Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blind Vengeance Week: The Legacy of Zatoichi, Part 4

More recently we’ve had ICHI (2008), a low-budget Japanese, direct to video, anime inspired effort that sports acting, writing and action that is suitable for a highschool play. A young blind female shamisen player (Haruka Ayase) is searching for her mentor, Zatoichi, by way of a crime boss who allegedly dueled with him and lived to tell the tale. Monumental willpower is required to both make it through the film’s pointlessly bloated 120 minute running time and to suspend your disbelief that a skinny young girl could actually lift a sword, much less kill anyone with it. Though we don’t have to worry about the latter too much as rarely does she bother to actually engage in such acts, preferring to let her craven admirer (Shido Nakamura) do the work. Or she would if he could actually pull out his sword which he is unable to do due to a traumatic event in which he accidentally killed someone. This character has been done many times before and far better, but wouldn’t be so bad if this lead to amazing fight scenes with Ichi. Hell, the blind swordswoman Oichi would have kicked this chick’s ass every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Unfortunately it appears this film was far too budget strapped to be able to afford a choreographer and fumbles through its brief fight scenes with less precision than a couple of teens at a renaissance fair. There’s no bloodletting to speak of, the few people that are killed, die with one sword stroke, no blood, their clothes intact. The acting is way over the top with lots of bulging eyes, shouting and amateur theatrics. If you are the type who is obsessed with live-action anime, no matter how cheap, this might be for you, otherwise keep moving, there’s nothing to see here.

Much to my surprise this year we discovered that the Hughes brothers were fans of Katsu’s blind swordsman, and “Fallout 3” as well. No point in dwelling on this movie as there is so many write-ups already on the web, but the basic premise of THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) is a lone wanderer Eli (Denzel Washington) is carrying a book through a post-apocalyptic America while fending off radiation-infected scavengers and a being doggedly pursued by a psychotic, power-monger (Gary Oldman, playing true to type) and who by hook or by crook is going to get that book with the help of his lackey (Ray Stevenson, somewhat wasted in this role, but nice to see anyway).

One of the odd things about the movie is there is a legthy, stunningly atmospheric opening sequence that is completely different from the rest of the film. While the body of the film apes the sepia wash from the PC game “Fallout 3”, the opening sequence is bathed in a greenish fog and is noticeably stylistically different. In fact it is so good, that it makes the rest of the film somewhat disappointing in as that it is much more straightforward and never returns to that claustrophobic, almost gothic horror, atmosphere.

While I did enjoy the film, there’s an awful lot of stuff that bugged me about it things that kept the film from being a true classic of the genre. Not the least of which is the fact that the film borrows bits and pieces of other media, if not it's entire visual style. You could make the argument that it is lifting visual cues from speghetti westerns (which is true), but more so, Eli is a homogenization of Shintaro Katsu and Tony Anthony on a Jesus trip. Katsu’s fighting style is on display early on when Eli reveals his preferred fighting implement, a custom sword, while neatly carving up some irradiated ambushers, and, arguably, Tony Anthony’s dogged determination, laconic attitude and casual quips. Also, honestly there is no arguing the clear inspiration for the American wasteland as it is lifted, nearly verbatim from the “Fallout” PC games, in particular “Fallout 3”.

I don't know who put these screen comparisons together, but they are actually only a small representation of the amazing similarities.

The landscapes are cribbed right out of the “Fallout” concept art and the ending sequence is undeniably fashioned after the Citadel HQ at the end of “Fallout 3”. The main difference here being where the “Fallout” games had kischy fictional ‘50s-style product placement and brand-names, here we have so much real product placement that it verges on being laughable. Everything from Busch Beer and KFC to Motorola and GMC are prominently displayed with as much subtlety as Johnny Carson hawking Virginia Slims in the middle of the “Tonight Show” back in the ‘70s. KFC is treated with almost as much reverence as The Holy Book, which is an amusing irony as the employees of Yum Brands privately refer to their three big brands (KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell) as “The Unholy Trinity”.

Speaking of religion, the “you people need churchin’ up” message of the film would have been served better if it wasn’t so heavy handed and preachy. Not ten minutes goes by without some sort of Big Christian Message. The last thing you see of Eli is so overt that it’ll take only the most devout to resist snickering out loud. Now I'm not one of those atheist activists who have nothing better to do than whip themselves into a frenzy because the word "God" appears on American currency, but at the same time there is nothing more annoying than some born-again Jesus freak getting in your face while you are trying to pump gas and telling you how you are going to hell and will be damned forever because you don't go around waving bibles in people's faces while they are pumping gas. There are a lot of great movies that have religious subtext and many science fiction stories are heavily allegorical. It's all about subtlety. Yes, even a movie loaded to the gills with paramilitary hardware can be subtle in the plot department. Add to that the final sequence that sets up Mila Kunis as the star of a sequel that with any luck will never see the light of day and you’ve got quite a mixed bag. Even so it is still one of the best reworkings of both the Zatoichi mythos and the Western genre in years. Then again, I guess that's not really saying much.

Now we have the impending Japanese and French co-production ZATOICHI: THE LAST (2010) which is being produced by Toho who has obtained the rights to the francise and has stated that no more Zatoichi films will be made after this one. Pretty sure we've heard that one before (*cough* GODZILLA VS. THE DESTROYER *cough*). Starring cheesy teen idol Shingo Katori of SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (2007) and THE ADVENTURES OF SUPER MONKEY (2007), the trailer looks a million times better than the last two remakes, but if nobody’s going to even try to do these classic films justice any more, I sincerely hope it really is the last. And no, we won’t be talking about that Punkin’ Headed Freak and his Thugstein producers.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Blind Vengeance Week: The Legacy of Zatoichi, Part 3

In these days of remakes, it seems the movie corporations are dictating art and instead of reworking the remakes to be a film that derives plot points and ideas from the original and can stand on its own. The mantra seems to be to copy as much as possible while cynically updating the attitudes, messages and special effects. In the past decade ZATOICHI has had a resurgence of popularity in no small part due to the entirety of the series being made available on DVD worldwide. Unlike previous decades that saw inventive remakes, all this popularity has done is given rise to some of the clumsy and embarrassingly bad wannabes in the history of cinema.

