Monday, June 29, 2009

Bloody Parrot (Hong Kong, 1981)

This is not the Bloody Parrot

This review is part of the International Bloody Parrot Blog-a-thon, which consists entirely of it and Houseinrlyeh's review of the movie that he posted last week over at The Horror!? House just made Bloody Parrot sound so damn good that I literally had to run out to Chinatown that very day and find a copy.

Now, normally I am happy to have an excuse not to write about a film, and have usually found the fact that some other blogger in my circle has already done so the best excuse of all. But in this case I felt somehow compelled -- mainly because I just couldn't resist the opportunity to type "Bloody Parrot" over and over again, but also because it allowed me to make some screen-grabs from the film available for your viewing. You see, House usually eschews the use of screen-grabs, preferring to paint for his reader a vivid word picture of the film. Me, I prefer to paint a half-assed word picture of the film and then fill in the gaps with picture pictures.

The thing about these films from Shaw Brothers' waning years is that the fact that many of them stink of desperation doesn't necessarily make them any less entertaining. In Bloody Parrot's case we see the studio taking a stab at taking one of its old standbys, the wuxia film, and incorporating elements of two of its more disreputable house genres; namely sexploitation and grizzly "black magic" horror films. Thus we get the more painterly aspects of the swordplay genre as established by director Chor Yuen -- though on a much more modest and less artful scale -- combined with lots of maggot eating, vomiting of viscous fluids, and truly nauseating autopsy sequences, all lovingly garnished with a generous dollop of nudity and soft-core sex.

The onus for providing those last mentioned ingredients in the stew falls pretty much entirely on the narrow shoulders of actress Jenny Liang, who steps up to the task by spending most of her plentiful time onscreen absolutely starkers for no discernible reason. In fact, Liang even has to do her fair share of the grue eating and vomiting, too, which, given the brevity of her filmography, makes my heart hurt a little bit for her. The bio provided for her on the Celestial DVD is uncharacteristically uncharitable, saying that she starred in films about "witchcraft, gambling, and sex" and that she "gradually retreated from the limelight due to an unpromising career". Let's just hope that Jenny's retreat from that career marked the beginning of a more promising path for her in some other area of endeavor.

One of the noteworthy things about Bloody Parrot is just how quickly a reasonable person will give up on trying to make any sense out of it all. While Chor Yuen's wuxia films are often dauntingly complex, they generally give the impression that, if one were to dedicate the required attention to them, a coherent picture would gradually form. In Bloody Parrot's case it's hard to escape the suspicion that no amount of effort will wrest any kind of meaning from it, and near impossible to resist just going with that suspicion. In my case, a half hour in I was already completely unclear about what it was that was supposed to be driving the protagonist's actions. Was it the search for the missing treasure, to avenge his friend's death, or to uncover the identity of the Bloody Parrot? And at what point did the Bloody Parrot become a "somebody", anyway? I thought it was just a flickering blob of vaguely parrot-shaped light that was supposed to be made of demon blood or something.

Even before that point there was quite a bit of ambiguity -- as House has already indicated -- around who Bloody Parrot's protagonist even was. Among the many faces flashed before us in the first act is that of Lau Wing, who plays a wily detective role that's very similar to the Lu Xiaofeng character he played in Chor Yuen's popular Clan of Amazons and Duel of the Century. That association lead me to peg him as our hero, but then his character is apparently killed, at which point Jason Pai Piao, looking like a Martial World version of James Hetfield, steps into the spotlight.

But you know what? None of that really matters. What really matters about Bloody Parrot is that it is a film in which a woman uses a human face as a Frisbee. Because it is just such examples of absurd and ghoulish invention, paired with seriously manic pacing, that are going to carry you through this film. Seriously, do not even try to pay attention to whatever story you think this film might be trying to tell, because Bloody Parrot will only mock you for your efforts. It's all about the face Frisbee.

It's also all about director Hua Shan, who also directed Inframan -- which, if you live in my world, is one of the most important films ever made. To my mind, this alone is enough to warrant giving any picture he made at least a cursory look. Hua Shan directed at least one other film in the same mold as Bloody Parrot, 1983's Portrait in Crystal, but in my opinion it is Bloody Parrot that stands tallest in the realm of gross-out sexploitation wuxia.

