Michael Barnum (not pictured) has been a longtime contributor to this blog by way of his always helpful and informative comments, not to mention the many sage film recommendations he's generously beamed my way over the past months. More importantly, he is an accomplished writer on the subject of world cult cinema, having leant his journalistic talents to such esteemed publications as Video Watchdog and FilmFax. These qualifications and others have had a lot of us blogger types wondering why the heck Michael hasn't staked out his own little bit of turf in the blogosphere. Well, now we need wonder no more. Behold Michael's inspiredly-named Pedro (The Ape Bomb) Blog, by which he will be sharing with us sun-avoidant monitor jockeys his exhaustive knowledge of B movies from Bollywood and beyond. Welcome to the fold, Michael. One of us! One of us!
Skill Set: Well, just look at the cute little dickens!
While Bollywood's premiere chimpsploitation star Pedro, the Ape Bomb is possessed of many talents, there is one area in which he is soundly lacking: adorableness. And that's where Zippy comes in. Unfortunately, if Memsaab's review is to believed, Zippy's adorableness is all that Insaniyat has going for it. On the plus side, though, if we are to further believe the above screencap, he also has the power of speech! Pedro, we heard, also had the power of speech, but had to have his dialogue dubbed over with chimp sounds due to his propensity for reciting heart-stoppingly obscene limericks whenever within earshot of a microphone. No such unsavory behavior for our Zippy, though, as his only desire in life is to be your own special widdle cuddly wuddly woo woo. Okay, I just threw up a little bit.
Tarzan & King Kong begins with a plane crash very similar to the one we saw in Boxer, a furious shuffling of stock footage in which the type and vintage of the imperiled plane changes several times from shot to shot.
As certain death approaches, we see intrepid pilot Dana Andrews heroically struggling to maintain control of the craft.
I think this particular footage comes from the 1960 Hollywood film The Crowded Sky.
Finally the aircraft, now a WW II era fighter plane, crashes to the ground in flames, and with it disappears all traces of Laura and Hot Rods to Hell star Dana Andrews from the remainder of Tarzan & King Kong.
Fortunately, there are other actors who, unlike Dana, actually appeared in Tarzan & King Kong voluntarily. And one of them is Mumtaz, who plays crash survivor Sharmilla, who, along with her faithful manservant Bismilla (No! We will not let you go. Let him goooooo!... sorry), finds herself floating post-crash in a river in the middle of the jungle wilds. Also fortunately, on hand to save her is none other than Tarzan himself.
Now, despite the fact that Dara Singh is featured in the cast of Tarzan & King Kong -- and given prominent place on the packaging by those people who depend upon the sale of VCDs of Tarzan& King Kong to make their living -- and the additional fact that Dara Singh would portray Tarzan during the very same year in Tarzan Comes to Delhi, the lord of the jungle is here portrayed by Dara’s little bro Randhawa. Dara, it turns out, only makes a brief appearance, presumably to give his sibling’s movie a little extra box office “oomph”.
Anyway, Tarzan & King Kong is a rollicking, Bollywood B movie jungle adventure in the mold of Zimbo. As such, it runs through a checklist of all of those jungle perils that such a movie should contain: snakes, crocodiles, primitive traps filled with pointy sticks, etc. But just as in Zimbo, the jungle’s biggest threat turns out to be female jealousy, personified here in the form of evil jungle queen Shibani, played by 4DK favorite Bela Bose. Despite the fact that Tarzan is portrayed here as a great grunting dumbass, Shibani is downright heartsick over the big lug, and is none too happy to see that he has just had a new leopard-fur-clad playmate air delivered.
For a brief time, life is one big jungle idyll for Tarzan and Sharmilla, she being apparently not all that attached to civilization in the first place. Given that this is a movie from the mid-sixties, said idyll includes Sharmilla teaching Tarzan how to do the Twist.
But it’s not long before the wrath of Shibani comes down upon them, and their little cargo cult recreation of Shindig must come to an end. The queen’s first volley involves an outright attempt to nab Tarzan Sadie Hawkins-style with the help of her movie savage minions. Tarzan, however, manages to escape from her clutches before she is able to give him her evil jungle queen cooties.
