In a week where the legendary Adam West has passed away (RIP Batman!), it seems especially fitting to launch this column with a martial arts champion and action film star who counted West as a friend, working with him in Paul Kyriazi’s Omega Cop. That action star is Ron Marchini.
Ron Marchini is an American karate master who spent the late 60s and early 70s revered as the best defensive fighter in the country. He ranked as high as 3rd amongst martial artists in the United States in 1972.
Marchini grew up in California, where he began practicing karate at an early age. After graduating, he enlisted in the Army, where he was a solider and, later, a drill sergeant. He followed that experience by returning to the world of martial arts and diving head first into competitions. He quickly earned a reputation by winning key tournaments worldwide and, within a few years of establishing himself as one of the best fighters in the United States, he was cast in 1974’s Murder in the Orient.
In his debut, Marchini portrayed Paul Martelli, an American martial artist who’s girlfriend is the sister of renowned martial arts master Lao Tsu (Leo Fong). Together Tsu and Martelli must avenge her death at the hands of the Golden Cobra Gang. Despite being his first role on the big screen, Marchini was one of the film’s leads and his skills took center stage.
Following Murder in the Orient, Marchini did his first of two great films with the recently rediscovered genre filmmaker Paul Kyriazi: Death Machines. The synposis of the film on IMDB is as such:
An evil Oriental Dragon Lady injects three martial arts fighters with a serum that turns them into zombie-like assassins, and she sends them out against her enemies.
Marchini is one of the three “death machines,” the “zombie-like assassins” mentioned above. He is credited as “white death machine,” and is part of the trio of assassins comprised also of “black death machine” and “asian death machine.” Kyriazi would later cast Marchini again, as he was extremely impressed with Marchini as both an actor and martial artist. In fact, I had the chance to speak with Paul on one for my podcasts and a bit more afterwards, he raved about Ron and basically insisted that I watch Ron’s entire catalog once I had the chance.
Before returning to work with Kyriazi, Marchini’s cinematic efforts for the next dozen or so years were primarily focused on an action series where he played Steve Parrish, a martial artist, Vietnam veteran, and total badass. The series began with the horror tinged action Ninja Warriors, penned by Ken Watanbe, in 1985. He reprised the role 3 times in Forgotten Warrior, Jungle Wolf, and Return Fire. The first film in the series is markedly darker than the others, but each film showcases Marchini’s Parrish as a Chuck Norris-esque ass kicker. Unfortunately, this series is currently hard to locate, with VHS and YouTube being the “best” sources for viewing.
It’s worth note that Return Fire is the first time that Marchini befriended and worked with Adam West, but it wouldn’t be the last.
In 1990, Marchini and Kyriazi reunited for the first of Marchini’s John Travis films. John Travis first appeared in Kyriazi’s Omega Cop, then again the following year in the sequel, Karate Cop (directed by Alan Roberts, The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood). The latter would pair Marchini with David “Kwai Chang Caine” Carradine, but on Omega Cop is where Marchini worked with and the late legend Adam West once again. This role, albeit not one that the average person necessarily knows about, is probably the defining role for Marchini, and his tough persona and martial arts techniques are at full force. While some critics panned these films, I’d contest that they simply don’t “get it.” These aren’t films for those who can’t appreciate Cannon, Empire, and the working class action films of the 80s and 90s.
Marchini’s final on-screen role was in 1995’s Karate Raider, which put him on film with Burt Ward, completing the Batman and Robin set. Since that time, he has spent his time teaching, consulting, and just being retired. At 72, Marchini deserves a break, but he also deserves a newfound appreciation of his works of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
So, here’s the recommendation:
- Start off with Death Machines (on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome).
- Hit the John Travis films, in order (both are extremely cheap on DVD via Amazon).
- From there, we work together to unearth the rest of these treasures for the next generation.
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