The ‘80s has become a decade that is razzed by hipsters as a decade of “stoopid” cinema. While the decade was not without a wealth of misfires, I’ll gladly take Rutger Hauer’s turn as a modern-day Zatoichi in BLIND FURY (1989) than the wretchedly campy Takeshi Kitano remake ZATOICHI (2003).

While the genesis of the script for BLIND FURY, seems to be shrouded in mystery, we do know that it was one of, if not the, last script written by 50-year veteran Japanese screenwriter Ryozo Kasahara. Like 99% of the other information found on Wikipedia’s “Zatoichi” entry, their claim that it is a remake of ZATOICHI’S CANE-SWORD (1967) is wrong. Yes, Kasahara wrote both, but they are only connected by the fact that the lead character is blind and carries a cane-sword. In fact, BLIND FURY borrows some interesting elements from Kenji Misumi’s LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE (1973) and some of the basic plot set-up elements from FIRST BLOOD (1982).

After being blinded in the Vietnam war, Nick Parker (Rutger Hauer) was nursed back to health by villagers, apparently in the one village in Vietnam that weren’t going to sweat the small stuff like napalm and carpet-bombing. Of course any American being nursed back to health anywhere in Asia will automatically be taught the ways of the mystic martial arts and imbued with a sense of righteous purpose. It’s like a Buddhist law or something. Once back in the States, Nick sets out on the road to visit an old army buddy, Frank Devereaux (Terry O'Quinn). Nick arrives just in time to save Frank’s 12 year old son from hired killers, while his ex-wife (Meg Foster) is gunned down. Her dying wish is for Nick to (ahem) look after the boy. Frank, as it turns out, has been kidnapped by a Vegas crime boss (Noble Willingham, clearly enjoying himself) for a gambling debt and is being forced to create designer drugs as restitution. Ahhh the ‘80s! Nick then sets out on the path of rather mild-mannered vengeance, fending off all manner of assassins, with the help of his sword-cane and smart-ass kid in tow. Oh, and he also picks up Frank’s new girlfriend (Lisa Blount). Why? Because someone needs to drive!

In addition to sporting a pretty damn cool late ‘80s cast, the movie moves at a brisk pace and never lets anything get in the way of the action. Sure there are some cornball scenes where Nick and pouty kid learn to bond. Plus, said kid is most definitely a Hollywood cookie-cutter pre-teen type, but even so manages not to be too terribly irritating and even when he does wear out his welcome we have Nick Cassavetes, Rick Overton, Randall 'Tex' Cobb, and Sho Kosugi bust into the scene to make you forget about it. Dissapointingly Kosugi is pretty much wasted in a brief role as the ultimate adversary in the final "Sho-down," but it's still pretty cool to have him drop in anyway.

The fight scenes are splashy ‘80s action stuff, but are tightly choreographed and 20 years later are still plenty of fun. Hauer does a really nice job of actually thinking through what you would do if you were blind and armed with a sword (you’d probably use your hands a lot) leading to some more interesting physical acting that separates this from just about every other Zatoichi knock-off. So, does it rival old-school Japanese sword action? No, but then again I don’t expect it to. It does guns and explosions American style with some decent sword-work from Hauer (or rather his stunt double, who does the bulk of the showdown with Kosugi). Director Phillip Noyce gives the film a big visual style and if you can deal with a little bit of ‘80s cliché and some whiny kid stuff, it’s still a damned entertaining movie and holds up very well. It’s even better if you watch something recent before hand, maybe something like… ZATOICHI (2003).

Let’s get something straight, I like Kitano “Beat” Takeshi. Generally speaking, I like his movies. I was thrilled when he was cast in JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995). After seeing this straight up 2003 re-make/re-envisioning of the blind swordsman series, I can’t say I have any interest in seeing him on screen again. Bizarrely sporting a bleach-white, product-filled, hair-style that is more at home perched on the inflated domes of swanning divas such as Halle Berry than a blind masseur of the Edo era, Takeshi tackles the project with the misguided enthusiasm that only outright senility can bring.

In addition to a plodding script that rolls out character and plot clichés like a bad ‘70s TV show, Ichi gets in fights here and there, but instead of the stunningly elaborate choreography of Shintaro Katsu, we get POV shots of a CGI sword chopping up and down while the worst rendering of CGI blood in the history of modern cinema squirts around like someone just attacked a plastic ketchup bottle. How about goofy humor that pushes this firmly into the realm of parody? Got that too! Pointless cross-dressing? Check! Long, dry scenes of gambling that mimic the many found in the original series, but serve no purpose here? Gotcha covered! Fans and apologists claim that “it’s supposed to be campy!” and “the violence is supposed to look fake!”, to which I say that yes, same can be said of ISHTAR (1987), “intention” does not equal “good”. You can suppose in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets full first. “But wait!” I hear you desperately cry, “BLIND FURY has lots of comedy! One-liners zing around faster than ricocheting bullets! Ha! Got you there smartguy!” Why yes, yes it does. However the delineating edge of this blade is that with BLIND FURY at no time do the filmmakers disrespect the source material or are pretentious enough to think that they are bettering it. It takes its story and characters seriously and there are no cop outs when it comes to the action. At no point is it so self-indulgent that it decides that a standard climactic action sequence is too bourgeois, and what it really needs to be elevated to high-art is a lavish Broadway-style musical number. Yes Takashi’s ZATOICHI ends not so much with the flourish of a blade but the clatter of dancing feet. To the schmuck on a certain website who said of the Edo-Era Stomp, “if you have a soul, the ending musical number is pure joy!!” I say, if you have a soul, I weep for it.

Zatoichi as Holy Roller… NEXT!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blind Vengeance Week: THE BLIND WARRIOR (1987)

I guess enough folks in Indonesia went to see THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN (aka SI BUTA LAWA JAKA SEMBUNG) that a take off on that take off was in order. So Rapi Films returned to the blind justice subgenre with...

THE BLIND WARRIOR (1987) aka NERAKA PERUT BUMI - Ruthless tyrant Raden Parna (which always sounds like characters are saying 'Rotten Panna') has enslaved a village and taken over their goldmine. To amuse himself, he has young ladies offered as sacrifices to his God represented by a huge statue with glowing red eyes. What folks don't know is this cad is actually just taking them to bed in a secret room under the statue with a pool filled with styrofoam pellets that look like Dippin' Dots. Enter Barta, blind warrior with monkey sidekick, who can't stand to, hear these injustices going on. Barta saves virgin Sirimbi (Enny Beatrice) from some of Parna's helpers and soon an all out war is going on with Barta inspiring the villagers to rise up.