And I am happy to confer that standing upon it without further investigation. After all, it might turn out that there's a whole flock of Bloody Parrots out there, and I want this one to remain special.

There. Did I get it?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mission Stardust aka ...4...3...2...1...Morte (Italy, West Germany, Spain, Monaco, 1967)

Mission Stardust is the only film to be based on the long running and voluminous series of German pulp novels featuring the science fiction hero Perry Rhodan. It is universally hated by Perry Rhodan fans for the very good reason that it is quite terrible. That is, if you're definition of "terrible" can be stretched to encompass a film featuring amusingly smarmy, two-fisted astronaut heroes, a truly swankadelic soundtrack, some quite good looking women, pop art set design, and a climactic sequence that finds sexy nurses with machineguns doing battle with robots who shoot lasers out of their eyes. In other words, having never read any of the Perry Rhodan books, and thus being free from having to judge Mission Stardust in terms of its faithfulness to them, I found it to be flirting with perfection.

As a science fiction film, Mission Stardust is neither a thoughtful work of speculation -- which will surprise exactly no one -- or a juvenile space opera, but rather a work of science fiction as channeled through one of those "dad's drawer" men's adventure magazines of the sixties. In fact, it borrows as much or more of its tone from the Eurospy films of its era as it does from contemporary space travel yarns. This makes for an interesting hybrid, though one that the film's stars -- by dint of their previous experience -- are well suited for. Prior to Mission Stardust, Canadian actor Lang Jeffries, who plays our hero Major Perry Rhodan, had compiled quite an impressive resume as a Eurospy leading man, playing a down-market James Bond in such films as The Beckett Affair, Z7 Operation Rembrandt, the "Coplan" film Mexican Slayride, and Our Man in Casablanca. Similarly, Argentina's Luis Davila, who plays Perry's second in command Captain Mike Bull, had, in addition to starring in his share of Spaghetti Westerns, fronted such notable Eurospy titles as Ypotron and Espionage in Tangiers. Together these two make for an especially rakish pair of rocket jockeys -- as if they somehow knew when taking the job that being an astronaut was just as fraught with fisticuffs, rough-and-tumble escapades, and encounters with scantily clad women as a career in international spying. All of which contributes to Mission Stardust having somewhat the feel of a cross between one of the Kommissar X films and Barbarella.

Our adventure starts when Perry, Mike and their crew are dispatched on a secret mission to the Moon to follow up on the discovery there of a previously unknown precious metal. Meanwhile, a criminal mastermind named Mr. Arkin (Pinkus Braun of Secret Agent Super Dragon and The Hunchback of Soho -- oh how I relish listing the credits of these Euro genre movie regulars!) has learned of the mission by way of a spy he has placed among Rhodan's crew, and has begun scheming for a way to get to the Moon in order to grab the metal for himself. However, upon arriving on the Moon, Perry and company get a bit sidetracked from their mission when they discover a disabled spaceship manned by two members of an ancient and highly advanced alien race. These are the haughty but dressed-to-thrill Capt. Thora (Essy Persson -- I, a Woman; The Devil's Girls) and the elder Crest (John Karlsen -- The Amazing Doctor G; Agent 3S3: Massacre in the Sun; Requiem for a Secret Agent; I See Naked ...really? I See Naked?).

Crest -- the comedic possibilities of whose name are simply too obvious to even bother with -- is stricken with an illness that is mysterious to the aliens, but which, upon examination by the Earthlings, is revealed to be Leukemia. The medic on board Perry's ship knows of an Earth doctor practicing in Mombasa who has developed an "anti-Leukemia serum", and so the whole gang sets off for East Africa in Thora's shuttle craft. Along the way, Perry uses the opportunity of the long journey to practice his time-tested seduction skills on the coldly rational Thora, hoping to teach her in the process that the he-man ways she likens to a "gorilla" are in fact those qualities that all women, regardless of their galactic provenance, most deeply desire in a man. She just doesn't know it yet, you see.