The Queen’s next move is to recruit world famous Punjabi wrestling star and Bollywood B movie hero Dara Singh to work his patented moves on Tarzan, leading to a nail-biting brother-on-brother smack-down.
When this tactic somewhat unbelievably fails, Shibani then has Sharmilla kidnapped and chained up in her dungeon, where she is threatened by the Queen’s military commander Romy with his oversized prop carving fork.
All in all, Shibani, rather than being just a two dimensional villain, ends up being sort of a tragic figure here. She obviously loves Tarzan, and has followed all of the normal avenues in expressing those feelings to him, throwing him in a cage, abducting and threatening his loved ones, and hiring massive wrestlers to beat him to a pulp. Still his heart remains cold to her. Is there nothing she can do?
What makes matters worse is that, as she has been driven to distraction by her unrequited crush, her kingdom has meanwhile fallen into decadence and depravity, as represented by this staged wrestling match between two white women, which comes across more like a very sedate demonstration of some standard wrestling flips and holds.
Then it becomes time for the big guns. Paradoxically, though the title of the earlier King Kongturned out to simply refer to the ring name of an obese Hungarian wrestler, Tarzan & King Kong actually delivers as far as giving us a rampaging giant ape. Sort of.
But then the fat Hungarian wrestler is here too. Bonus!
A frenzied climactic battle rages between Tarzan and the ape, during which we can clearly see just how tore up the ape costume is, with one big piece flopping around in the back as if he were wearing a furry hoodie.
Finally Tarzan mercilessly stabs -- well, more like pokes -- the creature to death with his big knife, and the ape gets his Oscar moment by going through some fairly histrionic death throes. Then Queen Shibani meets her tragic end by taking a blade meant for Tarzan, to which Tarzan and Sharmilla both say “Sad” and make that little sarcastic tear drop gesture you do by running your finger down your cheek. Then they both jump onto an elephant and ride off into the sunset.
While Tarzan & King Kong represents another case where my viewing experience would have been greatly enhanced by English subtitles, I must say that Moser Baer’s VCD was remarkably crisp looking as these things go. MB also gets big points for their relatively unobtrusive onscreen logo. I’ve come to accept that watching an Indian -- and, for that matter most any country’s -- VCD means having a company logo appear somewhere onscreen throughout, but other manufacturers would do well to follow MB’s example of making that logo semi-transparent. It gets the message across without being quite so obnoxious, basically. The VCD was also pleasingly round and quite shiny, which is always nice.
Funny thing about the internet is that it seems like, sooner or later, pieces of every one of your past lives will eventually float back to you. Provided you Google yourself enough, that is. Case in point: the video below, which is something I had literally completely forgotten about until I happened upon it on YouTube yesterday. It's an interview I did with American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel back in 1988. Of course, my interviewing skills -- at least during this first segment -- consist mostly of me just saying "mm hm" a lot while Mark goes about his business of being dourly hilarious.
This video is the first of seven parts that have been posted on YouTube, adding up to about an hour of unedited footage, including frequent technical adjustments by the crew and Mark and I grousing about the person who was sent out to buy beer being a bit tardy. Probably a bit a slog for most of you, but if you're at all a fan of Mark and his music, there's definitely some things of interest here, especially as the interview goes on and things get a little, um, looser.
Lovecraft month continues over at Teleport City, with my latest contribution being a review of The Shuttered Room, the 1967 adaptation of probably the best known of August Derleth's so-called "posthumous collaborations" with old H.P. Our stars include Carol Lynley, Gig Young, and Oliver Reed's giant, sweaty face. Read the full review here.
Handicaps: Has trouble distinguishing between a real horse and a statue of one, which may limit his breeding potential.
Let's face it, we love Amitabh and the horse he rode in on. Even if, as in this case, that horse is upstaged somewhat by his canine costar. Sad, really, because Badal was just one stream of urine and Bob Christo's face away from being Mard's number one anipal. Nonetheless, let's give it up for Badal.
