Words cannot describe what this guy meant to a lot of people especially African-Americans. At a time where racism was still rampant, you could consider Jim Kelly a superhero of sorts. He exemplified a certain persona on the screen that made you root for his victories. His skills as a fighter and his character superseded any type of barrier. He was lean and ripped at 6’3, a ladies man, and funktastic with a ‘fro that was spot on. Best of all, he still could destroy you with his back fist of death and look sharp all during and after the moment’s gone. Let’s look at some great onscreen moments as well as some interviews below to get a real sense of Jim Kelly on and off camera:
1. Black Belt Jones
Black Belt Jones. ‘Nuff said. This is a true classic for Blaxploitation films. The clock strikes and it’s pitch black and midnight. A group of goons try to break in and destroy the dojo. Kelly comes up with a foolproof plan that works with a concealment method. He has one person turn the lights on and off as he surprise attacks some of the foes. It gives the illusion that the enemies they are outnumbered, but really Kelly was kicking butt. Great scene and a funny strategy.
2. Gonna Set Me Up?
This is a scene from Three the Hard Way where a crooked cop breaks into Kelly’s car and plants some drugs inside. After Kelly came back from a quick meeting, the cop asks to search Kelly’s car and asks for a driver’s license. Kelly had nothing to hide, but was in utter shock that a cop tried to frame him. Several cops came to the scene and a small face-off occurred. Kelly easily took down these crooked cops with his finesse and skill.
3. Let’s Go To McDonald’s
No fighting in this scene, but a bit of humor. After tackling the streets and the whole city pursuing you, you need something in your belly. It’s quite hilarious to see Kelly have a serious conversation on the phone then say “Hey, let’s go to McDonald’s!” It’s crazy how excited a big group was just for a cheap burger. I guess I would feel the same after all that running and gunning. Speaking of which, where’s my takeout? Enjoy this scene from Black Belt Jones:
4. The Action Connection
This is a great set of scenes from Black Belt Jones 2: The Tattoo Connection. Besides Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung and Dorian Tan also appear in the movie with their own nice fight sequence. My favorite scene is the boat fight. It’s sometimes funny to see how tall Kelly is compared to everyone else especially when comes to his kicks. You can tell he doesn’t fully extend his kicks in certain takes. Quite interesting if you ask me. Sit back, grab your popcorn, and enjoy some old school action sequences.
5. Side Hustle
This was pretty great to see the chemistry that John Saxon and Jim Kelly had on screen. Kelly was facing a rather disrespectful guy named Parsons. If you’ve seen Enter The Dragon, you’ll know why he deserved to get clobbered like that. Kelly has a simple yet unorthodox approach. His specialty lies in his very quick but powerful jab. Parsons definitely felt a couple of those. Saxon is in on a bet to see who will win the fight. Kelly wins the match and continues the action with a 3 to 1 bet as Saxon takes the next one.
6. Mr. Han Man
This is a most underrated scene from Enter The Dragon. It sucks how Kelly went out but at least he did with a lot of dignity and grace. I think what made this scene great was not necessarily the fighting, but the dialogue leading up to the fighting. When he said he’d be too busy looking good even after losing a fight, you couldn’t help but support his confidence. Also, his reference of Mr. Han as a comic book character was quite hilarious. I’m sure this also inspired Michael Jai White in Black Dynamite.
7. Jim Kelly
This was a great interview to show Jim Kelly’s young life of sports and his foray into martial arts. It’s also interesting to see that Bruce Lee’s took a great liking to Kelly and was the one that recommended him to play the role of Williams in Enter The Dragon. Lee and Kelly had a great camaraderie. These stories told by Jim were great for showing mutual respect and the thirst to become stronger in mind, body, and spirit within life. Another great thing to see is the type of support Kelly gave MMA and the Gracie Brothers. He even started to branch out into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other forms of grappling to become a more well rounded fighter. The Gracie Bros were definitely instrumental in having more people develop grappling tactics to help give balance to strikes. This goes show there’s always more to learn and more to do even after you become a master in your own domain.
Without Jim Kelly, there would be no Taimak, Wesley Snipes, or a Michael Jai White on the screen.
Mr. Kelly, we thank you for your roles, your influence in pop culture, and for your famous line, “Bull****, Mr. Han Man!!”
I think the most appropriate way to end this is to leave it with tweet from Michael Jai White:
“R.I.P Jim Kelly. He was the world’s 1st image of a black martial artist and a major influence 2 me & millions of others. I’m at a loss.”
We may have lost him physically, but his spirit lives on through his films and the people that love him most. Continue your training with Bruce in the afterlife, Jim!