Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Is it just me, or is there a whole new stratum of horror movies out there these days? They’re straight-to-video, but unlike the straight-to-video of old, they actually look like they might be halfway decent. They’ve got professional covers and decent photography and an overall level of competence that we’ve never seen in the straight-to-video market.

I mean, usually these things are just tax write-offs, you know? The production company knows that they can get X amount of money by selling their movie to Blockbuster, who just wants to fill up their shelves with as much recent product as possible, since no one ever looks past the New Release section. So as long as the production company spends less than X amount on the movie, they’re guaranteed a profit even if no one ever sees it. With that kind of business model, there isn’t a lot of incentive to make these things watchable. They just need a concept that’ll look good on the box. Alien Vampires. Vampire Predators. Predator Zombies. Zombie Aliens. You know what I’m talking about. They’re just sitting there on the shelf, trying to pretend like they star Gary Busey when everybody knows they could only afford to shoot with him for one day. They don’t even look bad enough to be fun. They just look tired and desperate and world-weary, like old strippers who don’t even care if you look at them anymore.

But now we’ve got this new breed of straight-to-video. I think it all started with the After Dark series. You know, it was a film festival of eight horror movies that nobody would have seen separately, but together, they looked like a good package deal. It worked with the Spice Girls, so why not horror movies? Personally, I feel like a bad horror fan because I haven’t seen a single one of these things. They tried to make them out to be like Horrorpalooza or some shit, but I wasn’t fooled. I know straight-to-video horror movies when I see ’em. I wasn’t gonna let any goddamn marketing department trick me into paying to see them in a theater like they were real movies. I don’t care how many Suicide Girls with tattooed titties were in the audience.

So then these things came to DVD where they should have been in the first place, and I guess the studios saw that there was some money to be made feeding cheap (but not cheap-looking) horror movies to a limited but devoted audience, because now they’ve all got their own horror imprints that have words like "Extreme" or "Raw" in their names. They usually brag about their movies being unrated, which technically just means that they never bothered to send them to the MPAA, since straight-to-video movies don’t have to be rated. It’s like Sprite bragging about being decaffeinated.

I don’t know how I feel about this trend. Sure, I’m glad that there are a lot more horror movies out there and that they don’t have the kinds of restrictions that theatrical horror movies have. But I also think we’re losing something. To me, it takes some of the fun out of it when even straight-to-video horror movies look slick. I mean, with the digital tools available today, there’s no reason for a movie to look like crap. Everything can be color-corrected and tweaked and desaturated to death until your little B horror movie looks like Bad Boys II. It seems weird for me to argue for incompetence as a stylistic choice, but the fact of the matter is, half of what made low-budget seventies and early eighties horror scary was that it looked and sounded like shit. The photography was dirty, the meat-cleaver editing was jarring, and the score sounded like it was recorded in some porn addict’s basement. It made everything unpredictable. You never knew what the fuck was going to happen, because you didn’t know what kind of amateur lunatic was behind the camera. You felt like you just might be in the hands of a madman. Or at the very least, an Italian cokehead. But when everything looks nice and professional, you feel safe. You know that it’s just some well-adjusted 32-year-old film school grad who’s been first-ADing for a while, but he found some commercial producers with some foreign backing who wanted to break into features so they gave him the shot to direct because they thought his script was marketable. I’m serious. Listen to the commentary on any of these things and they make the whole process sound about as sordid as opening up a Lenscrafters franchise.

Anyway, this is a lot of baggage to dump on top of Wrestlemaniac, which is the story of a bunch of idiots who get murdered by a luchadore in a Mexican ghost town. I don’t have to explain the deal with Mexican wrestlers, who have kind of replaced midgets as the new cinematic code for absurdity. If you’ve never seen a real Mexican wrestling movie, you kind of owe it to yourself. My favorite parts are when the luchadore is just doing normal shit, like reading a book or enjoying a candlelit dinner with his ladyfriend, but he’s still got the mask on and nobody thinks that’s weird.

Anyway, it’s only gringos (such as the assholes who made Wrestlemaniac) who think luchadores are funny. In Mexico, they’re folk heroes who stand up for the common man. They fight corruption and injustice, as well as Martians. They give hope to the hopeless and provide generations of Mexican children with positive role models. So it’s kind of a dick move to take all that noble history and turn it into a cheesy slasher movie. It’s like making a killer Superman movie.

Aw, who am I kidding? This is a brilliant idea. The execution is only adequate, but it’s still a brilliant idea. What it’s about is this van full of total douchebags who are driving down to Mexico to make a porno. I don’t know why they couldn’t just shoot it in Pasadena or something, but I’m sure there were some real good reasons. Union problems, maybe. The jizzmoppers local wanted too much money.

Now, right away you know you’re in trouble, because these characters are annoying as balls. Everything they say is self-consciously vulgar and mean-spirited, and yeah, it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but since when did "tongue-in-cheek" mean "cringe-inducing"? Shit, the very first line of dialogue is about the mythical sex move known as the Dirty Sanchez. Way to ruin that term, movie. That’s almost as bad as when American Pie blew up milf’s spot.

The only guy who’s even kind of likeable is the fat Mexican-American cameraman, who’s played by the dude they hired because Hugo from Lost was already booked. He’s the one who knows all about the Mexican ghost town of La Sangre de Dios, where legend has it that a luchadore named El Mascarado was imprisoned after he went crazy 40 years ago and started killing his opponents in the ring.

Part of the problem with this beginning part is that, like those Mexican restaurants all over New York that are run by Chinese people, there are no actual Mexicans in it. The porn douches go to a rundown gas station where the attendant claims to be Mexican, but he’s played by the white mongoloid-looking dude who was in House of 1000 Corpses. And they don’t even try to make him look, dress, or act Mexican. In fact, the only Mexican in the whole movie is El Mascarado himself, who’s played by the original Rey Mysterio (not the one in the WWE, who’s actually this guy’s nephew). He’s an older dude, so he’s got the classic Mexican wrestler build, all chest and gut. I have no complaints about Rey Mysterio whatsoever. He’s a mean motherfucker, and he looks great stomping on people and throwing them through breakaway furniture. But while he’s an awful lot of Mexican, he’s still not enough Mexican to allow this movie to fully exploit its premise. I mean, how many killer Mexican wrestler movies is the universe going to allow? Not many, I’m saying. Possibly just this one. That’s a big responsibility, movie, and I’m sorry to say, you fumbled it. You’re just not Mexican enough. You’re a Chexican chimichanga: tasty, but not authentic.

But all is not lost. Once the horror kicks in, I liked Wrestlemaniac quite a bit. It sort of reminded me of the obscure Spanish film Who Can Kill A Child? (Answer: A dude with a machine gun. He can kill the fuck out a child) in that a lot of it takes place in this deserted village in broad daylight. Personally, I like daytime horror movies because they remove the audience’s subconscious belief that dawn brings safety. When some maniac is stalking you in the middle of the afternoon, you’re pretty much fucked. I also like the Scooby Doo aspect of it, with this group of young people in an awesome custom van (my favorite character in the movie) going to a spooky place and investigating a local legend. Granted, Scooby Doo never had any lesbian scenes, but we all know the subtext was there.

And like I said, having a Mexican wrestler play Jason is a brilliant idea. El Mascarado’s specialty is beating people to a pulp and then ripping their faces off with his bare hands. It’s like removing a luchadore’s mask after he’s defeated, which is the ultimate humiliation. As the fat guy tells us, if a luchadore’s face is revealed to the public, he must retire in disgrace. So that’s how the fat guy figures out El Mascarado’s weakness: You gotta rip his mask off. Easier said than done, but at least there are some rules to this shit.

Speaking of the fat guy, he grew on me as the movie progressed. I think it was when he said that the reason he knew how to navigate around the ghost town, uncover secrets, and solve the mystery was that he was a veteran Dungeons & Dragons player. I mean, it kinda makes sense. If nothing else, D&D teaches you to pay attention to your surroundings and use the information you gain to solve the problems that you face, which is all important if you want to live through a horror movie. I have an ex-girlfriend who’s going to be very happy to learn that all those years tossing around 20-sided dice weren’t just providing her with a nonstop supply of crush-stricken troglodorks drooling over her (admittedly drool-worthy) rack; they were also teaching her valuable anti-luchadore survival skills.

Anyway, the beginning of the movie definitely leans too far into the winky-winky comedy realm, but by the end, they’ve got the balance right. It’s not completely straight-faced, but it’s serious enough that you can actually get into the story unironically. The face-rippings are nice and gross, and there’s a satisfying scene where the most annoying character in the movie gets tossed around like a sack of peat moss, then has his teeth knocked out on a stone ledge, Profondo Rosso-style. I do think there could have been more kills, more wrestling, and more wrestling-related gore, like heads getting clotheslined off and legs getting figure-four-leglocked into bloody splinters. But I have to give it to the director for his clean, efficient style. There’s no nu-horror twitchiness to the cinematography or editing. This guy has studied his Carpenter. He’s got the smooth, gliding Steadicam down, which lets him build suspense, establish geography, and, you know, let the audience see what the fuck is going on. And he throws in at least seven completely gratuitous ass-cam shots. That’s what Joe Bob Briggs would call "doing things the drive-in way."

I was especially impressed to learn that they were supposed to film the movie in an insane asylum, but then the day before the shoot, they lost the location, so they moved to a fake Mexican ghost town outside of L.A. two days later and rewrote the script on the fly. All things considered, they pulled it together pretty well. So maybe I was jumping the gun earlier when I complained about how these new straight-to-video horror movies are too professional. I guess there’s still a bunch of half-assery going on behind the scenes, even when the finished product ends up looking like a commercial for an allergy medication.


