplay by Oscar Williams, story by Alex Rose and Fred Weintraub; director of photography, Kent Wakeford; film editor, Michael Kahn; music, Luchi De Jesus; produced by Mr. Weintraub and Paul Heller. Released by Warner Brothers. At the Cinerama Theater, Broadway at 47th Street and the 86th Street Twin 2 Theater, west of Lexington Avenue. Running time: 87 minutes. This film is classified R.
Black Belt Jones . . . . . Jim Kelly
Sydney . . . . . Gloria Hendry
Pop . . . . . Scatman Crothers
Toppy . . . . . Alan Weeks
Quincy . . . . . Eric Laneuville
Don Steffano . . . . . Andre Phillipe
Big Tuna . . . . . Vincent Barbi

Jim Kelly was highlighted in THE DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #3:

Marvel Magazine, NM, August, 1974

Neal Adams cover art

Edited by Tony Isabella

Master of Kung Fu with Paul Gulacy art, 2nd Sons of the Tiger, Bruce Lee and “Enter The Dragon,” “Black Belt Jones,” Angela Mao films.

Deadly Hands was published in response to the mid-1970s “Chopsocky” movie craze.

Jim Kelly 1970’s Filmography

Melinda (1972)…Plays character Charles Atkins
Enter the Dragon (1973) … Jim Kelly joins Bruce Lee and John Saxon in defeating the villainous Mr. Han
Black Belt Jones (1974) … Jim Kelly’s first starring role
Three the Hard Way (1974) … Jim Kelly plays Mister Keyes
Golden Needles (1974)…Jim Kelly plays Jeff
Take a Hard Ride (1975) … Kashtok a deaf mute Indian
Hot Potato (1976) … Lesser film starring Jim Kelly
Black Samurai (1977) … stars Jim Kelly as an undercover agent out to stop a drug ring fronted by a satanic cult
The Tattoo Connection (1978) … Lucas
Death Dimension (1978) … Lt. Detective J. Ash


  • January 24, 2012

    This museum is worth preserving with constant supporting. It brings back the lost day of youth, and those other things that occur within the procession of change.

  • Sista ToFunky
    January 24, 2012

    Right On!!!

  • robb shawe
    February 7, 2016

    I am most appreciative of your website that honors the first iconic Black Martial Artist on the Silver Screen.

    However, please be aware that prior to the 1971 Middle Karate Championship in Long Beach, CA, Jim Kelly was a four time Grand National Karate Champion when there were no weight divisions. He was also a Tae-Kwon-Do Middle Karate Champion, and Shotokan Champion.

    If you read a number of the articles written about Jim Kelly’s Tournament Championship Credit, the focus remains on the 1971 Middleweight Karate Championship (Ed Parker’s Kenpo Tournament), which creates a one-dimensional image for Jim Kelly, and he definitely was not.

    Therefore, please ensure that our audience is fully aware of the fact that Jim Kelly was the “real deal,” not someone that just took karate lessons prior to starring in a movie.

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