Thursday, 29 July 2010

Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010)

Dolor keeps his pimp hand strong

I was really impressed with Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing, a direct-to-DVD sequel to a Wesley Snipes film that was way better than it had any right to be. It starred Michael Jai White, so I was predisposed to like it anyway, but it's surprising quality really comes down to the one-two punch of director Isaac Florentine and his high-kicking frequent collaborator Scott Adkins. Florentine does some amazing things with fight scenes and Adkins steals the show even in minor henchmen roles, so when I heard that Florentine was directing a third film in the series and bumping Adkins up to a starring role, I just about vomited in excitement.

As the title suggests, Undisputed 3: Redemption carries on the series tradition of having the villain return as the protagonist of the subsequent film. Well, maybe after two films it's too early to call it a "tradition", and it's probably not so much a thematic consideration as it is a financial one, but I still think it's a neat idea. In this case it means the return of Scott Adkins as Yuri Boyka, who touts himself as the world's most "complete fighter", whatever that means.

When the movie begins Boyka's knee and confidence are shattered after his loss to MJ-Dubs. It must have been a while because he has grown a hobo beard. He spends his days mopping the filthy prison toilets and his nights re-training his injured leg with a system of weights and pulleys. You'd think the rest of the film would be about Boyka fighting his inner demons and crawling his way back into the ring but no; it takes all of five minutes for Boyka to give himself a shave and a haircut (he did an amazing job with just a rusty razor blade) and leap into the ring. One of his signature double-spinning kicks and the prison's best fighter is down for the count. Boyka is back.

The first Undisputed film was about an underground prison boxing ring, while the second film moved the setting to Russia and changed it to free-form martial arts. The third film goes the next logical step and introduces an International Prison Fighting League, where the best prison fighters from around the world are shipped to a remote prison in Bulgaria and forced to compete for the amusement of rich guys. This allows for a wide mixture of fighting styles, with Koreans (Ilram Choi) bringing some Tai Kwon Do, Brazillians (Lateef Crowder) busting out the capoeira moves, etc. Of course there's also a loudmouth American named Turbo (Mykel Shannon Jenkins).

I don't know if you're supposed to think Turbo's in-your-face American sass is supposed to be charming, but he annoyed the shit out of me for the first half of the movie. This guy never shuts up. He's the complete opposite of Boyka, who rarely says a word except to give Turbo a richly-deserved "shut the fuck up" now and then. Of course, it's pretty clear from the beginning that these two are destined to get into a fight and then be BFF. Eventually they do the bonding thing and although Turbo gives Boyka his life story (he's ex-military with two kids etc), Boyka doesn't reveal anything about his past, which I liked. It would ruin the mystery.

The villain here is Dolor, played by Marko Zaror, a Chilean martial artist who you might know from Killtro and Mirageman. He's the pampered, drug-addicted superstar of the prison fighting league. He even gets to sit under a tree sipping a cocktail while the rest of the fighters break rocks in a quarry. Turbo and Boyka have the last laugh because they make prison wine out of lemons and turn hard labour into an impromptu training session. Dolor seems completely unhinged and makes a pretty colourful villain, but unfortunately he doesn't get a lot of screen time. Hopefully they can remedy that in Undisputed 4: Fistful of Dolor.

There's not really much of a plot here, but I like that. Like in Ninja, Florentine just jettisons all the superfluous bullshit. We spend some time with Turbo and Boyka's fight managers, Farnatti and Gaga (no relation to Lady I think) who in the end decide to sell out their fighters to the crooked kingpin and bet all their money on Dolor. Even worse, it also turns out that all of the losing fighters are driven out into the middle of nowhere and machine-gunned. Boyka doesn't find out until the very end, when he learns it from the old man who sweeps the fighting ring. If you're ever in a prison fighting league, keep an eye out for an old guy with a broom; he's probably an ex-fighter with some helpful tips.

At the end the guards rig the fight by crippling Turbo before his match with Dolor, so Boyka helps Turbo escape the prison so he can fight in his place. Not sure why the guards didn't just beat the shit out of Boyka too, especially after he injures a dozen guards during that prison escape, but I guess they thought he'd never win with his gimpy leg. The joke's on them, because after Dolor breaks his busted knee he wraps a filthy mop around it and he's as good as new. I hope that wasn't the mop they used to clean the shitters.

The big attraction here are the fights, and do I ever love the way Florentine shoots his fight scenes. The guy is a martial artist himself, so he knows what his fighters can do and how to show off their moves as effectively as possible. Ring fighting can be really boring if filmed incorrectly, but here the camerawork is almost as acrobatic as the fighters themselves, sweeping around in a way that makes you feels like you're the one getting kicked in the head. The fights are choreographed by Larnell Stovall, and combine the bloody brutality of early 90s kickboxing flicks with the acrobatics and careful choreography of Hong Kong kung fu films. Every punch and kick feels like it's going to take someone's head off.

Watching something like this it makes me wonder when people got together and decided that shaky-cam was an acceptable substitute for fight scenes. I know it got really annoying in that post-Matrix period where every film had to have slow-motion wire-fu, but this is a million times worse. Surely I can't be the only one who feels this way. I'll bet one day I'm going to find a pair of sunglasses that reveal subliminal messages on billboards that say SHAKY HANDHELD CAMERAS ARE MORE REALISTIC and RAPID EDITING MAKES THINGS MORE EXCITING. Thankfully we've still got Florentine fighting the good fight.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

You know, everyone uses that shot of Keitel pointing his gun at the
camera, so instead here he is jerking off in front of some teenage girls.

When I first heard that Herzog was directing a remake of Bad Lieutenant starring Nicholas Cage, I thought it was a great idea; the perfect synthesis of Herzog weirdness and Cage's ludicrous overacting. In the end it wasn't quite as crazy as I was expecting, and instead I developed an itch to rewatch the original. It had been years since I saw it and I didn't remember too much about it except for a few famous scenes and the fact that you saw Kietel's dong. For some reason male full-frontal nudity was a big deal back in '92. Mostly I remember it being a joyless slog, but since I was probably drunk at the time I decided to give it another chance.

In this film Harvey Kietel plays a policeman of questionable moral fiber. He is not named as far as I can tell, so I'm going to assume his name is Lieutenant Bad. The guy is a real asshole and an absolute drug friend; there is barely a scene where he isn't shooting up heroin, smoking crack, snorting coke or gulping down liquor. At one point he shows up at a girl's house (Zoe Lund from Ms. 45) to freebase some heroin, and when she answers the door he's holding a six-pack and swigging out of a can. I assumed it was beer, but it turns out to be Diet Coke, which is arguably worse. The label is featured quite prominently, so if it was product placement it was a pretty ballsy move on behalf of the Coca-Cola Corporation.

Even worse it seems like he doesn't care about crime at all. In one scene he just watchesa guy break into some parked cars as he casually talks to his bookie on a pay phone. The closest he comes to doing his job is when he wanders into a crime scene, steals whatever drugs and cash he can find and then walks off. In one scene he walks into the aftermath of a convenience store robbery and shakes the criminals down for money, right in front of the store owner and with another cop a few meters away. I don't know how he gets away with it. Makes you wonder how he ever made it beyond Bad Detective. You never see him at a police station or anything. If he didn't chat with some of his fellow officers now and then I could have easily assumed that he was just some maniac pretending to be a cop, like Maniac Cop.

Once thing I forgot about the film is that he has kids. There's a pretty funny scene where he berates his two boys as he drives them to school and then sits in his car snorting coke as he watches them walk into the school building. There's something about fatherhood that makes his behaviour seem that much worse, particularly the famous scene where he sexually harrasses two teenage girls. Under the threat of calling their parents he blackmails one into showing him her ass and the other into miming fellatio while he talks dirty and jerks off. It's a pretty uncomfortable five minutes, and to cap it off I think he ejaculates all over the side of their car, adding insult to injury.

One thing I really liked about the film was that you get this real sense of Catholic guilt. Keitel renounces his Catholocism, but still there's no escape for him. Everywhere he goes the film hammers him with religious iconography. Jesus is watching. There are rosary beads hanging from his rear vision mirror, those teenage girls he harrasses are wearing crucifixes, and I especially liked the drug dealer with the Jesus-themed couch cover. Nothing says piety like lighting up your crack pipe as you park your ass on the face of the Lord.

This all ties into the crime that drives Kietel into making a last shot at redemption. A nun gets raped by a couple of gang members, and although she knows who the perpetrators are she refuses to tell the police. She has forgiven them, like Christ forgave the nun-rapists in Bethany. Kietel doesn't get it: Surely the best thing for her to do would be to turn them in so they couldn't do it to anyone else? This all culminates in that incredible scene at the church, where Kietel blames a drug-induced vision of Jesus Christ for his problems, eventually breaking down and begging for forgiveness. One thing this film has over the remake is a pretty fantastic performance from Kietel. Nicholas Cage's acting style may be entertaining but it's not believable. Kietel is. You will believe a man can call Jesus a "rat fuck".

The whole movie is set against the backdrop of a baseball match between the New York Mets and the LA Dodgers. I don't know shit about baseball, but the gist of it is that the Mets start making a miraculous comeback after trailing the Dodgers 3-0. Darryl Strawberry gets mentioned a lot. Kietel bets against the Mets each time, losing over and over again and getting deeper into debt. A lot of time is devoted to this sub-plot; it's always on the television, on the radio, it seems to be all anyone talks about. His mulleted bookie tries to warn Kietel that he's attracting the attention of some dangerous people, but he just laughs it off.

As things spiral out of control it becomes clear that there's only one way the film can end, but they still wrap things up in a pretty interesting way. In a typical "bad cop" movie, your Dirty Tom, Dick and Harrys, you put up with the crooked cop because you know that in the end the he is going to go mete out some "street justice" by going places that the law can't. Here you expect something similar, specifically for him to shoot the two rapists in the face, but they pull the rug out from under you. Kietel knows he is going to die, so his last ditch attempt at redemption is giving the rapists a bunch of money and putting them on a bus out of town. I also like how bus driver just sits there watching Kietel slap the shit out of these assholes until they get on the bus. I probably would have driven off.

Herzog claimed he'd never even seen this film and that the title was just a marketing exercise. I can believe that, since the two films deal with similar material in pretty different ways. In the remake the Bad Lieutenant just wanders around doing crazy shit until the situation resolves itself. Here the situation is worse but the character has more of an redemptive arc, like It's a Wonderful Life with drugs and sexual harrassment and Jimmy Stewart waddling around in a Christ pose with his weiner hanging out and crying. Therefore I have to award the points to the original, although I think Ferrara might have gone a little bit far when he said that everyone involved in the remake should "all die in hell". I think the world is big enough for two Bad Lieutenants.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Inception (2010)

It's been a pretty dismal year for blockbuster films, so I had all my hopes pinned on this one. Usually that ends with me curled up in the corner and sobbing uncontrollably about the state of modern cinema, but it paid off this time with an original, masterfully-crafted blockbuster that doesn't treat the audience like a bunch of drooling babies. Looks like Nolan is becoming the go-to guy for thoughtfully-constructed big-budget thrillers. The Anti-Bay, if you will. If I had to describe this film in a sentence I'd say that it's as if Nightmare on Elm Street had a baby with The Matrix but The Matrix had a problem with her lady parts so Ocean's Eleven had to carry it term, but really it's one of those films that's better experienced than explained.

The trailer told me precisely fuck-all about the film, but I had heard it was one of those joints where you have to take your brain with you instead of checking it at the door like usual. I came to it expecting some Primer level mindfuckery, but it turns out it's not that complicated. It's pretty complex for one of these big summer blockbusters, but if you're paying attention you shouldn't have any trouble following what's going on. Why would you pay $10 to sit in front of a huge screen in a darkened theater for a couple of hours and not pay attention anyway? What else have you got to do? Eyes front, buddy!

Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the leader of a team of "idea thieves" who use some mysterious dream-sharing technology to enter people's subconscious and steal secrets out of their brain. The secrets are usually a pretty literal interpretation, like some top secret papers in a safe. It would suck if they were really abstract and surreal, like an elephant wearing a bowler hat, and you'd be stuck there thinking what the fuck does this mean? Luckily they've usually got someone on the team called an "architect" whose job it is to create dream-worlds that are complex and realistic enough to fool the dreamer into thinking it's reality. Dom can't do it himself because his dead wife keeps sneaking into the dreams and fucking things up.

After they fail a mission to steal industrial secrets from Saito (Ken Watanabe), he offers them a job to infiltrate the brain of a corporate rival (Cilian Murphy). There they will commit an act of inception, the implanting of an external idea in someone's brain. It's widely thought to be impossible, but Dom knows it can be done, and it quickly turns into a heist movie as he assembles his crack team, formulates a plan etc. Because inception is such a difficult process they have to create a three-level dream: a dream within a dream within a dream, which later becomes a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. Each layer becomes more unstable and there's also a time-dilation effect which is multiplied the deeper you go, so by the third act when everything inevitably goes tits up, you've got multiple action sequences happening simultaneously in different universes with time moving at different speeds.