One of my great failings as a human being is that I’ve never been much of a world traveler. But that’s okay, because who needs to actually go to far-off places when you can just watch kung fu movies?

Lately, I’ve been big into exploring what I call the Kung Fu of Many Nations. In addition to the standard Chinese and Japanese kung fu, I’ve seen French kung fu, German kung fu, Thai kung fu, Russian kung fu, Vietnamese kung fu, Australian kung fu, Indonesian kung fu, Italian kung fu, Filipino kung fu, and Korean kung fu. And if Mexican wrestling movies count as kung fu, then by God, I have seen Mexican kung fu. I honestly believe that there is only one thing that has the power to bring humanity together as a global family, and that is the universal language of motherfuckers getting kicked in the head.

The thing I love about kung fu movies from non-kung fu producing nations is the sheer chutzpah of it all. Making a kung fu movie is not a simple task. You need a lot of people with a lot of highly specific skills and enormous balls. And when you’re from somewhere that doesn’t really have much of a filmmaking infrastructure in place, it’s even harder. But that doesn’t stop some really dedicated, very insane people from putting their very lives on the line to get their feet in the door of international ass-kicking. And that’s what I love about today’s movie.

Kiltro is the very first Chilean kung fu movie I’ve ever seen, though I gather there are a few that came before and after it, all starring this same dude, Marko Zaror. He’s an award-winning stuntman (he got the Taurus for Best Overall Stunt for rolling down that cliff in The Rundown) who seems to have been building his own stunt school down in Chile for most of the decade. Based on Kiltro, I’m going to watch every single movie this guy makes until he pulls a Jackie Chan and starts making CGI comedies co-starring Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cleavage. I’m not saying that Chile is the new Thailand (the stunts are nowhere near as jaw-dropping, but give them time), but they’ve got a scrappy, don’t-give-a-fuck kind of energy that really appeals to me.

Since this is my first Chilean kung fu movie, I don’t know if they all start out with a robed dwarf hanging out in a cave, but this one sure does. We also get some mystical narration about how love is the source of hate and anger and all of mankind’s worst instincts. Then, to illustrate some of those instincts, it cuts right to one of those soul-killing neon-lit dance clubs full of people who were taught how to dress by Seth Green’s character in Can’t Hardly Wait. It’s truly terrifying. If this is the kind of shit that love causes, man, count me out.

There, we meet our hero, Zami. He’s a big goofy dude who likes to wear hoodies and raver pants that are so big on him that he looks like he’s melting. He also has the most unfortunate haircut I’ve ever seen on an action star who wasn’t Brian Bosworth. It’s this long, greasy WWF-looking mullet with the ends dyed bright red. But don’t worry, it’s all part of his character development. Although you are not expected to think he’s cool at this point in the movie, he does have sort of an Aztec nobility in his facial structure, with a big, proud, prominent nose. (I am tres français in that I believe that the nose is the soul of the face.) Combined with a beefy athleticism that makes you think that he probably smells like sweat every single second of his life, you right away believe that this character is capable of more than he’s currently displaying.

Which is good, because what he’s doing in that night club is staring angrily at this foxy Korean chick who’s dancing with a fratty-lookin’ douche named The Maniac. Zami challenges him to a fight the next day and knocks him the fuck out with one kick. It’s a sloppy little capoeira bout that takes place in some godforsaken post-urban wasteland. This fight is the movie’s great fake-out, because it’s so small and low-key that it gives no hint of the superpowered insanity to come.

See, what happened was, two years earlier, Zami rescued this girl Kim from some rapists, and he’s been in love with her ever since. But she won’t give him the time of day, probably because he keeps kicking the crap out of every guy who even looks at her. Even when he beats up every student in her father’s dojo with his own brand of clumsy but brutal street fighting, she isn’t interested. Her father tells him that he’s wasting his potential, especially since Zami’s father was a great martial artist (this comes as news to Zami).

So what we seem to have here is a teen wish-fulfillment movie where a loser has one special but seemingly useless skill (beating the living shit out of people) but nobody takes him seriously, especially the beautiful but quirky girl that he’s in love with. He’s like Ducky from Pretty In Pink if Ducky knew kung fu (Ducky totally should have known kung fu). So far, so corny. But the weird thing is, this shit actually works on its own terms. Maybe it’s because the movie takes place in the slums of Santiago, where there’s garbage in the streets and graffiti on every wall. It makes you give more of a shit about this dude’s problems than you would if he lived in some John Hughesian upper-middle-class wonderland. The excellent location work grounds the clichéd story in an exotic but down-to-earth reality.

So Zami’s friend is sick of seeing him moping around like a little bitch, so he brings him to see this Arab dude, who tells him a story of a guy whose love for a woman turned into possession, which then turned into fear. (This is what we used to call a "theme" in my college literature classes.) Zami says that he’s not afraid, so the Arab says, "Then you know what to do."

I didn’t think that was very helpful advice, but it turns out that Zami actually does know what to do. He goes right to the shop where Kim works and apologizes for beating up all of her boyfriends. Then he says the most romantic line that has ever been uttered in a kung fu movie (and possibly in any movie ever): "Every kick I’ve thrown has been for you." This chick’s heart must be made of adamantium or some shit for it not to melt right there. She should have been like, "You had me at ’kick.’" But no, instead, she tells him that she’s started dating The Maniac, and, in a stroke of total genius, the guitar-and-drums intro of David Bowie’s "Modern Love" kicks in and there’s one continuous tracking shot as Zami punch-dances out his despair by sprinting through the streets. I don’t know how this movie could afford the rights to this song, but I’d like to think that Bowie lowered his usual rate for this production because of his commitment to the advancement of the Kung Fu of Many Nations. If that’s the case, then B-Movie of the Day salutes you, David Bowie. If not, well, "Golden Years" is a pretty awesome song. You’ll always have that.

Then Count Dracula shows up with his posse of Flock of Seagulls vampires. Count Dracula is a tall bearded man with a cape and a rattail who likes to slice people up with his cane-sword. We’ve seen that before plenty of times, but as a bonus, he also likes to gouge out their gizzards with the claw handle of the cane, making great gouts of CGI squirt out. I didn’t realize that Chilean people bled zeroes and ones, but that just shows my ignorance.

Turns out that Count Dracula is this dude who is seeking revenge on all of the members of this mystical kung fu sect because one of them (Kim’s dad) stole his wife (Kim’s mom, deceased) from him many years ago. He’s the son-in-law of that advice-giving Arab dude (the cast is a real melting pot of South Americans, Asians, and Middle Easterners. Plus Count Dracula, who I believe is Romanian, if I’m not mistaken). So Count Dracula fucking destroys all of the students in Kim’s dad’s dojo (I don’t think Kim’s dad is a very good sensei. He seems like a cool guy, but I’m saying) and beats the shit out of Zami. Luckily, the dwarf from the beginning of the movie shows up and takes Zami and Kim back to his cave by the beach, but he can’t stop Count Dracula from kidnapping Kim’s dad and hanging him from the ceiling of his warehouse by hooks in his back, Ichi the Killer style. (No hot grease, though.)

Meanwhile, the dwarf, looking like a miniature little Charlton Heston, explains the whole deal to Zami and sends him to the north to get trained by this other sect member who may or may not really be Zami’s estranged father. Who knows? Always in motion is the future. When Zami asks why Yoda Moses can’t just kick Count Dracula’s ass himself, he says the best line in the movie: "Look at me. I’m old and I’m a dwarf." Which is a pretty good excuse for getting out of fighting Count Dracula, if you ask me. I’m gonna have to remember that one.

So Zami goes off on his quest. I don’t know how this movie managed to go from Golden State to Bulletproof Monk inside of five minutes, but it found a way, and I applaud it for that.

After Zami travels through some incredibly beautiful Chilean sunsets (it’s almost cheating to put a sunset in your movie), he finds his drunk maybe-dad, and there’s a lengthy training sequence out in a phony desert that looks like the set of Three Amigos. He takes some sort of hallucinogenic to temporarily wipe his memory clean, and there’s some pretty good cosmic hoodoo, mostly Buddhist-derived, with a little Native American mysticism throw in. It’s hard to do these kinds of scenes without making me think of On Deadly Ground, where Steven Seagal goes on a vision quest and fights his spirit bear, but I don’t blame Kiltro. That’s just what happens when you walk in the shadow of giants.

Anyway, Zami learns how to tap into his Z-state, which allows him to act without thought. That gives him super humongous ass-kicking powers, which come in handy because Count Dracula has finally gotten his shit together and kidnapped Kim.

So Zami paints himself up like the Ultimate Warrior and goes on the warpath. And that’s when the kung fu starts in earnest. He’s a big guy, six foot or so, but he can do crazy triple-kicks and full-air flips with no wires. I saw the training footage of this fight, and this dude is the real deal. He’s no Tony Jaa, but for his size, he’s pretty incredible. He takes out about a hundred guys in an alley, knocking some of them 20 feet through the air. He’s also got a blade on his heel that lets him cut like 50 throats in a row, filling the air with digital plasma. It’s kind of weird to think of the mopey bastard in the hoodie from the beginning of the movie chopping motherfuckers’ heads off without a second thought, but I guess that’s what the Z-state does for you. It’s like spiritual Red Bull.

Then there’s the final showdown with Count Dracula, accompanied by epic spaghetti western guitars that were clearly influenced by Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi Trilogy. It’s a welcome change from the Zamfir music that was playing during the training montage, but really, even that wasn’t so bad. I like the music in this movie. It mostly sounds like real people playing real instruments, not some Casio shit like you usually get in low-budget action flicks.