Soon after setting down in the Serengeti plain, Thora's ship comes to the notice of a small army unit who is patrolling the area for no known reason. A confrontation follows which sees the Earthmen's puny weapons repeatedly thwarted by the aliens' force fields, super robots, anti-gravity beams and ability to turn astonishingly large expanses of land into enormous fireballs. These particular officers, not being ones to take a good thwarting in stride, then respond by calling in massive reinforcements, which makes things a bit thorny in terms of Perry and Mike's plan of secretly stealing into Mombasa. Eventually they manage to do so, however, bringing us into a middle section which sees Mission Stardust turn into a straightforward guys' guy adventure, with Perry and Mike punching through whichever of Mr. Arkin's minions and the local authorities get in their way. Of course, it's all worth the effort, since at the end of their quest lies reward in the form of... sexy lady doctors! These would be Dr. Sheridan (Ann Smyrner -- Death is Nimble, Death is Quick; House of a Thousand Dolls; The Killer Likes Candy; Das Go-Go Girl vom Blow Up) and Nurse Silva (Lisa Halvorsen -- Man on the Spying Trapeze; Appointment in Beirut; A Quiet Place to Kill), both of whom are assistants to the sought-after Dr. Haggard (Stefano Sibaldi -- uh, not a whole hell of a lot, actually).

It takes less coaxing than you might expect to get Dr. Haggard aboard Thora's ship. Unfortunately, once he's there, Arkin and his men barge in on the proceedings, making known their plan to hijack the ship for their own moon-robbing purposes. Some last minute twists and revealing of identities follow, leading to the aforementioned confrontation between heat-packing nurses and killer robots. Finally, in a last, desperate attempt, Arkin kidnaps Thora and takes her back to his island lair. This experience manages to bring about the change in Thora that Perry has been trying to affect all along, causing her to forget her vast genetic and cultural superiority and become the tremulous damsel in distress ready to crumble into the sturdy arms of her musky protector. Perry is, of course, pleased by this turn of events, but doesn't seem to grasp the significance of the fact that getting Thora to gaze upon him adoringly required, on her part, the reversal of thousands of years of evolution.

Now, as I said before, I haven't read any of the Perry Rhodan books. But, based on what I've heard about them, it sounds like they at least strive for some level of conceptual complexity beyond what's on evidence in Mission Stardust. Given that, I can see why their fans might resent the film's retooling of the nominal elements of the series in order to fit them within the context of a then commercially viable genre -- complete with car chases, leering horndog heroes, and cackling, world-coveting supervillains with highly combustible island lairs. But, given that I don't have that basis for a grudge, I found Mission Stardust a real hoot. As mentioned before, the score by Anton G. Abril (along with the theme song by Marcello Giombini) is absolutely killer, a mix of manic, wordless vocalizing and twangy guitars that brings to mind happy memories of the work of Piero Umiliani, as well as Ennio Morricone's score to Danger: Diabolik. The art direction by Giorgio Giovannini and the somewhat remedial but utterly charming special effects contribute to the film's overall look having an appealing quality of 1960s comic book futurism. And, most importantly, Primo Zeglio's direction assures that things both move along briskly and never hint at being anything other than completely, joyously dumb. Films like this are born of a delicate balance, after all, and even the slightest attempt at intelligence could ruin them.

So, in conclusion, Mission Stardust exceeded my expectations, while at the same time reminding me that I inhabit a world in which the vast majority of people have tastes far more demanding than my own. Fortunately, none of those people read this blog. You, however, do. (And, no, it's too late to quickly surf over to Facebook. I've already seen you.) And given that, I think that you, too, will likely find more than a little to love in it. Did I mention the nurses vs. robots thing?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Flying Saucer Rock and Roll - Part II

Huge thanks to my pal Beth over at Beth Loves Bollywood. In response to my mention -- in my Teleport City review of Trip To Moon -- of the "space-age themed go-go dancing numbers" in the Bollywood Martian invasion movie Wahan Ke Log, she popped on over to YouTube and found this fine example featuring the superlative Ms. Laxmi Chhaya. I can't imagine a better use for my 300th post on 4DK than to share it with you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Friday's best pop song ever

Teleport City: Now a punditocracy

Salon film critic Andrew O'Hehir has quoted both Keith and myself in an excellent article he's just posted on the disappearance of Asian films from U.S. theater screens. (By the way, he doesn't count Slumdog Millionaire in that formulation, despite the fact that some of his readers who commented seem to think that it's an Asian film.) This is most impressive in Keith's case, because he has never actually slept with Andrew O'Hehir. Okay, I haven't either; we're just good friends.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Daigoro vs. Goliath (Japan, 1971)

Seeing as I am an essentially joyless person, I tend to regard all of the trappings of childhood with undisguised contempt. I had to override that tendency in the case of Daigoro vs. Goliath, however, because, while it is unmistakably a movie aimed at the toddler set, it is, more importantly, that rarest of rarities: a Japanese giant monster movie that I had not, until very recently, ever heard of. Sadly, I cannot even blame my ignorance of the film on it being some kind of off-brand knock-off of the genuine article. It's a co-production between Toho and Tsuburaya -- basically the Gucchi and Prada of Japanese giant monster films -- and was made in 1971, close enough to the peak of the Kaiju Eiga boom to make its escaping my notice somewhat inexcusable. Bad me!

