Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fighting Femmes, Fiends, and Fanatics Episode 9: Temptress of a Thousand Faces

It's time for another episode of Steve Mayhem's Fighting Femmes, Fiends, and Fanatics, this time featuring Todd from 4DK (aka me) audibly slobbering over the fiendishly fabulous Shaw Brothers thriller Temptress of a Thousand Faces.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tars and Todd talk Turkey


It's time for another episode of The Infernal Brains, the joint podcast between yours truly and Tarstarkas.NET. This time around, Tars and I finally move on from discussing weird Taiwanese martial arts films to take on one of our other favorite topics, Turkish superhero movies! You can either download the episode, or view it with an accompanying slide show, here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hey, you in NYC, go to this: A DRAM FOR JAPAN

So I’m off to New York tomorrow. I’d like to say that the purpose of my visit is to attend the event that’s the subject of this post, but the sad fact is that I will be returning to California the day before it occurs. This, needless to say, kills me -- and makes it all the more imperative that you, real or imagined reader living in the Manhattan area, attend in my stead. You owe it to me!


The event is A Dram For Japan, a whisky-themed benefit for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief sponsored by Teleport City and nycwhisky.com at Tribeca’s Ward III. The date is next Saturday, April 2nd. Tickets are $30 and available through Eventbrite, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross’ Japan relief efforts. Once inside, you will be able to enjoy food, special cocktails and whisky courtesy of the hosts, listen to some groovy Japanese pop tunes spun by Keith from Teleport City, hang out with other awesome people, and participate in an auction for some fine and rare bottled spirits.

All in all, it’s a great, alcohol-soaked way to donate money to a very worthy cause, and, for us at Teleport City, a way of giving a little back to the nation that has given us Gamera, Godzilla, Jumbo Machinders, Joe Shishido’s big ol’ cheeks, Ozu, Pinky Violence, The Pinky Chicks, Dr. Gori, Kurosawas Akira and Kiyoshi, Polysics, “Wild Eyes”, The Plastics, The Sadistic Mika Band, Judy and Mary, The Peanuts, Raideen, Black Tight Killers, Pocky Sticks, Umbrella Ghosts, Sonny Chiba knocking a dude’s eyeballs out with his fist, Meiko Kaji, Branded to Kill, Space Giants, Ogon Batto, Hausu, Ramen Noodles, every toy made by Bullmark, Group Sounds, Suzukis Norifumi and Seijun, Kumi Mizuno, Kenny, “Linda Linda” by the Blue Hearts, Osamu Tezuka, Fist of the North Star, every iteration of Ultraman… [You fill in the rest.]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jaka Swara (Indonesia, 1990)


Singer/songwriter Rhoma Irama is known as the king of the style of Indonesian pop music known as Dangdut. Not only was he the first to popularize the term "Dangdut" (an onomatopoetic rendering of the Indian-style tabla rhythms common to the music), but he was also the first to introduce Western rock influences into its sound. Perhaps most important among his many contributions to the genre was his transformation of Dangdut from a vessel for soppy romantic duets into a medium of protest, a bold move that saw Irama, throughout his heyday during the 1970s and 80s, repeatedly receiving the unwanted attentions of the authoritarian Indonesian government. This, combined with his outspokenness on behalf of Dangdut’s primarily poor and working class audience, earned him the image of a people’s hero. As a result, it’s not too surprising that, in a country with a seemingly insatiable appetite for such figures, his popularity would translate into a film career as the hero of dozens of custom crafted star vehicles produced between the mid 70s and early 90s.

Dangdut’s sound draws upon a number of international influences, probably the most immediately recognizable for readers of this blog being that of Bollywood film music. In keeping with that, Irama’s 1990 film Jaka Swara also follow the template of Hindi films somewhat, in that the action frequently stops for Irama and his co-star, fellow Dangdut singer Camelia Malik, to give voice to their feelings via song (all of which songs are composed by Irama). At the same time –- and as the participation of prolific Indonesian exploitation director Lilik Sudjio might indicate –- Jaka Swara also forefronts the violent, heavily Hong Kong influenced martial arts mayhem typical of Indonesian action films of its day. In fact, with his titular character Jaka Swara, Irama seems to be styling himself as a counterpart to Indonesian action god Barry Prima’s oft revisited populist hero Jaka Sembung.

