Some days just really suck. I got the news of Jim’s passing early in the morning, but couldn’t confirm it until now. Man, first we lose Lau Kar Leung, and barely a week later we lose one of the baddest motherf***ers ever in Jim Kelly, a grandmaster and the man who played one of the most iconic African-American characters ever. Jim had an up and down career after Enter The Dragon, but he always remained a star within the martial arts community. As Williams, Black Belt Jones, and a host of others he showed, along with Ron Van Clief, that African-Americans had a place in the martial arts world as well as paving the way for the Michael Woods, Michael Jai White’s and Wesley Snipes’ of the world, and whomever else may follow them.
As a child I was way into martial arts films, but I only thought that Chinese guys could do that stuff. I would mimic the moves but always believed that no one could do that stuff except for the Asian dudes, until I saw Enter The Dragon, and met Williams, a dude who dripped with cool and what has to be one of the most perfect Afros ever. Bruce Lee was the main attraction, but the film doesn’t become one of the greatest ever without one of the greatest black characters ever. Kelly’s screen time was short, but he made the most of it. He gave some of the best quotes in the history of cinema.
Jim Kelly did have small successes after Enter The Dragon in the world of blaxploitation films, my favorite of which is Black Belt Jones, for this scene alone if nothing else:
For those who come to this website often you know Jim Kelly is my avatar, and for good reason. I know that someday another African-American will become a film star in the martial arts world, and will owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Kelly for paving the way. Even my website name is dedicated to Jim. Kiai (japanese for Battle Cry) came about because of the Oueeeeee! and Soueeeeee! yells when he makes when he fights.
Let’s all celebrate Jim’s life today. A perfect way to do that is to break out that copy of Enter The Dragon (it just got released on Blu-Ray) or head over to Netflix to watch One Down, Two to Go, or if you have the film Undercover Brother check the deleted scenes for one with Jim. Oh yeah, and he never let racist cops get away with…anything:
Farewell, sir. Han may have come right out of a comic book, but we’re all thankful you were the real deal.