But what there is no escaping is the fact that Daigoro vs. Goliath is indeed a children's film, and as such contains its fair share of cute kids and dopey, childlike adults. (If it had been an American film, it would have starred Dean Jones.) Of course, we know what to expect from cute kids in Japanese monster movies (micro-shorts) and as far as the grown-ups go, things aren't much less predictable. We have a wacky and hapless amateur inventor, an irascible yet basically sweet-natured fat buffoon, a bespectacled blowhard, an oaf, etc. Oh, and then there's the whimsy. God, the whimsy! In short, this is Toho's -- at the time, recently instituted -- policy of skewing its monster pictures toward the matinee crowd taken to its logical extreme. Seriously, those people who complain about Jun Fukuda's Godzilla movies really need to check this one out just to see how bad things could have been. And then shut the hell up.

Our hero here is Daigoro, a friendly, dog-like monster whom I'm confident fans of evangelical claymation will recognize as a kaiju version of Goliath from Davey and Goliath (see below). I know that's confusing since he is not the monster in this movie who is actually named Goliath, but it is what it is. Anyway, Daigoro had the misfortune of being the offspring of the only giant monster in Japanese cinema history to be felled by the Japanese military's conventional weaponry. Try not to snicker at that fact, though, because it's sad -- like in Bambi. As a result, Daigoro was orphaned and now lives on his own island where he is looked after by a team of human caretakers.

One thing that can certainly be said for Daigoro vs. Goliath is that it really sets itself apart from the Kaiju Eiga pack, though not necessarily always in the most auspicious ways. For example, there is the fact that it makes a major subplot out of its lead monster's digestive problems. At the time of our first meeting Daigoro, it is made apparent that he has been suffering from constipation for quite some time. His handlers serve him up with bowl after giant bowl of monster Mucelix, but, despite their efforts, the door to his giant outhouse remains wreathed in undisturbed cobwebs. This is a cause of much concern for all -- especially Daigoro, whose stomach is frequently heard to make loud rumbling noises. I didn't make any of that up.

Eventually the mean blue space monster Goliath shows up on the scene, prompting Daigoro's human friends to try to get him to man-up and get in touch with his inner monster. In this sense, Daigoro vs. Goliath is basically a remake of Godzilla's Revenge, but without Godzilla and most of the other things that made that movie watchable. The monster fights that follow are, in keeping with the downscaling that Toho was doing at the time, unambitious but reasonably well shot, keeping their action mostly limited to the island in order to minimize the need for miniatures. In sum they have the look of a monster battle from one of the cheaper tokusatsu TV series of the time, and about the same brief duration, thanks to the time already spent on the human characters Dean Jones-ing all over the place.

I really don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that Daigoro ultimately wins the battle with Goliath. In the aftermath, his bashful head caretaker, inspired by Daigoro's example, finds the courage to propose to his girlfriend. Goliath is tied to a rocket and blasted off into space as all of the children wave and cheer. And Daigoro, triumphant, returns to his giant outhouse and has a really good poo.

See, I told you I wasn't making that up.

One small step for moon

The awkwardly named Dara Singh slugfest Trip To Moon imagines life on the Moon, but offers proof of something even more fantastical: The fact that Bollywood really did at one point try their hand at making an honest-to-goodness, Flash Gordon-style space opera. Read my full review, just posted over at Teleport City.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yasuharu Hasebe 1932- 2009

I've learned via a post over at Cinebeats that Japanese director Yasuharu Hasebe has died at the age of 77. Hasebe started out at Nikkatsu as an assistant to Seijun Suzuki, and went on to be one of the few directors whose tenure at the studio spanned its Action, New Action and Roman Porno eras. During that time he made distinctive contributions to each of those trademark genres, including the lysergic kitsch-fest Black Tight Killers (one of those movies that seems like it was made with Teleport City in mind), the Meiko Kaji fronted Stray Cat Rock series, and the abysmally dark yet strangely antic Assault! Jack the Ripper. Cinebeats offers an excellent overview of Hasebe's career and films, with a welcome emphasis on those movies available on DVD here in the U.S. Elsewhere, my pal Houseinrlyeh has written an in-depth review of Assault! Jack the Ripper over on his blog The Horror!?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Lucha Diaries: Too pointless to die!

