Kung Fu Meets Spaghetti Western Tropes

Known by many names, Shanghai Joe aka The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe aka The Dragon Strikes Back aka My Name is Shanghai Joe is a well-made example of the West cinematically meeting the East. Coming in the wake of Bruce Lee’s success and a growing interest in martial arts, Shanghai Joe is a steady and pleasantly enjoyable adventure mixing two different genres.

Director Mario Caiano (Nightmare Castle) fashions an interesting spaghetti western starring Chen Lee and Klaus Kinski, throwing in just enough martial arts action for the sugar on top. The Asian protagonist, quite rare for an Italian-made spaghetti western, overcomes racism and bigotry with an array of martial arts skills.

Shanghai Joe is a steady and pleasantly enjoyable adventure mixing two different genres

Chinese immigrant Chin Hao (Chen Lee) lands in the American Wild West dreaming of being a cowboy. Confronted by racism and bigotry at every turn, the outsider uses his martial arts training and skills as he helps free Mexican farmers caught up in the brutal slave-trading schemes of ranch owner Stanley Spencer (Piero Lulli). Overcoming discrimination, Chin Hao becomes a hero of the oppressed and even finds the time for a little romance with a local Mexican woman. A climactic showdown with a rival from his past provides the final exclamation point.

An explosion of East-meets-West spaghetti westerns arrived in 1973, almost certainly thanks to David Carradine’s popular Kung Fu television show released in 1972. The similarities are uncanny, if not quite identical. Shanghai Joe packs action, drama and suspense into its 98 minutes. The kung fu choreography is hokey but would have been a revelation in its day to many Western viewers new to the genre. A final act loaded with drama and big fights, not to mention Klaus Kinski going full ham as a psychotic villain, packs a serious punch.

Shanghai Joe is a fun, if not quite perfected, combination of kung fu stunts sprinkled throughout an engaging spaghetti western. Chen Lee doesn’t exude the physical prowess of bigger stars like Bruce Lee but his starring turn has a definite screen presence which helps anchor the drama.


Cauldron Films provides a mildly filtered transfer of passable grain reproduction coming from solid-looking film elements. It’s claimed this is a 2K restoration of the 1973 Techniscope production from the negative. If true, the definition and clarity in Shanghai Joe are average at best for a newer scan. There’s negligible visible wear with fine color rendition helping things out, if a few issues inherent in the original cinematography muck up the contrast here and there.

The main feature runs an uncut 98 minutes on a BD-50, nicely encoded in stout AVC. Detail is on the soft side in select scenes, though certain passages offer a much sharper and tighter experience. The 2.35:1 presentation features decent black levels.

It’s not a quantum leap in picture quality over the aborted Wild East disc. Comparisons seem to indicate the same basic HD master with different processing levels. Cauldron Films’ transfer isn’t overwhelmingly detailed with high-frequency information but generally gets the job done, blowing away the wretched DVD releases.


Original Italian and English audio are offered in monaural 2.0 DTS-HD MA choices. Like most Italian productions of the day, both soundtracks are technically dubs. I personally enjoyed the English dub a little more, it nails the vibe and tone of each character without a hitch. Composer Bruno Nicolai provides a robust score which might sound familiar, as pieces were recycled for other spaghetti western soundtracks.

Dynamics are decent with completely intelligible dialogue reproduction. Technically the Italian recording offers a touch more fidelity and extension, while the English dub is mildly thinner up top. Both are serviceable vintage recordings with clean music and smooth playing.

English subtitles are available for the Italian audio, while a proper English SDH selection is included for the English dub. Both appear in a white font outside the scope presentation.


Cauldron Films issues the first authorized Blu-ray for Shanghai Joe. A limited edition of 1500 units is available with a poster, slipcover and an exclusive CD soundtrack featuring music from Bruno Nicolai. The regular retail version arrives in a clear BD case with reversible cover art, dropping the swag. The disc from Cauldron Films is listed as Region A.

Shabbily treated on DVD, the new special features found below are quite welcome.

It should be mentioned that label Wild East initially put out Shanghai Joe back in late 2020 with a mostly similar-looking transfer, though it appears they didn’t own the actual rights and that disc was soon pulled from the market.

Audio Commentary – Mike Hauss from The Spaghetti Western Digest gives great context and background detail on the film in this crisp discussion. Everything from Chen Lee’s career to the vaguely familiar score are given some thought.

East Meets West: Italian Style (19:45 in HD) – A visual essay by film historian Eric Zaldivar. He delves into the broader genre’s history and star Chen Lee, not to mention the spaghetti western’s sequel.

Samurai Spirit: Interview With Master Katsutoshi Mikuriya (09:11 in HD; Japanese audio w/ English subtitles) – An interesting discussion with the martial artist who recalls working with director Mario Caiano, discusses aspects of several scenes, and explains his disappearance from acting after Shanghai Joe.

Shanghai Joe Trailer (03:29 in HD)

Image Gallery (01:49 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

Shanghai Joe
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  • Extras


An enticing East-meets-West fusion of martial arts and the spaghetti western which seems to have been inspired by David Carradine’s popular Kung Fu television series

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 48 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots ripped directly from the Blu-ray: