Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Atlantis (Denmark, 1913)

Atlantis proves that the whole "too soon" concept was as pertinent one hundred years ago as it is today, greeted by a wave of consternation upon its release for its depiction of a Titanic-like disaster only a year after the actual tragedy occurred. Norway even went so far as to ban the picture entirely.

Yet to say that Atlantis was "inspired" by the sinking of the Titanic is a somewhat dicey proposition, as the film was in truth based upon a novel by Nobel Prize winning author Gerhart Hauptman, which famously and uncannily depicted events very similar to the sinking a month before they happened. Whether real life occurrences had a hand in inspiring the selection of Hauptman's book as source material, however, is another matter entirely.

As Atlantis opens, distinguished bacteriologist Freidrich von Kammacher (Verdens Undergang's Olaf Fønss) is having a crap day. Not only has his new treatise been rejected by the University of Berlin, but his wife (Lily Frederiksen) has gone completely off her noggin, endeavoring, with wild eyed abandon,  to cut up everything in sight with a pair of sewing scissors, including, it seems, Friedrich himself. You see, this was back in those day when women would become unaccountably broken and have to be sent off to the brain doctor -- preferably one in as remote a European locale as possible -- for repair, which is what pretty unceremoniously happens to Mrs. Kammacher within the film's opening minutes.

Seeing that Kammacher has become broody and disconsolate in the wake of these events, his doting mother suggests that he leave his three children in her care and take a rejuvenating trip abroad. And so he does, heading off to Berlin, where he soon becomes smitten with famed "artistic" dancer Ingigerd Hahlstroem -- and this despite the fact that she looks like a dowager and dances with all the grace of an anesthetized polar bear.

Ingigerd is played by Ida Orloff, whose casting was insured by a clause in author Hauptman's contract that required that certain parts in the film be played by the actual people who inspired them. Orloff, a former lover of Hauptman's, may indeed have been an accomplished dancer at one time. But the fact that she was past her prime is clearly demonstrated by her one performance in the film, a number called "The Spider's Victim" in which she clumsily tromps around in a butterfly costume before being scared by a giant prop spider, then dies after badly pantomiming being trapped in a web. Another figure who won his role in this manner was Charles Unthan, an armless violinist who portrays "Armless Wonder" Arthur Stoss, a character whose contributions to the story in terms of either depth or agency are somewhat mysterious.

Since it's not cheating if your wife mistakes you for a textile, Kammacher sets himself to ardently pursuing Ingigerd, going so far as to book passage on the same ocean liner when she sets off for an engagement in New York. Providing an obstacle to his stalking is the dancer's entourage, which consists of her father, a handsome suitor, her agent, and an angry pet monkey that on several occasions appears to be actually biting Orloff (who does an admirable job of maintaining a cheerful demeanor regardless). Undeterred, Kammacher instead enjoys an aborted flirtation with a young Russian immigrant on board. However, his cruise on the Love Boat is to be an abbreviated one, as it is not long before the ship has collided with an unknown object while passing through a dense fog and begins to rapidly take on water.

Atlantis' depiction of the ocean liner's sinking is both spectacular and impressive, in itself enough to earn the film its place as a landmark in Danish cinema -- and in cinema as a whole, for that matter. It's easy to understand audiences of the time being both startled and disturbed by its realism, which was apparently accomplished by the use of a near full-sized mock-up of the ship, along with the employment of hundreds of extras to splash about frantically in Denmark's bay of Køge. Yet, as central to the film as that scene is, and as much as its reputation has eclipsed everything else about the film that surrounds it, it was not Atlantis' sole reason for being.

You see, Atlantis was made during a more primitive cinematic age, back before people knew how to build an entire movie around a sinking boat (oh, how much we have learned since then). Director August Blom would come within closer striking distance of the classic disaster movie template with his subsequent Verdens Undergang -- aka The End of the World -- but was here trying to tell a larger story of which disaster was just one small component. Not that it's always easy to keep a firm grasp on what that story is, mind you. Atlantis takes the job of being Denmark's first feature-length film seriously, clocking in at over two hours, almost all of which consists of scenes filmed in long, static, medium shots with a minimum of intertitles. Amid this, it's easy to get a sense of something in Hauptman's original book being lost, and perhaps also the sense that silent film was not quite as ideal a medium for the novelistic approach to story telling as would be the sound variety.

