Before I start flakking yet another podcast, I want to remind everyone that I actually did review a film this week. That said, this latest episode of Taiwan Noir sees Kenny B. and myself waxing rhapsodic over another pair of crazy, fun, and crazy fun Taiwanese fantasy films, both of which star gender bending actress Lam Siu Lau as their male lead. In Magic of Spell she returns to the role of Peach Kid (reprising her star turn in Child of Peach, which we discussed in Taiwan Noir episode 20), and in Magic Warriors, she stars as the very Peach Kid-like Little Flying Dragon. And speaking of magic, if you listen to this episode, you will hear me being miraculously cured completely of a nasty cold somewhere around the midway point--something that can only be achieved through the technical wizardry of recording each half of the episode two weeks apart. Download or stream the episode here.
If you listened to last week's Pop Offensive, you know that I and Pop Offensive's favorite substitute co-host, Aaron Harbor, managed the heroic feat of taking an episode that almost didn't happen at all and spinning it into pure musical gold. If you didn't listen, you'll just have to allay your skepticism about literally everything I just wrote by streaming the episode from the Pop Offensive Archives. Enjoy!
The focus on Filipino cinema continues at 4DK with the latest, long awaited episode of the Infernal Brains podcast, in which Tars Tarkas and I discuss the cult classic James Batman. Think you're excited about Batman vs. Superman? Well, you might think again once you've had a gander at this low budget Filipino adventure that features both Batman and James Bond. I mean, when you consider that it also features a cameo by the Black Rose, James Batman easily outweighs BvS in terms of sheer superhero poundage (which I think is what you're into.) Listen to the episode here.
(NOTE: This episode has a couple of audio problems in the form of intermittent mic. distortion due to a wonky connection. As you can still easily understand what's being said, Tars and I felt that it was not too severe to interfere with your enjoyment of this fun and informative episode.)
Weng Weng is a hard act to follow. I suspect no one knows that better than Andrew Leavold, who directed 2013’s The Search for Weng Weng, an at once fascinating, touching, and hilarious documentary about the Philippines' notorious three foot tall action star. Yet follow Weng Weng Leavold has, co-directing--with his Search for Weng Weng co-writer Daniel Palisa--The Last Pinoy Action King, a documentary about the beloved Filipino action star Rudy Fernandez. Now, Fernandez is a star about whom I know little to nothing (I haven’t even seen one of his films), but I chose not to do any preliminary research in order that I might better judge how well the film makes a case for his importance. Also, I’m lazy as fuck.
I should say first off that King is a much more conventional documentary than its predecessor. Telling the story of Fernandez, a superstar whose life story was amply documented in the media of his day, requires far less excavation than Weng Weng’s—with the result that, as opposed to Search’s labyrinthine detective yarn, King is much more of a straightforward tribute, told through numerous talking head interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Consequently, Leavold contents himself with remaining a behind-the-scenes presence here and does not appear on screen. This diminution of the “hero’s journey” aspect seen in Search (let us pause while Joseph Campbell spins in his grave), of course, renders less likely the occurrence of those happy flukes—like Leavold being granted a sit down interview with Imelda Marcos—that gave Search a lot of its unexpected charm.
By all this, I’m not trying to say that Leavold’s absence from the screen is a strike against The Last Pinoy Action King; no one is expecting him to become the Michael Moore of Filipino cult movie documentaries, after all. It’s just something that I think fans of The Search for Weng Weng would want to know going in. I think it’s also salient that what Leavold and Palisa do bring over from the previous film is a tendency to use their subject as a jumping off point from which to paint a much broader picture of Filipino popular cinema as a whole, which makes this film every bit as essential for world pop cinema fans as Search was. (I should also mention here that Andrew and I are longtime internet friends, though I have repeatedly missed out on opportunities to meet him in person.)
Using the aforementioned interviews, along with plentiful film and television clips, Leavold and Palisa reconstruct Fernandez’s rise to fame. Coming from an entertainment industry family (his father was prolific golden age director Gregorio Fernandez), Fernandez, who is known to family and fans alike as “Daboy”, signed with Sampaguita Pictures in 1970. After an unfulfilling run as a romantic lead, he finally made his mark as an action star with 1976’s Bitayin si… Baby Ama!, in which he portrayed real life criminal Marcial “Baby” Ama. From there, he went on to star in a string of successful features that made him, at his peak, second only to Fernando Poe Jr. as the Philippines greatest action star.