It's kind of a miracle that everything makes as much sense as it does. They throw you in the shit straight away and expect you to keep up, only explaining things a little later on when they hire a new architect (Ellen Page). There's a lot of exposition at that point which eats up almost an hour of screen time, but to their credit it feels really streamlined and it never gets boring. It does a good job of explaining the rules of the dream world, but you never find out too much about the dream-sharing technology or the world they live in, which at times feels more scattered and surreal than the dreams they inhabit.

Corporate types can also train their mind to repel invaders ("like white blood cells fighting an infection" as Dom puts it), so the NPC inhabitants of their dreams (called "constructs") become hostile and militarised. This allows them to stuff the film with gunfights, car chases and explosions. This doesn't bother me much since I love a good action movie, but Nolan still can't direct a fight scene (gun or fist) for shit. I know I sound like a grumpy old man with this complaint, but the geography and choreography is constantly undermined by close-ups and shaky cameras. There's a gunfight in the snow that's almost impossible to follow because everyone is wearing white and the camera is attached to a pogo stick. Nolan really needs to hire a second unit director for that stuff. His car chases are great, though.

Of course, the fact that the dreams are so grounded and realistic means that the dreamscapes in this film aren't particularly imaginative. There's a good, in-universe explanation for why, so it's not a major complaint. When weird stuff does happen though, it's still pretty cool. There's a lot of special effects sequences in this film that do things that I've never really seen before. A big highlight is when Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character fights some goons in a hotel hallway as the gravity keeps changing direction before finally disappearing completely. How did they do it? There's other parts where cityscapes warp like a piece of paper or ruined skyscrapers collapse into the ocean. I guess Nolan likes really tall buildings.

Another complaint I've heard about Nolan's films, including this one, is that he's more concerned with elaborate gimmicks and plot mechanics instead of characters. Apparently being an intelligent, well-made piece of entertainment isn't enough for some people. It's clear that the guy is more fascinated with exploring the human mind through puzzle-box movies than developing his characters, but I still thought the subplot about Dom's wife was handled really well. I've heard people say that they couldn't connect with the movie because it was too emotionally distant, but I guess I'm a blackened husk of a human being because it drew me in like a motherfucker.

I can't really fault any of the acting. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page it's like Attack of the Babyfaces, but they're all really good so that's okay. Between this and Shutter Island, let's see if Leo can get another one of these tortured-husband-brooding-over-his-wife's-tragic-death roles and make it a trifecta. He's pretty good at it. I don't have much to say about the technical aspects, since it's all really good. Blah, blah, great cinematography, blah, blah. It's got one of those seat-rattling Hans Zimmer scores that's full of big string instruments and blasting tubas, so it always sounds like the movie is on the verge of the apocalypse. It might be overly-dramatic for some people, but I liked it.

Yeah, this is a good one, folks. I'm sure there are going to be lots of people who complain that there's too many 'splosions and not enough psycho-drama, and others who complain that it's too hard to follow and makes their brain hurt, but for us normal people with simple tastes and functioning brains, I think it hits the sweet spot. Why can't all blockbusters be like this? I guess it's kind of sad that it takes a mega-success like Dark Knight for a studio to bankroll a film like this, but now that it's here I'm not going to complain.

Friday, 16 July 2010

SS Camp: Women's Hell (1977)

Nazi experiments to create the ultimate "three-legged race"
contestant didn't go as well as anticipated

Like Bruno Mattei's twin Nazisploitation efforts SS Girls and Women's Camp 119, Sergio Garrone shot this one back-to-back with SS Experiment Love Camp. It recycles the same actors, sets, costumes etc, but unlike Mattei's films it doesn't try as hard to establish a different identity for each film. It's virtually the same fucking movie, save for one difference: this one isn't as squeamish about exploiting it's setting. The first film delicately avoided any topic that might be deemed too holocausty, but this one begins with real holocaust photographs of emaciated corpses being loaded into incinerators, shovelled into mass graves etc. Faaantastic.

Like all of these movies, it starts bunch of semi-attractive young women being herded into a camp and lectured by villainous SS officers, here Colonel Strasser (Giorgio Cerioni) and his female second-in-command (Patrizia Melega). Both of these actors are playing pretty much the same characters as in SS Experiment Love Camp, even down to Melega being an evil lesbian. There's also Magda (Paola Lelia), the madam of a local brothel, who has the authority to take her pick of the girls. She takes a particular interest in Alina (Rita Manna) and I can't really blame her since Alina's easily the most attractive of the bunch. Alina is apparently Jamaican even though she has a broad American accent, but I guess everybody in this film has a broad American accent so it's not a big deal.

Subsequently there's the obligatory shower scene (Magda leers over them creepily as she insists that they must "take perfect care of their bodies") and in preparation for a big party the girls are led into the brothel where they laugh and fight over dresses. All except one girl, who inexplicably stares at a sequined dress in confusion for the entire scene. Once they are all dolled up and led out to the guests, Colonel Strasser becomes infatuated with Alina. I don't know why, since she displays no emotion and peppers him with passive-aggressive insults, but if I've learnt anything from these Nazisploitation flicks it's that these SS guys were into some weird shit. Later, back at Strasser's private quarters, she starts fondling a plastic banana and then does a sexy nude dance with the banana dangling suggestively over her crotch. Like I said, weird shit.

Meanwhile, the girls rejected by the brothel are used as fodder to test an experimental burn ointment. They set fire to the girl's gams, sans anaesthetic of course, and then apply the ointment to the wound. Apparently they've killed over a thousand prisoners this way with no progress, which would suggest that the ointment is pretty useless, but the evil scientist demands more time and more test subjects. There is one scientist, Dr. Abraham (Attilio Dottesio, once again playing virtually the same character), who disagrees with the experiments and only works under the condition that his daughter Judith (Paola Corazzi) is spared from the gas chamber.

When Alina isn't busy boinking Strasser she helps some of the other girls to get employed at the brothel so they can execute a daring escape plan. One of the girls steals a bottle of poison from the infirmary by pretending to be sick and seducing the lesbian officer, who is for some reason treating injured prisoners instead of the doctors. Actually the infirmary is just a storage room with red crosses painted on some cardboard boxes and the her treatment for a head injury is a sensual boob massage, so it's not surprising the camp has had so many fatalities among it's test subjects.