Anyway, this is an excellent movie with a lot of heart, and it gets a big boost from some really incredible Chilean scenery. We get to see a lot of Chile, from the slums to the mountains, and it really is a gorgeous place. I don’t know why more movies don’t get shot in Chile. In fact, I don’t know anything about Chile. I’m just a spoiled American who spends all his time watching DVDs. Jesus Christ, I’m wasting my life. What a pathetic individual I am. In fact, fuck this blog. I’m gonna go do something with my time on this earth. See y’all in the Z-state.

The Sword and the Sorceror

Does it make me a bad person that I love rip-offs? Show me the most blatantly mercenary cash-in on a popular trend and I’ll show you a fun night at the movies. The thing I love about them is that they take whatever formula was created by the progenitor of the trend and boil it down to its most superficial elements. For example, what made the original Matrix such a great movie was the whole concept of a virtual reality world where anything was possible, even gravity-defying kung fu. But all the people who ripped it off saw was the pretty people flipping around on wires, so for the next six or seven years, we got dozens of movies where people could do crazy Matrix shit for no real reason besides the fact that it looked cool. They copied the trappings, but not the point behind them.

In that sense, many rip-offs are more efficient entertainment delivery systems than the movies that inspired them. So even though Halloween is a far better movie than any of the Friday the 13th movies, I still watch the latter more often than the former. Sometimes you just don’t want to deal with piddly details like craft and suspense and storytelling competence. You just want to skip to the good stuff.

Granted, it usually takes a few years for me to get over the initial outrage I feel at the unoriginality of it all, but that’s cool. Fine cheese must be aged, anyway.

Which brings us to The Sword and the Sorcerer, as blatant a Conan rip-off as you’re likely to find. Conan the Barbarian was made by John Milius, the gun-toting right wing maniac (this is meant as an observation, not a criticism) who also directed the Cold War classic Red Dawn. He was so sick of the namby-pambiness of his hippie peers that he made a movie glorifying the concept of "Might makes right." It was an ode to a simpler, more primal, and, to Milius’ way of thinking, more noble world.

So there was all this other shit going on in Conan, but all the people who copied it saw was a muscley dude, some swordplay, and a bunch of wenches in furry underpants with their titties hanging out. So that’s what we get in The Sword and the Sorcerer and its ilk. On the Conan rip-off scale, I’d say it’s nowhere near as good as The Beastmaster, but its way better than The Dungeonmaster. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

The movie begins with some evil dudes in robes entering a paper mache cave. Then this Grace Jones-looking broad starts chanting and writhing, and the whole time, you’re wondering when the blue lasers are going to show up. The eighties were all about blue lasers.

But instead, they throw you a curveball by having rubber faces appear in the dirt. Then some kind of glop demon arises out of a pool of mud. He’s played by Richard Moll of Night Court fame, who was also in The Dungeonmaster. In that one, he was your standard evil sorcerer, but in this one, he’s a much more complex character. He’s an evil sorcerer with the face of a gargoyle.

So the deal is that this evil king Cromwell wants to use the Glop Demon’s black magic to take over a neighboring kingdom. To prove that he has the power to do so, El Gloppo uses his mind to rip the Grace Jones chick’s heart out and make it fly across the room into his outstretched hand. It’s a complete perversion of the Jedi mind trick. He might as well be using it to look under chicks’ skirts. (In the movie’s defense, his fingernails glow orange when he does this. This is a completely new twist on the classic blue laser optical effect, so maybe it’s not fair to call this movie a rip-off. Orange and blue are two completely different colors, after all.)

Anyway, the king is played by the low-rent Rutger Hauer knockoff who was also the head villain in the Chuck Norris classic Invasion USA. In that one, he shot a guy in the balls six or seven times to prove how evil he was. In this one, he does it by betraying the Glop Demon after he uses his magic to wipe out the king’s enemies with an ill-defined plague. Cromwell stabs him with a dagger, so Ol’ Gloppy jumps off a cliff. I don’t know, I think maybe this Cromwell guy is kind of a jerk. Maybe you just have to get to know him.

Anyway, the king of the country that Cromwell is invading doesn’t know about this shit because it’s olden times and text messaging hadn’t been invented yet. Sup king? Wear u @? Were all dead. Chk u later, k? That would have saved the king a lot of trouble, but what are you gonna do? So while his kingdom is being invaded, he’s just hanging out in a fake gray beard with his gray-wigged wife. I don’t understand why they couldn’t just hire legitimately old people to play these parts, but I wasn’t there on the set that day so I don’t know what kind of compromises had to be made in order to bring the singular vision of director Albert Pyun (Dollman, Kickboxer 2 and 4) to the screen.

But then the king’s melty-faced son shows up with the news, so the rest of the family flee. The younger prince, Talon, gets to carry the family sword, which is this ridiculous thing that has three full-sized parallel blades. It looks just like a much larger version of the knife hand that the villain screws onto his stump at the end of Enter the Dragon. All that steel must make it weigh about 80 pounds, but the extra weight is worth it because the two side blades can shoot out and impale people so hard that they fly backward about ten feet. It looks like there’s some sort of rudimentary rocket propulsion going on in there, which is an incredible feat of engineering, if you think about it. I wondered what they used for fuel? It’s a shame that this technology has been lost to the ages.

Anyway, even with his triple-bladed rocket sword, Talon can’t save his mom and dad from getting decapitated by Cromwell and his goons, so he flees and grows up to be your standard wandering sword-for-hire in a gigantic fur pimp coat. Then he returns home with his band of warriors, one of whom is played by the bald dude from Murphy Brown. Remember when the worst thing going on in this country was Dan Quayle’s beef with television’s depiction of unwed moms? Man, I miss the nineties sometimes.

So Talon goes to the tavern and learns that there’s an uprising against Cromwell, led by his father’s adviser’s son, whom the people regard as the rightful heir to the throne. This is where you realize that you don’t know what the fuck Talon thinks he’s doing. Since he’s actually the rightful heir, you’d think he’d want to get that shit cleared up. Or at least help out the rebellion somehow. Or some shit. I don’t know. But instead, he just gets drunk until the rebellion leader gets captured. Then Talon has to rescue this hot brunette from a bunch of rapists by beating them up with a turkey leg. She turns out to be the sister of the rebellion leader, so she tries to hire him to rescue her brother. But Talon doesn’t want money. Talon wants pussy. So the chick agrees to screw him in exchange for his services. But the catch is, he’s got to do the job first. Typical. Sure, he rescued her from those rapists, but what has he done for her lately?

Seriously, though, what the fuck is going on with this Talon dude? When he comes back home, he says he has "unfinished business" to take care of (movie code for "revenge") but then all he wants is to bone this wench. It’s like nobody showed him the beginning of the movie, so he doesn’t know that he’s a prince. He really just thinks he’s in town to get laid. Then he finally comes face to face with Cromwell, and a handy flashback reminds him of what the fuck he’s supposed to be doing. But even then, he doesn’t even reveal himself to be the real prince at the end of the movie. He just screws the chick and lets her brother be the king so he can ride off and continue to be an irresponsible lout. Way to piss away your father’s legacy, dude. Conan would never do that. Hell, even Ator the Flying Eagle wouldn’t pull that shit.

But that’s the kind of dude we’re dealing with here: a total chump. Talon keeps getting captured, forcing all of the other characters in the movie to rescue him. Luckily, everywhere he goes, people recognize him and talk about how they owe him for that time he saved their asses. I think they had to put these parts in because, otherwise, there’s very little evidence of his badass credentials in the movie. You never even get to see him chop someone into four parts with his three-bladed sword. I mean, it was pretty cool when he got crucified and then yanked out the spikes with his bare hands, but still. You need to earn this hero shit, Talon. You don’t just get it by default because you’ve got a wacky novelty sword.

There really isn’t much else to say about this movie. There’s a twist involving the Glop Demon that you’d have to be a total fucking douchebag not to see coming (no disrespect to any total fucking douchebags who might be reading this), a cameo by the dude who gets chopped up in the propeller in Raiders of the Lost Ark (this time, he gets his face sanded off by pedal-operated grindstone, but the funny part is, he keeps working the pedal even as he’s getting murderated. That’s dedication for you.), and your textbook topless harem scene (prior to this, the movie had been noticeably light on boobage).

Basically, you get what you’d expect out of a movie called The Sword and the Sorcerer. Namely, a) a sword; and b) a sorcerer. Its story checks out. Unlike that movie The Squid and the Whale, which, unless my interpretation is way off, wasn’t really about squids and whales at all. Maybe they’re saving that for the sequel, where the dickhead divorced dude gets eaten by a whale, so his son has to team up with a giant squid to rescue him. I’m not sure what that has to do with The Sword and the Sorcerer, but I’m just saying. The Squid and the Whale 2: This Time There’s Actually a Squid and a Whale would rule.

Anyway, if you like Conan rip-offs, you could do worse. Deathstalker, for instance. How the fuck do you stalk death? Does that mean you’re suicidal or that you’re so the opposite of suicidal that you’re actually trying to hunt and kill death itself? I don’t get it, man. The movie should have been called Dudechopper, because that’s all the hero does. I don’t mind a rip-off; it’s the dishonesty I can’t stand.

Sukiyaki Western: Django

Dude, I could tell you all about this movie, but I think you’re still just gonna have to see it for yourself. What it is is your basic spaghetti western homage directed by Takashi Miike (pronounced "mee-kay," I’m told), the insanely prolific sicko behind such cinematic mind-fucks as Audition and Ichi the Killer. Right there, that oughtta tell you that you’re in for some seriously weird shit. This is the guy who made somebody’s claymation uvula sing in The Happiness of the Katakuris. And that’s the closest thing he’s ever made to a movie that normal people could watch. To quote Peter Weller in the criminally underrated Shakedown, he is "new to the planet."