But whereas Prima’s Jaka Sembung stood up for the common folk against the depredations of the tyrannical Dutch, Irama’s Jaka Swara takes on an equally vicious European interloper in the form of the dastardly Portuguese. Portugal was the first European country to reach Indonesia, back in the 16th century, and its settlers went on in the ensuing years to establish forts and outposts throughout the country, as well as to colonize neighboring East Timor. How accurate Jaka Swara’s depiction of their treatment of the locals is I’m not sufficiently researched up to say, but the choice of them as villains, along with the 16th century setting, certainly provides the opportunity for some flamboyant costuming –- not to mention an employment of elaborate facial hair to disguise Southeast Asian actors as Europeans that will be familiar to anyone who saw Prima’s initial Jaka Sembung film The Warrior.




Jaka Swara takes further cues from Hindi masala cinema by offering up a plot of the classic “lost and found” variety. When young Fatma’s parents are murdered by the Portuguese, she is taken in my Haji Abdullah, himself a courageous fighter and father to the young Jaka. Jaka and Fatma quickly form a close bond, which Abdullah commemorates by giving each half of an interlocking necklace. (Plot point!) Abdullah then runs afoul of the evil Portuguese officer Da Costa, who kills him after a furious sword battle, though not before Abdullah manages to sever Da Costa’s hand. Da Costa and his men then murder Jaka’s mother and set fire to his home before forcibly taking Fatma along with them. Jaka, returning from the fields to find his parents dead and his house in ashes, assumes that Fatma has died in the fire. He also finds Da Costa’s severed hand, which he keeps.

Time marches on, and we see that Fatma -- now, as an adult, played by Camelia Malik -- has become a dancer for the pleasure of Da Costa and his sadistic son Simon (Simon Cader?). Jaka, meanwhile, has spent the intervening years diligently training in martial arts, and is now played by Rhoma Irama. Finally, the inevitable day comes when Jaka has reached his peak skill level, and his master sends him out into the world to right wrongs. First stop for Jaka is the hiding place in which he has stashed the severed hand of his parents’ killer, which he retrieves in hopes of tracking down the owner, whom we the audience know to be the now hook-handed Da Costa.

Mind you, Jaka doesn’t have to look all that hard. First, he reunites with Fatma after rescuing her from one of those runaway carriages that seem to plague so many Bollywood heroines (and which seems like a period play on the hoary “woman drivers” stereotype; perhaps simply grabbing the reins rather than clutching at one’s face in terror as the horses run rampant might solve the problem). No sooner have the two compared neck adornments and celebrated their reunion in song than they are come upon by Da Costa, whom Jaka taunts with his missing appendage before killing him after a brief battle. This does not put an end to the couple’s troubles, however, because Jaka is soon captured and imprisoned by the vengeful Simon. What follows is a pageant of martyrdom that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Prima’s Jaka Sembung films, with Jaka Swara being starved and tortured to the point of death by his captors before finally, in an act of righteous fury, exploding free of his chains by way of sheer will and brute physical force. (Fans of Bollywood, see: Singh, Dara.)


Similarities aside, one of the notable ways in which Jaka Swara differs from the Jaka Sembung films is in the down-to-earth nature of its action. Absent are the copious wire effects and animated auras of the latter, as is any suggestion of Jaka Swara having any kind of mystical powers (barring his repeated ability to benefit from some fairly unlikely coincidences). Instead what we get is a lot of fairly straightforward empty handed fighting, mixed in with the occasional swordplay, which results in the film being a pretty interesting hybrid of equal parts Hong Kong and South Asian cinematic elements. For those of us more accustomed to musical crossover fare like Cool as Ice or From Justin to Kelly, this might make Jaka Swara seem like an unlikely type of screen vehicle for a pop star. Luckily, however, Irama, as a physical type, is a rocker more in the vein of Danzig or Jon Mikl Thor than Thom Yorke, and, as such, is able to convincingly embody the imposing physicality necessary to the role, and even appears to often be doing his own fighting.