This Indonesian flick is pretty damn entertaining. The first hour is routine normal stuff as we see Barta save folks and Parna scold them. I'm really kind of scared of Barta's fish scale looking outfit, which looks like a costume in a cheap-o water monster movie flick. Is he Barta the Blind Warrior or Slithis? The last half hour is where the film really shines and pours on the insane. I say pours because there is tons of blood flowing thanks to spearings, beheadings, slashings, and exploding bodies. I swear, something like 50 or so of Parna's henchmen are killed. It is like the director is thanking you for sticking it through.

Check out his gory highlight someone put on Youtube for a small taste:

What is also really funny about THE BLIND WARRIOR is that the filmmakers have basically remade John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA from the previous year. The end confrontation - a small group bands together to stop a wedding, complete with an identical huge statue - is just like Carpenter's film. Hilarious!

Naturally, one of the best things about the film is villain Raden Parna, played by Advent Bangun. Bangun was the blind man in THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN so now he gets to feel what it is like on the other end of the stick. His biggest skill - outside of his smooth moves in the Dippin' Dots (see photo) - is apparently his sharp tongue as he is constantly admonishing his underlings. The English dubbing for him offers some real zingers. For example, this is how he bumps his gums after his men fail to catch Barta:

"Goddamn idiot! Are you telling me you can't even catch a blind man? Maybe I should have all of you blinded? Huh!?! You bunch of idiots!"

"Perhaps I should just pluck your eyes out of your stupid head? Because they are of no use to you, are they?"
Meeeeow, fiesty! The guy who dubs Barta is also the guy who normally goes Jimmy Wang Yu in movies so that is fun too.

My other favorite thing about the film is when the villagers do the cliché bit and ask Barta to stay and help. He refuses and says, "No, I've got things to do" and splits. Then they are all slaughtered! Even in the end, he only disposes of the big guy. Granted, it is in amazing fashion and he sticks his pole in Parna's mouth (get your mind out of the gutter!), breaks it through the back of his neck and then rips off his head clean off. Yet everyone else has to do the ground work when it comes to taking out underlings. I guess Barta only had enough in him for one devastating death? Classic!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Long Week of Vengeance

As you may have noticed, time in the world of the Video Junkie is much like Ray Milland spending a weekend in the country. Our "Week of Blind Vengeance" has turned into "A Couple of Weeks of Blind Vengeance". Granted it's not quite as catchy, but hey, you get twice the Blind Vengeance for the same low price of... well, nothing.

You don't see any Pay Pal links or advertisements do ya? That's because when you are sightless and pissed off, you only take payments in blood!

Next week we will be starting a new theme week that promises to be a breath of cool air. In the meantime, send our link to your rotten, drunken friends and enjoy our continuation of the exploits of ocular and judgement impaired killers!

Blind Vengeance Week: The Legacy of Zatoichi, Part 2

Doubtlessly inspired by the success of Sergio Leone’s landmark Western A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS (1964), a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s landmark samurai film YOJIMBO (1961) using “Western” sensibility and setting, so did Ferdinando Baldi set up his 1971 reworking of ZATOICHI.

In BLINDMAN (1971) Baldi manages to hit on everything that you could possibly want from an exploitation film, with the exception of a car chase. The screenplay was written by three people with Tony Anthony getting the lion’s share of the credit. This explains why the film slides back and forth between solid drama, rousing action and anachronistic humor, fortunately it does so without missing the beat. It provides a slick concept, great dialog, superlative cinematography, clever set-pieces and Tony Anthony’s best performance, all wrapped up in a package that moves like a freight train charging straight down to hell. In one of my favorite opening scenes in any movie, a scruffy blind man rides into a dirt-water town in the middle of the night. After a local yokel, sporting an award-winning farmer’s tan to die for, pokes his head out to see who’s running amok in the wee hours, the rider asks him a few pointed questions about the location of man named “Skunk”, whether the town has a church, and whether the priest is rich. This information leads to the discovery of Skunk and an exchange in which we find out that Skunk and the Blindman had a contract to deliver 50 women who are to be the brides of 50 miners in Lost Creek, Texas. Skunk, of course has double-crossed him and sold the women to a Mexican bandit leader named Domingo (Lloyd Battista). As this conversation takes place the Blindman is slowly planting dynamite around the building that Skunk is holed up in, to whom the Blindman says “Every night I kneel down and I say my prayers, and every night I ask the good lord ‘Lord? Who are my friends?’ And ya know something Skunk? Every night it’s the same thing… He don’t answer.” Skunk’s building erupts in a massive explosion of flame and the Blindman rides hell bent for Mexico.

Anthony’s blindman, with his big sad eyes and floppy hat is not the pitiable Zatoichi, but a scruffy hound dog with some big teeth. Keeping in contemporary early ‘70s fashion, he’s more of an anti-hero, if only because of his motivations in life. Here, he wants money. Nothing as righteous as saving farmers from an evil land baron, saving settlers from an evil railroad tycoon or saving the local god-fearing Christians from a gang of bloodthirsty banditos/injuns/outlaws. Nope, the Blindman is out to save himself from poverty, or as he puts it, “to have no eyes means to be half a man. To have no eyes and no money… well that’s a bitch.” Still that doesn’t make him any less heroic really as his desire for justice extends past himself.

While in search of Domingo, the Blindman meets a surprisingly Mediterranean-looking “gringo” farmer whose daughter Pilar (1975 Playboy playmate Agneta Eckemyr) is essentially passively kidnapped and raped repeatedly by Domingo’s brother Candy (Ringo Starr) who is obsessed with the girl. Candy cannot fathom why she doesn’t return his affections and in a scene that rivals anything by Antonioni, Bergman or Truffaut, Baldi uses a split focus lens to show Pilar undressing and Candy’s face voicing his torment “someday I’m going to build a fire under you… just to get a bit of warmth.”