But it gets weirder. Not only is Sukiyaki Western: Django a Japanese western (as if you couldn’t tell from the title), but it’s a Japanese western that’s performed in the most heavily accented English you’ve ever heard in your life. They sound like Japanese hair metal band Loudness singing Oh-whoah! Lock and loll clazy ni-i-ight! I could only catch every third or fourth word, but that’s okay. Miike helpfully color-coded the movie so you could understand it visually.

See, people are gonna call this your standard Fistful of Dollars plot, where a mysterious stranger strolls into a town that is completely controlled by two warring gangs and proceeds to play both sides against the middle. Other, snootier people are going to call it the Yojimbo plot, because it came first and it’s the same movie, only with a ronin instead of a gunfighter. But I’m gonna take it all the way back to the beginning and call it the Red Harvest plot, since that’s the Dashiell Hammett book that they’re all based on. So there.

Anyway, I only bring this up to show that even when you can’t understand a word the characters are saying, you still know what’s going on because it’s such a timeless story. And besides, one gang wears red and the other wears white, so you can always tell who’s on what side. They all dress like gay post-apocalyptic anime motocross Furious Five members, but the white side is run by this glam nancyboy swordsman who only longs for a worthy opponent, while the red side is controlled by a complete moron thug pistolero who likes to take naps in the middle of battles. (He’s got the best line in the movie. After he splatters this dude’s blood all over the dude’s wife’s face, he says, "My favorite color. It looks goooood on you.") They’re both good villains, but the white guy is far more impressive. He’s able to shoot people from miles away by aiming into the wind so that his bullets take about 10 seconds to curve around and hit their target. Very cool.

So into this town rides this shadowy dude who’s quick on the draw and that’s about it. Not only does he have no character development whatsoever, but he has the worst accent in the movie. Honestly, I think that’s why they hired him. Just to fuck with you.

Did I mention that Quentin Tarantino plays two parts in this movie (well, two and a half if you count the flashbacks)? And that he also speaks with a heavy Japanese accent? He plays a badass gunfighter at the very beginning that you think is going to be the narrator who bookends the movie, sort of a tall-tale thing, except that he never comes back at the end. That negates the entire purpose of having bookends. If you only had one bookend, all of your books would tip over and fall onto the floor. But Miike doesn’t give a shit about your books. Let ’em fall, he says. Fuck your books. That’s the kind of dude we’re dealing with here. A goddamn anarchist.

Quentin (I call him Quentin because we’re old friends from all those DVD special features I watched) does shoot at least six people, though, splattering one of them all over an obviously fake painted backdrop of a sunset. And he does it all while tossing around a bloody rattlesnake egg that he stole from a CGI hawk (Technical note: This movie uses the vintage "hawk scream" sound effect more often than any movie since Steven Seagal’s classic directorial debut, On Deadly Ground). He looks like he’s having a fucking ball. Then he comes back at the halfway point, wearing about thirty pounds of latex as this ancient arms dealer in a clanky clockwork wheelchair. Quentin’s pseudo-Shatnerian acting style is almost always distracting, but this is without a doubt his best performance since From Dusk Til Dawn. There’s one part where, with just a look, he conveys a real sense of loss under all that makeup, and it’s actually kind of affecting. You’re like, Shit, Quentin, I didn’t know you had it in you. It’s a good moment because, for once, he doesn’t just seem like Quentin Tarantino. He seems like a real dude having a real emotion. Good job, man. Now can you please stop fucking around with shit like this and give us that four-hour war movie with Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarzeneggar that you’ve been threatening to unleash on us since the late nineties? Please put down the bong and pick up the laptop. Do it for the children.

(Ed. note: Obviously this reference is woefully outdated, but I kept it for historical-type purposes.)

Anyway, this movie is full of crazy shit. There’s a scene where a hot chick who looks exactly like What’s-Her-Face from Lost (No, not just because they’re both Asian. God, I can’t believe you would even say something like that. That’s fucked up, man. I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.) does a weird interpretive dance, then lays down on the floor and pulls a foot-long string of jingle bells out of her throat. There’s one character who gets beat up and bullied by his own split personality, and another who gets his balls shot off so he becomes a crazy leaping eunuch. There’s a completely out-of-left field shot of a red-and-white mottled fetus growing out of a rose. Not to mention it’s the only movie ever where the title appears on giant CGI tofu. (This is almost as protein-rich a title card as Ichi the Killer, where the movie’s name gets spelled out in the main character’s cumshot.)

Despite the randomness, Sukiyaki Western still functions as a proper action movie, with lots of well-choreographed fistfights and shootouts. A lot of dynamite gets tossed around, and obviously, there’s one of those Civil War gatling guns that you have to crank like an old-timey movie camera. It also goes without saying that this gatling gun is stored in a coffin. You knew that because the word "Django" is in the title. For the uninitiated, Django was an old spaghetti western about a dude who dragged around a gatling gun in a coffin. It was so popular that the ever-imitative Italians made about a thousand rip-offs with the word "Django" in the title, even though only one of them (Django Returns) had anything to do with the original. "Django" kind of became code for "bad-ass western." So you can see that Miike is consciously playing with cinematic myth here. He even has a Japanese cover of the classic Django theme song over the end credits.

The movie’s main joke is that people with speaking parts can get shot about a million times before they die, while non-speaking extras go down easily and by the dozen. Miike brings this so far that it becomes like a Family Guy joke. It goes on so long that it’s funny, but then it goes too far and stops being funny, but then it keeps going until it becomes funny again. Then it goes on so much longer that you’re not sure it’s even supposed to be funny anymore, but then it goes on so much longer than that that it becomes even funnier than it was in the first place. Like the puking scene in Team America times 9/11 times a thousand.

Anyway, you should totally check this one out. It has a lot in common with Miike’s yakuza movies, in that the pace vacillates between rapid-fire sensory overload and lugubrious banality. (If you don’t know what "lugubrious" means, it means "mournful." If you did know, you’re a lot smarter than I was until about 9:30 last night when I looked it up.) It’s a lot easier to take than most of those movies, though, since he isn’t really going for the throat with the shock tactics like he usually does. The female characters (including the absolute hottest grandma in film history) don’t exactly get off easy, but at least they get to keep their nipples this time. For a space mutant like Takashi Miike, this might as well be Pretty Woman.

Visting Hours

Today we’ve got Visiting Hours, a semi-classy Canadian slasher flick from the early eighties. It’s about this murderous misogynist (played by Villain Hall of Famer Michael Ironside, whose evil eyebrows make him creepy even when he’s playing good guys) who gets so pissed off about this TV anchorwoman telling the world its okay for women to use lethal force to defend themselves against the psychos who try to rape and kill them that he decides to shut her up for good. So he breaks into her house and murders her maid (off camera), then strips to the buff and drapes himself with all of her jewelry until he looks like Xerxes from 300. When she comes home, he stabs her up pretty good, but she lives, so he spends the rest of the movie trying to get to her in the hospital, which must have the worst security ever, considering how many times this clearly psychotic motherfucker waltzes in and out. I’ve heard bad things about the Canadian healthcare system, but jesus.

The movie’s just okay, though I did like the unexpected girl power message they snuck in. While all the men in authority are saying that everything is under control, the anchorwoman teams up with a feisty single-mom nurse and a victimized New Wave chick with frizzy hair. These sisters are doing it for themselves. Most slasher movies have a hidden feminist theme, but this one seems to be a bit more earnest about it. It’s above-par for the slasher genre in terms of cinematography and acting (Did I mention that William Shatner is in it, wearing the most fabulous belted suede jacket I’ve ever seen?) but really light on the gore. It does point out a couple of interesting things, though.

First is the difference between the urban and rural slasher movie. In the rural slasher, the killer is usually a deformed, asexual mongoloid who kills people for some vague sort of revenge. My man Jay Voorhees is obviously the poster child for this type of slasher, but other examples are Madman Mars from Madman and Victor Crowley from Hatchet.

By contrast, the urban slasher is generally more realistic. He’s just your everyday sexual predator who kills women because he enjoys it. Examples of this are notorious video nasties like Maniac, The Toolbox Murders, and Eyes of a Stranger. In these movies, the killer isn’t a vengeful ghoul from beyond the grave. He’s just some dude. That’s what makes him scary. Instead of being an eight-foot-tall monster, he could be any greasy white guy on the street.

These are the movies that bore the brunt of the early eighties uproar over cinematic violence, but to me, they’re much less ideologically offensive than modern-day psycho-killer movies. Back then, there was no way that you could identify with the killers, who were portrayed as deranged outcasts. Granted, you wanted to see the gore that they left in their wakes, but more than that, you wanted to see these sick fuckers pay. No one ever watched one of these movies and said, "Man, I want to be just like that sweaty guy with the receding hairline and filthy apartment." Urban slashers were never "cool." They didn’t have iconic accessories like Jason, and they weren’t driven to insanity like Cropsy in The Burning. They were just sick fucks with bad hair and weight problems. They were pathetic and, sadly, true to life. In Visiting Hours, the killer spends all his time writing to his congressman and the media about his hatred of minorities and women. He’s a completely despicable character with no sense of style (he wears a leather vest, for God’s sake). In Maniac, the title character cries himself to sleep at night in the arms of a mannequin. How could Tipper Gore and her censorship gestapo possibly think that anyone would want to emulate these losers?

But nowadays, if you believe Saw and Seven and all of their various imitators, the smartest people on earth are serial killers. These movies glorify their murders as depraved works of art, lingering over the ingenuity and creativity involved and giving them rational-sounding motivations that normal people are meant to relate to. I find this much more offensive than the old school slasher flicks, which had the guts to lay bare the ugly and depressing banality of evil. In real life, psychopaths aren’t charismatic geniuses with a flair for dramatic art direction and a sadistic view of community service. They don’t kill you as part of a cat-and-mouse game with a brilliant profiler. They don’t kill you to teach the world a lesson. And they sure as shit don’t kill you for your own good. They’re just lonely weirdos who kill because it’s the only way to make their dicks get hard. Movies like Visiting Hours aren’t pretty, but at least they’re honest.

