Back in March of 2010, when I reviewed the first Golden Boy film for Teleport City, I described it as stripping the James Bond film down to its barest elements. You wouldn't think that that would leave much material left over to fashion a sequel from. But, apparently the success of Golden Boy--and perhaps the ego of its producer/star Goksel Arsoy--was big enough to warrant one. And so I now present to you Golden Boy in Beirut.
Let me first say that the version of Golden Boy in Beirut that is currently available on YouTube made me miss anew the late Bill Barounis and his Onar Films, who would have at least given us some English subtitles and gotten rid of the tracking lines at the bottom of the screen. Nonetheless, I accept that the experience of watching Turkish pulp films is inseparable from the ordeal of decrypting them from the layers of stank that have gathered upon them over years of neglect and abuse.
Then again, with Golden Boy in Beirut, we are again working with the bare bones of genre, so the basic touchstones of the plot were easy enough to work out. There is a much sought after document--the key to reading an also much sought after code--that switches hands numerous times throughout the film, going from coveted briefcase to coveted satchel to coveted valise, all the while being sought by an assortment of black suited gunsels who will refrain from no level of meanness to get their hands on it. Eventually super agent Golden Boy (Arsoy) is put on the case.
Sadly, Goksel Arsoy didn't win me over any more than he did in his debut. He here continues to displays a chronic case of Bitchy Resting Face that makes him look like a churlish toddler. His corresponding lack of charm does nothing to distract from the fact that Golden Boy is basically just a bully, grimly trundling from one assignation to the next to push and slap people--men and women alike--until he gets the information he wants. True, the same could be said of Sean Connery's James Bond, but Connery could at least pull off a dick move with some arguably mitigating panache. I also have to again point out Arsoy's resemblance to the Fall's Mark E. Smith.
As Golden Boy goes through his routine of making snitty faces while pushing and slapping people, he is all the while shadowed by a mysterious, black clad woman, who is played by the Lebanese singer Taroub. The two meet and make a cursory love connection while on the train to Beirut, insuring that Taroub will later be captured and picturesquely tortured by the heavies. The train's arrival at its destination then heralds a flaunting of production value that amounts to four solid minutes of Goksel Arsoy walking aimlessly through the streets of Beirut.
The obsessive in me feels irresistibly compelled to point out that, when Arsoy and Taroub finally do the deed, it is to the tune of that old chestnut from dad's record cabinet, the theme from A Man and a Woman ("ba ba ba dabba dabba da..."), which marks a departure from a score that is otherwise almost entirely made up of needle-dropped cues from the Goldfinger and Thunderball soundtracks. Other exceptions include the Golden Boy theme song from the first film, the Lebanese song "Yalla Habibi", and a snippet of the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There" that plays during an early nightclub scene. Yes, I feel better now.
As always in these films, there is a mysterious "Mr. Big" behind all of the nefarious goings on, and eventually Golden Boy's ritualized routine of pushing and slapping brings him close enough to him to infiltrate his hideout, which is located deep within a ruined fortress. This he accomplishes by bringing with him the coveted briefcase and posing as--I think--a courier for the lesser villains. When revealed, the mysterious Mr. Big is this guy:
Now, I am willing to admit to you that I understood very little of what this movie was about. But I am also willing to admit that I do not care what this movie was about--because, for me, once he showed up, this movie was ALL ABOUT THIS GUY. I want to point out that he has a symbol of a gryphon both on his chest and on his cape. His cape! This he flounces behind him majestically as he paces around a hideout that looks like what Mission Control would look like if it was set up in a high school boiler room, attended by a retinue of shirtless muscle men and mini-skirted robo-babes. I wish at this point that this review could play a jackpot noise, but... well, you get the idea.
Anyway, once we have learned that Bizarro Batman is behind all of the villainous goings on, the action of Golden Boy in Beirut proceeds in fairly predictable fashion. Golden Boy has to whip the captive Taroub to prove that he is one of the bad guys, followed by a raid upon the lair by the authorities in which there is much shooting and people falling off of things. Yes, it is predictable, but would we really have it any other way? Might Golden Boy instead rip off his suit to reveal that he is really several babies standing on each others' shoulders? Might Taroub and the villain do the Bat-tusi to a rockabilly version of "A Man and a Woman" as the hideout crashes down around them?
No. I think we should instead think about all of the other somewhat routine thrillers that could have been improved upon by the inclusion of a villain in what looks like a Halloween costume sewn by his mother and be grateful to Golden Boy in Beirut for that soupcon of compensatory ridiculousness. In this way, the chaotic virtues of world pop cinema make beggars of us all.
We're halfway through our two months of bi-weekly episodes over at Pop Offensive, with the next installment coming up this Wednesday. Do you like music with an international bent that is catchy, danceable and fun... or are you dead inside? I thought so. All you need do is stream the episode live from 9thfloorradio.com starting at 7:00 pm Pacific time and tweet us your deepest feelings and darkest secrets at @PopOffRadio. "See" you then!
Here's hoping that all you Bary Area fans of 4DK and Funky Bollywood--not to mention all you globe hopping cinematic adventurers out there--will brave the stroller stampede on 24th Street to drop by my book event tonight at Folio Books. I'm very much looking forward to meeting you!
C.I.D. Raju confounded my efforts to understand it without subtitles by featuring a male cast that was, to a man, made up of dark haired men with mustaches, heavily painted eyebrows and powdered faces. Their characters would have been no less indistinguishable to me had they been played by members of the Blue Man Group. C.I.D. Raju also confounded my efforts to understand it without subtitles by being as crazy as a bonobo in heat.
If the above description does not already scream “Telugu film” to you, let me also say that C.I.D. Raju raises high expectations by having been made in the same year as the sublime James Bond 777 and by sharing some of that film’s key talent both behind and in front of the camera. Chief among these is director K.S.R. Doss, whose unique aesthetic would be obvious even without his prominent billing in the credits:
Holding this film up to James Bond 777 may seem unfair, but the truth is that it acquits itself quite well, if to a large extent by means of compensation. It does not, for instance, have a trio of dog assassins (though there is a hero German Shepherd named Sabu) or dueling Jyothi Laxmis, but in place of those things it gives us more than we might expect. Here Doss has taken the secret agent trappings of JB777 and combined them with those of an “old dark house” thriller along with the mad science of an old Universal horror picture. Yes, there are monsters.
Our story begins with the escape from prison of one of the aforementioned mustached and powdered gentlemen, who, it turns out, is one of the bad mustached and powdered gentlemen, as opposed to the many also mustached and powdered gentlemen who make up the city’s easily baffled police force. This crumb bum wastes no time in reuniting with his old gang, who, despite the film’s contemporary urban milieu, all dress in cowboy outfits—probably because this is a K.S.R. Doss film. It soon follows that the hoods kidnap a scientist, Dr. Ramesh, whom they torture into revealing the secret of his newly developed paralyzing serum. They then set to kidnapping a series of pretty college girls whom they drag back to their underground lair for purposes unknown to me. It is at this point that the baffled C.I.D. calls in Agent Raju, who comes wheeling onto the scene on his motorcycle to the accompaniment of peppy surf guitar.
Of all the kabuki-esque mustache farmers on display in C.I.D. Raju, you’d think that one would be the ubiquitous Superstar Krishna, who was apparently exercising his omnipresence elsewhere at the time. Instead, Agent Raju is played by a younger, though no less dolled up, actor whose name I am unsure of. This is of little matter, though, because, not long after he is introduced, Raju disappears from the film for the better part of an hour, leaving his sidekick to take on most of the heavy lifting. Also on hand to pick up the slack is 4DK favorite Vijaya Lalitha playing Lita, who is, I believe, the daughter of the local magistrate. Many attempts on Lita’s life are made by the gang, all of which allow the scrappy Lalitha to demonstrate her fondness for flying scissor holds.
Oh, and don’t think you’re going to get out of this movie without seeing an item number from Jyothi Laxmi.
Which brings us to C.I.D. Raju’s supernatural content. As all of the above described action takes place, we learn that the cowboy gang’s lair, while equipped with all the standard sliding doors and hidden chambers, is also infested with spooks, chief among them a fanged brute with Reggie Watts hair and one bulging eye. There is also a scene in which one of the gang confronts one of the girl captives, who reveals herself to be a witch with long, Wolverine-like talons (a side effect, perhaps, of Dr. Ramesh's serum?). Each of these sequences is followed by that old haunted house movie chestnut in which the only person to see the monster is later embarrassed when he/she brings a posse of disbelievers back to the spot of the sighting, only to find that the monster has moved on. Wah-wahhhh.