So I finally got all of the domain issues sorted out and The Lucha Diaries is now once again accessible via the url. In the course of dealing with that I was reminded that it has been quite a long time since I pulled off a lazy 4DK update by recycling old Lucha Diaries material. So, guess what time it is, kids?

Look, even though I'm no longer updating the Lucha Diaries, I still think that all of the blood and suffering I put into compiling it needs to be occasionally remembered. And, no, I am not being overly dramatic. I suffered! See the below entry from some time in '07.


La Furia de las Karatecas (1981)
(The Fury of the Karate Experts)

Damn, damn, damn. Here I was thinking that I was done with Santo -- at least for the time being. I thought I'd watched every dvd -- both legit and gray market -- that was available, and in the process had seen all but three of the fifty-four(!) films in El Enmascarado de Plata's oeuvre. Confident that those remaining three films would continue to be elusive for the foreseeable future -- and, let's be honest, too spent from my efforts to put much work into finding them in any case -- I commemorated this milestone by adding an elegiac postscript to my review of Santo contra el Asesino de la Television, wistfully reflecting on the place Santo has had in my life and dreams over all these long years. Then, just days later, I came across a gray market copy of Santo's final film, La Furia de las Karatecas. Thank you, internet. Thank you so very much.

La Furia de las Karatecas stars a 64 year old Santo and Grace Renat, a woman with freakishly enormous breasts. Renat plays twins here, a circumstance that opens such a broad vista of possible juvenile puns that my only response can be to turn and quietly walk away. As the evil sister, she spends almost the entirety of her screen time doing orgasmic, mostly-naked booty dances in supplication to some kind of glowing space rock. As the good sister... well, who cares what the good sister does. There is a monster also -- awakened by Bad Grace In the course of her gyrations -- and he appears to have symmetrically-spaced, hair-sprouting moles all over his body.

I find the fact that this film is a continuation of the immediately preceding film, El Puno de la Muerte, both puzzling and frightening, because La Furia de las Karatecas falls far short of having enough content to make even one movie interesting, much less two -- so what on earth could El Puno de la Muerte possibly contain? Providing little relief are the aged Santo's action scenes, which are limited to a couple of enervated brawls between himself and Tinieblas, who here plays one of the evil Grace's henchmen. As for the karate experts referred to in the title, they really don't make much of a showing, which makes it difficult to ascertain exactly what it is that they're so furious about.

La Furia de las Karatecas is really pretty horrible. The only way it could be worse, really, would be if you could actually catch some kind of disease by watching it. I'd only recommend this one if you're dying to see a Santo movie with an annoying 80s synth score; otherwise, I'd give it a wide berth. And don't even think about the fact that Santo would be dead within a few short years of completing this one. That's just too depressing to bear.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Little Hero (Taiwan, 1978)

Ah, sweet sustenance. Simply put, films like Little Hero are the reason that 4DK exists. Anarchic surrealism worthy of the most dedicated avant-garde provocateur? Check. The type of furious desire to entertain that could only be born of the most mercenary populism? Yep. Total disregard for conventional notions of narrative sense and cohesion? Uh huh. As far as weird-fu goes, this is the hard stuff. And standing at the center of it all, like a human signpost signaling our crossing over into this strange and wonderful territory, is one of the very goddesses of that rarified subgenre, Polly Shang Kwan.

With it's ridiculous, makeshift costumes, grotesquely cartoonish characters and outlandish action, Little Hero could easily come across as a film designed for the soul purpose of humiliating its actors. That is, if its star showed the slightest signs of being phased by any of that. Indeed, one of the most appealing things about Shang-Kwan is how, despite her prestigious beginnings in martial arts cinema -- keeping in mind that she was discovered by the revered director King Hu and made her debut in his classic Dragon Gate Inn -- she always seems to be having the time of her life in these crazy Taiwanese cheapies.