After they get the poison they take it to the brothel and use it to kill the madam and all their clients. They sneak through some surprisingly lax security and try to escape through the crematorium, through the back of the ovens, which for some reason open out into freedom. Unfortunately the camp guards are waiting for them, and they lock them inside the ovens and burn them alive. I don't know why the guards didn't intervene earlier and save the lives of all the officers at the brothel, but I guess the irony of burning the escapees alive in their own escape tunnel was too much to resist.

As further punishment, the same bald sargeant from the first film (Serafino Profumo) and the evil lesbian gather up some random prisoners, strip them naked and try to torture some information out of them. One girl gets her fingernails pulled out with pliers and the old matches-under-the-fingernails trick. One girl has a metal strap tightened around her head until it crushes her skull. One girl is punched in the gut with a pair of spiked knuckle dusters until her flesh is torn to ribbons. Another girl has her tongue torn out with a pair of tongs. Wow, this is a pretty nasty scene actually.

The bald sargeant also develops the hots for Judith (between this and the previous film, I guess he's got a thing for blondes) and eventually rapes her while she's trapped in a jail cell. She gets pregnant, but when she goes to see her father he refuses to abort her rape-baby. Seriously? Now is probably not the time to come over all Pro Life. They've been executing prisoners by the truckload; do you really think they are going to think twice about sending her to the ovens, pregnant or not? In desperation she goes to the evil scientist, who agrees to perform the operation. When her dad walks in on them he flips out, throwing Dr Evil onto some electrical equipment, killing him. Daaang.

While lounging around with Colonel Strasser, Alina learns that the Russians are approaching and that orders have come in from Berlin to eliminate all the evidence (including the prisoners) and abandon the camp. While Strasser is talking to a couple of guards Alina uses the opportunity to steal a pistol from his desk. It's pretty weird because she is standing right in front of them and they don't even notice her until she shoots the guards and Strasser cops a gutful of their return fire. Alina tells Dr Abraham about their plans to exterminate all the prisoners, so they decide to kill a bunch of guards with a makeshift gas chamber, steal their guns, and make a last stand against their oppressors.

What do you say about a film like this? Debating it's quality (bad) seems beside the point, since a quick glance at the title is enough to tell you whether you are interested in seeing it or not. The threadbare production values and terrible acting may save it from being truly horrifying, but the lack of taste involved in a production like this is truly mind-boggling. It's pretty surreal having characters explain how Jewish prisoners are "processed", complete with real holocaust footage, juxtaposed against standard women-in-prison tropes like sexy shower-room catfights. Jesus, now I need a shower. Not recommended for the easily offended, arduously offended, or indeed anyone capable of being offended at all.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Predators (2010)

I didn't have high hopes for this one. I know Robert Rodriguez was involved, and we all love him, but Aliens Vs Predator and AVP2: Requiem took a healthy dump on both franchises and dug the predator series into such a pit that it may never fully recover. Therefore, I don't want it to seem like I'm damning with faint praise when I say that Predators exceeded my expectations. It's not perfect, but it gets a lot of stuff right.

The premise is great, and seems like a far more logical progression of Predator than the sequel(s) we ended up with. A team of international badasses are air-dropped into a jungle; there's an American mercenary (Adrien Brody), a Mexican drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a death row inmate (Walton Goggins), a Russian soldier (Oleg Taktarov), a Yakuza guy (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a soldier in a Sierra Leone death-squad (Mahershalalhashbaz [phew] Ali) and a woman (Alice Braga). Also Topher Grace, as himself. Pretty soon they realise that they are being hunted by some sort of alien hunter... a "predator" if you will. More than one, actually. Hence the title.

The movie pushes the big-game-hunter allegory even further, adding the idea of alien wildlife preserves and Predator hunting dogs. We also find out that there are two warring races of Predators. The one Arnold fought in the first film was just the space-nerd to this movie's space-jocks, and the big ones even give one of the smaller ones a wedgie and hang him from a space-totem. Luckily we don't find out too much more about the Predator race, because if you give it any thought at all the idea of primitive, hunting-obsessed aliens who accessorise with skulls and tribal ornaments etc. yet have also mastered intergalactic space travel is pretty stupid. Also I should note that there's only four Predators in the film (three big, one small). That bit from the trailer where Brody is covered in dozens of Predator laser sights isn't actually in the film. I hate it when they do that.

The movie's title subtly tries to trick us into thinking that this is the Aliens to Predator's Alien, but I don't know about that. Aliens is rightly regarded as the gold standard in movie sequels because James Cameron pushed things in a completely different direction. He realised that maintaining the same level of suspense as the first film was impossible because the alien was no longer a mystery, so he decided to make a balls-out action film instead. They don't really do that here. It plays out a lot like the first film in that they build the tension slowly and keep the Predators off-screen for most of the movie. Some teenagers probably got bored, and that's always a good thing, but part of me wishes they'd cut loose and made something really crazy and action-packed. Things get pretty good in the third act, though.

Technically, the film is really good. Top marks. Thankfully there's no CGI Predators bounding weightlessly from tree to tree; it's all dudes in rubber suits, which still look a little goofy and clumsy in action but they're real and tangible and I think that's more important. The film also uses a subtly reworked version of Alan Silvestri's fantastic score from the first film, which is great. Even better, the action is shot in an old school style where you can actually tell what the fuck is going on. The only time shaky cams get involved in when a couple of Predators start fighting with eachother and they've got to disguise the fact that they can only lumber around and wrestle like two fat kids fighting over cake.

I was skeptical of Adrien Brody, but he makes a pretty convincing badass. I should also mention Larry Fishburne's performance as a crazed soldier who has survived several rounds with the Predators. Actually everyone is pretty good. These aren't rich, memorable characters, but they do a good job. One thing I do miss from the first film is the easy-going chemistry between the cast. They were all stereotypes there too, but you bought that they were a highly-skilled team that had built up a friendship over a long time. It gave some dramatic weight to Carl Weather's betrayal and their eventual deaths. Here nobody knows eachother, everyone is distrustful and most of them are willing to sell eachother out at the earliest opportunity. It's not as fun that way.

On that note, I've heard complaints that this film is too serious. I'd rather that than a film that's too jokey and self-referential, but on the other hand it's definitely less quotable than the first film. Walton Goggins has most of the funny lines, but they aren't exactly "I ain't got time to bleed" or "this stuff will make you a god damn sexual-tyrannosaurus". There's one part where he says "When I get back home I am going to snort so much cocaine", which is pretty funny, but then he goes on to add "...and rape so many fine bitches." It made me a little uncomfortable. They must have thought they were onto some comedy gold because they keep rubbing it in, "I'll be like, five o'clock? Time to rape some fine bitches." Get it? Rape.