In any case, the shipwreck at least performs the utility of killing off Ingigerd's father, suitor, and monkey, thus leaving her fair game for Kammacher once the two of them finally make it to New York. Unfortunately, this also affords Kammacher the opportunity to sample in full Ingigerd's capacity for shallow vanity. Thus he fucks off to hang out with a bunch of arty types instead, whereupon he handily meets Eva (Ebba Thomsen, also of Verdens Undergang), a sculptress with whom he ignites the initial sparks of romance.

Meanwhile, we get a lot of intriguing period footage shot on location in Manhattan, as well as of a public exhibition performed by the "Armless Wonder" Stoss. This consists of Stoss/Unthan playing a trumpet with his feet, playing cards with his feet, lighting a cigarette with his feet, and, finally, uncorking and pouring a bottle of wine, also with his feet; in short: his entire performance in more or less real time. It's the kind of scene, like others in Atlantis, that leaves you thankful for those modern editing techniques that make it impossible to tell which robot is punching whom, or whether we're looking at Mila Kunis' ass or Justin Timberlake's. Moan all you want about the limited attention span of today's audience, but it was an earlier audience's development of a capacity to be bored with cinema's novelty that was a necessary and revolutionary step in the advancement of the art -- something you will be frequently reminded of while watching Atlantis.

Atlantis' final act involves the distraught Kammacher retiring to a friend's isolated mountain cabin (which is presumably supposed to be near New York, but looks like it's in Siberia) in order to mend his shattered nerves. The loneliness proves too much for him, however, and he soon starts to succumb to madness, and then illness. Happy tragic news eventually arrives in the form of a telegram announcing the death of his wife, after which Eva fortuitously arrives to pledge her devotion and nurse him back to health. Thus, after a full recovery, is Kammacher able to make a triumphant return to the homeland with a new mother for his children in tow. Hooray!

The DVD of Atlantis includes an alternate ending that was shot exclusively for the film's Russian release. Russian audiences accounted for a significant portion of producer Nordisk Film's foreign revenues at the time, and such changes were typically made due to a perception that said audience had a marked taste for tragic endings. (It's not for nothing that Gershwin wrote that line about seeing "more skies of gray than any Russian play can guaranty".) Thus was shot a conclusion in which Kammacher summarily dies immediately upon Eva's arrival, after which a "THE END" title card is hastily rushed on screen. It's hilarious for seeming every bit as cursory and tacked-on as the typical happy ending, and as a result makes the actual happy ending seem paradoxically hard won. I imagine the Russians would have been happier if they'd just ended with the shipwreck.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Infernal Brains Podcast, Episode 13

It's been three weeks since we posted the first half of our discussion of Pearl Cheung Ling. In the interim you've had to distract yourselves with trifles like The Dark Knight Rises and the Olympics. But now the wait is over. This time around, Tars Tarkas, special guest Durian Dave and myself get into the specifics of Pearl's films, with an emphasis on such self-directed efforts as Wolf Devil Woman and Matching Escort. As per usual, you can either download the podcast here or watch it with a workplace approved slideshow below.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chinatown Capers (Hong Kong, 1974)

Chinatown Capers is the sequel to the 1973 Polly Shang Kwan action comedy Back Alley Princess. In that one, Polly played the feisty street urchin “Chili Boy”, whose true gender was the worst kept secret in all of martial arts cinema. That did not, however, prevent the entire cast from being gob-smacked when, at the film’s conclusion, it was revealed that Chili Boy was in fact a guh… a guh… excuse me (hastily takes a drink of water, and in best Don Knotts voice) A GIRL! Not the least stricken was Polly’s co-star Angela Mao, who had started to find herself getting Beiber Fever for Polly-as-a-boy.

By contrast, Chinatown Capers doesn’t bother itself with such issues, preferring to leave Chili Boy’s troubling androgyny just that, and instead devoting its attentions to a showy shift in scenery. The trailer for the film touts the fact that the Hong Kong production was “filmed entirely in U.S.A”. And indeed it appears that all of it, interiors included, was shot in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. For a native of that area, that makes the film a treat on two levels. For one, there’s the thrill of seeing one of my favorite stars moving through an assortment of warmly familiar locations. For another, there’s the time capsule aspect that preserves both landmarks currently fading from memory -- the long gone Chinatown Wax Museum, Capwell’s -- and those that predated some current destination spots. For instance, who knew that, back then, there was a grassy park where the New People Theater and Super 7 now stand?