Indeed, FPJ casts a long, generously muttonchopped shadow over The Last Pinoy Action King, on account of him being both a towering figure in Filipino popular cinema and a pioneer of the then prevalent turn toward independent film production (Sampaguita, at the time of signing Fernandez, was the last surviving of the Philippine’s “Big Four” major studios). At the same time, it is easy to see Fernandez as a departure from the cinematic archetype that Poe had established. With his delicate features and quiet demeanor (interviewee after interviewee describes him as “shy”), Fernandez stood in stark contrast to Poe’s brute masculinity, and as such became something of a teen idol in addition to a scrappy hero of the people.
When considering Rudy Fernandez’s career, it’s difficult for me not to compare him to Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Both men reached their peak of fame at a time when their countries were under martial law, and thus allowed their audiences, suffering under the constraints of despotic rule, to rebel vicariously through them. Like Bachchan, who embodied the archetype of the “angry young man”, Fernandez was consistently cast as an enraged everyman fighting against corrupt authorities and venal fat cats. Also like Bachchan, he capitalized on his populist appeal by entering politics in middle age, making an unsuccessful bid to become the mayor of Quezon City in 2001.
Though Fernandez stirred up a minor tabloid scandal with his live-in relationship with teenage “Bomba” actress Alma Moreno, his off-screen life appears to have been pretty tame—and no interviewee in The Last Pinoy Action King will describe him as anything but exemplary. Indeed, if the film could be said to have one major flaw, it is the fault of Rudy Fernandez himself and not of the creatives behind it: He was just too nice. One person after another tells us that, as a friend, he was loyal to a fault, as the president of the Actors Guild, a fierce champion of workers’ rights, and to his longtime spouse, actress Lorna Tolentino, an ideal husband. You might think that this would make it easy to dismiss the film as a hagiography--but, given that Leavold, with The Search for Weng Weng, managed the mean feat of being both affectionate and relentlessly probing, I find it highly unlikely that he would skew his narrative in such a fashion. Nonetheless, I wonder if it is terrible to wish that the actor had at least one unseemly flaw so that the story of his life might have a little more spice. Probably.
On the positive side, it is this ubiquitous adoration that makes the account of Fernandez’s premature death, from a particularly aggressive cancer in June of 2008, all the more moving. It is clear that he is still deeply missed by most who knew him and that his death was a cruel blow from which many of them are still recovering (superstar Sharon Cuneta’s stricken recounting of his painful last days is especially heartbreaking.) This section of the film is exemplary of how Leavold and Palisa commendably let the story be told by the participants themselves, without the aid of cinematic device. It is in this way that The Last Pinoy Action King, while perhaps a less “gonzo” film than The Search for Weng Weng, is arguably a more mature one. Whether you prefer that or not is up to you. To me, it’s a symptom of versatility that bodes well for the future of both men as filmmakers worth watching.
There are a few things you can count on from an episode of Pop Offensive: Jeff will at one point speak in a string of baffling non sequiturs, Todd will once again fail to find a Eurovision song that is enjoyable without some degree of irony, a giggling reference to "nuggets' will be made, etc. But most importantly, you can always depend on us to bring you an astonishing mix of highly danceable pop obscurities from around the world. We'll be doing all of that again tonight, Wednesday, March 16th, at 7pm. As always, you can stream us live from kgpc969.org. Also, if you look out your window right now and you can literally see the KGPC studio, you are probably close enough to pick up our mighty 100 watt signal at 96.9 FM. Of course, you can also stream the episode at a later date from the Pop Offensive Archives, but, please, listen to it live. That way you can hear all of the mistakes that we will edit out of the archived version.
Tonight's Shout Down feature has it all: Ogres, robots, Mexican Dracula, Malificent, Red Riding Hood, a pinhead, Mexican Frankenstein, dragons, Tom Thumb, a little person in a skunk costume... The only thing that's missing is you! So why not join the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew tonight on Twitter at 6pm PT and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tweet along with us to Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters.
The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down makes its long awaited return tomorrow, Tuesday, March 8th ( I know I said the date was the 9th in the earlier post, but that was the work of demons.) Our feature for the evening will be Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters, K. Gordon Murray's English dubbed version of the fractured Mexican fairytale Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra Los Monstruos. If the moth eaten animal costumes on view in the trailer linked below cause you traumatic flashbacks to Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny, fear not. This film is way better than that. For one thing, stuff actually happens in it; characters go from place to place, ambulate from one end of the room to the other, etc. Oh, and there are songs, but the less said about those the better.
So here's how it's going to go down. Tomorrow, I will post a link to the complete film on this here blog. The rest is on you. Simply log in to Twitter at 6pm Pacific Time and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tweet along with us as we all watch the movie together in the greatest expression of the internet's community building potential ever. We will have a seat with a specially engraved nameplate waiting for you and will be gravely disappointed if you don't show.