Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cruel Jaws (aka Jaws 5) (1995)

Aaah! Fibreglass shark head!

Jaws is widely credited as being the first true "blockbuster" film, and although that term has become something of a pejorative these days, you can't deny that Jaws is fuckin' awesome. After it's release the cinemas were flooded with animal-on-the-rampage films, most of which copied Jaws' plot down to the unscrupulous capitalists and exasperated nature experts. Mattei may have slowed down in the 90s, but in 1995, well after the animal-on-the-rampage genre was dead and buried, he popped up under his one-time pseudonym William Snyder to not only rip off Jaws, but rip off the rip offs. For his 1995 made-for-TV killer shark movie Cruel Jaws he lifts huge chunks of footage from Enzo G. Castellari's own Jaws rip-off The Last Shark. Pretty much every action sequence was taken from that film, as well as small segments from the first three Jaws films and Joe D'Amato's Deep Blood. This is the Citizen Kane of people-standing-around-reacting-to-stolen-stock-footage movies.

The film opens with a couple of divers trying to recover some top secret documents on board a sunken Navy ship so that they can sell them. Guys, I'm pretty sure that any secret documents lying at the bottom of the ocean would be pretty much ruined by now. Before long they are attacked by a giant shark and chased into a cave. The angry shark then rams the mouth of the cave until it collapses, trapping the divers. Luckily they have some explosives to blast their way out, but before they reach the surface the shark eats them up in a flurry of bad editing.

Cut to a marine biologist and his foxy wife, who are going to visit some people at a Seaworld-type coastal attraction in the sleepy town of Hampton Bay. The owner, Dag Sorrenson, is a dead ringer for Thunderlips himself, Hollywood Hulk Hogan. I was hoping he would perform an Atomic Leg Drop on the shark, or at least grab a microphone and start trash talking it. "Watcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you? Your razor-sharp teeth ain't no match for these 24-inch pythons. You'd better believe it, brother!" Unfortunately he's a little more morose than his WWE counterpart, especially since an accident killed his wife and crippled his daughter.

Adding to Dag's misery is the fact that the local evil property developer wants to knock down his seaside attraction and build an addition to his luxury hotel. You know he's evil because Dag's seal pushes him into the water and everybody laughs. With the hotel owner's big real estate deal about to go through and his own daughter fraternising with one of Dag's employees, the last thing he needs is a shark going around eating swimmers in terrible day-for-night photography. With all of this shark mayhem, they'll have to delay the big regatta. No, not the big regatta!

Of course, the evil property-developer constructs a bay-spanning shark net and demands that the regatta go ahead as planned, allowing Mattei to insert footage of a windsurfing race from The Last Shark. This is sloppily intercut with shots of our hero and the property developer's no-good son trying desperately to look like they are windsurfing as they stand still on dry land. To nobody's surprise the shark busts through the net and turns the race into an all-you-can-eat buffet. After he's had his fill of the race contestants, the shark starts ramming the pier, knocking people in like dominoes. Even Dag's little girl gets knocked out of her wheelchair and dumped in the ocean, at which point she starts frantically kicking her legs. She's healed! It's a miracle! Unfortunately she doesn't get eaten.

After this massacre the property developer puts a $100,000 bountry on the shark's head, inspiring a number of unsuccessful attempts to capture it. During one such expedition a girl inexplicably douses herself in gasoline just as her friend lights up a flare, proving that no justification is too flimsy for Mattei when there is stolen footage of a boat explosion sitting idle. The sheriff also tries to take out the shark from a helicopter by using a hunk of meat attached to winch cable, but the short-sightedness of his plan is revealed when the shark grabs the meat and pulls the chopper into the ocean. I'm sure in his final seconds he regretted shooting at the shark instead of, you know, releasing the cable, but he didn't really have much choice since this whole sequence was footage taken from The Last Shark.

Eventually our marine biologist decides to mount his own expedition to hunt down the shark. According to him it's a tiger shark, and although most of the footage is clearly of a great white I don't have a PhD in marine biology so who am I to argue? Somehow he also knows that the shark is the result of a secret Navy experiment and likely to be hanging out in the sunken wreckage of the ship that was transporting it. They mark it's location on a map with a big red circle and an arrow saying "It's here". This proves mighty handy to some mafia goons who break in later and use the map to mount an expedition of their own, hoping to collect on the reward.