Ringo Starr is one of those '70s musicians that dabbled in film and like many of his contemporaries, his choice of roles were suitably eccentric (this is the guy that wrote the goofy “Octopuses’ Garden” on an album full of bizarre progressive tunes after all). He actually made a couple of very noteworthy films in which it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. BLINDMAN ranks at the top of that list, followed by THE MAGIC CRISTIAN (1969) in which he played a homeless man who Peter Sellars adopts to be his son, and assist him in his elaborate stunts to expose greed and avarice. “But wait!”, I hear you cry, “you are forgetting about his turn as Merlin the Magician in SON OF DRACULA (1974)!” No… No, I’m not. Here Starr hits his notes perfectly as the younger brother living in the shadow of his older sibling, an infamous, powerful criminal boss. Starr manages to avoid the trap of overplaying his immaturity and obsessive “love” for a girl who he victimizes. When driven into a rage by the Blindman’s ploy of using Pilar as a pawn, his self-destructive anger is tightly controlled, allowing Domingo to explode uncontrollably when Candy gets his reward in hell.

After Pilar is taken Candy’s men start working over the father and the Blindman steps out of the shadows asking for “peace, brothers”. Of course they have a better idea. Since the Blindman can’t play the guitar, or sing, they make the Blindman “dance” to the tune of a Colt revolver. They all laugh making him look rather pathetic trying to avoid gunfire that he cannot see, and we find his breaking point as he drops to the ground and empties his Winchester into all of them in a hail of lead. Where Zatoichi had a cane-sword, the Blindman has his own ingenious weapon, a cane-gun. Actually what appears to my untrained eye to be a modified First Model 1873 carbine, but is probably some European equivalent, is his cane outfitted with a stiletto-style bayonet at the end allowing the Blindman to tap the ground to see where he’s going. And shoot the hell out of bastards that make him dance. Man, I am so with ya there on that one brother.

Anyway, more double-crosses ensue as the Blindman meets Domingo and his pretty, viper of a sister (Magda Konopka) and a Mexican general (the prolific Raf Baldassarre) who becomes a brief ally after he hands Domingo gold for the girls only to find his army torn to shreds by Domingo’s goons and a well placed Gatling gun (another item checked off of our list of “things every exploitation western film needs”). Baldassarre is probably the only low-point in the acting as he paints his character in strokes so broad they blot out the desert sun. Howling with maniacal laughter that would make hyenas cover their ears, after every line, the General's cries of "you goddamn craaaaaazy gringo!" start wearing out their welcome after a while. Fortunately it's not really all that much and his part in the film's climactic end-game makes up for it.

Speaking of things to check off of our list… Have you ever thought to yourself “I loved DJANGO, but what it needed was a good woman’s prison shower scene!” Then realized there were no showers in the old west, leaving you in a funk for the rest of the week? I have. These are the sort of things that keep me awake at night. Then Ferdinando Baldi comes along and problem solved! Though technically I’m willing to lay cash money down that it was Tony Anthony’s hand that brought that fantasy to life, when we have what I believe to be the first, biggest, and only, old west shower scene with a couple dozen nekkid girls being given bucket showers by some sour-pussed matrons. Honestly, after that, these guys could have coasted through the rest of the movie and still been given a passing grade.

Ultimately anachronistic in many ways that would be disastrous in a modern attempt at a western (see the ICP western BIG MONEY HUSTLAS for an example of why westerns aren’t successful anymore), Baldi makes out like a bandit here. What is really interesting about BLINDMAN is how all of the elements, sleazy exploitation, violent action, artistic composition, pathos, comedy, all play so nice together. Even more interesting is that this film has more going for it than any other Baldi film I’ve seen and while Anthony’s somewhat vaguely similar THE STRANGER series have their low-rent FISTFUL OF DOLLARS-inspired moments, this is clearly his shining moment as well, nothing else he has done comes close.

In 1983 Rapi films of Indonesia threw their hat into the ring with THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN (aka SI BUTA LAWA JAKA SEMBUNG), the sequel to the 1981 Barry Prima classic THE WARRIOR (aka JAKA SEMBUNG). Telling the story of folk hero Jaka Sembung (Prima) and his resistance against the forces of the Dutch who occupied Indonesia for over 300 years and were finally routed after WWII. In this (and presumably many other versions of the story), Jaka is in possession of great martial arts skill and magical power. In one scene Jaka squares off against an evil sorcerer who after having his limbs and head neatly sliced off of his body, merely uses his mystic arts to levitate them though the air and reattach them to his body. While not the slickest movie ever, it was loaded with bloody action, martial arts, creative gore and plenty of the crazy cool myth and legend that you only see in Indonesian films. Coming off of that you’d expect something pretty amazing for the sequel. It sure sounds spectacular on paper anyway; Jaka Sembung meets up with a blind swordsman and squares off against an evil sorceress working with the evil Dutch army to get revenge against the do-gooders and buy some protection for her harem of scantily clad girls. Simple, right? How could you screw that up? Well, there is a way and director Worod Suma figured it out.

Picking up sort of where the first film left off, Jaka Sembung is whuppin’ the shorts off of the Dutch army and sucking up the love of the locals (portrayed by having the peasants essentially do jumping jacks in a mob around him). The leader of the Dutch army decides the best way to put a stop to Jaka is to hold a tournament in which the best fighter not only wins a purse of gold, but wins the right to hunt down Jaka for an entire chest of gold. Not the worst way to start a movie, but instead of a bunch of crazy, badass fighters each with their own gimmick as in the original, here we have an assortment of punters and a big fat guy in silver facepaint doing some seriously lame, seemingly improvised fighting in order to amplify the intensity of the final showdown between a Bruce Lee wannabe and the blind swordsman, Si Buta (Advent Bangun, who went on to appear as the evil Despot of Dippin’ Dots, Raden Parna, in the much better Zatoichi knock-off, THE BLIND WARRIOR, 1987). After winning the tournament and agreeing to hunt Jaka Sembung, Si Buta fights Jaka and takes his head to the Dutch. This, of course turns out to be a magic illusion, with the head actually belonging to a goat, and the plot continues to twist from there. The real villain of the movie is an evil sorceress named Maki who, with the help of her dark master (W.D. Mochtar) spends most of the time trying to settle a score with Si Buta, who it seems is her ex-lover who, for some inexplicable reason, dumped her after her soul was damned and she turned to evil. Geeze, we men are such fickle creatures!