That Chinatown Capers’ location is somewhat intended to be the star of the movie is reinforced by the prosciutto thinness of its plot. Chili Boy and his/her dimwitted partner from the first movie, Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui), arrive in San Francisco and take jobs as waiters at the restaurant run by family friend Uncle Wang (Wong Sam). Hilarity ensues as a result of Chili Boy’s overconfidence in her(his?) English language skills, not to mention white people’s ignorance of Chinese cuisine. Polly haltingly directs one round eye patron to the chop suey and sweet and sour pork, only to have him respond in Chinese that he doesn’t want food for “foreigners”, while a Caucasian dining party later reinforces his(her!) prejudices by ordering those very items absent her/his prompting.

Amid all this culture clash humor, director/writer Low Wei establishes, albeit in the most leisurely manner imaginable, that Chili and Pillow have a secret purpose for their visit. It turns out that they’ve been entreated by a wealthy Hong Kong businessman to track down his daughter, Sylvia (Sylvia Chang Ai-Chia), who, after coming to the states to pursue her studies, has fallen off the grid for one reason or another. This being the drug and hippy infested San Francisco of the early 70s, you can probably guess what that reason was. And sure enough, it’s not long before our two bumbling amateur sleuths have found out that Sylvia’s crippling marijuana addiction has lead to her being kicked out of school. Now heavily in debt to the scummy band of pushers who got her hooked, she has been forced to square accounts by acting as their runner.

Meanwhile, Chili and Pillow must deal with problems resulting from their combined lack of money and our city’s stringent new “sit/lie” laws. After being rousted from the park by officer whitey, they decide to go with the flow of things and become street musicians, entertaining our city’s beardy inhabitants with songs about Americans’ loose mores and provocative clothing. Ironically, this only earns them enough money to lodge in a rat trap inhabited by a bunch of mini-skirted whores who act more like overzealous groupies. Finally, the two stupidly tip the scales by informing Sylvia’s unsavory associates of her moneyed background, which leads to the gang deciding to hold her for ransom.

And it is at this point, once Chili and Pillow have themselves become targets of the gang and feel the need to resort to disguise, that Chinatown Capers’ enters its most worrisome phase, ignoring the transgender issues that have been screaming from its sidelines since the very first frame in favor of exploring entirely other aspects of, um, identity. First the two profane our Christian holidays by dressing as Santa Claus. Then, for some reason, they find it best advised to dress up as a pair of soul brothers with huge afros and blackened faces -- Polly going for added authenticity by affecting an exaggerated pimp strut while repeatedly shouting “anybody there?” in what I think is supposed to be a Southern accent.

Sadly, the filmmakers deemed this above described act of minstrelsy in itself sufficiently comedic to warrant a long sequence consisting entirely of the two stars walking through an assortment of locations in their get up, occasionally stopping to crack up at each other because it’s all so manifestly hilarious. And while I have to admit to laughing at it myself, if only in utter disbelief, it’s every bit as awful as it sounds. Not even Polly’s infectious energy and good natured charm, abundantly in evidence throughout the rest of the picture, can save it.

I can’t be sure, but I would guess from the look of things that a lot of Chinatown Capers’ location scenes were shot without permits (this is unmistakably the case with the murky footage taken at San Francisco airport that opens the film), which would explain why so many of its fight scenes have a decidedly improvised, spur of the moment feel to them. It’s like everybody just piled out of the bus and got to it the minute they found a suitably unsupervised spot. This is especially true of the climactic fight, which has an absurdly high number of participants, including an eleventh hour, cross-promotional cameo by Slaughter in San Francisco’s Don Wong, who I assume happened to be in town at the time. The chaotic, backyard throw-down aspect of these sequences actually makes them a lot of fun, despite -- or perhaps even because of -- their lacking the type of showy choreography we’re used to seeing in HK films from this period.

At Chinatown Capers’ conclusion, in the wake of that final, dizzying melee, Chili, Pillow and their allies stand over a prostrate field of assorted hippies, thugs and doper scum, all blanketing the landscape like a sodden quilt woven from Richard Nixon’s worst nightmares. And speaking of, with congratulations in order, the film then bids us farewell with a horribly composited shot of Polly Shang Kwan and Samuel Hui being photographed alongside Tricky Dick himself in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. Thus was Chinatown Capers cemented in my mind as the most unutterably bizarre thing yet to bare the Polly Shang Kwan brand, which you know is saying an awful lot.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Am Free (Egypt, 1958)

I Am Free was one of a trio of films from esteemed Egyptian director Salah Abu Seif that are now referred to as his “Female Empowerment Trilogy”. However, anyone naïve enough to expect an uncompromising feminist statement from it would do best to keep in mind that, at the time of I Am Free’s release, Egyptian women had only had the right to vote for two years. It may be far from radical by today’s standards, but when seen in that light, it’s certainly possible to appreciate it as a step in a progressive direction.