Of the course the mafia's shark-hunting expedition goes horribly awry, but our heroes' own expedition goes surprisingly smooth. In fact, they set the explosives and blow up the shark without any twists, turns or surprising developments at all. The shark even explodes three times so Mattei can get the most of his stock footage. Our triumphant heroes head back to collect on the bounty and save their business. The seal even pushes the evil property developer into the water again and you know what? It was even funnier the second time.

Cruel Jaws is more of a greatest hits compilation than a movie in it's own right, but it's worth seeing if only for Mattei's enormous brass balls in not only stealing footage from the Jaws films but also giving Peter Benchley a writing credit.

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

You're kind of stretching the definition of zombie here

No "Best Sequel" list is complete without Aliens. It's a classic film that stays true to the central character while spinning things off in a wildly different direction, changing the tone, the focus and even the genre. I've heard many sequel directors reference Aliens when talking about how their film ups the stakes and changes the rules of the game, but rarely do they live up to their promise. It's been slavishly imitated over and over, and it's fair to say that Aliens clones have become a genre unto themselves.

It's surprising then, that Zombies: The Beginning stands out even amongst Aliens clones for slavish imitation and unoriginality. Of course, those of you astute enough to notice the Bruno Mattei tag on this post won't be surprised. Yes, as late as 2007 Bruno Mattei was making films like it was 1983. He would probably still be making them today if a brain tumour hadn't cruelly taken us from him shortly after making this film.

You see, after the Golden Age of Mattei in the 1980s, he retreated to the safety zone of softcore erotic thrillers and the occassional Jaws rip-off. However, the 00's saw a return to form for Mattei and (under his pseudonym Vincent Dawn) he produced some cannibal and zombie films and even a few women-in-prison movies. Audience tastes may have moved on since 1978, but Mattei hasn't. His 2003 cannibal film Land of Death is basically "Predator with cannibals" (and not his first Predator rip-off either), so it's a shame that he shuffled off his mortal coil before he was able to bring us a zombie/cannibal crossover film riffing off of Alien vs Predator. It couldn't be any worse than the real Alien vs Predator films, right?

Zombies: The Beginning was Bruno Mattei's last film. Like all of his recent genre films, it was shot back-to-back with a similar film (the previous year's Island of the Living Dead) and this film is a direct sequel. It has the same central character Sharon (played by Yvette Yzon, who proved to be something of a muse to Mattei, starring in most of his mid to late 00's films) and, well, you've seen Aliens so I don't really need to explain what happens. All of your favourite scenes are replicated here with drastically reduced resources and talent.

That's not to say that Mattei doesn't put his own stamp on the proceedings. For instance, in the boardroom scene where Ripley is chewed out by corporate executives she says "All of this bullshit you think is so important, you can kiss all that goodbye!" Mattei turns things up a notch by changing the last part to "...you'll only be able to use to wipe your ass!" Definite improvement! Instead of becoming a dock worker Sharon becomes a Buddhist monk, but like Ripley her nightmares drive her to accept a consultant position on a rescue mission to the island.

Actually, this whole beginning sequence is a pretty good illustration of the calibre of rip-off we are talking about here. James Cameron knew that showing one of Ripley's nightmares was sufficient. After that you could show her waking up in a cold sweat and leave the audience to fill in the blanks. Mattei has that original nightmare sequence (Sharon turns into a zombie with a truly horrifying monobrow) but uses subsequent dream sequences (at least three) to pad the running time with scenes of Sharon screaming as zombies moan and drool into the camera.

So anyway, it turns out that the corporation is using pregnant women to incubate baby zombies. Who knows why. There's an obligatory scene of a rubbery zombie fetus bursting it's way out of a woman's stomach, plus they also get attacked by a baby zombie, played by a heavily made-up midget with a hilarious eyeball poking out the top of his head. These zombie babies grow up into weird coneheaded mutants that look kind of like Greedo from Star Wars. Like Han Solo, Sharon definitely shoots first. Instead of the alien queen there is a brain in a jar, easily dispatched with a burst from Sharon's flamethrower, so the equivalent scene for Ripley's final face off with the queen aboard the Sulaco is missing entirely. This makes for an extremely anti-climactic ending and makes Bruno Mattei's subsequent posthumous shout-out seem kind of sad and pathetic.