The plot is all over the map with more twists, subplots and throw-away-action sequences than you can shake a sword-cane at, but unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver in most respects as interesting ideas are brought up out of left field and dropped just as quick. Some of the fighting is really poorly done, even by low-budget Rapi Films standards. I don’t mind that an all-powerful sorceress is easily defeated by having a blanket thrown over her head, or that the Dutch army's all-in gambit against Jaka and Si Buta is comprised of five guys and two cannons. I also can forgive the English title which does more than imply that there is a blind man in the picture and he actually wields a sword. Which he doesn't, it’s just a wooden cane with a pointy end that, apparently, he moves with such deadly force that it separates peeps into parts. What I do object to is the fact that Jaka Sembung is relegated off to the sidelines, almost all of the cheap gore is in the beginning of the film and the action scenes are so half-hearted that at times I felt like I was watching some sort of weekend civil war reenactment. The fight between Jaka and Si Buta in the first act of the film is pretty damned entertaining and unfortunately leaves everything that follows looking pretty lackluster. Even so, it’s definitely well worth the watch for Indonesian genre film fans, but Zatoichi fans looking to check out some of the imitators may be not so enthused.

Rapi Films returned to the blind bad-ass genre with THE BLIND WARRIOR in 1987, see separate review.

Zatoichi as Hipster… NEXT!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blind Vengeance Week: Blind Dead bamboozlement

In the wake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), the ripoffs came fast and furious. Some were good, some were bad and some were awesome. Falling into the latter category are Amando de Ossorio's BLIND DEAD films. From 1971-75, de Ossorio produced a quartet of films focusing on vengeful 13th century Knights Templar who return from the grave seeking victims. They are blind after having their eyeballs plucked out by birds, so they have to rely on the sounds of their victims to find them. Now that is some scary stuff and the concept has proven to be powerful and memorable enough that folks are still paying homage to the visionless villains.

GRAVEYARD OF THE DEAD (2008) aka EL RETORNO DE LOS TEMPLARIOS - Okay, let's get this bastard out of the way first. See that eye-catching DVD sleeve to the left? Go ahead, click on it to see the full size. I implore you, stare at it for a few minutes. Why? Because nothing like that happens in this piece of crap and that is about the only enjoyment you will get out of this shot-on-video BLIND DEAD ripoff, er, homage. You've heard of bottom of the barrel? Well, pick up that barrel, dig about six feet into the ground and you might find this film.

The "film" opens in 1311 with a 20-minute sequence of the Templars wandering around a village attacking women before the villagers (really five dudes) rise up and kill them all. "We shall return," cries the lead Templar (who sports a flavor saver) before he dies by hanging. Cut inexplicably to 1974 where Jorge is looking for his sister Miranda, who is a dead ringer for one of the girls the Templars killed. He finds her wandering around the old Templar stomping grounds in a daze. Seems their dad raped her (this is shown in flashbacks that you can't tell are flashbacks because they cut randomly to them and Miranda's hair is different). Meanwhile, a group of six folks are having a party nearby and the Templars rise from their shallow graves (did the music bother them?) to kill. The end.

Wow, this film is so embarrassing that other S.O.V. schlockmeisters would shake their head in shame at it. The director is credited as one Vick Campbell and he better pray that is a pseudonym. The first half is so laughably bad as the Templars wander around in flip-flops while dogs bark in the background on the soundtrack. The mic picks up so much wind that I thought I was in a wind tunnel. And Campbell is prone to reusing the same shots back-to-back, only flipping the second one so it looks like a new shot. To give you an idea of how wrongheaded this film is, one guy at the party sports a jacket that says Los Angeles Raiders on it. LOS ANGELES RAIDERS!!! That might have worked in, say, the 80s! Of course, what can you expect from a film that gets both years the film is set wrong on the back of the DVD case? The fine folks at Sinerama - makers of the FANTOM KILER (yes, KILER) - picked this one up and released it on DVD with that fancy cover above. Be afraid, be very afraid.

CROSS OF THE DEVIL (1975) - Okay, how about some of the good stuff now? This is sometimes referred to as the unofficial fifth BLIND DEAD movie. Indeed, it does feature the Knights Templar returning from the dead, but the similarities end there. Directed by John Gilling (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) and co-written by Paul Naschy, this is a occult thriller where the blind baddies take a backseat to a slow moving murder investigation.

Alfred Dawson (Ramiro Oliveros) is a hashish addicted horror writer living in London. He receives a troubling letter from his sister Justine in Spain and heads to visit her with his girlfriend Maria (the gorgeous Carmen Sevilla). Upon their arrival, they find Justine has been murdered and her much older husband Enrique Carrillo (Eduardo Fajardo) doesn't seem too upset. And neither is Carrillo's secretary Cesar del Rio (Adolfo Marsillach), who attempts to dissuade Alfred from investigating. This has some great locations and atmosphere but, unfortunately, nothing really happens for the first hour and ten minutes. The villain is exactly who you think it is so there are no surprises. There plot does involve some zombie Knights Templar so that is kind of cool, but they are only on screen for roughly a minute as Alfred disposes of them with a magical sword. Really. And, for having been dead centuries, they sure sport some pot bellies.

DON'T WAKE THE DEAD (2008) - Horror-gore shot-in-English flick from Andreas Schnaas (VIOLENT SHIT series) that has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, everything else isn't so easy to find. A gaggle of hot chicks head to an old castle to help set up for a performance by a German metal band (amusingly, they are named Gang Loco and are a real band). What they don't know is that every 66 years an Army of Blind Dead Knights Templar rise from their graves (alongside some Nazi zombies) and it is going down - as Phil Collins said - tonight, tonight, toniiiiight. The only person there to protect them is Vincent (Ralph Fellows), a Carthusian monk in a leather jacket who has the Sword of Mecca and Flying Guillotine (!) that can defeat these blind dead bastards.

German helmer Schnaas continues to have better production values as his career progresses and there is plenty of the expected gore and nudity. Oh, and the terrible acting brings up some good laughs. But the film is still pretty rough. The worst thing is the end where - in the biggest directorial WTF? moment by a German since Uwe Boll inserted video game footage into HOUSE OF THE DEAD - Schnaas spends the time cutting between the climatic chase and the zombie band rocking out. It is totally unrelated as characters appear in both bits and it is awful. Like ever 4 minutes the action stops as he cuts back to the band playing and then back to the movie. Think NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR without the leg warmers. Bizarre. Even funnier is that after enduring that "song" being stretched out for nearly 15 minutes, the credits start to roll and - you guessed it - that song starts playing again! Damn you, Schnaasssss! Still, I would take this over that garbage GRAVEYARD OF THE DEAD any day as Schnaas always delivers the gory goods and the Templar costumes are pretty awesome.