And fittingly, I Am Free is a film about a society in transition, as well as a heroine who finds herself trapped between the old and the new. Set in the years prior to the 23 July Revolution of 1952, the film casts Lobna Abdel Aziz, the radiant star of Oh Islam! and Bride of the Nile, as Amina, a rebellious young woman chafing at the strictures she faces in the home of her fiercely traditional Aunt and Uncle. Most of what constitute the principle pastimes of a teenage girl’s life are considered haraam in this household, with physical punishment frequently the penalty, and it is only through Amina’s more liberally raised friends -- like the conspicuously Westernized “Vicky” -- that she is introduced to such innocent pleasures as dancing to pop music and riding in cars with boys.

Finally reaching her breaking point, Amina makes it her single-minded mission to achieve freedom from the dictates of others at all costs -- even if she’s not quite sure what that will look like -- and essentially sets out to do so by acting as if this were already the case. However, unlike her friends, who eke out what little autonomy they can by sneaking around behind their parents’ backs, Amina’s flaunting of authority is open and demonstrative. As a result, she begins to gain a reputation among the gossipy residents of her stiflingly conservative community. We also see some of the open and ugly hostility that the sight of a young girl pursuing the unashamed enjoyment of a self-determined life inspires in the town’s young men.

Lobna Abdel Aziz, in one of her earliest featured roles, gives a star making performance here, portraying Amina’s fierce intelligence while, during the film’s first half, imbuing her with a perpetual air of smoldering insolence that’s both amusing and vicariously thrilling. As the film progresses, Amina shakes off her impediments like a rocket leaving Earth’s atmosphere, freeing herself from the authority of her Aunt and Uncle when she rejects an arranged marriage they’ve proposed, and then her community when she, against the outraged objections of her elders, heads off to Cairo to pursue a college education. Finally she attains the last stage of her plan, that of gaining financial independence, by taking an office job with an oil company, whereupon she crashes headlong into the antithesis of freedom that is the nine-to-five grind.

Dispiritingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, I Am Free tells us that, despite her success in taking charge of her destiny, Amina is still left feeling a little unfulfilled and (sigh!) empty inside at the end of the journey. Even more dispiritingly, and perhaps even less surprising, is the fact that her salvation will come in the form of a man -- in this case, Abbas (Shoukry Sarhan), her intensely earnest former neighbor who is now the editor of a big city magazine. More uplifting, however, is the fact that Abbas’ magazine is one with a revolutionary political bent, and that he is in fact involved in outlawed activities on behalf of the anti-colonialist movement. Happily, it is her involvement in this cause, as much as her newfound love for Abbas, that ultimately gives meaning to Amina’s life and a purpose to her freedom.

Despite his reputation as a pioneer of realism in Egyptian cinema, Salah Abu Seif is shown by films like the previously reviewed Sleepless to also have been a finicky visual stylist with no aversion to artifice. While lacking that particular film’s Sirkian hues, the black and white I Am Free suffers no shortage of beautiful and expressive compositions, while still making time for a few engagingly lively, stolen scenes of Cairo street life (watch for the few quick glances of bystanders gawping into the camera as Abdel Aziz skips past). It also should be said that, it’s subject matter notwithstanding, I Am Free is a film that falls squarely within the tradition of Egyptian popular cinema, and as such has a surprisingly light touch for most of its running time. Amina’s quest for freedom at times comes dangerously close to being portrayed as little more than a charming folly of youth, and even a scene in which she is physically set upon by a group of enraged boys -- for the crime of roller skating with obvious enjoyment in a public square with a coed group –- devolves into a slapstick food fight.

I Am Free, like Sleepless, was based on a novel by the author Ihsan Abdel Quddous -- adapted, in both cases, by Salah Abu Seif’s frequent collaborator Naguib Mahfouz -- and was, in fact, one of a number of Quddous’ books brought to the screen by the director. Both it and Sleepless focus on a female character in spiritual torment, and in both cases that female character tries to hash out her situation in a series of literal discussions with God. In the case of I Am Free, Seif depicts those discussions in a series of dream sequences in which Amina is pictured as a tiny silhouette within a enormous doorway, looking into an abyss from which an echoing male voice booms out its displeasure at her actions. It seems that the closer Amina gets to her idea of freedom, the more elusive it becomes, and this because -- in God’s opinion, at least -- she does not understand what the true meaning of freedom is.