As for Irama’s acting, while he doesn’t embarrass himself in the least, he definitely benefits from the musical aspect of the film, as it is through his songs and singing that we are most able to connect with his character. Of course, it doesn’t help that said character is an archetype whose footsteps are so heavily trod in that portraying him is little more than a well diagrammed progression from point “A” to point “B”. At the same time, however, Barry Prima -- by way of his unique, wild-eyed intensity -- was able to put his individual stamp on the similarly archetypal Jaka Sembung, setting a bar that Irama here falls fairly short of.

In this regard, I think it’s instructive to note that, in other of his films, Rhoma Irama was cast simply as… Rhoma Irama. This fictionalized/idealized version of the singer took part in heroic adventures in a manner not dissimilar to the “real life” wrestling stars of Mexican lucha films. Given that, I imagine that the original audience for Jaka Swara was simply paying to see the beloved King of Dangdut put down his guitar and kick a little ass, with little interest in watching him transform himself through the craft of acting. I also imagine, given the wealth of outsized heroics, gory brawls and head bopping musical numbers on display within the film, that said audience left the theater well satisfied.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Lucha Diaries updated


You could be forgiven for thinking that The Lucha Diaries was a derelict site. Hell, some even say the old place is haunted. To counter that notion, I've done some long needed maintenance on the home page, fixing a bunch of broken links and adding a bunch of new links to all of my most recent Teleport City film reviews. While you're there admiring my handiwork, why not also reacquaint yourself with the comprehensive collection of affectionate though uninformative reviews of Mexican wrestling films that's on offer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fighting Femmes, Fiends, and Fanatics Episode 8: The Three Fantastic Supermen

In this latest installment of Fighting Femmes, Fiends, and Fanatics, series producer Steve Mayhem discusses the first entry in the inexplicably long-lived Three Fantastic Supermen series. As is so often the case, the first is the best, in this case due largely to the participation of some principles from the beloved (by us) Kommissar X series, namely stars Brad Harris and Tony Kendall and director Gianfranco Parolini.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pusaka Penyebar Maut (Indonesia, 1990)


Pusaka Penyebar Maut opens upon a familiar face. It's Kung Fu Zombie and Kung Fu From Beyond the Grave star Billy Chong! However, after Chong's brief and not manifestly necessary cameo has run its course, leaving the actor to darken Pusaka Penyebar Maut's door no more, it is quite another familiar face that I'm referring to.

After the credits have rolled, we see a gang of motley bandits preparing to intrude upon a bucolic scene, where a white garbed woman is meditating peacefully in the shallows of a placid river. It's Queen of Indonesian Horror[TM] Suzzanna! Seeing the ruffians approaching, Suzzanna -- or, I should say, the character played by Suzzanna, Nyi Polo -- flees to her hut, within which her infant son can be seen sleeping. Nyi Polo takes from its hiding place a glowy, magical dagger, which she then swallows -- this dagger, apparently, being the prize that the bandits are seeking to plunder. The gang -- a diverse crew that includes a bald, eyepatch wearing pirate guy, a hunchback, and a guy that looks like a Thundercat -- then barge in, tearing the place apart in search of the dagger and threatening Nyi Polo. I easily recognize this as the typical opening to any Suzzanna movie, in which her innocent character is murdered by evildoers, only to later return in the form of a vengeful spirit.



Except that, at this point, Suzzanna does something that I had yet to see her do in any of her movies, in that she up and starts furiously kicking the asses of these assembled badmen, generously ladling out the whupass in the form of spinning high kicks and rapid-fire punches delivered while spinning around like a helicopter rotor (with, I might add, her baby strapped to her back the entire time). It's all very Pearl Cheung Ling, accomplished by lots of very silly and extreme looking wire work, which is, needless to say, awesome. But, even if it were not executed in such a manner, the mere sight of Suzzanna -- whose performances are usually marked by both a regal bearing appropriate to her title and a kind of eerie stoicism -- channeling her inner Lady Venom in such an unexpected way would be enough to make it a peak experience in my long and peak-filled history of watching Indonesian exploitation films.