Where Aliens differs from a lot of the imitators is that it gave a strong (if one-dimensional) personality to each of the secondary characters. So much so that to this day characters in films are often referred to as a Vasquez-type or a Hudson-type. Of course Mattei has a few analogs to those characters here (which are terrible), but most of them are completely interchangable. It doesn't help that they are all wearing SWAT-type face masks, leaving only the lousy dubbing to tell them apart.

There's also a lot of gore, all realised with practical effects with no digital touch-ups and aside from the fact that it's obviously shot on crappy digital there's barely anything to indicate this film was made just a couple of years ago. In another throwback to the 70s, all of the dialogue is dubbed (badly) in post-production. There's also a little bit of stock footage. A sequence aboard a submarine is taken from Crimson Tide and apparently Viggo Mortenson is visible in the background, although I didn't see him.

On one hand this film is kind of interesting, like those kids who did a scene-for-scene remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Gus Van Sant's Psycho vanity project. Though it was a labour of love for them, I don't think Mattei had such lofty motivations. It certainly doesn't help your enjoyment when you're sitting there thinking "I could be watching Aliens instead of this stupid bullshit." Bruno's earlier films might have been shamelessly derivative, but ocassionally someone would strip off their clothes for no reason or pipe up with a nonsensical and profanity-laden piece of dialogue and all was forgiven. His films were at their best when they plumbed the depths of ridiculousness, like Reb Brown's speech to a dying boy in Strike Commando. So I wish this film had some of the same ridiculous touches but at least he died doing what he loved... ripping off other films. So long Bruno, I hope you're climbing popcorn trees in heaven.

Friday, 29 May 2009

TimeCrimes (2007)

Invisible binoculars!

One film I recently saw and mostly enjoyed was Primer, a low-budget film about a couple of engineers who accidentally invent a time machine (oops) and then spend the rest of the film abusing the technology and gradually getting themselves deeper and deeper into trouble. I appreciated the way it was grounded in hard science and didn't talk down to the audience, but it's definitely a film that requires multiple viewings. I saw it two and a half times and I'm still not entirely sure what happened. I mean, just take a look at this chart. I like intelligent films and all but Jesus Christ. It didn't help that the film had this detached, dare I say engineerish feel to it that put the mechanics of the plot above everything else.

Therefore it's really nice to have something like TimeCrimes, a Spanish film with the same intelligent time-travel plot and similar themes, but also a little more accessible and easy to follow.

Héctor (Karra Elejalde) is an ordinary middle aged dude (who actually looks like a normal dude and not a Hollywood actor pretending to be a normal dude) moving into a new house in the country with his wife Clara (Candela Fernández). He is lounging on a deck chair in his back yard spying on his neighbours, when suddenly he stumbles upon the holy grail of neighbourhood-spying: A hot girl taking her top off. Naturally he goes to investigate, but when he finds the girl naked and unconscious, a mysterious man with a bandaged face stabs him in the arm and begins to chase after him.

Héctor escapes and takes refuge in a mysterious laboratory next door. With the aid of a laboratory technician (played by writer/director Nacho Vigalondo) he soon finds himself transported about an hour into the past. Now he's got to make sure his past self plays things out the same way and gets to the time machine so he can travel into the past so he can make sure he gets to the time machine so he can travel into the past etc.

This film is quite cleverly structured and well-paced so that while some things are fairly easy to figure out early on (such as the identity of the bandaged man), a third act twist piles on some more mystery and keeps you guessing (almost) until the end. It's never difficult to follow but it takes some pretty dark turns and Héctor gets into a few nasty situations. His face gets so banged up and swollen that by the end he's barely recognisable. Not much else to say without spoiling things, so I'll leave it at that.

Time travel films tend to fall into two main camps. There are the ones where you have to avoid meddling in the past or you'll fuck everything up in the future and there are the ones where it doesn't matter what you do because it's all predestined to happen anyway. TimeCrimes tries to have it's time-travelling cake and eat it too. When Héctor goes back to the past he has to ensure that everything plays out the same way, but it seems like events unfold the same way whether he intends them to or not. The result is some sketchy character motivation that reveals the plot mechanics whirring underneath, but it's overall it's a pretty clever and intriguing tale. Way better than shitty Hollywood fare like The Butterfly Effect or Timeline.

