Sunday, January 29, 2012

Death Warrior (Olum Savascisi)

Director: Cetin Inanc
Starring: Cuneyt Arkin, Osman Betin

I may have just "jumped the shark" by deciding to review this movie...

In 1982, director Cetin Inanc and actor Cuneyt Arkin (one of filmdom's most notorious pairings) lensed Son Savascisi (The Last Warrior, also known as Holy Sword). This typically crazed Turk action fest featured the running battle between a gang of nasty, alchemy adept ninja and the similarly skilled, karate fighting cop, Inspector Kemal (the ever present Cuneyt Arkin). It apparently was a big hit locally, so much so that in 1984 a sequel commenced. That film, Olum Savascisi (Death Warrior) is not so much a movie as it is a cinematic stream of consciosness.

The story (?) involves the disciple of the slain Ninja leader from the previous film gathering a new and even more lethal army of supernatural warriors. Their intent? invade America (!). The local government is helpless against the onslaught of these beings (who among other things, can move objects with their minds, ressurect the dead and apparently have a Yeti like monster at their disposal... or not...). The decision is made that only a Turk can deal with them (naturally), so Inspector Kemal is enlisted to come to the good ol' U.S. and once again combat his by now familiar foes.

If the previous paragraph sounded cohesive in any way, then that's a great faux pas on my part for Death Warrior just maybe the most mind blowing and mind numbing (yes, simultaneously) thing that I have ever sat through (and multiple times at that). It is a mess-terpiece of the highest order. Is it the worst movie ever made or is it the greatest movie ever made? Well, yes to both. As familiar as I am with the patented Inanc/Arkin formula of the 1980s which tend to lean toward the crazy and the incomprehensible, nothing could possibly have prepared me for the 73 minutes of brain frying madness that is Death Warrior. I've never dropped L.S.D. in my lifetime but after watching Death Warrior, I feel that I understand what it would be like. Part ninja action flick and part Evil Dead inspired horror (the hilariously awkward zooming camera angles are most certaintly inspired by Raimi's groundbreaking film of the previous year), Death Warrior is as close to complete movie making meltdown as any you are ever likely to see.

But don't just take my word for it, here's the entire film (minus subtitles; it won't matter), courtesy of Youtube. You're welcome... and you've been warned.

                                                          **** / ****

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Undaunted Wu Dang

Director: Sha Sun
Starring: Quan Lin, Yuwen Li , Yali Tang

The People's Republic of China were late commers to the Kung Fu film fray. Their initial entry was 1981's The Shaolin Temple which featured the film debut of an eighteen year old Jet Li. It was a huge hit and started a whole slew of period martial arts films from the "homeland". Plotwise, these films were for the most part, retreads of the previous decades' kung fu epics that were produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan. There was very little originality going on here. On the positive side however, there were actual China countryside locations which gave these films a certain majestic sweep that had largely been absent in the previous decades' city lensed releases. This combined with the use of actual martial artists (Wushu experts, all) managed to give these epics a very different and welcomed vibe to what fans at the time were accustomed to. This film, 1985's Undaunted Wu Dang is one of their best.

The story is simplicity itself and all too familiar to long time fans of the genre. Mean, nasty Japanese Judo experts visit China and challenge the local's best fighters to a tournament. The Japanese win handily until a revered Wu Dang master steps up and defeats them. This doesn't sit well, so the Japanese fighters later ambush and poison our hero (not the most gracious of losers, are they?). His lone daughter seeking revenge (naturally)  heads to the mountains to visit her uncle, another Wu Dang master who lives a hermit like existence. After teaching her some vital tricks of the trade, our heroine heads back to challenge the Japanese and lay a Wu Dang smackdown on their Judo asses.

Director Sha Sun keeps things noteably subdued, here (and thankfully minus the comedic scenes that peppered several early Mainland productions). Everybody is quite stoic and even the Japanese baddies keep things for the most part low key (contrast this with the over the top presentations in so many Hong Kong bashers of the early 70s). While this is a refreshing change of pace, I'm not sure I'd want this as the norm for my kung fu movie viewing. Part of my love for this genre is it's over the top presentation, both in the actors/characters as well as in the often extreme action and violence. The underplaying of the roles causes the actors to seem arguably less personable. The fact that most of them were martial artisits first and actors second likely contributed to this as well. It is overcome however by some truly unbelievable displays of wushu combat. The flips, twists, punches and kicks on display here are absolutely mind blowing. The fight sequences look much more fluid and less choreographed than what I have come accustomed to seeing. Watching what these wushu artists are able to accomplish so effortlessly with their bodies is a humbling experience.

Overall, Undaunted Wu Dang with it's authentic period detail. magnificent mountainous scenery and mesmerizing displays of wushu style martial arts comes highly recommended to jaded kung fu film fans. I personally may not actually prefer this to the best of the  stage bound Shaw Bros. epics, but I'll definitely take it over the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon any day of the week!

                                                             *** / ****

Friday, January 13, 2012

Secret of the Telegian (aka The Teleporting Man)

Director: Jun Fukuda
Starring:  Koji Tsuruta, Akihiko Hirata, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Tadao Nakamaru

This is the bastard stepchild of Toho's "Transforming Man" series in that unlike The H-Man, The Human Vapor and Matango it was directed not by Ishiro Honda, but Jun Fukuda.

The story centers around a murderer named  Sudo,  a former Lance Corporal of the Japanese army who is seeking vengaence on his greedy and ruthless WW2 comrades who attempted (and failed) to off him during the war. Sudo's choice of weapon is a baynott, the same one that was previously used on him (poetic justice, anyone?). As the tale develops, we learn that he works as an assistant to a scientist that has created a Cryotron - a device that allows one to electronically teleport himself. Without his boss being aware, Sudo uses the futuristic device to appear and disappear, leading (understandably) to much police confusion

Fukuda plays this film as a murder mystery and while parts of it do elicit a decent air of Film Noir, it ultimately falls somewhat flat. Aside from the effective (and fairly gory for it's time) flashback sequence showing the betrayal of Sudo in a cave, there is nothing that really stands out here. The teleportation scenes are decent, but pale when compared to the effects in the previous years' H-Man (reviewed previously in this blog) or those of The Human Vapor which would be released just a few months later. Even the musical score by Sei Ikeno isn't a particularly memorable one (and memorable music scores are practically a gimme in the Toho Kaiju universe).

Secret of the Telegian (which for a while was available only in Black and White until an original Color print was ultimately found) is disappointing, but not completely without merit. It is well paced and features a couple of decent shock/surprise moments, but overall it is a second rate Toho entry which is recommended for completists and not the casual fan.

                                                               ** / ****

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tiger From Hong Kong (aka 72 Hours in Green Town)

Director: Wong Shut Ching
Starring: Chang Yi, Nancy Yen

Chang Yi is one of those actors who seemed to be around forever in the world of Hong Kong cinema. Starting out in the mid-60s playing parts (both heroic and villainous) in various Wuxia pictures before graduating to the empty hand martial arts films of the 70s.and early 80s (he is particularly memorable as the baddie in Sammo Hung's great martial arts/comedy/drama, The Victim). Never achieving superstar status, Chang managed to make each of his roles a memorable one. His looks and demeaner seem to be a better fit for playing the heavy (as was the norm for nearly all of his later pics) but under the right circumstance, he could play a convincing hero (in the brooding Spaghetti Western sense). Case in point, 1974's Tiger From Hong Kong.

Here Chang Yi (with rare facial hair) finds himself on the run, falsely accused of murder. After escaping the authorities, he heads back to his old stomping ground and visits his on again, off again lady friend (played by the lovely Nancy Yen) only to find her now working in a Brothel (price paid for not making her an "honest" woman, I suppose). Defending her against the local gangsters, he soon finds himself at odds with them as well as being dogged by a (similarly bearded) "special agent" who's looking to bring him in.

I unexpectedly found myself getting pretty involved with the story and characters. Credit Director Wong Shut Ching for keeping the well worn plot fresh and drawing some three dimensional characters out of the proceedings. Nancy Yen is well cast as the beleaguered (and doomed) love interest. An accomplished actress and martial artist, Yen's role is disappointing only in that it is a non fighting part (no femme fighters in this basher, unfortunately), but she conveys her role as the quietly long suffering love interest with an admirable degree of subtelty. By downplaying her role, you really do feel for her character and Chang's rage at her murder at the hands of some decidely despicable villans is actually quite heart felt. I was unable to identify the actor playing the "special agent", but he nearly steals the film in what is a relatively minor role. His character could have easily been the star had it been told from his point of view as his screen presence may actually be stronger than Chang's.

Then there are the fights. This film having been made near the end of the Basher cycle (before Shapes took prominence),  features some excellent hand to hand (and foot) duels. Chang Yi carries his intensity as an actor over to his combat and by the time he (in a guilt ridden rage) confronts the nasties on a bridge at the climax, you know a major ass whooping is in store.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the excellent U.S. dubbing. It is far superior to that of the typical British (Australian?) dubbing that you would hear in most kung fu flicks (which among other things, offer up the reference 'But Still...' ad nauseum) and actually does enhance the drama (and therefor the enjoyment). Only a handful of films were dubbed here in the States with the only other one that comes immediately to mind being the very good "Queen Boxer" (starring Chia Ling). I wish more Chinese movies were dubbed in this Country.

Tiger From Hong Kong was a nice surprise. It is always a benefit when one of these early and similarly themed martial arts movies takes the time and care to create three dimensional characters to go along with the constant carnage. This one succeeded admirably and has quickly become a favorite of mine from this period.

                                                                      *** / ****