This image of its headstrong heroine being dressed down by that most imposing male authority figure of them all is a pretty good indication of the divided mind that I Am Free brings to the issue of female self determination. Nonetheless, the film does seem to be making a sincere attempt to depict the obstacles faced by women in Egyptian society on the eve of the revolution, as well as provide an honest rumination on the nature of freedom. The ultimate expression of Amina’s freedom, it seems to say, is in her willful sacrifice of that freedom for what she believes in. This is less inspiring in the case of her voluntary subjugation to Abbas -- whom, in a symbolic act of surrender, she literally kneels at the feet of -- but is undeniably stirring at the moment when she gives up everything in the name of her political convictions. Thus the arc of the film sees her go from a spiritual prison at the film’s beginning to an all too real one at its end -- albeit, in the latter case, with a serene spirit that could only come from her experiencing true liberation. I only hope that, once she gets out, she’s not too high minded to take up roller skating again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

4DK in The Times of India

Back in January, when I wrote the post Indian Superhero Roll Call, I knew that it was the most important thing that I had ever written. For that reason, I haven't been all that surprised to see it take on something of a life of its own. Its latest incarnation -- fully attributed and with permission, of course -- is as a companion piece to an article titled Amitabh in Pink Tights: India's First Superhero in the weekend edition of the Times of India. If you missed it the first time around -- or would simply like to revisit it -- the online version can be found here. Those wanting the whole story will have to wait for my upcoming memoir, Game Changer: How I Wrote Indian Superhero Roll Call.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dara Singh 1928 - 2012

Dammit, this week has sucked.

Just days after I reported on the sad passing of Dolphy comes the news that Indian stunt film legend Dara Singh has also left us. No eulogy this time; I'll just let the sheer volume of verbiage I've devoted to this man over the past years testify to my affection. Suffice it to say that I am very sad.

King Kong (1962) [at Teleport City]
Awara Abdulla (1963)
Faulad (1963)
Aaya Toofan (1964)
Hercules (1964)
Samson (1964)
Boxer (1965)
Tarzan Comes to Delhi (1965)
Tarzan & King Kong (1965)
Lootera (1965)
Trip to Moon (1967) [at Teleport City]
The Thief of Baghdad (1968)
Chalbaaz (1969)
Ram Bharose (1977)

I also suggest you check out some of the fine writing my friends Memsaab and Tars Tarkas have done about Dara, as well as the episode of The Infernal Brains podcast that Tars and I devoted to him back in May of lasts year.

Rest in peace, big guy.

Vive La France (Gall)

Over at Teleport City, I’ve put on my music crit hat once again to review the new RPM compilation Made In France: France Gall’s Baby Pop. The collection puts a lot of emphasis on the work that Gall, one of the youngest stars to come out of the French “Yeh Yeh Girl” craze of the mid 60s, did with Serge Gainsbourg -- so, yes, the dirty song about the lollipop is on there. But, as I try to make clear, there was a lot more to her than that. In fact, I’d put France Gall just behind my beloved Francoise Hardy among my favorites in the Yeh Yeh genre. Check it out, si vous plait.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dolphy 1928 - 2012

It’s a sad day in the Philippines today, as the nation mourns the passing of screen comedian Rodolfo “Dolphy” Quizon, one of its most beloved entertainers. The freeze dried lump that in this rare instance may be recognizable as 4DK’s heart goes out to them and to all who are affected by his loss.

Dolphy has taken up a fair share of my attention since I first started writing this blog, and not just because so much of his work falls so squarely within my chosen beat. The world of international genre cinema, I’ve learned, is rife with terrible comedy, and so it is that I can’t help but respond with deep gratitude to a comic performer like Dolphy, whom not only do I not hate, but I actually even “get” on some level. Any attempt on my part to pinpoint why that is would end up paraphrasing this paragraph from my review of James Batman, so I’m just going to include it verbatim:

For the most part, Dolphy’s scripted dialog is painfully unfunny, but what struck me as I watched James Batman is how he comes across as being a genuinely funny guy despite that. This is conveyed mostly through what appear to be throwaway bits of physical improv — such as when, as Batman, he follows a pre-crime-fighting snack by casually wiping his hands on Rubin’s cape — and by a genuinely quirky repertoire of mannerisms and physical gestures that make the most of his spindly frame and boney, thin-lipped countenance. I think that what really works for Dolphy is his somewhat sadsack, sour-faced demeanor, an aspect that not only serves to distance him from the goofy obviousness of the humor he’s perpetrating, but also provides a contrast to the type of desperate, googly-eyed antics so often seen in cinematic comic relief characters from this period.
I’d also add that I found something deliciously subversive in Dolphy’s trademark parodies of iconic Western pop archetypes, especially given the traditionally heavy influence of American pop culture upon that of the Islands. In his mischievously irreverent takes on totems like Batman and James Bond, you get a sense of Dolphy wrestling with those figures to draw forth from them something that is both uniquely his own and also uniquely Filipino -- a rejection of their face value that comes across as at once delightfully bratty and subtly heroic.