For me the most memorable one was the Yakuza guy, mainly because he was so mysterious. I though it was pretty interesting when he took off his shoes so they wouldn't get dirty when walking through the jungle, which seems like the dumbest thing you could possibly do. Maybe it was a shout-out to Predator director John TcTiernan's work on Die Hard. I also liked the scene where he has a swordfight with a Predator. You know, because all Japanese people know how to use swords. It's a pretty big scene to devote to a character who has maybe one or two lines and whose presence is barely acknowledged by the other characters. In fact, with a few slight modifications they could have had a Sixth Sense style twist where it turns out that his character was a ghost all along.

On the subject of twists, Topher Grace acts weirdly throughout the film, knowing more than he should about the local flora and surviving at moments where he really should have died. I figured it was leading up to a twist where he was working with the Predators, herding the rest of the characters into certain areas, treating them when they're sick (he claims to be a doctor) and making sure they don't try to do anything dishonorable, like killing themselves. There is a twist, but it's not that interesting.

There are a few callbacks and homages to the first film but they stop short of ripping it off. The Russian guy has a huge mini-gun, which must have been a real bitch when he parachuted into the jungle, and there's the scene where they all fire wildly into the trees. At the end Adrien Brody creates a big flaming arena, takes his shirt off (dude is riiiipped) and covers himself in mud. There's no real reason for it (it doesn't fuck with the alien's heat vision, which was a pretty stupid idea anyway) except that that's how the first movie ended so they've got to do it here. One of the Predators even has some of the sound loop recordings from the first film. I don't know how he got them since that Predator was blown up at the end, but I'm willing to accept that he uploaded them to Predator youtube before he died.

I don't think this film deserves a lot of the bad reviews it's gotten. The director is this dude Nimród Antal. Yes, people on the internet, his first name is Nimród. You are hilarious for pointing it out. He's made a few feature films, but I've only seen half of Vacancy so I don't feel qualified to comment on the rest of his work. He does a good job here, though. All I wanted was a film about Predators that didn't shit the bed, and this one fit the bill. Maybe a tiny bit of pee dribbled out, but that's it. It's a competent sequel and unlike my bed-wetting metaphor it was executed with more class and restraint than you'd expect.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

SS Experiment Love Camp (1976)

Whipped cream bikini contest!

This film is one of a couple of Nazisploitation films directed by Sergio Garrone. It gained notoriety when it was banned as a video nasty, mainly due to it's lurid cover art, but to be honest they needn't have bothered. It's in poor taste certainly, in fact the opening scene is a couple of naked women being electrocuted until they swear alliegance to the Führer, but it's far too ridiculous to take seriously. In fact coming off the heels of the thoroughly depressing Women's Camp 119, SS Experiment Love Camp is something of a relief.

One of the first things you notice is that none of the characters seems to be taking things very seriously. When the female prisoners first file into the camp they start giggling and joking in the shower room like it's a Porky's prequel. After an examination by the cruel Dr. Renke (Patrizia Melega) and the kindly Dr. Steiner (Attilio Dottesio), they are told they are going to be part of a grand experiment along with very best soldiers of the Third Reich. The great soldiers, meanwhile, sit around in the barracks ribbing eachother and laughing it up like they're in a high school locker room. One moustachioed guy wonders what they're doing at a death camp instead of at the Russian front, and gets a big laugh when he says "I hope it's a secret mission of a sexual nature!" Hahaha... genocide.

Turns out he's right though; the great experiment involves pairing up the soldiers with the female prisoners and doing lots of softcore fucking. To what effect it's unclear; I believe there's some vague reference to fertility research. Sometimes they fuck in a giant fish tank, I guess testing the effects of shrinkage on Teutonic dongs. The bald, oafish sargeant (Serafino Profumo) also uses the tank to punish a girl who is less than enthusiastic about her participation in the experiments. First they boil her alive and then freeze her to death, all within a couple of minutes. That's some pretty impressive temperature control on that tank, especially since it looks like the control box was constructed by a five year old. Those girls who do survive though, don't seem too unhappy with the arrangement. After being supplied with fresh marmalade one girl even says "If they keep treating us like this, they've got my vote!"

While her reaction might be a little too blasé, the girls in this experiment have it pretty lucky compared to some of the others. The uggos are used as test subjects in grisly experiments, such as uterus transplants and the testing of high pressure environments on human eardrums (conlusion: it's bad). The experimental failures are loaded up onto a cart and dumped into the furnaces, where they twitch and spasm behind some horribly unconvincing superimposed flame. Some of the girls are loaned out to a local brothel as entertainment for the troops. One timid girl isn't happy with her new employment, and after the sadistic bald sargeant forces her to dance for everyone's amusement, she waits until he's asleep and then stabs him with a fork. She tries to escape on foot, but she's shot and strung upside down in front of the prisoner's cabins as a warning to the others.

The leader of the camp is the sadistic Colonel Von Kleiben (Giorgio Cerioni), a peroxide blonde with 70s hair and big ol' sideburns, like a Nazi Doc Savage. He also has a terrible secret. You see, Hitler may have only had one ball, but he still had one up on the Colonel, who had both of his bitten off by a would-be rape victim back on the Russian front. Kind of a stupid move really, putting your family jewels in the mouth of an unwilling woman. Von Kleiben discovers that Dr. Steiner is actually Jewish, and uses this information to blackmail the doctor into performing a testicular transplant. But who will be the unlucky donor?

Well, luckily one of the German soldiers, Helmut (Mircha Carven), has fallen in love with one of the prisoners, Mirelle (Paola Corazzi). Even though they've never spoken and their interactions have been limited to exchanging cigarettes and fucking in a room full of clipboard-hugging scientists, theirs is a love that is eternal, destined to be etc. Since Helmut is due back on the Russian front in a few days, Von Kleiben offers to extend his post if he participates in some "experimental surgery". Helmut agrees immediately and in a graphic surgery scene that should have most of the male audience crossing their legs and wincing, Operation Lollybag is completed successfully. Really successfully actually; it seems they are both fully recovered within a day.

Apparently Helmut doesn't even realise his plums are missing until he goes to boink Mirelle that night. He's unable to perform, and one of the most overly dramatic sequences ever committed to film he starts tearing at his hair, clenching his fists and generally acting completely insane. Despite Mirelle's gentle reassurance that "it happens sometimes", he runs naked and screaming into the night. After learning the true nature of the procedure from Dr. Steiner (who commits suicide out of guilt) he heads to the brothel, where Von Klieber is giving his new boys a thorough test run. In the best line in the film, Helmut confronts him and shouts "You bastard! How have you been doing with MY BALLS?" Helmut then goes on a mad rampage, shooting up the joint and attempting to rescue Mirelle and escape the camp. It doesn't go too well.