The Marine

I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between eighties action movies ("classic action") and nineties action movies ("neu-action"). I mean, there are obvious stylistic differences in cinematography, scoring, and squib-squishiness, but I'm talking about the heart of the matter here. Deep in their souls, what sets Commando apart from The Rock? It's a question that has haunted men since the dawn of time (the dawn of time being roughly 1995 or so).

Well, I'll tell you. It all comes down to what people who make documentaries about Kurt Cobain call "the cult of personality." See, classic action is structured around the persona of the central badass. The plot is only significant in that it allows the main ass-kicker to kick ass in his own way. The best classic action heroes stuck to plots that let them do what they did best with a minimum of fuss. You'd never see Seagal making Bloodsport, even though he was much more of a legitimate martial artist than Van Damme. It just wasn't his style. And that's the appeal of classic action. If you plugged a different badass into the movie but kept the exact same plot, you would get a completely different movie. Stallone could have easily played Arnold's role in Commando, but if he had, it wouldn't have been as goofy and over-the-top. Sly was taking himself pretty seriously back then, and his movies reflected that. On that same note, imagine Arnold in Cobra. He would have noticed what a ridiculous movie he was making, and he would have let us laugh with him. Sly forces us to laugh at him by buying into his own bullshit. Even though Cobra and Commando are both firmly in the "unstoppable muscleman mowing down hundreds of stuntmen" genre, the differing badass je ne sais quoi of their respective stars is what gives them their own unique personalities.

Neu-action, however, is centered not around the hero, but around the central concept. What if somebody put a bomb on a bus? What if there was a bank heist during a flood? What if a bunch of convicts took over a plane? It's this kind of wrongheaded thinking that made Nic Cage a de facto action star. The central badass in these films is secondary, which is why legitimate badassery all but disappeared in the nineties. You didn't need a believable badass to carry your movie for you, because that's what all those newfangled CGI effects were supposed to do. All you needed was a big-name actor. Any big-name actor. For example, if you substituted Christian Slater for Keanu Reeves in Speed, the movie would not change significantly. I like Speed, and I like Keanu, but I never really buy him as a world-class ass-kicker; he's just the guy that the plot happens to. It could have happened to anybody, but it just happened to happen to him. Yyou couldn't substitute anyone else for Arnold, though, or it wouldn't be an Arnold movie anymore. He is the movie.

That's why, as much as I love Die Hard, I have to say that it's the granddaddy of neu-action. Bruce Willis more than proved his badass credentials in that film, and over the course of the series, he made the character of John McClane more important than any particular plot element. The movies would not be the same if anyone else were in them, but they didn't know that before they made them. They were just looking for a familiar face to plug into this awesome idea they had about terrorists in a skyscraper. That's what makes it proto-neu-action: the concept was more important than the star. From that point on, "Die Hard on a ____" became a genre unto itself, and you could insert anyone into the same basic plot and they all felt pretty much the same. Both Van Damme and Seagal made Die Hard ripoffs, and they're among the most generic and interchangeable entries in their respective oeuvres. Under Siege is a good movie, but it wouldn't really have mattered if somebody besides Seagal played Casey Reibeck, because the ship was the star, not him. You can't say that for Out For Justice (mostly because there's no ship).

Believe it or not, this brings us to The Marine, which is an attempt to return to the tenets of classic action. The only reason for this utterly generic movie to exist is to give overmuscled WWE wrestler John Cena (who looks like Matt Damon if he got juiced with the radioactive ooze from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2) a chance to carry an action movie. There is no central concept other than that. The movie was built around him, not the other way around.

This has been tried plenty of times before. The Marine falls into the category of "novelty action," where the selling point is the chance to see some weird non-actor in a cookie-cutter action flick. Usually, these things are geek shows, like when they tried to make an Olympic gymnast into an action star in Gymkata. Sometimes it works, though. The best example is Stone Cold, which uses the flamboyant persona of Brian Bosworth as a blueprint for the tone of the movie. Compare that to One Man's Justice, where the movie expected us to take the Bos seriously and ended up being far less entertaining as a result.

The Marine is more One Man's Justice than Stone Cold, in that it doesn't really do anything unique with John Cena. He's just a big, dumb roid monkey who hits people. I hear that in the ring, he's a preposterous wigger cliché who made his championship belt spin like some gangster rapper's 22-inch rims. If they'd have built a movie around that ridiculousness and managed to keep a completely straight face, we might have had a camp classic of Road House proportions on our hands.

That said, I enjoyed the hell out of The Marine, and it has nothing to do with John Cena. It's just a completely retarded movie that seems to be utterly impressed with its own awesomeness. There are all kinds of moments where they awesome up parts that don't need awesoming up, like showing slo-mo CGI shell casings or putting whooshy sound effects on camera moves. Things like this reek of desperation. You can practically smell the flop sweat as the movie gives itself a hernia trying to impress you. It's like when you see Jim Carrey on Letterman and it looks like he's gonna fucking shoot himself if he doesn't get a laugh.

The best part is that Robert Patrick is the main villain. He sort of Kurt Loders his way through the performance, saying his lines more or less straight, but by the bemused look in his eyes, you know what he really thinks of this nonsense. He knows exactly what movie he's in, and it's hilarious to watch him ham it up shamelessly. He effortlessly steals every last second of screentime from his underqualified co-stars. From the second he shows up onscreen, the movie is his for the taking, so he puts it in his pocket and walks off with it. Hope you weren't using this movie, guys. It's mine now.

The most hilarious thing about The Marine is how hilarious it isn't. There are all these goofy Michael Bay-style scenes with the villains where there's "funny" music playing to let you know that you're supposed to laugh, because you sure as hell wouldn't have figured that out on your own. Seriously, this is probably the worst score I've ever heard. There's this running gag about how the black henchman (who apparently just converted to blackness last week or something, because being black is all he can talk about) is afraid of rock candy because he got ass-raped at summer camp as a kid. And the whole time he's confessing this, the Deliverance banjos weave in and out of the score, and Robert Patrick is sitting there chuckling. Ah, child molestation. Always a surefire laff riot.

But even though the filmmakers felt the need to bring back this rock candy bit two or three times, they don't feel the same responsibility to the themes or characters they introduced at the beginning of the movie. See, the movie starts out with this dude John Triton getting kicked out of the marines for being too badass. Then he gets home and hangs out in the kitchen in his underwear with his orange-skinned, yellow-haired wife, complaining about how marining is all he knows how to do so he doesn't have a purpose anymore. He gets a job as a security guard, but he can't keep his ass-kicking instincts in check, so he throws some grotesque yuppie stereotype through a plate glass window and gets fired. Then he has a heart-to-heart with his fat co-worker who tells him that he needs to learn how to adapt to his new life and find a new use for his ass-kicking skills. Then this loveable character disappears from the movie forever, because none of these themes have anything to do with the actual plot.

See, Robert Patrick and his crew of idiotic goons kidnap his wife for no good reason, so he spends the rest of the movie tracking her down. That makes it seem like her getting kidnapped was a good thing because it gives him an outlet for his skills. Dude, get a hobby. Your wife can't get kidnapped every day just to give you something to do.

If the filmmakers had stopped and thought for a second before they started filming, they would have realized that having his wife get kidnapped negates the entire beginning of the movie. He's not rescuing her because being a marine is in his blood, he's rescuing her because she's his fucking wife. That's the kind of plot you use when you want to show how the badass wants to retire from ass-kicking, but then the bad guys push him too far. It's a clear case of "You fuck with mine, I fuck with yours." If they wanted to show how much of a gung-ho hero-type he is, they should have had some random woman get kidnapped so he could go rescue her simply because it's the right thing to do. Everyone would ask him why he insists on involving himself in shit that has nothing to do with him, and he'd say, "It's what I do. I'm The Definite Article Marine." Then he would find his purpose: helping the helpless. Shit, now you've got a franchise on your hands. But what, is his wife gonna get kidnapped again in part two? It doesn't make any sense.

But fuck the plot. How's the action? Totally absurd but bloodless, even in the unrated version. It's mostly explosion-related, even though fire never kills anybody in this whole movie. Cena himself is completely fireproof. Incredibly massive fireballs go off right in his face and nothing happens to him, yet the villains insist on trying to blow him up anyway. Robert Patrick is also slightly flame-retardant. Even though he does get Freddy Kruegered up lovely in a blaze, he still comes back for one more fight.

The best scene is the car chase where Cena drives a Camaro cop car that gets whittled down by gunfire until it's just a chassis on wheels. Then he drives it off a cliff and the bad guys keep shooting it as it spirals through the air, and as it explodes, Cena jumps to safety. But you probably saw that in the trailer, along with the slo-mo shot where Robert Patrick walks by the biggest car explosion of all time and pretends that he doesn't notice it. Bear in mind that this scene uses Filter's "Hey Man Nice Shot" for roughly the millionth time. Can we call a moratorium on that song, as well as "More Human Than Human?" Even for ironic purposes, since that was already done in The Cable Guy over a fucking decade ago?

Anyway, if you like your action movies big, dumb, and sweaty, The Marine is very eager to meet you. It might get a little overexcited and start humping your leg, but that's part of its charm.