Unfortunately, Pusaka Penyebar Maut soon dashes any hopes I held for it being a film dedicated entirely to Suzzanna engaging in one frenetic kung fu brawl after another by eventually having her character killed in the manner that I had initially expected. Divining that Nyi Polo has, in fact, ingested the magical dagger, the gang burns her on the cross, at which point the dagger levitates out of her body, only to be snatched away by a mysterious figure who happens to be leaping by at an extraordinary height. Frustrated, the Thundercat guy picks up Ny Polo's infant son and chucks him into the forest, at which point the babe is picked up by a kindly old kung fu master, who himself just happened to be passing by in search of an infant whom he could raise to become a vengeful killing machine.

So, as you may already be piecing together on your own, Pusaka Penyebar Maut, despite the participation of Suzzanna and her frequent director Sisworo Gautama Putra, is not your typical Indonesian horror joint. If anything, it's more similar to Sisworo's earlier Barry Prima vehicle The Warrior, but bears even more of a resemblance to Taiwanese fantasy chop sockey films like the recently reviewed Chinese Magic, albeit with that unmistakably Indonesian approach to fantasy and mysticism mixed in. As such, we watch as Ny Polo's son, Ario Kamandaka, grows to adulthood under the tutelage of the old master, becoming a figure who -- as portrayed by the athletic Fendy Pradana -- appears to need much less assistance from wires and trick photography to convincingly execute feats of martial arts badassery than his mom did.

Finally the time comes to leave the nest, and young Ario makes his way down the mountainside to meet his date with destiny. On the way, he meets the female warrior Selashi (Murti Sari Dewi), who, for reasons swathed in mystery by the Indonesian language and the VCD's lack of English subtitles, has come into possession of the dagger. The two join forces, and proceed to engage in a series of battles with Lion-O, Pirate Guy and whatever various and sundry evil forces are trying to get their hands on the weapon. While Sisworo generally fails to film these fight scenes in a particularly interesting manner, keeping the camera fairly still and at a remove throughout, their frenetic content -- comprised of breakneck wire-enabled flying, head-spinning acrobatics, and laser beams firing out of absolutely everything -- easily make up the deficit.



Eventually Suzzanna does make her spectral return, but only briefly, and only to aid Ario in training for the final confrontation with her killers, after which we move into the film's blissful, all-fighting-all-the-time third act. Now, I know that my constant frothing at the mouth over cartoon-assisted kung fu has probably long worn out its welcome here, especially given that I was only just slavering over its use in Chinese Magic. But, in my defense, I ventured into Pusaka Penyebar Maut with absolutely no idea that it would hold such an embarrassment of riches in this regard, to the extent that to fail to remark upon it would be to misrepresent an aspect of the picture that even it's producers seemed to have deemed as especially notable. To wit, the opening credits include a title that reads "SPECIAL EFFECTS & OPTICAL ANIMATION USA & HONG KONG", without, in fact, listing any particular outfits or individuals as being responsible. Whatever the case, I am proud of my country's contribution, because Pusaka Penyebar Maut's finale goes that extra mile to show us lighting bolts, laser beams, magical auras, and cartoon smoke rings coming seemingly out of every one of its participants' orifices. (OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but, upon seeing what's on display, you'll have to forgive me for being inspired to hyperbole.)




(This one's going on the side of my van.) 

And then there are the huts. If a Southeast Asian action film is no better than it's sum of exploding huts, then Pusaka Penyebar Maut just may be the greatest of them all. As the cartoon magic flies, first one hut explodes, and then two, then three, and soon the huts are exploding two at a time! The end hut loss is indeed catastrophic, but thankfully not all in vain. Evil is vanquished, and our story wrapped up just in time for the jarringly abrupt ending that the genre requires. (Seriously, the ending of the typical old school kung fu film is tantamount to a cop coming out and brusquely informing the audience that there's "nothing to see here" before taking out his truncheon and hurriedly goading them out of the theater.) The viewer -- given he is a person of tastes as refined and discriminating as my own -- is left satisfied and exhausted. Balance, to a Universe that sometimes seems all too lacking in cartoon magic and back flipping, is restored. And, finally, the debt of the grateful film enthusiast to the nation of Indonesia is once again rendered too vast to ever be paid in full.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tweetkata

