Yod Manut Computer / aka Computer Superman (1977)
Attention dour academics: If you're looking for an example of folkways polluted by the insidious influence of Western pop culture, look no further than Yod Manut Computer. This 1977 film from Thai special effects pioneer Sompote Saengduenchai's Chaiyo Productions starts out as a Seven Chinese Brothers-like tale that has all the feel of an oft-told traditional yarn, but then takes a radical detour in its middle half and becomes a cash-strapped counterfeit of the then-popular American TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, complete with needle-dropped musical cues from the original. Along the way, Saengduenchai dishes up a surfeit of exactly the type of primitive movie magic we've come to expect, which goes a long way toward mitigating the film's other considerable shortcomings.
Throughout the punishing endeavor of surveying his films, I've thrown a lot of grief in Sompote Saengduenchai's direction -- most of it, to my mind, both retaliatory and justified. But, still, I've got to say that there is one way in which the man has rarely let me down. You see, I'm a man with a passionate love for bad special effects. On any given day, I'd rather watch an episode of Terrahawks than any one of the Star Wars movies. And even if your movie is crap, if you show me some horrible, rubbery prosthetics; or woefully undetailed, poorly-scaled miniatures; or pathetically obvious rear projection, I will probably end up reserving for it a warm and cozy spot within my otherwise glacial heart.
True to form, with Yod Manut Computer, Sompote delivers all of these aforementioned cinematic delights, elevating the film -- to my mind at least, and despite it exhibiting Chaiyo's trademark digressive approach to narrative and grating instances of juvenile humor -- from being totally unwatchable to only mostly unwatchable. Despite this ringing endorsement, however, I must warn fans of the crocodile from Crocodile that the film's pre-1981 vintage excludes it from containing a cameo by that rubbery critter. Seriously, if you've become as accustomed to seeing him pop up in these productions as I have, his absence is unexpectedly jarring. It's sort of like watching a John Cassavetes movie that doesn't have Gena Rowlands in it.
Yod Manut Computer begins on a stormy night in a small Thai village, where some dodgy looking miniature shacks are being assaulted by some particularly iffy looking cartoon lightning bolts. On this night, four brothers are born... four brothers who will grow up to be somehow, well, different. One brother has gigantic ears, the size and shape of which he can change at will, while another has gigantic hands, and a third brother can produce prodigious amounts of unusually adhesive snot from his nose. The final brother merely has a tail -- well, more of a rear-mounted horn than a tail, really -- which you would think would make him less special than the others, unless you think of the inability to sit down as being some kind of super power. For the sake of brevity, I will refer to these brothers as Ear Boy, Hand Boy, Snot Boy and Tail Boy. Interestingly, it turns out to be Tail Boy who is the main player in our story.
Tail Boy is played by Thai actor Yodchai Megsuan, who I mistakenly identified as Sombat Methanee when referring to this movie at the end of my review of Krai-Thong. Yodchai Megsuan was probably used to this in his day, because, based on my experience, his job seemed to be to play the lead in those few Thai movies made during the 1970s that didn't star Methanee. Sometimes, to make things extra confusing, they both starred in the same film, as they did in Killer Elephants.
Anyway, the first half of Yod Manut Computer follows Tail Boy and his freaky brothers through a series of whimsical episodes -- at times with the proto-sythpop song "Popcorn" percolating disturbingly on the soundtrack. These include a fishing adventure in which Ear Boy uses his ears as sails to power the fishing boat, Hand Boy uses his big ol' hands to scoop the fish from the river, Tail Boy pokes a hole in the bottom of the boat with his butt-horn, and Snot Boy seals the hole with his super snot. Finally comes that fateful night when Tail Boy's girlfriend, to the accompaniment of a needle-dropped section of George Martin's instrumental score from Help!, gorily cuts off Tail Boy's tail while he sleeps. Because of the lack of subtitles, I'm unsure what her motivation was for doing this, but I doubt that her intention was for Tail Boy to run off into the forest and bleed to death. Which is what he does.
Fortunately for Tail Boy, a goofy scientist wearing a nineteenth century British naval officer's uniform happens upon his exsanguinated body and takes him back to his laboratory, where he and his hapless assistants, working in "funny" sped-up motion, labor to turn him into a bionic man. When Tail Boy revives, he finds himself able to pry cardboard doors from their hinges and outrun poorly rear-projected trains -- all of which is to the good, because in his absence, a nasty gang of bandits has taken over the village and thrown all of the brothers' women into a cage. With newfound purpose, Tail Boy does that -- ch ch ch ch ch ch ch! -- slow-motion-means-fast-motion $6m man run back to the village, where he gathers up Ear Boy, Hand Boy and Snot Boy to do battle against the interlopers. And that's as much of a plot summary of Yod Manut Computer as you're going to get out of me.
To be fair, the story of Yod Manut Computer, while incredibly stupid, is told in a much more focused and linear manner than that exhibited in many of the other Chaiyo movies I've watched. Whether this is typical of the efforts of director Santa Pestoni or not, I couldn't say. After all, I only know that this movie was directed by Santa Pestoni because it is, for some reason, one of the very few vintage Thai films that actually has an All Movie Guide entry. That aside, the fact that this one moved at a somewhat more sprightly clip than its peers, combined with those many aforementioned visual wonders on view, placed it on the safe side of excruciating, and well beyond the fearsome reach of its evil brethren Magic Lizard. In fact, I even laughed on several occasions while watching it, which indicates to me that perhaps even those whose viewing habits aren't motivated by some extravagant sense of penance might find it good for a drunken har har.
Or perhaps not. See, as much as I want to prove that I can be even-handed in reviewing these movies, I just can't bring myself to flat-out recommend this one. That's simply too much responsibility for any one man to shoulder.
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