Here Shang Kwan again plays a character who is constantly referred to as "him" and "young man" by the other characters, despite the contrary evidence presented by her heavy eye shadow, lipstick, pigtails and thigh-flashing amazon gear. And, unless I missed something, she's actually supposed to be a boy this time, rather than a guh... a guh... a girl masquerading as one. The martial world macguffin at the center of the action is a powerful weapon called the Phoenix Sword, and, in order to get it, the villains have kidnapped the daughter of its rightful owner, a kung fu master by the name of Chen. In response, Chen's former disciples, which include Polly, band together to wield the collective pummeling fist of justice.

All in all, it's a very simple plot made immeasurably more complicated by the fact that the voice-over actors who did the dubbing each have a completely different way of pronouncing the other characters' names. This is forgivable, however, as otherwise those actors deliver everything we might desire in an English voice track to a kung fu movie -- i.e. unaccountably squawky-sounding voices that lapse in and out of bad British accents as they deliver rapid-fire chunks of dialog that invariably end with "I am going to kill you!"

The villains of the piece are the Devil's Gang, who are lead by a guy in a gold mask named Gold Mask, who will later be revealed to be Lo Lieh. Both Gold Mask and his silver-masked sideman, who goes by the name Silver Mask, are able to fly around using giant fake condor wings, which is indescribably awesome. Rounding out the gang is a kung fu dwarf called Vampire, a whip wielding dominatrix type, a guy with elephant ears, an underground burrowing guy, a bear guy, and a bunch of guys in tiger-striped fuzzy head pieces and face paint called the Tiger Guards. The colorful nature of the Devil's Gang renders the forces of Master Chen, who under normal circumstances would be considered quite flamboyant in their own right, rather conservative by comparison, though, to their credit, they do have a guy in a spiked football helmet among their number.

I am happy to report that the action in Little Hero lives up in all respects to the crack-addled absurdity of the characters taking part in it, involving such things as giant mouse traps and people rolling around inside enormous pinballs. At the conclusion, the film beats the odds and actually tops itself by having Polly steal Silver Mask's wings and take off after Gold Mask in aerial pursuit. Upon touching down at the beach, she is then, for absolutely no reason, attacked by a pair of giant octopuses that look like Q*bert. For a moment she seems to be getting the upper hand, but then the octopuses start to aggressively birth baby octopuses at her, launching the little ones out of their octo-ginas at her like so many slimy tentacled projectiles. After overcoming these astonishingly fruitful beasts through great effort, she goes on to have a final confrontation with Lo Lieh in what looks like an extremely unsafe version of an elementary school playground where all of the climbing gear is made out of rough cut bamboo.

Oh god, I'm weeping. But, In truth, I've probably already said too much. Little Hero is a film which no amount of description can do justice, and which furthermore defies all attempts at analysis or justification. I hope you will understand that I am giving it 4DK's highest possible ranking when I say that you do not even need to drink while watching it. That doesn't mean I don't recommend it, though.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nice caboose: The Train (India, 1970)

Due to time constraints, I have to be a bit more choosy these days about which films I review and which I don't. So, as much as I enjoyed the Bollywood thriller The Train, I'm just going to take the lazy route and link to Memsaab's fine review of the film, as well as provide you with a clip that includes "Meri Jaan Maine Kaha" -- not only one of my favorite Bollywood songs of the seventies, but also one of my favorite dance numbers featuring Helen. (Be patient: The song starts at about 1:15.)

If you want proof that R.D. Burman was a fucking genius, I don't think you need look any further than "Meri Jaan Maine Kaha". It's a head-spinning masterpiece of cartoon futurism, sounding like a cross between the Munsters theme and "Eep Opp Ork Ah-ah" from The Jetsons sung in part by a scat-singing Hindi version of Louis Armstrong. (I believe that's R.D. himself singing, although in the movie it's lip-synched by a little guy who looks like the love child of Prince and Bollywood funnyman Jagdeep.)

Watching The Train provided a perfect antidote to my recent viewing of James Ivory's vile documentary Helen: Queen of the Nautch Girls. Ivory's viewpoint seemed to be that no Westerner -- or, for that matter, no Indian with a proper (i.e. Westernized) education -- could possibly fathom Helen's appeal. But watching her in The Train it's hard for me to imagine anyone not finding her appealing.