It's really this whole testicle sub-plot that saves the movie from being a complete bore. All of the elements are there - there is a fair amount of blood, near-constant nudity, and plentiful sex scenes - but it's all treated in such a matter-of-fact manner that it's kind of dull. Maybe the seriousness of the subject matter kept Garrone from making things too lurid and sleazy. I mean, in an interview of the DVD Garrone even says that these movies can help people learn about the holocaust. Really? Ain't nobody picking up SS Experiment Love Camp to get a history lesson, especially one that is riddled with such unconvincing sets, inauthentic costumes and bad dubbing. Besides, it's not like people are going to look at your holocaust porn and say "oh, at least it wasn't TOO sleazy". If you're going to exploit one of the greatest tragedies in human history, you might as go for broke. That's what my mother always said.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Women's Camp 119 (1977)

On laundry day there was only one machine that didn't make
an annoying rattle. Sometimes things got ugly.

Bruno Mattei wasn't above much, certainly not using the sets, actors and costumes from one film to punch out another film on the cheap. He did this many times during his career (e.g. Violence in a Women's Prison versus Women's Prison Massacre, Caligula and Messalina versus Caligula Reincarnated as Nero) but if nothing else he was pretty good at giving each film a different tone and feel. This is particularly evident in his two Nazisploitation films, SS Girls and Women's Camp 119. While they were shot back-to-back with many of the same actors and costumes, the two films couldn't be any more different: SS Girls is bright, colourful and campy; Women's Camp 119 is harsh, grimy and miserable. Not the kind of film to take home to grandma. Or anyone, for that matter. This is the kind of film you watch by yourself in the middle of the night on a flickery old CRT television.

The film begins with a bunch of female prisoners rolling up to Rosenhaus concentration camp. Oberleutnant Otto Ohlendorff (Gabriele Carrara) tells them that "You'll wipe the asses of every one of us until you turn purple with fatigue". What, like 24-hour, round-the-clock asswiping? Maybe you should lay off the Mexican food. He also says that "our dogs are Corporals" and that the prisoners must salute them. Does this mean that lower-ranking enlisted men have to salute the dogs as well? Unfortunately the issue of canine NCOs is never brought up again. After a demonstration where three women are stripped naked and beaten, all the uggos are sent off to the gas chambers. Only hotties allowed in Hitler's Third Reich.

The camp is run by Commander Wieker (Ivano Staccioli), who is using the prisoners to conduct bizarre medical experiments aiming to increase the fertility of the master race. He likes to quote from Mein Kampf and blame his experimental failures on the "impurity" of his test subjects. A real asshole. Like in every one of these films his experiments are "the Fuhrer's top priority", so he enlists the help of one of the prisoners, a former doctor named Maria Black (Lorraine De Salle from Cannibal Ferox). She is forced to assist him in his experiments, though she tries to make it easy for her patients whenever she can.

You know, I don't know about the scientific validity of some of these experiments. For instance, in one experiment a man is frozen solid and then revived by the body heat of a hooker. A Polish priest is used as a test subject because his faith in god would be similar to a Luftwaffe pilot's faith in the Fuhrer. It's all very scientific. They try two Dutch hookers but that doesn't work so they have to bring out their secret weapon, some sort of French super-hooker they found in Versailles. It works, so I guess I don't know as much about science as I thought.

In another experiment they're trying to "cure" a couple of gay guys who just sit in a tastefully decorated room all day, knitting and sighing dramatically. Their treatment involves forcing them to view and eventually have sex with some naked female prostitutes. Apparently naked titties are to gay guys what crucifixes are to vampires because they freak out, covering their eyes and begging and pleading for mercy. The experiment was a failure for the Third Reich but a success at making me laugh.

Mattei treats everything with deadly seriousness, which might be funny if most of the other experiments were as ridiculous as these ones, but they aren't. There's all sorts of nasty vivisections, including a bloody uterus transplant and prisoners used to test the spread of infection in a wound. They aren't filmed with the campy grand guignol of a typical exploitation movie either, which makes them even more uncomfortable. In one scene Wieker's men find some poison bullets, so Wieker immediately loads them into his gun (handling them with his bare hands I might add) and shoots a prisoner in the leg, timing how long it takes her to die as she writhes around in agony. This isn't really a fun time at the movies.

Gabriele Carrara is the shining light of camp in what is generally a very grim and serious film, exhibiting the same crazy overacting here that he did in SS Girls. When Ohlendorff forces a girl to lick his boots Carrera makes sure you know he really, really likes it. The other campy touch is Ohlendorff's "pet", a bald, monobrowed simpleton named Kurt (Giovanni Attanasio). Ohlendorff uses Krazy Kurt to rape unruly prisoners but luckily he's a dedicated breast man, so usually he just roughly rubs and massages their boobs like he's kneading pizza dough. When Kurt's not on duty I guess he's free to roam the facility, because he attacks a girl named Cristina (Sonia Viviani) while she is inexplicably washing her hair in what appears to be a damp sewer. Luckily Cristina is saved by the requisite lesbian warden Marta (Ria De Simone). You can probably guess what Marta demands for repayment.

Most of this movie is just a bunch of unconnected scenes of women being tortured, raped etc, but somewhere about the 70 minute mark Mattei remembers that a movie is supposed to have a plot. Cristina, Maria and a doctor she is working with formulate an escape plan and execute it during an Allied bombing run. Despite a healthy head start the Nazis catch up to them, probably because Maria and the doctor decided to waste time by hiding in a cave and fucking. Soon after Cristina gets caught when she stupidly tries to steal some sausages from a platoon of Nazi soldiers in broad daylight, so the soldiers strip her naked and provide her with all the German sausage that she can handle (rape joke).

So, you'd expect Maria and the doctor to run away, the camp to get bombed out of existence and the movie to end, right? Wrong! Maria and the doctor get captured by Wieker, brought back to the camp and hanged. During the execution the rest of the assembled prisoners start singing in unison, so Wieker orders the prison guards to shoot them, which they do. Then Ohlendorff shoots the guards. Then Marta shoots Ohlendorff. Then Wieker shoots Marta. Wieker escapes the camp but is taken out several months later by a suicide bomber in a weird, abrupt epilogue. This is followed by some title cards telling us about a bunch of Nazi war criminals (who aren't in the movie) that were still roaming free back in '77. Way to bum us out, Mattei.