Okay I'm going to push headlong into spoiler territory here so go away and see it if you haven't seen it already.

Okay are you back? Pretty good, huh? I found the ending to be a surprising bummer, what with him travelling millions of years into the past and being eaten by dinosaurs and causing a space-time rift that destroyed the universe. I didn't see that one coming. Okay, that didn't really happen, it was a trick for all you people who didn't see the film but kept reading anyway. Go away and see it for real this time.

You've seen it for real? Alright then. That poor cyclist had one lousy day, huh? Chased through the woods by a creepy guy covered in bandages. Forced to take her top off for some neighbourhood perv with binoculars and then knocked unconscious and stripped naked (and raped, for all she knew). Then, when she's on the verge of escaping, Héctor 3 cuts off her hair and all but pushes her off the roof himself. It's a pretty downbeat ending, but one that shows the terrible consequences of time travel. If you fuck about with the spacetime continuum then people are going to get hurt. Just wish it didn't have to be hot young cyclists.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Last Cannibal World (aka Jungle Holocaust) (1977)

Seriously, there's more sausage in this film
than in a German butcher

There have been rumours of a Cannibal Holocaust remake circulating around the internet for a few years now. With all these horror remakes coming out it wouldn't surprise me in the least. No doubt they'll change the corrupt documentary filmmakers looking for the ultimate story into sexy teenagers in low-rider jeans searching for a hidden stash of weed. Instead it turns out that this project is more of a companion piece than a remake and more importantly it's directed by Ruggero Deodato himself. With that in mind, I thought I'd have a look at Deodato's first go around at the cannibal genre, Last Cannibal World. This film was originally intended as a pseudo-sequel to Umberto Lenzi's genre-defining cannibal film Man From Deep River. Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov return from that film, but they couldn't get Lenzi back, so they got Ruggero Deodato instead.

Now as we all know, an area the size of a football field is cleared from the Amazon jungle every second, and I think we can all agree that that simply isn't fast enough. I mean, the ill-fated oil prospectors in this film spend the first few minutes on-screen bitching about how awful and dangerous the jungle is, and they don't even know about the cannibals yet. Worse still, the opening text claims this film is completely factual. I know, I was skeptical too, but it also says all of the events were personally witnessed by the "central character" Robert Harper and that's good enough for me.

Robert Harper (Massimo Foschi) is an oil prospector on a surveying mission in the Phillipines. Accompanying him is his anthropologist/survival expert pal Rolf (Rassimov) and some unnamed woman. After a shaky landing leaves their aircraft slightly damaged, they discover the outpost abandoned. They quickly come to the conclusion that the prospectors have been attacked by natives. During the night the woman is snatched by cannibals and the next day the pilot gets caught in a booby trap. Soon Harper and Rolf are completely lost and pursued through the jungle by hungry cannibals.

The two of them build a raft and try to escape downriver, but they hit some rapids and wreck their raft. Harper struggles to shore, but Rolf is nowhere to be seen. After battling his way through the jungle, Harper wolfs down a strange jungle mushroom (always a good idea) and after a night of projectile vomiting and fierce stomach cramps, he is woken by spear-wielding cannibals.

He is taken back to their cave, and it's about now I realise that this film has a shitload of dongs. I mean, there's naked dudes standing around everywhere. They shouldv'e called this film Last Cock'n'balls World (aka Jungle Dongocaust). The only woman there to break up the sausage party is the beautiful Me Me Lai, who takes a strange interest in their new captive. The natives chain him up to a rock, strip him naked and for some reason start playing Stretch Armstrong with his dingus. Even Me Me Lai gets in on the penis-pulling action, which would have been pretty awesome under other circumstances, but here it's just embarrassing, especially since Harper is clearly more of a grower than a shower. Turns out they think he can fly (because of the plane), and pretty soon they've got him tied up to a vine as they hoist him up to the top of the cave and then let him freefall over and over again.

After they've had their fun they put him in a cage with a bunch of birds. Some kids stop by occasionally by to piss on him or pelt him with rocks, but he manages to curry their favour with a simple finger trick. I would have gone with the detachable thumb trick, but maybe he's saving that one for later. Me Me Lai stops by as well, but when Harper tries to get her to bring him some water she misunderstands and give him a handjob instead. Man, if I had a dollar. So Harper's sitting there in his cage feeling good and miserable, wondering why they haven't just killed him and gotten it over with, but then the cannibals bring home a crocodile, slaughter it, and extract one of his former avian cellmates from it's stomach. It's then that he realises they're going to use him as bait, so he figures it's a good time to escape.