Back in my review of Gerak Kilat -- the film that introduced us to Jefri Zain, Singapore's answer to James Bond -- I mentioned that there were at least two subsequent Jefri Zain movies that I knew of. Those would be 1968's Bayangan Ajal (or, as the credits read, "Jefri Zain dalam Bayangan Ajal") and 1969's Jurang Baraya (ditto). Now that I've seen both of those movies, I know that they are simply the Malaysian language versions of the Lo We helmed Shaw Brothers spy films Summons to Death and The Angel Strikes Back, only with actor Jins Shamsuddin as Jefri Zain standing in for the characters that Tang Ching played in the Mandarin versions. In addition, we have Singapore-born actress Landi Chang stepping in as the leading lady in both films, replacing Tina Chin Fei in the case of Bayangan Ajal/Summons to Death and Lily Ho in the case of the second film.
From the screen grab comparisons below, you'll see that both the Malay and Mandarin versions of these films were shot alongside one another, using the same sets, costumes and camera set-ups. Only some slight changes were made to cater to different local sensibilities, like, for instance, the more conservative swimwear that we see Landi Chan sporting.
Another notable change, in the case of Bayangan Ajal/Summons to Death, is that, while Fanny Fan appears in both versions (along with much of the supporting cast -- not to mention much of the actual footage -- from the Mandarin version), her fanny itself, bared in the Mandarin version, remains covered for the benefit of the Malay speaking audience. And let me clarify for you Brits that when I say "fanny" I mean "bum"; the Shaws may have been getting increasingly risqué as the 60s progressed, but there were still limits.
Watching both versions of these films provided an interesting window into the shrewd economics of Shaws "factory" approach to filmmaking. Here they were not only expanding the potential market for one of their properties, but also, at the same time, adding to an existing franchise at little extra cost (and providing the Zain series with a noticeable boost in on-screen production value in the bargain). You'd think that the logistics involved would be mindboggling. Its easy to imagine one set of actors waiting in the wings while another set completed their shots, only to be then hustled in front of the camera to repeat the exact same shot but in a different language. I'd expect, however, that such a delicate dance, whatever it entailed, would have been no problem for the no-nonsense professionals involved, accustomed as they were to the rigors of churning out features on a day-in-day-out, production line basis.
Shaw also produced a Malay version of the first "Angel" film, Angel With the Iron Fists, but given the film's impracticality as a vehicle for Jins Shamsuddin and his screen alter ego, they instead cast Singaporean star Saadiah in place of Lily Ho and called it Nora Zain: Woman Agent 001. See a YouTube clip here.
Ah, the time. Where does she go? I was thinking it was mere weeks since I last updated the home page at The Lucha Diaries. Then it came to my attention that I had -- like some kind of infernal, cult movie masticating machine -- managed to write about ten Teleport City reviews in the interim. Obviously someone got a little behind on the house cleaning. Well, that's been corrected now, and handy links to all of those reviews and more have been added to the never-ending scroll on LD's main page. Check it out. And, while you're there, don't forget to look in on the bazillions of Mexican wrestling movie reviews on offer, pause to reflect upon the hundreds of hours I dedicated to the project, and say a quiet prayer for the tiny piece of me that died in the process.
Janus Films is going to be rolling out Nobuhiko Obayashi's horror freakout masterpiece Hausu for screenings in select U.S. cities starting later this month and going through December. Unfortunately, San Francisco proper is not among those select cities, forcing me to travel to the 'burbs, where my power will be drained just like Ultraman when he spends too much time away from M-78. Anyway, a list of screening dates and locations can be found on the Janus website.
This information came via a Tweet from the Criterion Collection's official Twitter account. This is not the first Hausu related tweet from them, which sets me to wonderin' whether they are finally gearing up for a DVD release of the film. After all, they have reportedly been sitting on the rights to it for quite some time. No official word on that yet, as far as I can gather, but it seems that there is at least room for optimism on the subject.
Skill Set: Aerial combat, optic surgery, courier service
There has been some speculation that Allah Rakha from Coolie and Sheroo The Wonder Bird from Dharam Veer are one and the same, but that's simply not possible. Sheroo, after all, was a name star who got prominent billing in the earlier Dharam Veer. It's inconceivable that he would have accepted an uncredited role like that of Allah Rakha, even for the opportunity to work with Amitabh Bachchan. Still, despite being unable to prevent Amitabh from impaling his spleen on that table corner in Coolie's ill-fated fight scene, Allah Rakha shows a level of heroism approaching that of Sheroo by engaging in a dogfight with a helicopter during the film's prologue. Said scene is a joyful piece of unalloyed awesomeness that makes everything in Coolie that follows it pale by comparison, earning Allah Rakha his rightful place among the animal royalty paid tribute to here.
