Monday, June 15, 2009

Little Hero (Taiwan, 1978)

Ah, sweet sustenance. Simply put, films like Little Hero are the reason that 4DK exists. Anarchic surrealism worthy of the most dedicated avant-garde provocateur? Check. The type of furious desire to entertain that could only be born of the most mercenary populism? Yep. Total disregard for conventional notions of narrative sense and cohesion? Uh huh. As far as weird-fu goes, this is the hard stuff. And standing at the center of it all, like a human signpost signaling our crossing over into this strange and wonderful territory, is one of the very goddesses of that rarified subgenre, Polly Shang Kwan.

With it's ridiculous, makeshift costumes, grotesquely cartoonish characters and outlandish action, Little Hero could easily come across as a film designed for the soul purpose of humiliating its actors. That is, if its star showed the slightest signs of being phased by any of that. Indeed, one of the most appealing things about Shang-Kwan is how, despite her prestigious beginnings in martial arts cinema -- keeping in mind that she was discovered by the revered director King Hu and made her debut in his classic Dragon Gate Inn -- she always seems to be having the time of her life in these crazy Taiwanese cheapies.

Here Shang Kwan again plays a character who is constantly referred to as "him" and "young man" by the other characters, despite the contrary evidence presented by her heavy eye shadow, lipstick, pigtails and thigh-flashing amazon gear. And, unless I missed something, she's actually supposed to be a boy this time, rather than a guh... a guh... a girl masquerading as one. The martial world macguffin at the center of the action is a powerful weapon called the Phoenix Sword, and, in order to get it, the villains have kidnapped the daughter of its rightful owner, a kung fu master by the name of Chen. In response, Chen's former disciples, which include Polly, band together to wield the collective pummeling fist of justice.

All in all, it's a very simple plot made immeasurably more complicated by the fact that the voice-over actors who did the dubbing each have a completely different way of pronouncing the other characters' names. This is forgivable, however, as otherwise those actors deliver everything we might desire in an English voice track to a kung fu movie -- i.e. unaccountably squawky-sounding voices that lapse in and out of bad British accents as they deliver rapid-fire chunks of dialog that invariably end with "I am going to kill you!"

The villains of the piece are the Devil's Gang, who are lead by a guy in a gold mask named Gold Mask, who will later be revealed to be Lo Lieh. Both Gold Mask and his silver-masked sideman, who goes by the name Silver Mask, are able to fly around using giant fake condor wings, which is indescribably awesome. Rounding out the gang is a kung fu dwarf called Vampire, a whip wielding dominatrix type, a guy with elephant ears, an underground burrowing guy, a bear guy, and a bunch of guys in tiger-striped fuzzy head pieces and face paint called the Tiger Guards. The colorful nature of the Devil's Gang renders the forces of Master Chen, who under normal circumstances would be considered quite flamboyant in their own right, rather conservative by comparison, though, to their credit, they do have a guy in a spiked football helmet among their number.

I am happy to report that the action in Little Hero lives up in all respects to the crack-addled absurdity of the characters taking part in it, involving such things as giant mouse traps and people rolling around inside enormous pinballs. At the conclusion, the film beats the odds and actually tops itself by having Polly steal Silver Mask's wings and take off after Gold Mask in aerial pursuit. Upon touching down at the beach, she is then, for absolutely no reason, attacked by a pair of giant octopuses that look like Q*bert. For a moment she seems to be getting the upper hand, but then the octopuses start to aggressively birth baby octopuses at her, launching the little ones out of their octo-ginas at her like so many slimy tentacled projectiles. After overcoming these astonishingly fruitful beasts through great effort, she goes on to have a final confrontation with Lo Lieh in what looks like an extremely unsafe version of an elementary school playground where all of the climbing gear is made out of rough cut bamboo.

Oh god, I'm weeping. But, In truth, I've probably already said too much. Little Hero is a film which no amount of description can do justice, and which furthermore defies all attempts at analysis or justification. I hope you will understand that I am giving it 4DK's highest possible ranking when I say that you do not even need to drink while watching it. That doesn't mean I don't recommend it, though.


Prof. Grewbeard said...

i may not need to drink but i can take lots of d-r-u-g-s, right?

anyway, this film sounds like Inframan's nightmare!

which means i'd like to see it.

Tars Tarkas said...

Oh, Polly, your films are always awesome.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

An alternative title somewhere (in my mind) for this would be "Polly vs the Giant Octopus Invasion".
Really looks too great.

memsaab said...

I NEED that spiked helmet, I really do.

And how can anything with someone named Polly Shang Kwan in it be bad? She needs to star in a film called "Haseena Atom Bomb."

You are really tempting me with a new obsession here Todd. Please to stop. I have not got the time.

Keith said...

Ahh, one of my all time favorite explanations for a character escaping certain death: "What they didn't know is...I have...secret internal powers."

Prof. Grewbeard: no need for drugs. Just watch this movie on a double bill with Young Taoism Fighter.

TheDoug said...

And where might I find a copy of this nifty little movie?

Todd said...

I've never been able to find it on commercial DVD or VCD, but I did manage to get a fairly decent DVD-R of it on eBay.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Can't...type...laughing...too much!





loempiavreter said...

Love these type of Kung Fu flicks. Her type of flicks are the female equilivant of Jimmy Wang Yu flicks.

You also should do reviews of:

Evil Karate

Evil hits Evil

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Unknown said...

I first found out about this through the great podcast about Polly Shang. It then took me months to get it from abroad, almost a "cursed movie" as whatever could go wrong DID go wrong. Eventually it arrived from half way round the globe, and I was NOT dissapointed. Incidentally, I noticed on the podcast a picture of what looks like a U.K video release of this (with BBFC "18" certificate) but no amount of internetting has revealed any info on U.K release.Was it a dream?

Todd said...

I'll have to run that one by Tars Tarkas, as he's the one who assembled the slide show. In any case, I'm glad Little Hero lived up to your expectations!