Some reviews of Dolphy’s films for your perusal:

James Batman (at Teleport City)

Napoleon Doble and the Sexy Six

Genghis Bond: Agent 1-2-3

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cehennemde Senlik Var (Turkey, 1970)

Cehennemde Senlik Var (which translates to something like “It’s Festival Time in Hell”) is an action film in the classic Turkish pulp style, a never ending pursuit that frequently degenerates into a reckless running brawl. Star Yilmaz Koksal plays Ali, a verdantly mustached master thief who runs afoul of a murderous gang lead by Erol Tas, The Deathless Devil’s Dr. Satan himself. It’s a noirish scenario presented as a frothy thrill ride in the James Bond mold, with Ali more the rakish thrill seeker than haunted antihero. This particular branch of world cinema, after all, has as little use for antiheroes as it does for good guys and bad. There are only hard men and harder ones, and, as Ali demonstrates again and again, he is very, very good with the knife, the gun, and the fist. (Though mostly the knife, as it turns out.)

With Cehennemde, director Cetin Inanc demonstrates that the crude magic of the Turkish genre trade was still well with him as the 70s dawned, displaying all of the tricks that he learned in the 60s at the knee of master Yilmaz Atadeniz and then some. The film’s pacing is nothing short of incessant, with Inanc pulling out just enough askew angles and peculiar perspectives to keep the action interesting despite its repetitive nature. Also, with the doomed affair between Ali and the wayward daughter of his nemesis (Feri Cansel, a Turkish pulp cinema mainstay who played the leather clad sidekick to the title character in Inanc’s earlier Iron Claw the Pirate), he provides a surprising, if ever so slight, hint of tragic romanticism, as if we’re watching a wildly under-cranked version of They Live By Night that’s propelled forward by sucker punches and roundhouse kicks.

Like a lot of Turkish films of its type, Cehennemde fascinates by virtue of its very repetitiveness. Watching it, one can’t help but wonder if or when it will ever wind itself down, or if its seemingly endless cycle of running, fighting, capturing and torturing will somehow manage to perpetuate itself into eternity. As a result, its star, Koksal, becomes after a point little more than a careening battle top, his whirling limbs dealing out blows to an inexhaustible supply of similarly mustached, shades sporting goons. Goons to which, I might add, Koksal himself bears few distinguishing traits. Though displaying many of the hallmarks of Inanc's and Atadniz's costumed hero films of the 60s, Cehennemde, by eschewing the use of a masked protagonist, forefronts its emphasis on movement for its own sake even more. Why, after all, would you want to clutter things up with fantasies of transformation and dramas of concealed identities when there are multi-party shootouts, foot chases and fist fights to be attended to?

It probably no longer needs pointing out, but I nonetheless feel duty bound to report that the James Bond vibe here, as so often before, comes courtesy of John Barry himself, via his unwitting contribution of generous swaths from his score to On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ali even gets to be heralded by the 007 theme itself, although his character displays considerably less of that iconic master spy's trademark suavity than his less celebrated thuggishness. Granted, the film's lack of subtitles prevented me from appraising the smoothness of Ali's pillow talk, but his zeal for smacking women across the chops translated all too clearly -- although this could also be said to be an occupational hazard for anyone getting within arms length of one who is so obviously a tireless punching and knifing machine.

Cehennemde Senlik Var careens to an end at a neatly rounded hour mark, and this not because, to my eye, anything was substantially missing from the version I watched. I instead think that, like it's protagonist, it simply ran out of places to run to. And in this I think it sets an admirable example for contemporary filmmakers, at a time when those films that most seem like they should be seventy minutes long -- be they cartoonish action spectacles or comic book adaptations outright -- are those most likely to stretch toward the three hour mark. By contrast, Cehennemde Senlik Var speaks to my need for thrills while respecting both my bladder and my nervous system, and for that I think it deserves an at least cordial tip of the hat.