Playing possum, he bashes one of his captors on the head with a rock and escapes, but not before saving Me Me Lai from a would-be rapist and taking her with him. He escapes into the jungle and uses a vine to tether Me Me to his waist, exploiting her jungle smarts to find him water and food. Later she tries to escape, but Harper chases her down, slaps her around and then rapes her. That must have done the trick, because the next morning he wakes up to find his new girlfriend preparing him a jungle breakfast. These stone-age cannibal women, always going for the bad boys.

Eventually he and his new gal pal meet up with Rolf, who is still alive but sporting a badly infected knee. Harper is happy to see him, but not as happy as we are since Rolf gives him a loin cloth and spares us from having to look at Harper's flaccid dong for the rest of the film. It's clear by this point that Harper's a few bananas short of bunch as he starts babbling insanely about his luxury computer-controlled mansion on the California coast while Rolf cooks up a few bats for dinner.

As they struggle to get back to the plane, Me Me Lai gets captured by the cannibals and eaten while Rolf becomes increasingly worse for wear. Harper manages to intimidate the pursuing cannibals by killing one of them, pulling out some sort of internal organ and taking a big ol' bite. It's a pretty horrifying moment, one that marks the completion of Harper's slide into savagery. I mean, shit, he could have just pretended to take a bite. I guess he's a method actor.

One thing this film does right is bump off all the secondary characters early on in the film. We spend most of the film with Harper as he's forced to witness and do horrible things to survive. The focus on one character's slow transformation and struggle for survival really works in this film's favour, especially since Massimo Foschi and his penis put in such great performances. Me Me Lai is also great and the fact that she's naked for the whole film doesn't hurt either.

Of course there's the requisite animal cruelty that sits there like a turd on a freshly baked birthday cake. There's some stock footage of snakes eating various animals, and the bit where they slaughter the crocodile is extremely graphic, but it's a little more organic and doesn't seem as gratuitous as in some other cannibal films. Or maybe I'm just getting desensitised, sliding into savagery like Massimo Foschi. Soon I'll be running through the jungle with my dong hanging out.

One other thing this film does better than most other cannibal films is make the jungle seem fucking scary. There's a great bit when Harper and Rolf first get separated. After struggling to shore, Harper whirls around in a panic and as the sounds of the jungle get louder and louder he realises that he's completely alone in one of the most savage environments on Earth. They didn't just dub in the same bird calls and animal noises you hear in every other movie, it sounds frightening and completely alien. In parts it kind of reminded me of Deliverance, except I guess Harper is one who does the raping.

Although Deodato's later cannibal-mockumentary (or cockumentary) Cannibal Holocaust is better known and certainly ups the stakes in cruelty and gory shock value, I think Last Cannibal World is a better film overall. It's more engrossing than most other cannibal films, the characters are more likable and it doesn't feel as hateful or misanthropic. If all of the Italian cannibal films were actual cannibals, Last Cannibal World is the hot one that's going to reach through the bars of your cage and give you a handjob, and unlike Foschi you'll probably enjoy it.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda (aka Turkish Star Trek) (1973)

Behold the creepy smile of Turkish Kirk

Blogging... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the blog Crustacean Hate. It's continuing mission: to explore strange new flea markets; to seek out rare films and bootleg VHS copies of Turkish movies; to boldly watch where no man has watched before...

With people wetting their collective pants of the new Star Trek reboot/prequel, I figured it was time to go back and revisit one of the all-time classic Star Trek movies. I speak, of course, of Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda, literally "Ömer the Tourist in Star Trek". You see, Star Trek was a very popular TV show in Turkey and Turist Ömer (played by Sadri Alisik) was a character from a series of hit 70s Turkish comedies. Some Turkish film producers concocted the brilliant of idea of combining these two hot properties along with the magic ingredient... a blatant disregard for copyright laws.

