Monday, December 29, 2014

La Guerrera Vengadora (Mexico, 1988)

On a recent visit to downtown Los Angeles, I made a disturbing discovery. The Grand Central Market, which once offered the opportunity to clog your arteries with the borderline disgusting street food of many nations, now had a kombucha bar, an upscale juicery, and a hipster-y breakfast spot called Egg Slut--and was furthermore crowded with affluent looking white families and their clamoring, overly-validated hellspawn. The Arcade, a swap-meet style street mall that was once a bountiful source of bootleg toys and cds, seemed to be going in a similar direction. I feared that someday soon, the tiny, overcrowded video store on Broadway where I bought the DVD of La Guerrera Vengadora for four dollars would be a thing of the past. This would truly be a shame, because La Guerrera Vengadora --a sterling example of 1980s Mexican action cinema, replete with exploding pickup trucks, icky sexual violence, flatulent synthesizer music and mustaches--should only be acquired in such a store. Ordering it from Barnes & Noble just wouldn’t feel right.

La Guerrera Vengadora stars Mexican radio personality turned actress/pin-up girl/singer (she sings the theme song), Rosa Gloria Chagoyan, who, thanks to roles in such films as Lola, the Truck Driving Woman and its sequels, became one of Mexican exploitation cinema’s rare female action heroines. Here she plays Rosita, a pneumatic high school teacher who is especially loved by her male students, who compose mash notes to her on her chalk board. When her younger brother is murdered and his girlfriend brutally raped by a gang of drug dealin’, car thievin’ bikers, she is prostrate with grief and rage. Equally disconsolate is her roommate and constant companion, a dwarf named Reintegro, who is played by Rene Ruiz, aka “Tun Tun” (meaning that the 4DK “quotation marks rule” of Mexican comic relief is in full effect).

The makers of La Guerrera Vengadora attempt to counterbalance the rape of the brother’s girlfriend, which is about as vile and protracted as they come, with a later scene in which Rosita blows away a would-be rapist in mid rape attempt. This only makes the film an even more crystalline exemplar of how, in female-driven revenge films, the act of violence that sends the heroine on her path to vengeance always has to have some kind of sexual component to it. After all, we don’t need to see Charles Bronson’s dick attacked in order for his righteous rampage to be justified. This, of course, may be due to the idea that all masculine perception is channeled through the penis, giving any real or perceived affront the force of an emotional crotch blast.

Anyway, in the wake of her brother’s murder, Rosita turns to the authorities, who—given the fact that all of the police in this movie’s universe are either bumbling or corrupt—are no help whatsoever. Perhaps the most corrupt of all of these is Comandante Trevino, who is played by Mexican B movie stalwart David Reynoso with unctuous relish. Perhaps the least corrupt is Rosita’s detective boyfriend, played by Chagoyan’s frequent co-star Rolando Fernandez, who is so overwhelmed by righteous fury that he spends much of his screen time yelling at people indignantly.

Trevino, we soon learn, is in partnership with the sharp-suited Mr. Big who gives the biker gang their marching orders. This gentleman is an effete product of the dissolute upper class who tinkles away on a grand piano while enjoying the adoring gaze of his musclebound strongman Noel in a scene evocative of that Liberace movie with Michael Douglas. La Guerrera Vengadora, in fact, has a number of gay references, among them a member of the biker gang named El Gato (Alfonso Zayas Jr.) who likes to nuzzle up to his male victims, paralyzing them with homophobia, before he plunges his knife into their throats (watch out, men, the gays can smell your fear!)

There are a lot of things about La Guerrera Vengadora that I might’ve understood better had it featured English subtitles. For instance, I might be able to tell you why Rosita, a school teacher, has a flashy, rocket-firing stunt cycle stowed away inside her apartment, along with a bitchin’ Evel Kneival style jumpsuit and a sawed-off shotgun. These things all seem to have a lot of sentimental value for her, as she caresses each lovingly as she carefully unpacks them. This might lead me to conclude that La Guerrera Vengadora was a sequel of sorts, but no; that would be La Guerrera Vengadora 2, which came out three years later, in 1991.

Rosita’s strategy for revenge involves her using her own hot bod as bait. Dolling herself up in her most boob-accentuating outfit, she hits the streets and discos of whatever town this movie takes place in, where every single man reacts to her as if he has never seen a woman before. Soon she is luring the members of the gang one-by-one to their doom; a doom that involves lots of motorcycle stunts and cars that explode as if they were made entirely out of dynamite.

Though mostly a delivery system for automotive hijinks and boobs, La Guerrera Vengadora is not without its artistic aspirations. It in fact includes its own version of the Odessa Steps Sequence, in which a wheelchair-bound disable girl is plunged down a steep stairway during a key battle between Rosita and the gang. Rosita, of course, manages to rescue the girl, though the rules of La Guerrera Vengadora necessitate that she do so without leaving her motorcycle.

Rosita’s ravages soon come to the attention of Mr. Big, who instructs his men to stage a violent, slow motion siege upon her isolated country home. This leads to her tearing around on her supercycle, executing sweet jumps and wheelies with dwarf sidekick in tow, as countless stunt men and dummies go through the elaborate death throes that only bullets and RPGs coated with pure Mexican vengeance can provoke. And it is with this scene that I forgave all of La Guerrera Vengadora's many, many flaws, because I am truly an awful person.

Because human beings are complex, Rosita has a mixed reaction as she watches Mr. Big plummet to his death from the top of a parking structure at La Guerrera Vengadora’s conclusion (SPOILER). She laughs, she cries, and then stares pensively into the middle distance. There are just so many things you can feel while someone is falling in slow motion from a building several stories high. Then, both it and her having given us everything they have, La Guerrera Vengadora goes to freeze frame.

And I quite honestly find myself wishing that I had picked up the DVD of the sequel.


Miranda said...

I probably won't get around to this one, but as always, you make it seem seductively chock full of unmissable experiences. On another note, your index/pieces on Egyptian films were O SO HELPFUL to me this semester--one of my students was focusing on modern Egyptian history/pop culture. I really didn't think it would be a hit, but he loved Wah Islam. Turns out you have good taste ;)
Happy New Year,

Todd said...

Who knew, right? Thanks, Miranda. I plan on reviewing Cairo Station, one of the classics of Egyptian cinema's golden age, in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.