I got this film in the Grindhouse Experience boxed set, and the transfer is just terrible, obviously ripped from a VHS tape with burned-in Dutch subtitles. That's okay though, this isn't the kind of film that needs a Criterion Edition. If anything the grainy, washed-out picture quality adds to the experience. In all seriousness, I think this is one of Mattei's best attempts at making a "real" film. He takes everything very seriously (even a sexy naked catfight is shot and scored like it's Schindler's List), it's filmed well if criminally underlit, with great location shooting (wouldn't be surprised if it was a real concentration camp), very little stock footage and a moody, fittingly-depressing score by Alessandro Alessandroni. I'm put in a weird position here because I feel like I can't really recommend it to anybody in good conscience, even though I think it's one of Mattei's best. Oh well. One of Mattei's best. Do not watch.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Ring of Fire 2: Blood and Steel (1993)

My diagnosis? Terminal homoeroticism.

My major complaint with the first Ring of Fire film is that it was a little light on the action, but you certainly can't make that claim about the sequel. The movie starts with a violent jewellery store robbery, a fistfight, multiple gunfights, a car chase and a big explosion, and that's just in the first five minutes! Dr Johnny Wu is in the store at the time of the robbery, picking out an engagement ring with his fiance Julie (Maria Ford, now a redhead) and when Johnny defenestrates a criminal dumb enough to try and steal their ring, another robber shoots Julie in the shoulder. Good thing her fiance is the world's best kickboxer/surgeon.

As Julie coalesces in the hospital and discusses honeymoon destinations with her fiance, she is visited by most of the major players from the first film; Brad (Dale Jacoby), Chuck (Vince Murdocco), Lee (Ron Yuan) and Kwong (Eric Lee). Kwong is still dressed like a teenage skate punk and is played for even more laughs as a creepy sex pervert. Actually it's pretty amazing how friendly everybody is with eachother considering that in the previous film they were engaged in a violent gang war, not to mention the fact that Chuck and Brad stabbed Julie and tried to kill Johnny. I guess Johnny isn't one to hold a grudge.

You know who does hold a grunge though? Kalin (Ian Jacklin), the curly-haired leader of an extremely homoerotic underground street gang and brother to one of the injured jewellery thieves. Him and his crew, dressed in matching leather daddy outfits, break into the hospital and try to bust him out, but when Johnny intervenes the robber is accidentally shot in the head with an uzi. Whoops. Kalin is captured by the police, but his second-in-command Predator (Evan Lurie) breaks him out of the prison bus by running it off the road so it explodes in a huge fireball. Kalin's fine though. In revenge they kidnap Julie from the hospital and ransom her for 250,000 dollars, but of course the only thing Johnny is going to give them is 250,000 kicks to the face.

I thought that the gang's post-apocalyptic meets gay-S&M-club outfits were a little weird, but it turns out that they are just one of the many themed street gangs that populate a network of subterranean tunnels under L.A. When Johnny enters an underground tunnel to try and find Kalin he's immediately attacked by a gang of thugs wearing hockey masks and twirling torches like nunchaku. He defeats them, but two of them tear off his shirt so he's got an excuse to spend the rest of the film half-naked. He then befriends Ernest (Sy Richardson), a crippled homeless veteran who lives in an underground commune of crazy homeless people, including the obligatory out-of-work Shakespearan actor. I don't know why but there's always one of those guys in every homeless community. Must be an L.A. thing. He explains that to find Kalin and rescue Julie, Johnny must run a maze of underground tunnels and face a gauntlet of themed gangs.

So yeah, the film is basically a rip-off of the The Warriors. There is even a DJ running an underground (literally!) radio station that broadcasts updates to all the gangs, except instead of a sexy woman it's a flaming homosexual. Like any Warriors rip-off it comes down to how fun and creative the gangs are, and - save for one gang who wear samurai armour made out of garbage and hide under styrofoam rubble to ambush intruders - they aren't that interesting. There's a gang who wear roller skates and neon netting. There's a gang who twirl neon nunchaku. It was the early 90s, you see, so there's a lot of neon around the place. So much so that there's another gang called the Shadow Warriors who blend into the background by wearing black outfits with with neon stripes all over them.

As Johnny works his way through the tunnels he is followed by his friends Chuck, Brad, Lee and Kwong, so typically each gang will be fought twice, once by Johnny and then again by his friends. Eventually Kwong gets separated from the main group, which is nice because his solo fights are some of the best in the film. He gets to use a three-section staff and fight a female bodybuilder while he gropes her and makes lavacious comments. Meanwhile Chuck, Brad and Lee stumble across a gang of sexy dominatrix prostitutes with their own subterranean strip club. This was one of my favourite scenes, for obvious reasons but also because of Chuck's hilarious delivery of the line "Let's get NA-KED!"

There is another line of dialog that sticks in my mind. It's a minor quibble but I have to get it out of my system. When Ernest and Johnny are first attacked by a street gang and Ernest tells Johnny "let's see how many balls you got". This strikes me as a strange turn of phrase, since fortitude is usually (and erroneously) correlated with the size of one's testicles, not the number. You wouldn't say that a particularly courageous guy must have, like, fifteen balls. He'd have a scrotum that looked like a bunch of grapes in a sock. Surely the answer would be either zero or two, in which case you'd say "let's see if you've got any balls". Sure, Johnny might have a single testicle due to a medical issue, but if so then it's a particularly insensitive remark on Ernest's part.

Actually Ernest has the closest thing to a character arc in the movie. They try to work in a few Serious Moments about homelessness, but it's pretty silly and patronising. I found the ending particularly insulting; Johnny offers to help Ernest find some work and get back on his feet, but Ernest decides he prefers the simpler life of living in a sewer and self-medicating his mental illness with alcohol and drugs. Still, I think it's fair to say that social commentary isn't top priority when you list everyone's martial arts credentials before their acting credits. Back then you couldn't just train up a pretty-boy pop star for a few months and put him in an action film, you had to be "5 time World Karate Champion" or something.

After the somewhat realistic first film, number two in the Ring of Fire saga takes a pretty surreal turn. I didn't know that subterranean gang violence was such a problem in Los Angeles. It's also pretty much non-stop action sequences, strung together with the simplest of rescue-the-girl plots, like a videogame. There's even two fake endings, culminating in a car stunt and a big explosion. The fights are pretty good though, choreographed by Art Camacho as were all the Ring of Fire films. The only fight that doesn't work too well is the one with the hockey mask gang, since it's lit primarily by their twirling torches. I enjoyed Ring of Fire 2: Blood and Steel and I also like that you can swap around the words "Fire", "Blood", and "Steel" and still have a servicible action movie title.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Ring of Fire (1991)

I would totally watch a stage production of
Phantom of the Opera starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson

After watching Ring of Fire 3: Lion's Strike, I had a hankering to track down the previous two adventures of Don "The Dragon" Wilson as Dr. Johnny Wu. I like the idea of a hero who can both kick asses and heal them, something that crops up regularly in traditional Chinese kung fu films but only very rarely in Western action films. Unfortunately at this stage in the Ring of Fire trilogy Johnny is only in the business of healing asses as he is bound by a strict oath of non-violence. He refuses the pleas of his cousin Terry (Steven Vincent Leigh, Sword of Honor) to join his kickboxing team and take part in an underground fighting ring. As Johnny puts it "You beat them up, I patch them up".