Jaws 3

I wrote this review the week after Roy Scheider died. That hit me kind of hard, since we're talking about Chief Brody here. On the battlefield of my mind, Jaws has long been engaged in eternal conflict with Die Hard for the title of "Best Fucking Movie of All Fucking Time." It goes back and forth, but Jaws is the sentimental favorite because it represents a watershed moment in my growth as a human being. As a kid, I used to be scared shitless of sharks. It wasn't that I was afraid of getting eaten by one (I went in the ocean without complaint). I just couldn't look at the toothy fuckers, even in photographs. In elementary school, my fellow students would chase me around the library with open copies of National Geographic. But when I turned 12, I decided that it was time to grow up, so I stayed up late and watched Jaws all by myself in the dark. From that point on, it's been in my top two. Even if it didn't symbolize my ability to overcome my (many) childhood fears, it's just a flawless movie in its own right, perfectly mixing scares, adventure, gore, atmosphere, and characters. It's pure cinema. The scene where our three intrepid shark hunters compare scars and sing sea shanties is probably the greatest scene ever filmed.

So when I heard about Roy Scheider going to that great chumbucket in the sky, I watched Jaws in tribute. I drank to his leg. I drank to swimmin' with bow-legged women. I did not make any "We're gonna need a bigger coffin" jokes. Let's have a little fucking class, people.

But that wasn't enough, so to illustrate Mr. Scheider's importance to the series, I watched Jaws 3, which he wasn't in. And if you've seen this movie, you know how well that worked out. The makers of Jaws 3 must have been thrilled when Jaws: The Revenge came out and quickly usurped its spot at the top of the list of crappiest shark movies ever. While Jaws 3 is merely incompetent, Jaws: The Revenge is insultingly preposterous. (Naturally, I own them both.)

Anyway, Jaws 3 is probably better known as The One At Sea World, or alternately, The One That Used To Be In 3-D. The 3-D aspect is what brings in most of the incompetence. Since it's not in 3-D on home video, you're left with all these shots of badly matted objects floating toward you for no good reason. My favorite part is at the very end when the shark is slooooowly approaching the underwater control room, and it's very clearly not moving at all. It just appears to getting bigger because they were dollying the camera toward a tiny model of a shark. Intercut with this are some hilarious reaction shots of the cast screaming in terror as if the shark were rushing at them at high speed. Then it hits the window and the glass shatters, but no water rushes in. They just optically superimposed some very cheap sugar glass over the footage of the model shark, which never seems to actually interact with the glass in any way. It's a very special effect.

But the funny thing is, Jaws 3 as a whole isn't really as bad as I remembered. The premise is awesome, for one. The idea of Bruce the Shark attacking Sea World allows for different kinds of scenes than if they'd just gone back to Amity again. And the cast is pretty solid. Dennis Quaid does his usual Harrison Ford Lite thing, Lea Thompson (in her first screen role) shows off her ribcage in a purple bikini, and Louis Gossett, Jr. is on hand to pronounce the word "here" like Cartman does. (But of course LGJ was in it, because he was in every movie made in the eighties that didn't have Michael Caine in it. But don't worry, they saved him for The Revenge.) And the dialogue is actually kind of okay. The script was co-written by Richard Matheson, of all people, so when the one-dimensional characters are talking about non-shark-related stuff, it sounds sort of natural. I particularly liked the repartee between the two grown-up Brody brothers. In that sense, it follows the tradition of the original Jaws, in that the best scenes don't have the shark in them.

But let's talk about that shark. It is by far the worst of the series. First off, you never really buy that it's supposed to be 35 feet long, ten feet longer than the previous sharks. This is because it never comes out of the water so you can see some scale. I think this was probably a cost-cutting measure. Rigging a giant pneumatic crane to lift a huge animatronic shark out of the actual ocean is far more logistically complicated than just filming all of the shark scenes in a tank on the Universal back lot, which is what it looks like they did. They even resort to stop motion for one shot, something no other film in the series did.

Also, this shark's behavior is absurd. For one, they've got it searching for its lost son. I don't care what Finding Nemo is telling you, fish are not great parents. They pretty much leave their offspring to fend for themselves. It is literally sink or swim. (It's hard out there for a fish.) For two, they've got it swimming backwards and hiding motionless in tunnels. Sharks can't do either. Their fins are made of cartilage, so they don't bend like other fish's do. Think of them as wings that let them glide through the water. Also, if they stop moving, they suffocate. They actually point this out in the movie, but they don't stick to it. They also have the shark growling and roaring, when sharks have no vocal cords whatsoever. None of this is as ludicrous as The Revenge, when a shark tracks the Brody family from Amity to the Bahamas to get revenge for its fellow great whites, but still.

A lot of people swear by Jaws 3, though, and I can see why. Of all the films in the series, it most resembles your basic cheesy monster movie. Whereas the first film transcended its B-movie roots, Jaws 3 wallows in them. Setting it at a theme park lets the filmmakers use the standard eighties titty comedy template, so you've got young people in tight shorts playing pranks on each other while trying to get laid. It's like a Friday the 13th movie with a shark.

Speaking of which, when am I going to get the land-shark movie I've always wanted? How scary would that be? You'd copy the first scene from Jaws, but as a twist, you'd have the chick actually make it to shore, but then the shark just keeps coming. Why have they made 12 Children of the Corn movies but no Jaws 5: This Time, It's Bipedal?

Then for Jaws 6, I want them to follow the leads of the Leprechaun and Hellraiser franchises and set it in outer space. Think about it. You could have a space shark swimming around, ramming spaceships and eating astronauts so their globulous blood droplets float around in zero gravity. Then the hero (Chief Brody's great-great-great grandson, head of security for the starship Amity) could ride the shark back to Earth so it burns up in the atmosphere. Somebody get me Spielberg's number. I think we got a winner here.

Born To Fight

Ever since Ong Bak came out and kicked all of our asses like our backpacks had mechanical boots attached to them, Thai action movies have been drifting to our shores on DVD. Most of them come with the Ong Bak logo prominently displayed on the cover, with the legend "From the hairstylist of Ong Bak" not-so-prominently displayed underneath. A lot of them even show Tony Jaa front and center, even if he's only in the movie for five minutes as "T-Shirted Goon No. 2." This used to piss me off, but now I forgive the DVD-makers their marketing chutzpah. With or without Jaa, these movies are usually worth the money.

True, you gotta know what you're getting into with a lot of the older ones, which weren't ever intended to be seen by anyone except Thai peasants with understandably low standards. Ong Bak represented a revolution in Thai production values, so even though it looked kind of ghetto by American standards, it was still Pirates of the Goddamn Caribbean compared to most Thai flicks. A good example is Spirited Killer ("These killings are quite spirited, wouldn't you say? They possess a certain joi de vivre that I find delightful."), which does feature Jaa in a single fight scene (the best in the movie). The characters keep talking about how the movie they're in is about some kind of invincible spirit of vengeance, but as far as I can tell from watching it, it's just about a bunch of dudes in sweatpants running around on dirt roads, kicking each other. That's what happens when you can't afford sets or costumes. But it's got some good kicking, so you forgive it. Who watches action movies for costumes, anyway?

But mostly what Thai action movies are known for are stunts, and of all those I've seen, Born To Fight delivers the most spectacular ones. In fact, it's got some of the best stunts ever attempted in a motion picture, period. I don't normally make bold statements like that, but Born To Motherfuckin' Fight kind of demands it.

When I say stunts, I don't mean fight choreography, car crashes or explosions (although there are plenty of those). I'm talking about crazy motherfuckers with no regard for life and limb who throw themselves off, into, and through all kinds of shit for your amusement. Thai people are nuts. Their main innovation over Hollywood or Hong Kong is the lack of wires or pads. You see a stuntman launch himself off of something, bounce off of something else, spin five times, and then land in the dirt, all in one shot. I don't care how much training you have, that shit is gonna fucking hurt. It looks like somebody gets seriously injured in every single shot. You'll see things in Born To Fight that you can't believe a motherfucker actually survived.

Here's the basic breakdown of the movie:

The Bondian Pre-Credits Action Sequence:
This shit is so good, it would have been the big climax of any other movie. We got two 18-wheelers driving side by side, with dudes throwing other dudes off the top of them. There's one shot where a guy gets kicked off of one, bounces off the side of the other, and lands in the dirt between them, his head rolling within a fucking inch of the rear tires. Somebody almost died for art that day, and I, for one, appreciate that shit more than words can express. Majestyk's Movies salutes the fuck out of you, Random Thai Guy Who Almost Got Run Over In That Shot. But as impressive as that stunt was, the sequence is full of similar shit. Another dude gets launched off the truck and lands on top of a minivan. But he doesn't land cleanly. That would have been too easy. No, this dude has to just glance off the rear corner so you can feel the fucking metal crease your spine. It looks so awkward and unplanned that you gotta wonder if he could ever walk again afterward. And then, after all this, we got one 18-wheeler careening off a cliff, Duel-style, and another crashing through a shantytown, Bad Boys II-style, followed by a truly massive series of explosions. This shit is beautiful, man. I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about it.

The Introductory Gayness: Clearly, the movie couldn't have continued at this pace or somebody really would have died, and in any case, human eyes are not meant to withstand such a nonstop barrage of total and complete awesomeness for 90 straight minutes. Maybe in the future when people have bionically augmented optics, this could be accomplished, but for now, even Thai action movies have to slow down and introduce some stupid characters in between the ass-kickings. It turns out the movie is about all these socially conscious student-athletes who are logging their community service hours by bringing food and supplies and shit to this impoverished village out in the middle of nowhere. So you're gonna have to endure about 20 minutes of sappy-sweet sentimentality before the murderation begins anew. Sorry, bud. Them's the breaks.

