Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Do You Dare Meet The Challenge Of The Kick Ass Heroes?

Dump bin junkie that I am, I found a delicious and strange reward the other day. At FYE I came upon a 4-movie set called “Kick Ass Heroes”. From the graphics and the title font it was obviously created when the first Kick-Ass film came out and designed to fool unsuspecting buyers into thinking that it had a legitimate tie-in to that film. Instead the consumer got a collection of low budget flicks of international origin that feature the theme of superheroes. It’s a glittering turd that just begs for discussion.

The set opens with a 1988 epic from Hong Kong titled “Robo Vampire”. It was calculated to attract the fans of the popular Robocop franchise and features a mixed bag of exploitation cinema milieus including action/adventure, horror, mafiasplotation, martial arts, sci-fi and sexploitation.

The movie borders on the incomprehensible with sudden and chaotic changes in both situations and characters. Overall it’s the story of conflict between organized crime and drug agents. The cops are choking off the gangs trafficking and so they enlist the aid of a Chinese, back magician. The mystic controls a crew of bizarre vampires, dressed in black clothing similar to what you’d think of when envisioning Dr. Fu Manchu. Their faces are pale white and sometimes mutilated. These undead operate under a set of supernatural laws unrelated to the standard rules of vampirism. Daylight and crucifixes do not impede them. However placing a handbill on their faces can stop them. No translation of those posts is given to the viewer. The most disturbing aspect for me was how the creatures move. They thrust their arms forward, like sleepwalkers and (I’m not making this up) hop like kangaroos.

The magician informs the mob-boss that he has developed a newer and more powerful creature; his robo-vampire. This fiend is dressed similarly to the other vampires but with two critical differences. His arm-stalks can emit fiery explosions and he wears a cheesy gorilla mask, the kind you’d find in a 40’s serial or a 3 Stooges short. 

Now there is a complication to the sorcerer’s scheme. The dead man he used was part of a suicide pact between two lovers. He was Chinese and she European and his family refused to let them marry. So the couple that could not be together in life chose to be united in death. The man’s transformation has denied the bride’s wishes and her ghost seeks vengeance. I’ll note that the ghost appears in a transparent white shroud that generously reveals her lovely breasts and nipples.

Meanwhile the law battles the underworld on two fronts. One of their spies has been caught in the Golden Triangle and an action team is sent in to effect her rescue. Then scientists use the remains of a loyal agent to create their own cyborg. This “Robocop” looks like a piss-poor knock off of the Hollywood version. Aside from his helmet, his costume is an imitation made of shiny silver fabric. To convince the audience of it’s robotic nature we are treated to the noises of servo motors when he moves.

It was only after I viewed it when I discovered a reason as to why it was so confusing. The director was compelled by the producers to cut in footage from a different and unrelated film to pad it out!

The second film of the collection is a Thailand made affair, which the DVD case misidentifies as “Red Eagle”. The correct translation to it’s actual title of “Incee Thong” would be “Golden Eagle”. It was the third and final in a series based on the popular, Thai fiction hero Red Eagle. The character is roughly an equivalent to the Green Hornet. In his masked persona he is an enemy to both the criminal world and the law, but in spirit he is truly a good guy. In his civilian identity he is Rome Ritthikrai, a wealthy playboy who play-acts a drunkard, much in the vein of Dudley Moore’s ‘Arthur’.

The plot of Golden Eagle is this. An underworld crew called the Red Bamboo gang is involved in murder and extortion. Secretly a mystic fiend called Bakin (who has ties to Red China) controls them. Bakin sends his enemies red crystal Buddha sculptures through which he can send terrifying thoughts that sends his victims into cardiac arrest.
The gang is also carrying out political assassinations met out through a doppelganger of the Red Eagle. The real hero has retired but insulted by the deeds of his double he puts on his own investigation under a new guise… that of the Golden Eagle.

GA’s action wear is virtually identical to RE’s save for the color. Both use a domino mask tailored into the shape of a spread-winged eagle. Rome also dons a fake moustache when he is in costume.

All the Red Eagle films starred Mitr Chaibancha in the Rome/RE roles. Chaibancha was one of the most (if not THE most) popular movie stars in Thailand . Aside from acting he was also the director and producer of “Golden Eagle”
From a technical aspect, the movie flows along very much the same as those classic movie serials from the 40’s. The hand-to-hand combat sequences are a lot more violent and brutal than what you’d find in an American picture. There are also an awful lot of explosives used and my gut feeling is that these were not set up with the same safety concerns as in the USA . Conversely the special effects regarding gunfire are practically nonexistent, so you have baddies getting hit point-blank by machine guns and they mime the action of a body being torn apart but without blood.