UNRATED: THE MOVIE (2009) - It appears Schnaas couldn't get enough of the Blind Dead (or he just wanted to get the most out of that costume) as an undead Templar appears in his latest, a co-production with Timo Rose. While we haven't seen it yet, you can check out the Templar throwing down amongst a bevy of bootleg horror luminaries ("Fat zombie!") in the trailer below. With copious gore and a zombie ripping off a bra, you know this one will be good:

Finally, where would a ripoff roundup be without some Jess Franco? Ol' Jess got his BLIND DEAD freak on in 1982 with MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD. This is another one we haven't seen but I'm willing to be it features zooms, pointless nudity, dull stretches and Lina Romay. Severin put this one out on DVD and that is probably the best way to see it...if you dare!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blind Vengeance Week: The Legacy of Zatoichi, Part 1

Ever since the debut of Kenji Misumi and Shintaro Katsu’s landmark film THE TALE OF ZATOICHI in 1962, audiences and filmmakers have been mesmerized by the idea that a blind masseuse, who wanders the lands of the Tokugawa Shogunate, is more lethal in a pinch than any gang of outlaws, in-laws or scofflaws could ever hope to be. More than that, Ichi attempts to live as humble, kind and honest as others will let him and is a time-bomb of explosive fury over injustice and cruelty. To modern, cynical audiences this may seem a bit too saccharine, but in the gifted hands of now legendary actor and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu, it never crosses that line from being a flawed hero to being a pious preacher. As a matter of fact even with changing directors, writers and co-stars, the series lasted a total of 26 films with only a handful of missteps. 25 of the films were made from 1962 to 1973 and even during that time there were many filmmakers, both Asian and Western, who fell under the influence. Ranging from blatant rip-offs such as the BLIND OICHI series (released to Western audiences inexplicably as CRIMSON BAT) to, ironically, the traditional Western reinterpretation of the Samurai film, the Western.

1969 saw a series of what is arguably Japan’s most popular knock-off of Shintaro Katsu’s character, Oichi the blind swordswoman, played by Yoko Matsuyama. In the first film of the four-part series, CRIMSON BAT: THE BLIND SWORDSWOMAN (1969, aka BLIND OICHI STORY: RED BIRD OF FLIGHT), directed by Sadaji Matsuda, we are given the grim introduction to Oichi as a little girl. After being abandoned in the forest by her mother, a prostitute who’s current boyfriend wants her to ditch the kid, a bolt of lightning comes crashing down in front of Oichi, blinding her and leaving her sobbing on the ground. Years later she has found her grandfather who tells her that her mother is running a brothel in a northern city, only to be cut down by the swords of a criminal gang that he was once a part of. As we all know, great, kindhearted masters of martial arts do nothing but wander around the countryside looking for people who are have been victimized, so that they may nurse them back to health and teach them the ways of the martial arts so that they may set out on the road to some well earned revenge. So our scruffy master, does what all scruffy masters do best and we flash forward some years and find that Oichi has grown in to a lightning fast, sword-wielding harbinger of destruction.

You’d think from here, this being a rip-off, that Oichi would now march down that path between heaven and hell burning with the hellfires of vengeance. But not so fast! Not content to merely ape the semi-tragic nature of Katsu’s films, here there is nothing but grief for Oichi. Everyone she loves or even so much as kinda digs either abandons her or is murdered, the rest just try to kill her or take advantage of her. Her mother abandons her in the forest; her sensei knowing that he cannot return Oichi’s affection, leaves her in the middle of the night; her loving grandfather murdered. Even incidental characters try to rob, cheat and rape her. On her path northward she runs afoul of evil gamblers, the leader of which is a female bolas-wielding croupier and a man who’s orphaned daughter has been sold into prostitution. She eventually does find her mother, but instead of a tearful reunion with a nice reparation and resolution that you would find in an American film, here the tearful meeting is an unspoken acknowledgement and the scent of death in the air. Many subplots and plot-twists later, we find that those that mess with Oichi do not end well, yet neither does Oichi, who, as the narrator gravely intones at the end of the film “Oichi went away on the cold wintery wind, carrying with her her sword-cane and a great deal of loneliness… Her sightless eyes filled with tears”. Yeah, it sounds a little over-melodramatic, but this is 1969 after all and seriously, if I have to choose between that happy Hollywood horseshit and a little excessive melodrama, I’ll go for the later every time.

While the film is mercilessly downbeat, it does have a moment or two of levity such as a throw-away gag in which a blind masseuse wanders through a scene and is unceremoniously thrown out of it by a couple of hoodlums who give him a swift kick in the ass and mutter “damn masseuse!” Following a mere nineteen installments of the ZATOICHI series, I’d guess that there might have been a few peeps in the audience who were feelin’ that. What is really striking about the film is that in spite of its apparent low budget and imitator status, like the Italian horror knock-offs of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, it goes to great lengths to be its own film. It makes the effort to wash the screen in striking visuals and colors; a scene in which Oichi and her sensei are practicing in the snow foreshadows her abandonment by isolating the two characters in a spotlight with inky blackness and white snow-flakes between them. Unlike Zatoichi, Oichi is possibly over compensating for her blindness by always being impeccably dressed and never pretending to be poor or submissive. The fight scenes are well choreographed, though seasoned samurai fans will no doubt leap forward to bring up examples of better, they are more than adequate with Oichi’s bright red robe and cane-sword adding a splash of kinetic visual appeal during the fights. Also Oichi’s fighting style is sort of a “drunken master kung fu” style that has been turned into “blind master sword” style. In combat, Oichi appears to be constantly off-balance, stumbling and falling in just the right ways to avoid her opponent’s weapons and slice the living bejeezus out of her enemies. Perhaps the filmmakers did not intend for this to be a “style”, but more of a way to create excitement by having her blindness putting her in imminent danger of falling into someone’s sword, but either way, it’s still interesting and unusual fight choreography that sets it apart from the massive amount of samurai outings of the day.

