Thursday, November 7, 2013

Country of Beauties, aka Island Warriors (Taiwan, 1981)

Communities of women -- be they alien inhabitants of all female planets, members of utopian cults, or amazons -- are a fixture of B movies, and such movies always follow the same rules. I think this is because they are all written by men who are terrified of women.

For one, these communities must always be populated exclusively by beautiful 20 somethings, with the exception of one older woman who is either a comic relief character or a wizened old sage. Secondly, these communities are always presented at first as a titillating prospect to the male viewer (Saaaaay!), until we realize that they are, in fact, a terrible idea, an abomination even. Because, you see, if left solely to their own company, women will ultimately turn against their men folk -- and if that happens in a Taiwanese film made during the 1980s like Country of Beauties, the English dubbed version of a film more commonly known as Island Warriors, that enmity will extend as far as them gorily chopping a dude’s nuts off.

Country of Beauties begins with a solicitous narrator informing us about this one time when a cruel Chinese ruler banished his queen to a remote island. Cut forward a few years and we see that that island is now teaming with a population of those aforementioned beautiful 20 something women -- because this is apparently what happens when you abandon a lone woman in a remote spot; she takes seed. These ladies worship Queen Nadanwa (Thrilling Sword’s Elsa Yeung) as a goddess, even enshrining her in the form of a giant statue, and spend their days either sparring with one another on the beach or doing calisthenics that seem primarily designed for maximum panty exposure, all to the strains of extremely silly sounding 80s pop music. The uniform is either dominatrix style leather wear or diaphanous white peplums worn with head bands a la Olivia Newton John in Xanadu.

Nadanwa never misses an opportunity to pump her subjects full of misandry, and is constantly warning them of the depredations of men. And, sure enough, it is not long before an assortment of those very creatures are stirring up discord on the island with their troublesome penises. The first of these is a gang of smelly pirates, who drop by the island for a frantic rape-a-thon before being driven off by the amazons. Then there is a trio of treasure hunters lead by pretty Zhang Pei-Hua. Joining him are two goofy footmen who include Pa Gwoh, who portrayed exactly the same character in Wolf Devil Woman and is dubbed by the same hysterically effeminate sounding guy. Because pretty boy claims to be able to build a canon that will replace the amazon’s current faulty model, he and his friends are afforded kinder treatment than the captured pirates, who get summarily snipped, and are instead outfitted with chastity belts.

The next unwelcome Y chromosome carrier on the island is Lu (Don Wong Tao), an inhabitant of the nearby Men’s Island, which is exactly what the name implies (I imagine their tourism slogan is something like: “Men’s Island, the island for men”.) The men of Men’s Island are a peaceful lot who only want the women of women’s island to live with them in harmony as nature intended. The message that Lu brings, in particular, is a request on their part that the women please stop casting the male babies born on the island into the sea. By the way, a scene depicting this very activity is set to Ennio Morricone’s “Jill’s Theme” from Once Upon a Time in the West, which -- well, talk about setting yourself up for unflattering comparisons. It’s a beautiful piece that can’t help but add extra poignancy to an already well directed scene, although the oversell can’t help but make that feel somewhat unearned.

Country of Beauties was directed by Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun, who got his start as an actor in Taiwanese popular films during the 60s and went on to become a prolific director throughout the 70s and 80s. It’s a good looking film, with nice sets, a nice use of color and, despite some lighting issues in some of the outdoor scenes, a good use of location and the widescreen frame. The cavernous, luridly lit set of the Queen’s throne room brings to mind something from a 1960s Shaw Brothers’ production. The fights are impressive more in terms of scale than execution, with some pretty spectacular scenes involving dozens of wildly back-flipping amazons taking on the male hordes. As laughable as its take on the battle of the sexes may be, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it as a classic piece of exploitation cinema, bristling with pop energy.

Back in the plot, the film’s drama kicks up a notch when the women imprison Lu, only to have him freed by the Queen’s sister, Chung Ah (Fong Fong-Fong, also of Thrilling Sword), who we learn has been conducting a Romeo and Juliette style relationship with him. Chung Ah assures the doomed nature of that affair when, fleeing Nadanwa’s guards, she attempts to hide Lu within the palace, making certain that a tragic confrontation with her sister is inevitable. The foundations of this society of women prove to be pretty shaky and, when the pirates attack again, it falls to the chivalrous inhabitants of Men’s Island to turn the tide of the battle in the ladies’ favor.

Along the way, Country of Beauties ticks off a few more of the classic community of women tropes: We chortle at the prospect of hapless male captives being “forced” to breed with spectacularly beautiful women, some bath time Sapphic shenanigans transpire, etc. In the end of it all, harmony is restored to Nadanwa’s little island. Men are good, she realizes, if hairy and noisome, except for pirates, who suck and are rapey. Still, it’s always best to keep the canons stoked.


vwstieber said...

I learned a new word: misandry. Thank you !

If you liked this, you'll love "Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen" aka "Virgins of the Seven Seas". I don't know why, you just will.

Todd said...

Always happy to increase my readers' word power. Now you'll have that in your pocket if you ever have a verbal run-in with a man hating amazon.

Filmi~Contrast said...

Gosh, this looks hilarious. As was your parting shot toward the pseudo-feminist ideology of the film, "Men are good . . . except for pirates, who suck and are rapey."

And speaking of good words, one rarely hears the adjective "diaphanous" nowadays, which is tragic.

Todd said...

Thanks, Filmi-Contrast. You should listen to my discussion of this film on the latest Taiwan Noir podcast, wherein I coin the term "castratrix".