I don't normally review American films, but I felt that my inaugural viewing of the notorious stink bomb Gymkata deserved to be commemorated, so I took to my Twitter account to live tweet the experience. The results, which will only make sense if you've seen the movie -- if even that -- are transcribed below. And, yes, you're about to read a blog post consisting entirely of regurgitated Tweets, but, to put that in perspective, I just spent 90 minutes watching Gymkata.

I'm about to watch Gymkata for the first time. #gymkata

This should work out well, seeing as I hate gymnastics, white people, and jingoistic 1980s movies. #gymkata

So what is this, the country of Euro-Mongolia? #gymkata

Wow. Boyfriend's junk is totally up in my face. #gymkata

"Interesting background. Her mother was Indonesian." Wait, like _Indonesian_ Indonesian? Crazy! #gymkata

Among mythical foreign countries, only Briesylvania is higher in cholesterol than Parmestan. #gymkata

#Gymkata's image of the non-Western world reminds me of old maps where they'd just put a picture of a sea monster over any unknown territory. 

A toothless hag! Wait, a tongueless hag! Damn, a hag's mouth just can't catch a break. #gymkata 

I'll admit I'm surprised by the orchestral score. I was expecting that infomercial synth music most shitty 80s action movies had. #gymkata

Why are these ninjas not clearly labeled? #gymkata 

Dictator or no, I'm glad Harry Reems finally got his own country. #gymkata 

Offended by the depiction of the mentally handicapped in #gymkata, yet support it's employment of them. 

The cornfield scene: Damn dirty ninjas! #gymkata 

The Game is like a more xenophobic Amazing Race. All that's missing is some white debs calling Parmestan "ghetto". #gymkata 

The thankless job of a flag ninja. #gymkata 

I'd like to think that if anyone in #gymkata won an Oscar, they'd bring one of the flag ninjas onstage for acknowledgement by the crowd. 

His parents named him Thorg and they got a Thorg. #gymkata 

We're crazy and we're laughing! Guh-huh-ha-ha! #gymkata 

I'm whimpering while stabbing you! #gymkata 

...aaand Lucio Fulci steps in for his directing cameo. #gymkata 

The pommel horse scene, something that couldn't possibly be as ridiculous as it's been described, yet is. #gymkata 

I think it would have been better if the crazy people all stepped back and gave him the slow clap after the pommel horse. #gymkata 

This soundtrack features a lot of ambient goat, yak, and sheep. #gymkata 

Evil Kevin Sorbo must die! #gymkata 

This actress was Tia Carrere before there was Tia Carrere #gymkata 

"Based on the novel 'The Terrible Game'." Can't even touch that. It's like the logic problem that short-circuits the robot's brain #gymkata 

OK, that wasn't so... God, who am I kidding? #gymkata 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chinese Magic (Taiwan, 1983)


It could be said that Chinese Magic lives up to its name, in that it provides, through its action, a fairly comprehensive catalog of all of those elements drawn from Chinese folklore and the like that a Taiwanese film purporting to depict Taoist magic might comprise. We have lots of wire assisted flying -- sometimes while seated in the lotus position and sometimes not -- , ghosts, fighters being paralyzed by having little pieces of parchment affixed to their limbs, a creepy little talking frog, voodoo dolls, mystical weapons, cartoon magic auras, people turning into pigs, and the “paper troops”, crude paper cutouts that, when thrown, transform into a quartet of kung fu zombies in head-to-toe body stockings. The film also seems to be attempting to incorporate into the conventions of the typical Taiwanese fantasy martial arts film elements of the Shaw Brothers’ at-the-time successful, and considerably nastier, black magic films, as evidenced by the “Devil Baby”, which is essentially a spontaneously birthed (think Alien) malevolent flying fetus.