Like many films of the era, since TV was still in its infancy, these films were shot back to back and released in serial fashion. The second entry in the series, TRAPPED: THE CRIMSON BAT (again directed by Sadaji Matsuda), has Oichi, presumably hardened by the traumatic events of the past, seemingly embracing her life as a wandering cold-blooded bounty killer. Lingering around a small village, she runs afoul of a gang of cutthroats who are peeved about her poaching bounties on their turf. The thugs are headed up by a female Yakuza who wields a razor-tipped whip made of hair and as it turns out they are also in league with a corrupt governor who is extorting all of the food from the local farmers. Yep, you got it. That means lots of enemies to kill! There are several subplots, some of which are a little odd. In an early one we find Oichi living with a teenage girl who seems to be very attached to Oichi whose trust was gained by telling her that she was an orphan. There is a lot of physical touching and emotion between the two and it doesn’t take much to come to the conclusion that they are more than just friends. Like all of Oichi’s relationships things do not end well, but this time it is Oichi that pushes the girl away after finding out that she lied about being an orphan and was really just a runaway pretending to be kidnapped. This entry again rolls out the obligatory gambling sequences in which Oichi can “read” the dice by listening to them and an otherwise honest villager is fleeced by the Yakuza-run gambling hall.

Ditching the heavy pathos and most of the style, Oichi returns with a new director (Hirokazu Ichimura) in WATCH OUT! CRIMSON BAT. Largely dumping the pathos, stylized visuals and gambling scenes, this outing is more of a European cold-war / espionage type of film. Don’t believe me? Try this plot on for size! An elderly science guy has created the plans for a powerful weapon, which could change the balance of political power if they fall into the wrong hands. Of course they have been stolen and multiple parties will kill for it but our hero is the only one with the mad skills to get them back! Since this is feudal Japan, that science guy is a gunsmith and his McGuffin is a scroll on which is his latest formula for gunpowder. Even a circus knife-thrower turns out to be an assassin! Cue Henri Mancini score… or not. The film opens with a wounded rider being dragged by his horse. Oichi cuts him free as he drags by and as he dies, he implores her to take a scroll to its rightful owner. After that Oichi is beset by local thugs, assassins disguised as priests and a corrupt general who is kidnapping villagers and forcing them to manufacture and test his gunpowder. Oh yeah, and a couple of homeless kids. A wandering samurai who was a student of the gunmaker is also after the scroll. I say he “was” a student because in a lapse of logic that only the NRA could appreciate, he was expelled by the gunsmith and denied the marriage to his daughter because he killed someone. Ummm… Old dude. You are designing and making guns. You got about as much right to be pious as an ex-Nazi would be if he were made Pope. Ha! Like that could happen!
*ahem* Anyway, with so many people after the scroll, it’s a fair bet that a lot of ‘em will get to taste Oichi’s blade, and that is a bet you will not lose… even in a Yakuza-run gambling hall. Heavy on the action, Oichi is a flat out killing machine at this point. She has a sense of justice, a sense of purpose and a weapon to make it happen. While this is something of a departure from what makes the series a cut above (yeah, yeah, I can see your eyes rolling), at the same time, it’s pretty damn fun. The ending fight sequence is straight up 15 minutes of Oichi and two ronin cutting down an entire army in an explosives testing facility. In the end, this time Oichi isn’t abandoned by anyone and actually turns down the companionship of a man who admires her. Never mind that it’s the very same man that tried to rape her in the middle of the movie!

The final entry in the series, CRIMSON BAT: WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE (again directed by Hirokazu Ichimura) finds Oichi with a bounty on her head – no doubt the government was a little pissed about having their army decimated in the last film – turning the hunter into the hunted. A small fishing village is being evicted from their land by the government who wants to build a major port there. The corrupt officials are actually swindling the fishermen out of the gold the government has provided as compensation and are trying to use brute force to throw them out. Meanwhile three bounty hunters (a wandering ronin, a master of sickle and chain and a hulking ex-monk) team up to take down Oichi who happens to be in town. After rescuing a woman, and herself from being raped, things get ugly as Oichi tries to save her own skin and eventually even the score for the fishermen. Along the way there she is framed for murder, falls for the ronin and gets into a little obligatory gambling. This is probably the most straight-forward of the series. The score is very modern, there is very little tragedy and the ending is ridiculously upbeat, particularly compared to the endings of Sadaji Matsuda’s entries. Plus there is plenty of action to go around. The action sequences mimic ZATOICHI’s quite a bit now as Oichi fights with a sheathed sword as long as she can, only resorting to killing her opponents if absolutely necessary. No longer the proud bounty hunter of TRAPPED, Oichi is now more of a humble traveler. Well maybe "humble" isn't quite the right word as she is still decked out in flawless fashion and doesn't kowtow to anyone. In addition to the contrasting styles of the two directors, it’s interesting to see the character arc from film to film.

While the series seems to walk the line between comic-book exploitation and tragic drama, it stands out of the pack as an entertaining and, ironically, unique series in the Japanese swordsman genre.

Zatoichi Goes West… NEXT!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blind Vengeance Week: BLIND RAGE (1978)

Welcome to Video Junkie's first ever theme week! We've often been accused of being the blind leading the blind, so what better way to start off than movies centering on the seeing impaired? Wait, blind folks can't see movies. Yes, we are a cruel bunch here. So get ready for a week's worth of reviews of flicks centering on the unsung and unseeing! For the inaugural entry, we highlight one of the odder bits of blind exploitation cinema (blindsploitation?) in...

BLIND RAGE (1978) - Banker Johnny Duran (Charlie Davao) gets a bank heist offer from criminal Lew "My friends call me Wilbur" Simpson (B.T. Anderson) that is too bad to be true. Simpson wants to have five blind men rob a bank in Manila of $15 million dollars. Why? "No one would ever suspect blind men of robbing a bank!" Well, I guess that settles it. They assemble the global blind crew - Triad member Lin Wang (Leo Fong), US gangster Willie Black (D'Urville Martin), magician Anderson (Dick Adair), Filipino Ben Guevara (Tony Ferrer) and blind matador (!!!) Hector Lopez (Darnell Garcia) - and get trained by teacher for the blind Sally (Leila Hermosa) in a bank mock up. Seriously. The job goes off perfect before Ben is suspected by local cops ("Hey, I've got this blind guy in my files") and he quickly provides cinema's quickest ratting out of partners ever. Everyone expect Duran is killed in a huge explosion (their next grand idea was to sneak into the airport by hiding inside a partially hollowed gas tanker actually carrying gas!). Duran makes it to Los Angeles at the 70 minute mark where private eye Jesse Crowder (Fred Williamson) is waiting to take him down.