The filmmakers shake their asses in the faces of the Paramount lawyers in the very first sequence, where they pinch the entire opening credits from the TV show, albeit tinted red with some surf guitar randomly inserted into the theme song. When we finally see the bridge of the Turkish Enterprise, it actually looks okay. They've done a decent job reproducing the uniforms and sets on what must have been a severely limited budget. Let's face it, the bridge of the Enterprise in the original series didn't look that hot either. They've taken a few liberties with womens' costumes in particular. Uhura's skirt is so short you can see her Klingons.

With the Turkish cast they seem to have done a pretty good job with all of the crew present and accounted for, but I'm not sure about Turkish Kirk. In the original series Captain Kirk was all man, punching and having sex with aliens in equal measure. This incarnation of Kirk seems, I don't know, a little swishy. Plus he's got this really creepy smile. Maybe it's a Turkish thing. The Turkish Spock is no Leonard Nimoy but he does a decent job.

The movie is basically a retelling of the original series episode The Man Trap. Like in the original episode, their mission is a routine visit to Dr Crater and his wife on planet Aurin 7. Nancy Crater, the professor's wife, was once romantically linked with Dr McCoy. However, once they arrive it is clear that something isn't quite right. Nancy seems to appear as a completely different woman to each member of the crew. She uses her hypnotic powers to lure away one of the redshirts (who, I might add, aren't wearing red shirts) and presumably kill him. When the crew discover his body she comes up with the ridiculous story that she saw him gulp down a poisonous alien plant, standard behaviour for any away team I'm sure.

Naturally Kirk and his crew are highly suspicious and it's here that the episode starts to veer from it's source material. For some reason the good doctor has a time machine, so he comes up with the unusual plan of transporting a scapegoat from the past that he can blame for the crew member's death. Naturally he chooses Turist Ömer, who is at that very moment involved in a shotgun wedding to the sister of some Turkish gangsters (or something). After some wacky comic sound effects and terrible special effects, Ömer finds himself on an alien planet. Well, actually I'm pretty sure it's Ephesus, one of Turkey's most popular tourist destinations, but here it's standing in for the ruins of an alien civilisation.

After he runs into some hot, gold-painted women in bikinis and a Tarzan-looking dude in a loincloth (who is a robot), he is taken to the Professor and subsequently palmed off to the crew of the Enterprise, who for some reason believe the Professor's ridiculous story. They place Ömer under arrest and take him back to the ship. Nancy, posing as a redshirt (who is lying in a ditch somewhere, drained of salt) also manages to sneak aboard.

By the time they get Ömer back on the Enterprise it's clear that stealing sound effects from the show has become too much work as people now make 'wssht' noises for doors manually. Once on board Ömer gets up to the usual stuff that passed for comedy back in the early 70s, such as sexually harrassing all of the female crew members. After a "comedy" medical examination they leave Ömer to his own devices and he gets up to all sort of wacky antics, such as using a "sound amplifier" (clearly a torch) to amplify the sound of his gut, causing a red alert. He also continually teases Spock with the Turkish equivalent of "down low, too slow" and when Spock asks the computer to clarify the joke it goes fucking nuts, laughing and blowing smoke. Well, you know what they say about dissecting comedy.

Like in the original episode, it's eventually revealed that Nancy is in fact a salt-vampire, a race of shapeshifting aliens that can hypnotise people and drain their bodies of precious sodium chlorine. Standard fear of female sexuality stuff. By this stage of the film, Nancy has already seduced several crew members and drained the salt out of their bodies, although rather than use her suckers like in the original episode she just rubs her hands all their face and then licks her fingers. Not a very efficient method, to be honest. Eventually they make their way back onto the alien planet to confront the doctor, with Nancy stowing away with them. The doctor escapes, but Spock uses his "seventh sense" (whuh?) to open up the hidden escape passage.

On the cliffs outside, Kirk is attacked by a fire-breathing space monster, a guy in a baggy orange costume with over-sized rubber gloves and a crappy plastic mask. You know some poor extra was paid a few Turkish Lira a day to sit in that suit operating the flame thrower and breathing in toxic fumes. The real Kirk would probably have fought the monster with his bare hands, but this weak-sauce Kirk cowers behind some rocks (even though the flames are nowhere near him) and tosses some styrofoam boulders at it to no effect. Eventually Spock jumps out and saves his ass by zapping it with a phaser blast effect that is scratched into the film stock.

Once they run into Nancy she turns into a hot Vulcan chick, putting Spock under her spell. When Kirk tries to bring him to his senses, they each pick up those Shaolin-looking Vulcan weapons (there just happens to be pile of them lying nearby) , which are called Lirpa apparently, and get with the fighting in what is a clear homage to the fight scene in the original series episode Amok Time. Somehow the fight is even lamer, especially since it doesn't have the classic music. Come on, you weren't squeamish about the theme music, why start now?

Finally, Doctor Crater unleashes his secret weapon... a whole army of Tarzan robots. While they punch and kick at the crew with the grace and skill of a beginner Karate class, Doctor Crater and Nancy argue about killing the crew. Doctor Crater wants them dead so the two of them can be left alone, while Nancy wants them to live so they can call in the troops and supply her with an endless supply of salt. Eventually Nancy turns on the Doctor and kills him, while Ömer fiddles with a doohickey that makes the Tarzan robots turn on eachother.

The final confrontation with the salt-vampire takes place in some cave tunnels. Like in the original, it's McCoy who is forced to zap the monster with his phaser as it pleads with him in the shape of his former girlfriend. When Ömer rushes in with the intention of warning the crew about the monster (who up until now was posing as McCoy), he does a triple take at McCoy and then another triple take at the monster. That's a lot of takes. Clearly the Turks were pushing the boundaries of comic cinema.

For some reason it turns out that the transporter is also capable of sending people through time, so the crew gather around give Ömer a farewell. He kisses them all goodbye (kissing Spock an unprecented six times) and then they dump him right back in the middle of his shotgun wedding. Luckily for him some of Spock's skin flakes must have gotten mixed into the transporter because Ömer has been given Spock ears and the ability to perform the Vulcan nerve pinch. He's so happy to get out of the wedding that his shouted thanks travel through space-time and onto the bridge of the Enterprise. The crew exchange a few "oh-that-wacky-Ömer" expressions and head off on their next copyright-infringing adventure.

But what of the eternal question that has plagued nerds since time immemorial (or at least the late 70s)... Turkish Star Wars or Turkish Star Trek? Well, Turkish Star Wars is far more incompetent, but as a result far more entertaining. Turkish Star Trek also loses points for actually trying to be funny. Sorry Turkish Trekkies (Turkies?), going to have to give this one to the boulder-punching fabulousness of Turkish Star Wars.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Man From Hong Kong (1975)

Sorry, I didn't get a screenshot, but I think this poster art
should give you a good idea of what the film is about


I've been feeling a bit patriotic lately so I've been digging my way through some Australian genre films. The Man From Hong Kong is an Australian/Hong Kong co-production, coming courtesy of Brian Trenchard-Smith, a stuntman turned director who made a bunch of cool Australian stunt films before escaping to America to make action and horror films. I believe this film was mentioned in a documentary about Australian exploitation filmmaking called Not Quite Hollywood, which I've been avoiding because I know that if I see it I'll end up with a hundred new movies on the end of my DVD rental queue.

This film opens with a drug exchange going down at Uluru (then Ayers Rock). If you've ever been to Uluru you'd know it's way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere. Probably the least practical place for a drug exchange ever, except for maybe the bottom of the ocean or inside an active volcano. What's wrong with a train station in Cabramatta? The exchange man is played by the great Sammo Hung, who also did the fight choreography, so naturally when they're busted he runs up to the top of the rock and has a fight scene with copper Bob Taylor (wrestler-turned-actor Roger Ward). The other exchange man jumps in his car and tries to drive off (good luck mate, it's 450 km to the nearest town) but is pursued by a helicopter and somehow flips his car and blows himself up. Sammo isn't speaking to no whiteys so it's time to bring in... The Man from Hong Kong.

The Man from Hong Kong is a man (from Hong Kong) named Inspector Fang Sing Ling, played by badass Jimmy Wang Yu from the One-Armed Swordsman films. In his very first scene an Australian reporter (Ros Spiers) asks him what's so special about Special Branch and it then cuts to them totally doing it. "Do you often take white girls to bed?" she asks. "Only on Tuesdays and Thursdays." he replies. He's like the Chinese Shaft! When he finally gets to Australia he meets up with his contacts Bob Taylor and his exceptionally hairy partner Morrie Grosse (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Fang interrogates Sammo Hong Kong style which is to beat him half to death, while the two cops handle the situation Australian style, which is to look the other way and bugger off down the pub. Unfortunately Sammo gets assassinated on his way to the court house (by legendary stunt man Grant Page) and everything points to Jack Wilton, expert Martial Artist and drug kingpin of Sydney.