Terry does his best to beat them up in the opening sequence, "them" being a rival kickboxing surf gang lead by Chuck (Vince Murdocco, who was apparently in Sworn to Justice although I don't remember who) and his friends Brad (Dale Jacoby from No Retreat, No Surrender) and Bud (Gary Daniels, Fist of the North Star). Terry gets his ass whupped at first, but his teammate Kwong (Eric Lee) saves the day with his drunken boxing. Chuck gets a thorough ass-kicking, much to the consternation of his fiance Julie (Maria Ford), who is sick of Chuck's constant fighting and the fact that he's a complete asshat.

It's actually quite a while before Johnny makes his debut appearance, but it's a pretty good one. It's one of those dramatic reveals where you only see him talking to his cousin with his back to camera and then it pans around to show his face and there's a musical sting and you go "Holy shit! It's Don 'The Dragon' Wilson!" Just in case you missed his name in the credits, on the DVD cover, plot summary etc. After dealing with his cousin he also gets harrassed by Sgt. Lopez (Michael Delano), a racist cop who is constantly accusing Johnny and his cousins of being thugs and drug dealers. I guess he must have worked through those race issues eventually because by the third film they are BFFs.

Actually, most of the film revolves around a blossoming relationship between Johnny and Julie. When they first meet at Johnny's grandmother's Chinese restaurant, Julie mistakes him for a waiter. Johnny plays along, making it the first time in human history where a doctor has pretended to be a waiter in order to hit on a girl. Johnny is smitten and begins to stalk her, showing up at a "Masquerade Ball" (more of a costume party really) dressed up like the Phantom of the Opera. Way more romantic than Chuck, who looks like some sort of post-apocalyptic Cirque de Soleil reject. The next day Johnny goes to the clothing store where she works and creepily professes his love to someone in the change room who he thinks is Julie but is actually a horny old woman. Wah-waaaah. Julie falls for him anyway, but she's still got to deal with asshole Chuck and his hatred of Asians. So you know, star-crossed lovers etc.

Although the two of them make a big deal about the reactions of their respective families, it all gets resolved fairly easily. When Julie shows her grandmother a picture of Johnny she solemnly intones "This is a problem," which may make her seem like a huge racist but it turns out she's fine with it and more worried about Chuck's reaction. Likewise with Johnny's grandma, who is horrified at first but after peppering Julie with questions she determines that Julie's an acceptable mate for her grandson. By which I mean she can cook and is of child-bearing age; granny isn't too hard to please. Soon they are indulging in a montage of romantic movie cliches, like eating ice cream on the boardwalk, kissing at sundown in sillhouette, doing tai chi on the beach etc.

Meanwhile Terry is having his own montage, only his consists of his intense poolside training regimen for the escalating race war between his Chinese bros and the surfers. It's sparked off for reals when Kwong, who is in his mid-40s but dressed like a 12 year old skate punk from the late 80s, invades the surfers' turf to hit on girls. Chuck's guys pants him in front of the girls and then Kwong sneaks onto the roof of a building and pisses on them in retaliation. That marks the end of the teen-sex-comedy type antics though, as the surfers' then corner Kwong in an alley and beat the shit out of him, putting him in the hospital. Tensions rise and eventually the conflict erupts into a stiffly choreographed street fight between the gangs. Luckily the police arrive and break things up before it gets out of hand.

Johnny tries to get his cousin to stop the turf war, but while Terry doesn't want any more violence he doesn't know how to stop things without looking like a pussy. Johnny suggests that Terry challenge Chuck to fight "they way they used to in Thailand" (or more accurately in Kickboxer) in a literal ring of fire with broken glass on their hands. That way when Chuck inevitably backs down from the fight Terry won't lose face. It can't possibly fail! Unless Chuck accepts the challenge, which of course he does, and soon Terry, who I'm sure wishes he thought the plan through a little better, is bleeding out on the pavement. Julie commits a huge faux pas by showing up at his Chinese funeral wearing black, but she needn't have worried because that is by far her least egregious fashion mistake in the film. I know it was 1991, but Jesus; Mom jeans with thigh-high hooker boots, acid-washed denim jackets, even a long-sleeve denim onesie. Behold Julie, Queen of Denim.

Surprisingly Terry's death still isn't enough to force Johnny into breaking his vow of non-violence. It's only when Chuck and Brad bust into Julie's aerobics class (more 80s fashion) and slap her around that Johnny finally decides to fight them in the ring. I'm surprised he didn't start beating them up right there, but it dissolves straight from Johnny glowering in the aerobics class to Johnny glowering at the underground fighting ring, so maybe he teleported them all there through the sheer force of his anger. Naturally it's a pretty one-sided match between Chuck and Johnny, so Brad leaps into the ring and starts beating Johnny around with a chair. What is this, WWE Raw? Chuck, in a fit of desperation, grabs a samurai sword and tries to stab Johnny, but Julie intervenes and gets slashed. Strangely this does not cause Johnny to go batshit and beat them both to a bloody pulp, rather Chuck and Brad immediately surrender after realising what they've done while Johnny carries the injured Julie out of the ring and out of the movie.

It was a pretty interesting decision to focus this film on interracial romance rather than kicks to the face. I liked that it isn't handled with kid gloves (Julie and Johnny even have a sex scene!) and when the two gangs are trash-talking eachother the racial epithets flow quite freely. Also, it's kind of refreshing to see such strictly racially-divided gangs, rather than the multicultural street gangs that tend to show up in films like this. In this respect you're definitely more than you'd expect from a direct-to-video Don "The Dragon" Wilson film. On the other hand, it's pretty light on the action. Johnny's vow of non-violence may give the final battle a bit more dramatic impact, but nobody picks up a Don "The Dragon" Wilson film to watch him make googly eyes at some blonde in a belly shirt. Now that Johnny has broken his vow of non-violence and dealt with his race issues, hopefully in the sequel they can get down to the business of kicking ass.