And you thought THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962) was the top blindsploitation title? You have to hand it to the filmmakers though as they went all out. It is not every day you see a film that makes the bank robbing dogs concept in THE DOBERMAN GANG (1972) look credible in comparison. Yet you have to admire them because not only do they roll with it, but they make quite possibly the best exploitation film they could with such a ridiculous concept and follow through on it. I mean, there is seriously a line where Duran says, "Alright, let's start by synchronizing your Braille watches." The crooks could have had the same success rate and saved some time if they just barged in with guns a blazin' rather than take the time to train a bunch of blind guys. You also have to love any film that has the gall to include a blind guy rape attempt followed by two blind guys duking it out.

The film is all over the map - literally, as they shot in the US, Mexico, Japan and the Philippines. Well, at least Charlie Davao got some free trips out of it as he is shown wandering those locales. For all we know, the rest could have been shot in Utah (although a majority of it appears to have been shot in the Philippines). I'd love to hear the financing stories on this. The filmmakers also gather up a pretty stellar exploitation cast. First up is VJ favorite Leo Fong. Fong had done a few cheapo action vehicles in Manila already and he actually gives the best performance as a blind guy (his stilted acting working in his favor?). He gets to throw down before he is blinded by having acid thrown into his eyes. His blind highlight is shooting a woman during the bank robbery because she makes a noise and then he apologizes. Other highlights include D'Urville Martin showcasing some Dolemite-inspired Spastic Fu © Rudy Ray Moore and Filipino legend Tony Ferrer getting his eyes drilled out.

Top billed Fred Williamson shows up as an afterthought, only appearing on screen for about ten minutes. Sporting a one-piece blue jumpsuit and his trademark cigar, this marked the third time Williamson played the Jesse Crowder character (previously seen in NO WAY BACK and DEATH JOURNEY, both 1976). One can only imagine what it would have been like if he had played a blind character as well. So if you are having an itch for a movie about blind bank robbers, go straight to BLIND RAGE. It is truly one of a kind and the best (only?) entry in this subgenre. You really have to see it to believe it (ah, boo yourself!).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Gweilo Dojo: MAXIMUM CAGE FIGHTING (2006)

Be it shame or finances, Jun Chong stayed off the screen for 15 years after the routine and silly STREET SOLDIERS (1991). But with the rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Chong found an avenue of return with...

MAXIMUM CAGE FIGHTING (2006) - No doubt Chong spent the interim teaching at his Tae Kwon Do school in Los Angeles, CA and was probably doing a pretty good job at it. In 1995 he took on a student named Jason Field (who, incidentally, was born about an hour from me in Virginia Beach, VA) and, as with Philip Rhee, a creative relationship was born. With a script by Joanna Chong (I'm assuming she is his daughter), Chong's production got down one more time with this flick to cash in on the cage fighting craze.

I'm too tired to write out a synopsis, so here is what the back of the DVD case says:
Jimmy Garren, a former Tae Kwon Do world champion, is now retired and a widowed father to ten-year-old Katie. So when he's challenged by a famous cage fighter... and former rival Nick "the Nasty" Harper - to a fight, he refuses... until Katie is kidnapped by Harper's crew. With the match being the only way to save his daughter, Jimmy travels to Brazil to train with world-renowned MMA fighter Renzo Gracie for a deadly fight in the cage... that only one man will survive.

So how is that for originality - a martial artist is forced to fight in a tournament when a family member is kidnapped? Next you'll tell me his school was attacked and disgraced (it is!). I'm not kidding when I tell you this - Nick is still harboring a grudge from losing a Tae Kwon Do points exhibition match ten years earlier. You know, the kind done in a big hall with tons of pads on. Get over it, son! I've seen kids on playgrounds who harbor less of a grudge. Of course, what do you expect from a film where a diligent father swears to protect his daughter, only to have her kidnapped after he drops her off at soccer practice and falls asleep on the couch!

It looks like age has finally caught up with Master Chong. His hair is a bit thin on top now and he looks like a morph of James Hong plus Kris Kristofferson. He is still in pretty good shape for a guy in his 60s though. Sadly, during his final brawl with Nick's bad trainer Master Kim (Chul Jin M. Kim), you can see an obvious stunt double to do the flips and stuff. It is funny because they try to mimic Chong's balding on the double. I don't blame him for going the Jackie Chan route though as the last thing you want to tell folks is you broke your leg shooting a low budget shot-on-video flick. To the film's credit, they did actually shoot on location in Brazil for some of it.

Now, onto the main problem. One of my biggest beefs is how Hollywood filmmakers represent MMA. I'm not talking the "Rich folks get off on guys fighting in a drained pool for them" cliche of the 90s. I'm talking about how the sport is actually depicted on film. Only professional wrestling gets a worse portrayal in movies. For example, Nick the Nasty is so nasty that he actually killed a guy in the cage. Is he barred from the sport? Is he arrested? Nah! He is prepping for his big comeback and MMA magazines love promoting a guy who is a killer (see screencap). Who wrote this script? John "MMA is human cockfighting" McCain? Also, we never find out if Blue Steele's days are truly numbered. It is sloppy, lazy filmmaking to represent MMA so poorly. Frank "Embellish much?" Dux would even shake his head in shame at the fallacies. According to the filmmakers, the following can happen in MMA:

  • You can snap a guy's arm with an armbar in 1 second
  • You are allowed to grab the cage and flip off of it
  • You can learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in roughly six weeks
  • You can inject steroids into you and they will make you berserk
  • Best of all, if you win three fights in the MFC organization, you get to challenge whomever you want, even if they aren't a professional fighter!
It is double disappointing when you realize they had Renzo Gracie, a member of one of MMA's pioneering families, on set. Then again, after his last fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 112, who knows where his head is at.

So when the dust settles, Chong emerges with a filmography record of 2-2. His first two productions were enjoyable thanks to the fighting, ambience and some unintentional comedy. It also helped that they came out during the awesome 80s. The last two suffered from weak set ups, wonky fighting and lack of good production values. It is sad when the biggest kick I get out of the flick is catching a NINJA TURF poster on the school's wall. Well, that and the quote on the DVD cover saying, "It will leave you wanting more." Indeed (in Lo Pan voice)!