The film’s spookiness peaks when Lita—after being, by all appearances, successfully killed by the gang--returns as a vengeful ghost. This leads to a sequence in which a squadron of police officers watch in astonishment from an adjoining rooftop as Lita, singing a mournful tune, repeatedly explodes into a cloud of white phosphorous before reappearing. It is a truly dreamlike moment, one that speaks well of Doss’s skills as a filmmaker and visual stylist. It is also commendably free of panty shots.
It also speaks well of Doss’s skills as a filmmaker that C.I.D. Raju is a very entertaining film, even when watched by someone who has no idea at all what is supposed to be going on it it. Those scant moments in which there is no chase, fistfight, hip swiveling item girl, or monster reliably contain some quirk of fashion or mid-century interior design that is equally compelling. Notable among these visual bonbons are the gang’s chain smoking, plaid skirt wearing gunmoll and the odd, ceramic baby statue that adorns the Magistrate’s coffee table. This is not to mention the grating comic relief turn by Raja Babu, whose every bit of shrill physical business is accompanied by weird sci-fi sound effects, because, well, we are never to mention that, ever.
C.I.D. Raju ends, as is traditional, with an all-hands-on-deck dust-up involving every member of the cast that is filled with kung fu and gun violence. As much as you might decry its predictability, I think that, were the cast to instead join hands and sing us out to “Kumbaya”, we would find ourselves left with a profound emptiness. Such meatheaded spectacle is exactly what K.S.R. Doss was brought into this world to provide. In return, we can offer him only a drunken mind and a complete annihilation of disbelief.
Pop Offensive, a place where Gallic songbird Francoise Hardy plays in the same sandbox with Teutonic foghorn Heino, the Sonics play at a Greek disco to a crowd of shimmying Bollywood beauties, and it's Eurovision all year round. It's a place you might have thought you needed to eat handfuls of drugs to get to, but in reality it's only a mouse click away. Like last Wednesday's episode, for instance, which is now available for streaming from the Pop Offensive archives on the 9th Floor Radio website. Hey, you can even read along, as a complete playlist for the episode has just been posted on the Pop Offensive Facebook Page.
For those of you bay area residents who missed the gala Funky Bollywood launch party last month, or who simply wanted to relive it in all it's resplendence, I have good news. I have once again been given the opportunity to ruin pristine copies of my book Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970's Action Cinema with my childlike scrawl while ranting confusingly about its contents. The event will be taking place next Thursday, May 28th, from 7 to 10pm and is being hosted by Folio Books, a fine independent bookseller located in San Francisco's Noe Valley. That's right, San Franciscans, I said Noe Valley; it would seem that even the stroller and yoga mat set needs a little Funky Bollywood in their lives.
If you're interested in going, which I sincerely hope you are, Folio Books is located at 3957 24th Street, between Sanchez and Noe Streets (right across from the Whole Foods!) According to the hosts, the night, in addition to the usual chatting and signing, will also include "drinks" and "dancing". To the drinks I say, "Yes, please." To the dancing... well, there will have to be a lot of drinks, is all I'm saying. Oh, it's also free.
Over at Pop Offensive, Jeff Heyman and I are doubling down over the months of May and June--by which I in no way mean to imply that we are being sandwiched between two flash-fried slabs of rendered chicken leavings, as the results are far less dubious in their deliciousness. No, I mean that, during that time, we will be bringing you two episodes of Pop Offensive per month rather than the usual one. The world just has so much great pop, dance and movie music to offer that we couldn't resist giving you a second helping.
May's second episode of Pop offensive is tonight at 7pm PT, and, as is always the case, can be streamed live from 9thfloorradio.com. Feel free to contact us while we are on the air via our Twitter account @PopOffRadio. We'd be especially interested in hearing how you feel about having twice the Pop Offensive in your life. Who knows? We might even be convinced to keep it up throughout the Summer months ahead. Hint. Hint.