The Villainy-Establishing Massacre: But when that gayness stops, man, look out. See, in the first scene, this big drug lord was captured by a cop who just happens to be at the village with his gymnast sister when the drug lord's beret-wearing paramilitary goons attack. What I love about Thai movies is that they aren't afraid to make the villains as evil as fuck. There's none of that "villains are people, too" moral relativism bullshit you get a lot these days. These dudes are fucking monsters, and they know it. They're like Chuck Norris villains. They slaughter women, children, old people, monks, cripples, whatever. They don't give a fuck. This shit is fucking brutal. I actually cringed in this one shot where a dude's arm gets machine-gunned and it splatters into unrecognizable shape without ever actually falling off. It's rough stuff, especially when you see a father get executed right in front of his little girl, but it's absolutely crucial to set up the incredible catharsis you feel later in the movie when the good guys fight back.

The Turning Point: Eventually, you learn that the bad guys are holding the village hostage to secure the release of their boss. Not only that, they have a nuclear goddamn missile pointed at Bangkok. Shit just got real, so after the hostages hear the Thai national anthem on the radio, they rise up and starting singing along, and the movie gets all Braveheart on you with the swelling music and St. Crispin's Day pre-battle speeches. This shit is actually quite moving if you're the type of person who gets choked up by the prospect of underdogs righteously kicking ass. These hostages are fighting armed mercenaries with no weapons and little to no chance of success, but they have one thing going for them: They're Thai. Thai movies make it seem like being Thai is the greatest thing on earth. They love their country and they love each other, with neither irony nor jingoism tainting that love, the way it does here in America. They just have a well-developed sense of national self-esteem, and it makes them in-fucking-vincible. Man, I wish I was Thai.

The Payback: While this movie does have a main star (Dan Chupong, the dude who was also in Dynamite Warrior, that movie where Thai cowboys fight each other with kung-fu and/or rockets), it's really an ensemble piece, and the extended climax reflects that. Basically, what we got here is about a half-hour of almost completely wordless action vignettes as each former hostage uses whatever gifts Buddha blessed them with to take out the villains. Apparently, the cast is full of real soccer players, gymnasts, rugby players, and muay thai fighters (including the little girl who saw her daddy get executed), so these are some pretty slick motherfuckers. They got moves for days. I'm not gonna lie, shit gets pretty goofy when the soccer player starts knocking out snipers with a soccer ball from a hundred yards, but it's pretty easy to get swept up in the moment and give in to the ridiculousness. Also, it gets kind of like Gymkata, in that there are always random pieces of makeshift gymnastics equipment around for the cop's sister to swing around on and kick people. You can't front on her skills, though. But as talented as the heroes are, the real stars are the stuntmen playing the villains, because they're the ones who have to take most of the punishment. You know how in most movies when people get kicked in the face, they just kick real close to the face but place the camera in such a way that no one can tell that there was no actual contact? They don't do that in Thailand. They just kick motherfuckers in the face. Or in the head. Or they launch them over the top of a moving pick-up truck through a burning wall and into a pile of dirt. There are so many awesome bits of action in this sequence (which ends with another massive series of explosions), I can't even begin to describe them all.

And why should I? It's not about what happens, it's about watching how it happens. That's what separates the true action fans from the casual ones. To the true action fan, action is like the ballet. Someone with less knowledge of the art form may just see a bunch of interchangeable jumping and kicking, but an expert can discern the truly incredible from the merely mediocre. Born To Fight is an action movie for connoisseurs who know that every roundhouse kick is not created equal. It's not about story or acting or cinematography, although these things certainly help. It's about the art of war, the grammar of violence, the poetry of motion, and Born To Fight was made by warrior-poets of the highest order. If you don't like it, you might just be a pussy.

Red Wolf

Before The Matrix and Kill Bill made Yeun Woo-Ping the go-to guy for American directors looking to spice up their fight scenes, he was an in-demand director in his own right. My favorite of his filmography (and one of my favorite Hong Kong movies, period) is Red Wolf. There's no wirework here, no mystical warriors, no gravity defiance: just brutal ground-based hand-to-hand combat and a shitload of automatic weaponry.

What we got here is your basic Die Hard rip-off about a sizeable gang of terrorists who invade a cruise ship that, for reasons I have been unable to ascertain even after a fourth viewing of the film, is carrying a shipment of uranium in its safe. The ship's first officer has gone rogue and staffed the entire boat with sociopathic henchmen who have zero problem with mowing down every innocent bystander in their field of vision. The only ones standing in their way are an Ex-Cop With A Tragic Past and a Beautiful Thief With A Heart Of Gold.

So yeah, the set-up is as standard as you get, but the execution of it is not. This is a great action film, but you wouldn't know it from the first half-hour. We meet the tortured Ex-Cop and see some slow-mo flashbacks of his wife dying in a bungled hostage crisis, establishing his need for redemption through violent adventure. Then we meet his Doomed Friend who has his Doomed Wife and Convenient Hostage Daughter on board. Meanwhile, Beautiful Thief is milling around, getting into slapstick situations that allow her to pick people's pockets. Then we end up in the ballroom, where a very hot but very talentless lounge singer is belting out a cornball ballad in heavily accented English. This catches the attention of the Captain, a lecherous old white dude, so the First Officer brings her by his cabin after the performance for some sleazy sex. Naturally, she's evil, so she kicks his ass a whole bunch before some goons reduce his chest to raspberry jelly with their silenced pistols. This is seen by the Ex-Cop, and from here on out, it's all action.

This first fight sets the tone and style for the rest of the movie. It's shot with a wide-angle lens in tight spaces, so you can really see the combatants and their spatial relationships. It makes the action easy to follow from move to move, letting you understand the language and pacing of the fight. Compare this to many modern American movies, in which the camera is so close to the action that all you're looking at is a blur of motion. Too many directors think that movie magic lives in the camera, so they shake it, pan it, zoom it, whip it, and basically do everything except light it on fire to bring more energy to the scene. They think they're amping up the action, but all they're really doing is obscuring it. The audience wants to see what's happening, not be bombarded with some technique the director learned in film school. The magic of an action scene comes not from complicated camera calisthenics, but from the athleticism of the actors/stuntmen, the rhythm of the editing, and the logic of the choreography.

All of this comes into play in the first fight in Red Wolf, in which Ex-Cop must enter a small room containing two gunmen. He's unarmed and they know he's coming, so he doesn't even have the element of surprise, but because the scene is so immaculately planned, shot, performed, and edited, it seems completely feasible that he is able to incapacitate one goon, momentarily stun the other, and make his escape without getting shot. A lesser movie would cop out and let the hero prevail only due to the villains' poor aim, but Red Wolf is no lesser movie.

This scene reminds you that a beautifully executed action scene is the purest form of cinema in existence, telling a story through a series of images and movements, not words. It also establishes the style of action we'll be seeing for the rest of the movie: lots of bullet-dodging, ample use of makeshift weapons (most notably a couch, which the Ex-Cop throws at one goon), a variety of disarming moves, and lightning-quick but unshowy Chinese boxing. And it's not even the best action scene in the film.

From there, Ex Cop gets framed for the captain's murder, but Beautiful Thief discovers the truth when she overhears First Officer and Evil Lounge Singer discussing their plans while making out in the dressing room. This scene is hilarious, because it starts with Beautiful Thief all alone, delivering a monologue pondering the capriciousness of fate ("One minute ago, I was fighting for my life, and now, I'm sipping chilled wine.") Then she starts talking to a boiled lobster before putting on a blond wig and launching into a nearly indecipherable a cappella version of "Rike A Virgin." That's what I love about Hong Kong movies. They go from maudlin sentimentality to goofy humor to unrelenting carnage without batting an eye. It's your one-stop shop for everything you could ever want in a movie, kind of like a cinematic poo poo platter.

So Thief discovers the truth and breaks Ex-Cop out of the brig. See, Thief is the Jar Jar of this movie. She's always freaking out at inopportune times and screwing things up, but her Idiot Fu is strong, so she always accidentally comes through in the clutch. You may remember the actress who plays her as the annoying chick from Jet Li's The Bodyguard From Beijing. The thing about her is, she's not a good actress, but she's an entertainingly bad one. And let's be frank: she's not ungorgeous. In fact, she's kind of stunning. So a combo of good looks and weird comic timing save her character from being the movie-killer it seemed designed to be.

Anyway, Ex-Cop jumps through a window into the ballroom where all the passengers are watching Evil Singer perform. He holds a chunk of broken plate up to her face and tells all the goons to back off, but she does a backward head butt, not caring that she gets a huge gash across her cheek. Then her backup band breaks out their Uzi 9mms and indiscriminately sprays down the crowd with hot lead. I have never seen so many innocent bystanders die in a movie before. I swear to God, by the end, not one single passenger is still alive. It's incredible. These people would have been better off being rescued by Special Agents Johnson & Johnson and their acceptable 35% hostage-loss margin.

So while Ex-Cop is running around the ship, dodging machine gun fire and getting locked in a freezer (from which he ingeniously escapes by shoving a frozen pig into the overhead fan), Evil Singer holds Thief and the rest of the passengers hostage in the ballroom. The marring of her beauty caused by the cut on her cheek seems to have driven her completely insane, and she spends the rest of the movie being the most ridiculously evil bitch you have ever seen. There's one part where she casually strolls down a hallway, smiling maliciously as she takes her time shooting some fleeing passengers in the back. Another scene is almost too brutal for the movie, where she tries to force Thief to slice open Ex-Cop's friend's wife's face with a chunk of glass while her four-year-old daughter watches.

Luckily, that doesn't happen, but then Thief has to look after the little girl because her mom gets shot about a hundred times. Her dad died earlier, so you can already see the end of the movie coming, where Ex-Cop and Thief will walk off into the sunset with Little Girl in their arms, a makeshift family. It's weird how many movies end like that, with the family unit destroyed and then reassembled, as if symbolizing in microcosm the re-stabilization of society following the intrusion of anarchy in the form of terrorists, zombies, ninjas, what have you.