Our headliner here is the actress Shih Szu, who was a big martial arts star over at Shaw Brothers throughout the 70s, before she returned to her native Taiwan in 1980 to see out the remainder of her career within the Taiwanese film industry. Lovers of classic Shaw kung fu films will find that she’s not the only familiar face on hand, as the film also features Chen Hung-Lieh, who appeared in dozens of films for the studio while contracted to them during the 1960s, among them the seminal Come Drink With Me, and Chuen Yuen, whose credits for Shaw include appearing alongside Shih Szu in The Lady Hermit and The Thunderbolt Fist, among others. The presence of such first rate talent insures that what action in Chinese Magic there is that doesn’t involve wires and cartoons is pretty well paced and executed, which, along with the expected level of wire and cartoon assisted fantasy kung fu craziness, makes for a briskly entertaining, if not particularly remarkable, watch.

I usually look forward to these Taiwanese movies because they offer me the rare opportunity to watch something, in the course of my 4DK related viewing, that is more or less guaranteed to be either dubbed or subtitled in English, even though the latter case generally means small, fuzzy, burned-in subtitles tiered underneath Chinese subs that are presumably just as difficult to read for those who can understand them. Unfortunately, the fact that the VHS sourced disc I watched Chinese Magic on featured English subs that were often crowded down below the border of the frame meant that I had to rely on my usual methods of educated guestimation, enlightened fabrication, the I Ching, and dream analysis to figure out what was going on to a degree much greater than I had initially hoped.

In any case, I feel pretty confident in saying that the plot involves Shih Szu’s character, Shao-Ying, being called upon by her master, Hsu Tu-Shang, a female priest, to put an end to the supernatural shenanigans of the evil master Hsu Tui-Shan (Chen Hung-Lieh). The reason that Shao-Ying is the fighter for the job, you see, is that she is the one with the most mastery of the magical spells necessary to the task. There is also a lot of talk about virgins in Chinese Magic, and virgin’s blood, and virgin’s menstrual blood in particular, so I think that the fact that Shao-Ying is a virgin also has something to do with it. In fact, we soon see that Hsu Tui-Shan basically uses virgins for batteries, having his minions supply him with a constant stream of untouched belles from the surrounding villages so that he may sap them of their life force and thus strengthen his own. Anyway, it seems that Hsu Tui-Shan killed the father of Shao-Ying’s master, and stole from him a book of special spells that is allowing him to become ever more dangerously powerful. (Would you like fries with that McGuffin?)

Meanwhile, and elsewhere, the brother (I think) of Shao-Ying’s master, Yun Chung-ho (Ko Keung), who is also a magical kung fu master, takes under his wing a cocky young male disciple, Lo Fei (Chou Shao Tung), who is apparently also a virgin. This is important because Shao-Ying and Lo Fei each possess one half of a magical yin-yang mirror that is the only weapon that can truly defeat Hsu Tui-Shan. The catch -- and don’t ask me why –- is that, although it is somehow important that both Shao-Ying and Lo Fei be virgins, in order for them to effectively wield the mirror –- and they indeed must wield it together, Wonder Twins style –- they must first fuck each other. Which eventually happens, of course, though not until after a lot obstacles and comic resistance (They’re in love, but think they hate each other. Hilarious!) have been overcome. When it does, it is high sexy time –- or at least as sexy a time as can be had within a film industry as conservative in its standards of censorship as Taiwan’s. Chinese Magic is actually pretty sexy for a Taiwanese kung fu film, but don’t expect anything on the level of what the Shaw Brothers were doing in some of their racier efforts at the time. Just to aggressively stomp upon whatever hopes you might still be nurturing vis a vis that subject, that means no nudity. Whatsoever.

 Hey, we totally just did it. Yes!