I have never posted sponsored content on 4DK and have no plans to do so. Still, inspiration can come from some strange places. For example, the online translation startup whose representative contacted me this week to ask if I would be interested in participating in a blogging project they had cooked up. The object of this project—which I think can fairly be referred to as a “blogathon”--was to have various bloggers examine the part played by language in film, in particular through the discussion of an English language remake of a foreign film that, to each writer’s eyes, had bettered the original. Of course, bloggers being the internet’s tireless providers of free content, there was no money involved (hey, I had to ask.) But, just as I was about to type a polite refusal, it occurred to me that I was the perfect person to address these questions, even if not in the way that these folks intended.
My relationship to language in film is a complicated one. As most longtime readers know, I watch a lot of foreign language films without the benefit of subtitles, in most cases because this is the only form in which I can find them. I have become so used to the practice that I often return to old favorites--Rani aur Jaani, say, or Chor Yuen’s The Black Rose--and am surprised to find them sub-free. These films have no less emotional resonance for me than they would if I knew the specifics of what the characters on screen were yakking away about. The reason for this, I think, is that, while I may not understand the spoken tongue of any given foreign picture, I am conversant in the language of film, and of genre film in particular.
I would even say that watching untranslated movies can have its benefits. For example, understanding the dialog of a film can cause you to get wrapped up in the intricacies of its plot to the detriment of seeing the broader picture that it’s painting. And by this I refer to the tropes, quotations and commonalities that make up the language by which films themselves speak to each other across borders. It is on this level of language where you stumble upon minor epiphanies like the fact that Rififi had just as much of an impact on Egyptian, Indian and Japanese crime films as it did upon Western ones, or that no culture has yet mastered the art of creating a comic relief character who even approaches being tolerable.
When stripped of language, genre films speak through their archetypes. While all film cultures cater to popular tastes with costumed superheroes and dashing secret agents, they also serve up their fair share of wayward teens, femme fatales, and hard luck cases looking for one last payday. It is these familiar figures that provide a welcoming entryway for the outsider into an otherwise foreign cinematic world. Once comfortably inside, he can then step back and look at the context in which these archetypes are presented—rewarded or punished, judged or empathized with, highlighted or sidelined—to get some sense of the culture that is contextualizing them. In this way, I believe, the commonalities of film, its international language, can serve to at once highlight difference while reducing its friction.
By all of this I in no way mean to say that language is unimportant to film, but I nonetheless think that looking at film without it forces a new perspective on the level of its importance—in addition to, I hope, refocusing attention on film’s more elementary pleasures. It is, after all, those films that depend most on dialog that travel farthest from being pure cinema.
Nothing could illustrate this point better than my choice, were I to engage with the project of making one (which I guess I am), of the rare English language remake that is better than its foreign language inspiration. For me that would be Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, which I feel is better than Hideo Nakata’ Ringu, not because it’s in English, but simply because it is the scarier film—one that establishes a dynamic rhythm to its shocks where Nakata’s film flatlines under the weight of its own relentless portentousness. That said, both films feature some inarguably powerful sequences (Sadako crawling out of the TV, that goddamn horse), almost all of which depend very little to not at all on dialog for their impact.
I think it is also salient that both The Ring and Ringu are films about a film--a film which, through its oblique visual symbols, speaks a language of its own, one that both seduces and entraps the viewer via the power of it very impenetrability. If you have seen the film, you might feel my words have not done this aspect of it justice. If you have not, it’s best that you just watch it for yourself. Language, in this instance, fails me in communicating its terrible beauty.
For most, saying that a film is a spiritual sibling of Robo Vampire is far from a ringing endorsement. But for another rare breed of individual--say, the type who might participate in a 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down or likeminded movie tweetalong--such a description presents a challenge that cries out be met.
And to the rest of you--goodhearted, rational minded people who, when confronted with statements such as those made above, simply ask, "What in the name of sweet, ice cream-loving Jesus are you talking about?", I say this: Devil's Dynamite, which is the subject of tonight's Shout Down, is another chaotic mash-up from Tomas Tang's notorious Filmark International, one that combines Ninjas, hopping vampires, a dude in a tinfoil superhero suit, and low rent Mafiosi drama to deeply confusing effect. ...Kind of like Robo Vampire, which you've probably also never heard of.
Tonight, you will have to decide which of the above categories of purely hypothetical humans you belong to, as it is tonight that the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew staunchly endures the trials of Devil's Dynamite (hair shirts optional). If you think you have what it takes, join us on Twitter, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tonight--Tuesday, May 12th--at 6pm PT sharp, as we tweet-along to the film using the link below: