Monday, August 24, 2015

The Gweilo Dojo: FURIOUS (1984)

It seems every other genre flick nowadays wants to be a prefab cult classic. But 99.9% of the time the folks aiming for cult status by making an intentionally bad movie miss the mark. In most cases, cult film status is like fine wine and has to ferment over time. Seeing as how it has been thirty plus years since FURIOUS came out, I think it is safe to anoint this one with cult movie status label. Not only that, but I will declare that FURIOUS is the weirdest martial arts film I’ve ever seen. If you know the genre well enough, you know that is a bold statement.

The film opens with some spectacular (for the low budget) aerial shots of a young Asian woman being chased up a mountain by a trio of goons dressed like extras from JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972). She has a magical tusk that is leading her to some treasure but before she can get to it she is killed and the tusk stolen. Meanwhile, her brother Simon (Simon Rhee) is totally depressed in his little hut as he lights candles next to a photograph of her. A photograph? This isn’t a period piece? Nope, just an early indicator the filmmakers are working on a different level. Simon lives in a village apparently populated only by little kids (“My dream!” says Jared from Subway) and they want want him out of his funk. To do this they invite him out to beat a punching bag and he pounds the hell out of it until it falls off the chain. This depresses Simon even more. By the way, all of these events have unfolded without a single piece of dialogue.

Mongo like tusk:

Anyway, Simon gets a knock at his door and it is one of the mountain goons, who hands him a card written in Chinese. Hell if the audience knows what it says. It leads Simon to a high tech building to meet his mentor, Master Chan (Phillip Rhee). We finally get the first, word of dialogue over 12 minutes in when Chan watches some fighters and says, “Alright.” Turns out Chan knows how to avenge the death of Simon’s sister. It involves a symbol on a series of medallions. Immediately upon leaving the building, Simon meets three old trustworthy friends. I say they are trustworthy because they are white and one dude recognizes the symbol from a local Chinese restaurant. They go there, but the location is closed. However, a group of delivery men carrying chickens show up and a brawl ensues. Only Simon makes it out alive and he heads into the woods to fight the mountain goon.

Okay, so far, so standard for a kung fu movie. Well, hold onto your hats because now it is about to get weird. Simon returns to the restaurant, which is open this time. It is your typical Chinese restaurant in that there is a topless guy vigorously showcasing his weapons skills in the main dining room for two old ladies eating drum sticks. Also, there is a guy in a mask performing magic tricks for a young kid. Simon is brought a big dish and under the lid are the severed heads of two of his friends. But then they zap into roasted chickens. This means war! Simon goes nuts and a full on brawl erupts with Simon throwing bowls of rice at people. Master Chan shows up to help him and they kick ass. It is at this point that I begin to perk up (and wonder if someone slipped something in my drink). After such a taxing battle, Simon and Chan walk on the beach and Chan tells Simon to go home. He doesn’t just tell him, he repeats it over and over, like Simon is a dog or something. “Go home...go home...go home...GO HOME!”

Gives new meaning to the term head cheese:

Simon decides now is the best time to meditate and he goes to a random Buddha statue by a stream in the woods. The thing starts talking to him (!) and offers such advice as “beware of Chan...Chan is eeeeeeevil” and “traveling in the spiritual void can be dangerous.” Honestly, who doesn’t remember having that talk with their parents about the dangers of the spiritual void? So Simon sneaks back to Chan’s headquarters to snoop around. Before he sneaks past the two Devo-looking guards, he sees guys walk out one-by-one carrying a single chicken under their arms. Inside he spies Chan talking to his right-hand man about how Simon is a threat. Oh, he also sees him zap underperforming underlings into chickens. What!? Simon gets spotted and an army of Chan’s men (including a new wave band that is randomly practicing) chase him into - where else? - the woods for a big fight on a wooden bridge. Simon prevails and figures the best way to stop Chan is to recruit all of the young kids from his village. Yes, the man’s first and only plan is to endanger the lives of a dozen children. I like the way you think, Simon. Once back inside, Simon takes on the right-hand man, who shoots fireballs that turn into chickens (!!!) at Simon. Then his nemesis suddenly turns into...wait for it...a pig. WHAT!? Simon kicks the pig in the face and the little ham spills his guts about Chan’s evil plan (done by it appears smearing peanut butter in the pig’s mouth to make it look like he is talking). Simon comforts the dying pig and then confronts Master Chan. It seems Chan’s plan was to have Simon “consecrate each medallion with the aura of death” so he could go to the forbidden Mongolian caves and release the key to the universe. Blah, blah, blah, like everyone hasn’t done that. The two men then fly (!!!?) to the mountain and battle it out.

"Hmmm, I think these directors might be crazy."

FURIOUS came from the (shared?) brain of filmmakers Tim Everitt and Tom Sartori. It was the first writing and directing effort for both men (they are co-credited in each role) and you have to admire the just plain crazy attitude they have. It is never apparent if this is supposed to be serious or an inside joke and when your film has people turning into pigs and chickens, that is quite a master feat. I mean, at one point a brawl breaks out outside of a restaurant and a chef runs out to join in. But not just any chef, but one sporting a foot high chef’s hat. They also have created almost a dream-like world that exists between ancient and modern times. Perhaps they just said screw it and didn’t want to keep it a period piece halfway through, but I can appreciate the randomness. The film was also the first starring roles for the Simon and Phillip Rhee. The Korean-American brothers had studied martial arts since they were kids, with both becoming black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do. Both men had been background players in the “A Fistful of Yen” segment in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) and they would go on to co-star/co-create the BEST OF THE BEST series. In between they did this gem. Older brother Simon also did the fight choreography on FURIOUS and he does a rheemarkable job (all complaints about that line should be sent to Tom). I’m not being facetious here - there are some decent fights in this (especially the end showdown with the brothers). It is kind of cool to see their cinematic progression. As it stands, FURIOUS is one of the strangest films I’ve seen all year and that is recommendation enough.

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