There is another cultural aspect of Thailand that I wondered might appear and I was not disappointed. The idea of transgender is something that is more broadly accepted there than perhaps anywhere else in the world. “Golden Eagle” features a ladyboy prostitute as well as a crossdressed police officer.

The quality of the print is horrible, much appears bleached out and there are scratches aplenty. It also contains some of the worst subtitling I’ve ever seen, quite often with comic results for the English reader. For example the term ‘heart attack’ is uniformly translated to ‘heart attacked; “it give him heart attacked’. In another you have “don’t open could have dogshit”.

There is a strange sad coda to “Golden Eagle”. Apparently the movie was shot in sequence and it ends by having the hero jump onto a rope ladder that is dangling below a helicopter, which flies off into a sunset. The costumed Mitr did his own stunt and in mid-flight he lost his grip and fell to his death. I’m told that the original film includes this horrific detail, but the DVD transfer stops just before the event. The screen fills with Thai lettering that informs his fans of the tragedy. Allegedly the movie hit the theaters within 30 days of the filming of that sad day. 

The highlight of the collection for me is the 1967 Italian effort called “The Fantastic Argoman”. A couple Christmas seasons ago I posted the following:

I suppose that there must be some genre-title to the kind of movies I’ll describe in this post, but if so I don’t know it. So I’ll coin one; baddiesploitation. In 1960’s Europe there were a spate of movies
that featured villains as their title characters. Often times they had roots in Euro-Comic Books. 

TFA joins “Phantomas”, “Kriminal”, “Killink” and “Danger Diabolik” as a prime example of this type of film. Sir Reginald Hoover is a wealthy and titled British aristocrat, raised in the USA and the possessor of superhuman abilities. Primarily these are of a psycho-physical variety that include telekinesis and the ability to will a subject into doing his bidding. Sir Reginald is renowned for his knowledge in this arena but in secret he dons a costume as Argoman conducting missions that appeal to his fancy. He is a collector of objects d’art and his treasures are often the payment he receives from the governments he aids. But he’s not above kiting goods for himself, as the original Mona Lisa is housed in his archives.

TFA has an interesting and tight story structure, which puts it far ahead of the other films in this collection. The film concerns the threat from “Jennabell: Queen Of The World”. She has her sights on a secret diamond; an object created in an atomic blast and known only to trusted personnel of a few governments. These allies fear that she may use the giant stone to destabilize the diamond market and world economies. Her true plan is far more sinister. Only Argoman can stand in her way to world domination.

Roger Browne who looks quite a bit like John Phillip Law plays the Argoman/Sir Reginald role. Like Law he was an American actor who made his living overseas doing peplum and spy films for European studios. His Argoman costume is done pretty well. It’s a yellow bodysuit with a red cape and black cowl. The headpiece has a visor ala Cyclops and Nexus that comes off as a pretty nifty design

Besides a decent plot, TFA has a few other things going for it. The set designs done at Cinecetti are pretty fabulous as is the costuming. They are not far from the quality seen in “Danger Diabolik”, which for my money sets the bar in that regard. Plus the women (Dominique Boshero and Nadia Marlowa) are pretty damned sexy! 

The final movie is another Italian job, this time from 1988. It’s called “The Green Inferno” and it stretches the DVD’s concept to the limit. The Green Inferno is not some jade colored superman but the title refers to the films setting; the heart of the Amazon region. TGI offers us nothing that even infers a costumed do-gooder but it’s protagonists do exhibit acts of heroism. For the record this movie is also known under the titles “Natura Contro” and “Cannibal Holocaust II”

TGI is a straight adventure tale. A lady reporter, named Jemma assembles a team of adventurers to journey to a little known area in the Amazon. They are trying to find a missing anthropologist who was looking for the lost tribe of the Imas. According to legend the Imas know the whereabouts of the golden treasure of El Dorado . Over the course of the feature the group encounters several different indigenous tribes, some pirates and a rival group of gold hunters along with a score of native animal life. 

Now based solely on this synopsis, I doubt very much that I’d have chosen to watch this. But to my great astonishment, I found this an extraordinarily compelling film. Mostly it due to the fact that it’s shot 100% on location in that region, but the beautiful May Deseligny as Jemma adds to the mix as well.

I should mention that the ending of the movie genuinely surprised me. All in all it was a pretty decent flick.

So if you can find this collection, I recommend that you pick it up.


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