The Cantonese language film Little Devil (aka The Devil Warrior) is exactly the type of estrogen-driven martial arts melodrama that was rapidly going out of style in Hong Kong in 1969, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Shaw Brothers and male-fixated directors like Chang Cheh. It stars Bo-bo Fung and Nancy Sit, two teenaged actresses who were among the brightest of 1960s Cantonese cinema’s galaxy of female stars, and was directed by Chan Lit-Ban, who helmed an impressive number of wuxia films during the period, most of which starred Cantonese box-office queen Connie Chan. While it makes a few nods to the bloodier, more brutal style of action that was being trademarked over at Shaw, such emulation is clearly not the film’s reason for being. Instead it offers an agreeable dose of comparatively reserved old-school charm.
Clearly not aspiring to break with tradition, Little Devil ponies up with all of the curiously gender-bending role assignments that we’ve come to expect from old school wuxia films. Bo-bo Fung is cast as the male hero, and Nancy Sit, while cast as the sweetheart of Fung’s character, spends much of her time onscreen masquerading in male guise. Thanks, however, to the typically chaste representation of romantic relationships between men and women in Cantonese films of this era, those inspired by this scenario to hope for any suggestion of girl-on-girl action will be gravely disappointed.
It seems that the family of Chui Yuk-wah (Sit) do not approve of her relationship with wandering orphan Yeung Siu-fung (Fung), and so the young Siu-fung is forced to sneak into the family’s villa under the cover of darkness in order to see her. In the course of doing so, he witnesses Yuk-wah’s father –- one of those empire-lusting clan leaders without whom wuxia cinema would be completely adrift -- murdering a pair of his rivals. Siu-fung is then discovered by the father and himself murdered, his body left in the snow. What the villain most likely had not counted on, however, is the proximity of a snow-dwelling sorcerer called the Sound Demon (at least according to the Hong Kong Film Archive's synopsis of the film), who takes Siu-fung’s body back to his cave and revives him with his magics. If you have seen more than a handful of these type of films, you can probably guess what happens next: Siu-fung grows to manhood under the tutelage of the Sound Demon, in the process gaining the special kung fu skills that will aid him in his quest for vengeance against his sweetheart’s old man.
During Little Devil’s first section, the combination of its bright primary color scheme and the artificiality of the small interior sets used to represent its Wintry, snow-bound settings lend a sort of storybook feel to the action. Once Siu-fung has left the Sound Demon’s cave in search of revenge, however, its middle section drifts toward more prosaic wuxia film territory, marked by the typical fights set in tea houses and alongside country roads. The film’s climax then sends us hurtling back into fantasy land for a final duel between the Sound Devil and Yuk Wah’s father, most memorable for the former’s employment of a nuclear-strength, bellowing laugh that works against his foes in much the same manner as the “Ghostly Laughter” seen in Shaw’s later Holy Flame of the Martial World.
All in all, Little Devil is not defined by it’s fantasy elements, which seem more than anything else to be simply a means to an end, plot-wise. Because of this, those hoping for the kind of crudely realized WTF moments you’d find in more overtly fantastic wuxia films (like the aforementioned Holy Flame) will probably find it to be a bit of a disappointment. But for those attuned to the kind of cozy, low-key pleasures that the sincerity and quaintness of a film of this type can offer, there is definitely a suitable rainy afternoon’s entertainment in store. I also have to say that it’s a real kick to behold the spectacle of armed men cowering from the diminutive and baby-faced Bo-bo Fung, who was just sixteen at the time and not yet fully out of the shadow of her former role as Cantonese cinema’s answer to Shirley Temple. (To her credit, though, she does do the menacing glare really well.)
Needless to say, I’d love to see these old Cantonese films get even a fraction of the attention worldwide that the output of the Shaws, and even the Taiwanese film industry, do. As the products of a scrappy and underfunded local industry, they not only provide a necessary part of the overall story of Hong Kong cinema, but also carry an enormous amount of underdog appeal. Granted, they’re an acquired taste, but I think that, if their existence were more widely known, there are a lot of people out there who would gladly do the work. That said, Little Devil might not be the best place to start, but it will definitely add a modicum of richness to the dedicated viewer’s ongoing discovery of classic Cantonese cinema as a whole.
The above screen grabs were taken from the 1982 Taiwanese fantasy wuxia The Fairy and the Devil. The monster footage itself, however, is taken from a much earlier Taiwanese fantasy film, 1971's Tsu Hong Wu. I'm not sure how successful of a film Tsu Hong Wu was, but it's apparent that its monster sequences were very popular with other Taiwanese filmmakers, as The Fairy and the Devil is not the only movie to have borrowed them. They also turned up in 1977's Sea God and Ghosts, and, for all I know, could've been pilfered by dozens of other Taiwanese film, as well.
In any case, I'm hoping to have a copy of Tsu Hong Wu to review in the coming weeks. In the interim I thought I'd cull a little bit of the information I've come across regarding other films of its type, in the process leaning heavily upon the hard work of other bloggers while I simultaneously type and huff multiple cans of air duster. Yay!
It would seem that Japanese-style giant monsters are a rarity in Chinese language cinema. However, I would have said the same thing about Indian cinema a while ago, and just look at how wrong I was about that. In any case, with the very notable exceptions of Shaw's The Super Inframan (great film, or the greatest film?) and Mighty Peking Man, most of those Chinese films featuring suitmation beasties that we do hear about seem to come from Taiwan. On this blog alone, for instance, we've already seen the swoon inducing giant octopuses of Little Hero, as well as Thrilling Sword's fearsome nine-headed serpent and demon Cyclops.
Still, despite my obviously heroic efforts in this area, I simply must tip my hat to Tars over at Tarstarkas.net, who, when he's not busy tormenting hate-mongering loonies, is doing the good work of sniffing out obscure monster movies from every corner of the globe.
For example, back in July, Tars gave us this post, in which he reviewed the 1970 Taiwanese children's film Young Flying Hero, which, while not a monster movie per se, does feature the above pictured -- rather anticlimactic, by the sound of it -- battle between a man-in-suit giant frog and an also man-in-suit goofy dragon. A number of people got pretty excited about Young Flying Hero back when it looked like we were never going to get a chance to see it. But now that it's become available on the gray market and has been revealed to be not quite the big kaiju smack-down that we were hoping for, it's lost its luster somewhat.
Fortunately, there are other Taiwanese giant monster films out there that really do seem to no longer exist, and are hence incapable of ever disappointing us. Just like pretend girlfriends! For instance…
Back in April, Tars posted pictures of an amazing collection of original promotional materials for Devil Fighter, a 1969 film directed by Young Flying Hero's producer Poon Lui (the man also responsible for the Shaw spy film Poison Rose, which was reviewed here last month). The poster for this batmonster-rich film shows up on eBay from time to time, but so far the movie itself is MIA.
And then there's 1976's War God, about a giant mythical hero defending Hong Kong against some gargantuan -- but also kind of adorable -- alien invaders. Once again, Tars posted an impressive collection of stills and promotional materials for the film, which can be seen here. Colin over at Kung Fu Fridays has also recently posted about the film, and in his comments section, one of his readers has referred to it as being directed by Chen Hung Min, the same man who gave us Little Hero. Try as I might, it's very hard for me to imagine this movie being anything other than awesome. And it looks like I may never be disabused of that notion, because, like Devil Fighter, War God has also so far proved impossible to find.
But impossible is not a word that's in our vocabulary when it comes to the prospect of finding these seemingly "lost" films -- though we are quick to apply it to mundane and actually quite do-able tasks that we just don't feel like tending to at the moment. Somewhere out there, there just might be someone who has that one golden kernel of information necessary to us finally having one or more of these movies in our fidgety little hands -- or even someone who at this very moment is using the film canister for War God to prop up a faulty table leg. If that describes you, our operators are waiting for your call.