By the way, Ivory also seemed to think that Helen was a disgusting fat cow whose full figure positioned her as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for India's undernourished rabble. This only conjured in my mind the image of a bunch of hungry Indian people watching Helen on screen and all simultaneously imagining her turning into a giant roast turkey with Helen's face on it, just like desert island castaways in an old Daffy Duck cartoon.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Suzuki's beauty

Fresh on the heels of my recent review of Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards!, I thought I'd throw some verbiage in the direction of one of my other favorite early Seijun Suzuki films, the sumptuous Japanese noir Underworld Beauty. Read my full review, just posted over at Teleport City.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tarzan Comes to Delhi (India, 1965)

There are several reasons to see Tarzan Comes to Delhi, most of them female.





...and this guy: who's alright as long as you like your Tarzan on the meaty side.

The preponderance of light-footed ladies in Tarzan Comes to Delhi's cast might lead you to expect the film to be pretty heavy on the musical numbers, and you would be right. The filmmakers here essentially use the frequent song and dance bits to spice up what is otherwise a pretty stunt-free stunt film. In fact, Dara Singh ends up spending a surprising amount of his screen time just standing around watching other people sing.

In a resounding triumph of truth in advertising, the film indeed sees Tarzan come to Delhi, the impetus for his visit being a necklace purloined from a tribal idol by an evil big city fortune hunter. From the moment of his arrival, the film takes on a light comedic tone, coasting along to a great extent on the spectacle of a loincloth-clad Dara Singh guilelessly rubbing elbows with the astonished city folk. Representative hijinks include a scene in which Dara and Master Bhagwan get drunk and do the Twist, and a pair of scenes that see Mumtaz and Master Baghwan infiltrate the villain's hideout, first disguised in burkas, and then as bearded Arab sheiks. All of this might very well be hilarious if you understand the Hindi dialog, but it's still clear that the kind of antic energy that made those films starring Tarzan's spiritual cousin Zimbo so much fun is sadly lacking. It pains one to think what the Wadias might have been able to do with this cast and concept.

As for the ladies, Mumtaz stars as the daughter of a kindly professor whom the aggrieved natives have scapegoated for the theft of the necklace. Hoping to help Tarzan find the necklace before her father is sacrificed in retaliation, she travels to Delhi, where she ends up taking part in an awful lot of song picturizations, including a fairly racy one that involves her showering with her sari on. As usual, the fact that Mumtaz was probably still a teenager at this point lead to some conflicted feelings on my part. But then again, I wasn't even in long pants when this movie was made, so who's the pervert? Mumtaz, obviously.

Bela Bose plays a tribal bad girl whose restless spirit leads to her being tricked by the bad guy into betraying her people. Before her ignominious exit from the story she manages to take part in a couple of engaging dance pieces, including a classic bit of "ooga booga" tribalism at the foot of the natives' awesome papier-mache idol. Later, in the city-fied portion of the story, Helen shows up for a flamenco themed nightclub act and, finally, Laxmi Chaiyya and a friend pop up at the last minute for a number with some pretty flagrant sapphic overtones.


Now, far be it from me to say that a brief scene in which Laxmi Chhaya almost kisses a girl but ultimately doesn't isn't enough reason in itself to watch Tarzan Comes to Delhi. But, for the more discriminating viewers of Indian B cinema out there, I think I need only point to the quality of this film's Cheetah -- who, rather than being a real chimp, is just either a dwarf or a child in a mangy-looking monkey suit. The producers are obviously fully aware that they are cheating their audience in this regard, as Cheetah spends most of his time on screen being partially hidden behind brush and whatnot, and ends up getting abandoned entirely once the action moves to the city.

All of this focus on music and merriment -- not to mention the abundance of ponderous, travelogue-style location footage -- does not, of course, entirely preclude Dara Singh from doing what he does best. And come the film's climax we indeed get to see him assert the primacy of justice via the judicious application of some fairly regulation-looking wrestling holds. In fact, Tarzan Comes to Delhi, on paper, looks to have everything you'd want from a Dara Singh movie and more. And the truth is less that I disliked it than that I was frustrated in loving it as much as I felt so sure I would. In the end, it's ironic that a Tarzan film should pale in comparison to what should by rights be considered a pale imitation of one. But still the fact remains: This Tarzan is no Zimbo!

Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is your barbarian idol.