While the first sexual experiences of many people result in only shame and regret, Shao-Ying’s and Lo Fei’s results in them being able to shoot deadly cartoon laser beams out of a big yin-yang shaped mirror. Thus is the villain vanquished, only to have Shao-Ying’s master make a melodramatic, last minute revelation that results in Chinese Magic being yet another rousing martial arts film that ends with everybody crying. (Hint: Shao-Ying’s master? Not a virgin.) There is no reason for us to cry, however, because, short of some guys in rubber monster suits, the movie has everything you could hope to expect from a Taiwanese weird fu film, Paper Troops, creepy talking frog, Devil Baby, and all. Not to mention that one of its climactic moments involves someone throwing a jar of menstrual blood at the bad guy. Now that really is magical.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sorat No Saavaz (India, 1985)


The Gujarati film Sorat No Saavaz has a storyline that's well familiar from other regional South Asian films of its day: a roiling stew of crossed romances, solemn vows of honor, rape, revenge, fists-to-the-heavens melodrama, mustaches, dishBOOM, and, of course, lots of wearingly broad comic relief. Like the Telegu action films of K.S.R. Doss, or those of Punjabi superstar Sultan Rahi, it is not just unsubtle, but anti-subtle. In an early musical number, Sonal, the lover of Amar, our hero, sings, "My pot is new", while helpfully indicating her rear end, and playfully admonishes Amar not to break it. Later, when the evil bandit Joravar rapes Amar's crippled sister, the camera moves away from the crime to show us a pot breaking. The girl, as was and is depressingly common in these films, then takes her own life, and farther on down the road, when it is time for Joravar's comeuppance, Amar mercilessly beats him with her crutch, which he has been saving for the purpose.

Amar is played by Naresh Kanodia, one of Gujarati cinema's most beloved stars. Here Kanodia embodies a somewhat softer version of the righteous commoner hero commonly played by Sultan Rahi, but departs from Rahi in that he appears like he might have known joy at some point in his life. For one thing, he has a number of songs pictured on him, something that I have yet to see Rahi do in one of his films (Rahi typically just folds his arms grumpily and stands in for the tree that Anjuman would otherwise be frolicking around.) This being in touch with his tender side also allows Kanodia to indulge in a bit of peacock-ery, accompanying his blindingly white jodhpurs with a series of increasingly colorful, flouncy man blouses.


In Sorat No Saavaz, Kanodia's Amar stands at the center of a palaver born of lust, jealousy, and, at least in some cases, just plain old horniness. While he is in love with the village belle Sonal (she of the crockery-based euphemisms for virginity), Sonal is in turn coveted by Guman, the Queen's conniving administrator. Meanwhile, the Queen of the small kingdom in which Amar and Sonal live becomes smitten with Amar after seeing him win the kingdom's annual horse race. The Queen, it should be said, is a woman of appetites, as we see her, on more than one occasion, having her way with captive village men, whose exhausted bodies are then carted off by one of the Queen's hulking goons to be summarily tossed from a cliff into a nearby lake.

Fear not that a woman's possession of a libido will go unpunished, however. It is the classic fate of The Vamp that awaits the Queen, who realizes only too late the error of her "lusty nature", and has to suffer the full consequences for it despite her best efforts to make amends. What's interesting, though, is, for an Indian film, how frank Sorat No Saavaz is about those things that it chooses to be so suffocatingly conservative about. The Queen makes no attempts to be coy about her intentions toward Amar, telling the captive hero at one point -- via some oddly translated subtitles -- "Today I wish to play and enjoy with your body". Elsewhere, those scenes showing the aftermath of her forced liaisons with hapless villagers, while not explicit, are none too difficult to parse, either.

Though made in the 80s, Sorat No Saavaz should hit most of the sweet spots for those in love with the excesses of 1970s Bollywood. There is the classic "Everuhbody was-uh kung fu fighteeing" finale so essential to the best Masala films, with everyone and their mom joining in the climactic fray. Even the Queen sets aside her regal bearing to do some back flips and high kick some guys in the face. And then there is Amar's animal companion, a wonder bird by the name of "Sheru" (though, notably, not Sheroo; big difference) who, for the most part, is played by a life-sized puppet and is always ready to swoop down with talons at the ready whenever his master is in trouble.

If anything I have said about Sorat No Saavaz has indicated to you that it is at all intentionally thought provoking or engaging on a deeply emotional level, I apologize. It is neither. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that you should take away from this is that it's the only Indian film I've seen that features what is essentially a female rapist, and that the hero has a life-sized puppet bird for a sidekick. That's a recommendation, by the way.