Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'll buy that for a dollar: Killer Elephants (Thailand, 1976)

I think that it's time I come clean and admit to all of you that my taste in movies -- and, hence, what I choose to write about -- is pretty much dictated by what I can find at the dollar store. That is not as limiting as it might sound, however, since my neighborhood has about a gajillion of those stores. So, not only can I take home most of the combined cinematic output of Sonny Chiba, Bolo Yeung and Fred Williamson for less than the price of a Denny's breakfast, but I can also, on occasion, make some fairly interesting finds.

Killer Elephants, IMHO, is just such a find, as it's a rare example of a 1970s Thai action film that was actually dubbed into English for American release. Now whether that release was originally a straight to VHS deal or if Killer Elephants had a run on the grindhouse circuit or on U.S. television I have no idea. But, regardless, it's easy to see what an American distributor of that period might have seen in the film, because it's possessed of some fairly unique and potentially exploitable charms.

Killer Elephants is a uniquely Thai take on the biker film, as the gang that Sombat Methanee leads ride elephants rather than motorcycles. Now you might be chuckling to yourself over the absurdity of such a notion, but picture in your mind Marlon Brando on a motorcycle going up against Sombat Methanee on an elephant and you might just be a bit more respectful. As such the film features lots of scenes of rampaging elephants overturning cars, toppling over flimsy grass huts and... well, that's pretty much it, but they do an awful lot of both of those things. The film's American handlers obviously cut it down to little more than its action scenes, which means that Killer Elephants is very fast paced and makes absolutely no sense. And if that doesn't qualify it for a review on 4DK (notice the Bollywood style abbreviation there?), I might as well just hang up my blogging, er, shoes right now.

The dubbing of the male voices in the film sounds like it was all done by one guy, who uniquely combines the authoritative Harvard clip of the Kennedys, the folksy, homespun inflections of Walter Brennan and the random burst delivery of William Shatner into one heady vocalese. As more male characters are introduced, you can hear this guy getting more and more desperate to mix it up, and eventually he reaches into Cookie Monster territory for his voicing of one of the bad guys. The female voices also all sound like one person, except that she says "bastard" a lot and manages to say it in a different, completely strange way every time, at one point saying something that sounds more like "Boss Turd". I thought I was past the point of being entertained by bad dubbing, but, oh, how wrong I was.

Unfortunately, Killer Elephants failed to kick off the wave of Eleph-sploitation movies that it rightly should have. It's a shame, because Sombat really does manage to cut a pretty badass figure perched atop his "ride". Anyway, I would highly recommend this one if you can find it. Did I mention that it cost a dollar?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... sounds intriguing... but would you highly recommend this film if it costs more than a dollar? And if so, then how much more?

Todd said...

Actually, I failed to mention that this movie came on one of those double feature discs -- paired up with something else that I can't remember that probably starred Carter Wong. So I really only paid fifty cents for it. However, if I had paid a dollar for it, I would still think it was worth it. Any more than that, though, well...

Wise Kwai said...

And I'm back. Brain still melted, but somehow able to make comments.

I saw Sombat last night. He's looking spiffy as ever. Didn't have a chance to ask him about his thoughts on the making of Killer Elephants, though. Too bad.

I see this is on Amazon for $13. I think I'll have a look see around and try and find it for a $1, 'cause that's about what it is worth.

Todd said...

I'd only pay $13 for it if it came with a jet ski.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

So entrenched am I in the land of usually serviceable but occasionally hilariously be-typoed subtitles that weird dubbing sounds like a magical, mythical alternate universe.

And frankly, everything should be abbreviated Bollywood-style.

Todd said...

Beth, it saddens me that English speaking Bollywood fans have been cheated of the opportunity to hear Amitabh speaking in the voice of an underemployed actor from Long Island using an inexplicable British accent.

Speaking of weird subtitles, I recently watched Khote Sikkay (review on the way) and, while the translation seemed okay, the subs that appeared on screen, rather than including the entirety of the line being spoken at that moment, contained the last half of the previous line -- usually spoken by a different character -- and the first half of the one being delivered (if that makes sense at all). If anything, it really forced me to pay attention.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Once again, I shake my fist at the once-might British Raj.

The German fans have told me all about the delights of dubbed Bollywood. Apparently the guy who does SRK is a bit of a star. Hee.

As for your subs, I've had some like that, and they make my head hurt. Especially when a character is talking but the subs are for the previous line from another character so the person appears to be talking about herself in the second person for no reason. Subtitle lag is dire. The worst movie I've ever seen for subtitles was usually just sparse, but it also including things like a line that was written as just "3," even though Amitabh had been talking for at least ten seconds and never said the word for 3.

3 out, yo.