Wilton is played by one-time Bond George Lazenby. In his first scene he whips the asses of all his students, but in the end it's revelealed he has an iron bar concealed in his fist. So it establishes him as both a master of kung fu and a cheating scumbag. Economical storytelling. He's even got one of those swinging 70s pads with bright orange decor and an enormous safe filled with drugs, guns and explosives. Like a Bond villain's lair if he were a bit strapped for cash and had to live in a Sydney apartment building. He's also a big racist (the word "yellow" gets bandied about, which is weird for a guy so into Chinese culture) and he likes to show off at parties by playing William Tell with hot women. He's a huge asshole, in other words.

Basically the rest film is just this crazy Chinese dude tearing ass through Australia and beating up everyone who gets in his way. There's a pretty impressive fight scene that starts in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and gradually works it's way into the main restaurant, leaving no piece of crockery, furniture or pane of glass intact. Later on he crashes Lazenby's party, fights all his henchmen and kicks over the buffet table. So he leaves a pretty hefty trail of destruction and hungry people in his wake.

One of the best fight scenes is where he climbs up the side of a building and breaks into Wilton's martial arts studio. There he fights an entire class of students with spears, swords etc, although what they were doing there in the middle of the night isn't exactly clear. Afterward he is picked up by a hot girl and nursed back to health. This is where he sleeps with his second white girl of the picture (must be a Tuesday or a Thursday). He even has a musical love montage, and sure, she makes a slanty-eye joke during their romantic picnic lunch, but nobody's perfect. So when the bad guys show up and run them off the road, killing her, you know they've opened up an extra-large can of Whoopass, Hong Kong style. This leads to a superb car chase which cuts a path of destruction right through a house. After running him off the road, Fang rams the bad guy's car until it breaks in half and when the driver catches on fire he just stands there and watches him burn. That's cold!

After hang-gliding onto his apartment building, Fang has his final showdown with Lazenby. During the fight he kicks Lazenby into a convenient open-air fireplace in the middle of his swinging apartment. The sound designers got a little overzealous here, it sounds like he fell into a deep fryer, but it's an impressive stunt that injured Lazenby. If you believe the rumours, he punched Trenchard-Smith afterwards. In the end Fang forces an illegal confession from him by shoving a live grenade in his mouth. Nobody seems to mind Fang's questionable methods though, so when he blows the shit out of the apartment with Lazenby and nearly all the evidence still in it, everybody has a good laugh. Ha-ha-ha, that man from Hong Kong, always murdering suspects and circumventing due process. What a joker!

They were obviously having a bit of fun with whole cop-on-a-rampage genre, so a lot of the dialog is pretty terrible, intentionally so. Could have done without the racist jokes, but it was made in Australia in1975 so to be honest I'm surprised there weren't a lot more. To be fair, Wang Yu's character is far more capable than any of the whiteys in the film, plus he's not afraid to mouth off to any assholes when necessary ("Hey, don't give me any SHIT!"). It was all dubbed in post-production (like an onion on your belt, it was the style at the time) with Jimmy Wang Yu given a pretty deep Western voice.

Cheesy dubbed dialog aside, this is a Brian Trenchard-Smith film, so you know it's going to deliver some kick-ass stunts, and it doesn't disappoint. Jimmy Wang Yu climbs up the side of a building, kicks a guy off a motorcyle etc. As far as I could tell, he also did a lot of his own stunt-driving too, including a great one where he screeches to a halt on the edge of a cliff, stopping right in front of Ros Spiers. There's some nice explosions, especially when the car explodes in the opening action scene. A car door whips right towards the camera making for an incredible shot, but it's clearly accidental and scared the shit out of the camera crew (on the commentary track Trenchard-Smith says they learned to chain the doors to the car after that). There's also a lot of hang-gliding, for some reason.

Enter the Dragon had been released a couple of years earlier, and this film was Australia's attempt at bridging Eastern and Western action styles. It's certainly not as polished as Enter the Dragon and the fight scenes definitely don't compare, but it's got some fantastic stunts that still hold up today. Definitely worth seeing for fans of Australian cinema, incredible stuntwork or garish 70s fashion.