But first, Ex-Cop's gotta beat a guy's brains in with a dumbbell and fight a Brutish Black Guy (the only kind you'll find in Chinese movies) on a soapy floor wearing rubber suction-cupped bathmats on his feet for traction. I could have sworn this dude was played by Michael Jai White with a unicorn mohawk but imdb tells me I'm mistaken.

Then there's a great chick fight between Evil Singer and Beautiful Thief. Thief can't fight for shit, so her strategy is to bounce around like Bugs Bunny imitating an old-timey pugilist, and when she accidentally lands a punch, she stops and does the not-even-trendy-at-the-time Arsenio Hall fist-pump in triumph. I know this shit sounds retarded, but somehow, it's endearing when she does it. Then she dumps a whole bunch of latex paint on the Evil Singer and lights her on fire. She burns for like two minutes and doesn't die, so when her boyfriend the First Officer finds her, she's all crispy and whimpering, and he's forced to stoically put her out of her misery. It's a hardcore death for a hardcore character.

The climax is back in the ballroom, where First Officer has hung Little Girl from the ceiling with a bomb strapped to her chest and the detonator on her foot, so if she touches the floor, she'll explode. This scene starts off with a nice quirk when Ex-Cop and Thief enter the ballroom and find First Officer playing a drum solo. And it looks like the actor can really play the drums, too. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Never trust a fucking drummer.

So then there's a good 15 minutes of vicious kung-fu before Ex-Cop pulls off one of the most complicated finishing moves ever. First Officer is holding Little Girl hostage, about to set off the bomb. In the exact instant that a drop of blood drips into his eye, making him blink, Ex-Cop pulls a steak knife out of his own leg and throws it underhand through the rope holding up Little Girl and into First Officer's throat, then catches her foot before the detonator hits the floor. Then the movie's over, with no other survivors in sight and no explanation for that goddamn uranium.

Red Wolf is a great fucking movie. If you like your bloodthirsty action tempered with moments of transcendental weirdness, you should check it. Also, if you like that kind of thing, you sound pretty cool. We should hang out some time and watch some movies.

P.S. I have no idea why it's called Red Wolf. Maybe it's the name of the ship or something.

My Father Is A Hero

A lot of kung-fu heads will probably call blasphemy on me for this shit, but I have to say it: I don't really like the old-school set-in-the-past type chopsocky all that much. I'm not saying it doesn't have its place, but I grew up on American action movies. If you're gonna have punching and kicking, why not throw in some machine guns and car chases, too? I can relate to it more, and it provides more opportunities for interesting props and locations. You can only see so many bamboo dumpling houses get busted up before you want to see some shattering glass.

That's why I prefer Jet Li's contemporary movies to his period epics. I mean, yeah, everybody knows Once Upon a Time in China is a classic, but when they're not fighting, it's boring as hell. Maybe it's more interesting to Chinese people, but I just don't care about all the annoying villagers who keep getting into trouble and making Wong Fei Hung save their stupid asses. It's tedious. And then there's that Swordsman crap that everybody's always going on about. With all the colored lights and people flying through the air on cables, that shit feels like Cirque Du Soleil. It's just not my thing, man. I like kung-fu that's more or less ground-based, so that when people do make incredible leaps, it's a big deal, rather than the status quo.

Which brings us to My Father Is A Hero (or, as it says onscreen, My Father Is Hero. Which he is, since the father in question is Jet Li, who played the title role in Hero many years later). Jet Li plays this shady dude in mainland China who smokes cigarettes and neglects his son, Johnny, who's an awesome little ass-kicking kung-fu expert, just like Jet Li used to be in real life. Jet's always getting into kickfights when he should be attending his son's kung-fu exhibitions, but his son loves him anyway. Then you find out that Jet is really a cop so deep undercover than he can't even tell his family about it, so they think he's really a criminal. Then the wife randomly coughs one day, so you know she's a goner. The only movie I've ever seen where someone coughing didn't mean that they were mortally ill was Inside Man, where Denzel coughs twice in the middle of his dialogue, then just excuses himself and continues talking. You know, like how sometimes people cough in real life and it doesn't mean they have TB. It's kind of the best part of the movie.

So anyway, even though his wife is dying at home, Jet takes this mission where he has to infiltrate this gang by helping this kindly criminal named G-Dog escape from jail and go on the run with him to Hong Kong. Personally, I think Jet should have let someone else take this assignment. It's not like he doesn't have a good excuse. His fucking wife is dying, for Christ's sake. Besides, it's not like he's saving the world with this shit. He's just trying to bust some gunrunners. Dude, Jet, you're a nice guy and all, but you have to get your priorities straight.

Let's talk about these gunrunners. The main one is always wearing sunglasses and white kid gloves. At first, I thought maybe later in the movie he was going to rip his face off and reveal that he was a Toon underneath, like maybe Bugs Bunny had gone bad. But that didn't happen. I guess he's just a germophobe who also happens to be sensitive to the light, like those kids from The Others. What a loser. All he needs now is an inhaler.

Then there's a whole shitload of plot and melodrama and whatnot, which is all pretty much ruined by the hilarious dubbing on my DVD (when a character gets some life-changing news, her response is, "That was great."). And there are a bunch of moments where I can't tell if the shit's that's happening is supposed to be weird or if it's just Chinese. Like when Johnny and his fat friend spell out Chinese words with ants. Weird? Or just Chinese? Or when the friend shows up at Johnny's house, hands him a paper bag, and says, "I brought you some bacon. Gotta go!" Is that a custom in China or is the fat friend supposed to be kind of wacky? If anybody can shed some light on this for me, I'd be appreciative.

So then there are two awesome action scenes. The first is at this restaurant that has a glass waterfall right in the middle of it that Jet can slide down while henchmen shoot out the glass with machine guns. Then somebody drives a car right into the restaurant and somebody explodes. Good stuff.

This is where Jet meets his dying wife's future replacement, Mommy II. She's a cop who's hot on his trail because she thinks he's a criminal, so she goes undercover with his family and bonds with his wife and son. Then the wife dies and gives her an envelope. This movie is all about people dying and giving each other envelopes. It happens like three or four times.

So now Mommy II and the kid are trying to find Jet, because now they both believe that he's a cop. And you can already see the shattered family unit being restored. I let it go in Red Wolf, but this time, I have to call bullshit. Jet Li, you were a terrible husband and you do not deserve to just jump right into a new relationship with this kung-fu lady cop. You need to spend some time alone to reconnect with your son and deal with your own issues of selfishness and secrecy before you are ready to fully commit yourself to another person.

Oh, but I forgot to mention that other awesome action scene. So the other kids at school have discovered that Johnny's dad is a criminal, so Johnny's got to kick all their asses. This is hands-down the best kid-fu ever. I know a lot of you are gonna be pulling for 3 Ninjas, but fuck 3 Ninjas. This kid is awesome. It's just like grown-up kung-fu, only smaller. He even kicks three dudes while in midair. I don't know about you, but I love watching kids get beat up in movies, so this was a real highlight for me.

So anyway, Johnny and Mommy II try to meet up with Jet, but then Johnny gets taken captive by the gang, who know that he's a cop's son but don't know that he's Jet's son. So Jet's gotta just sit there and pretend that he doesn't know the kid while the villain slams his face through a glass fucking table. Seriously, if nothing else, this is the only movie where an adorable little boy's face gets smashed through a sheet of glass. Call Guinness.

So Jet's solution is to choke the kid in front of everybody, knowing that Johnny knows "kung-fu breathing" and will survive. Imagine if this was an American movie. Can you picture, like, Matt Damn choking out a little kid in a movie, even if he was only pretending to kill him? How fucking awesome would that be? I want more kid-choking in movies. Dear Hollywood…

But the plan falls apart when Jet goes back to the garbage heap where they'd chucked his son's supposedly dead body and finds the gang waiting for him. The awesome part is that they've disguised themselves in garbage bags, so for a while, he's fighting the Attack of the Trashbag People. Then we've got various kinds of fu (sword-fu, fire extinguisher-fu, corpse-fu, etc.) on top of garbage trucks and inside your Standard-Issue Action Climax Warehouse Location. But the difference is, this time Jet and Johnny are working together as a team. This incredible adventure has brought them closer than ever before. It's too bad Mommy I couldn't be there.

(Another word about Mommy I. Before she died, she wrote a letter to Jet explaining that despite the fact that he's a terrible person who abandoned her on her deathbed because things got really hectic at work, she knew that he must have had a good reason for being such an asshole, even if she couldn't possibly imagine what it might be, being a girl and all. This is basically any patriarchal society's view of the perfect wife: Just shit out a kid and die, woman. I got things to do.)

Still, this last fight scene has the movie's most transcendentally ridiculous moment when Jet ties a rope to Johnny and swings him around on the end of it like a human yo-yo so he can kick motherfuckers. And he's really whipping him around, too, doing cool under-the-arm-and-around-the-back moves. A dude I was watching the movie with called this maneuver "kidchucks." Everybody's gonna want their own this Christmas.

In all honesty, though, Jet is still being a bad dad. I mean, it's great that he and his son have found an activity that they can share (ass-kicking), but is it really good parenting to let your kid fight a bunch of grown men with axes? I know the kid can handle himself, but shit could have very easily gone wrong, and then Jet would have to explain to his police captain why he let his 10-year-old son get killed in a kung-fu fight with international gunrunners. Not gonna look good on the report, in my opinion.

Anyway, this movie is probably a lot better than it might seem from this snarky-ass review. I really recommend it, in fact. It's got some excellent action, and the story brings up some interesting ideas, even if they're retarded. I'd imagine it would even be kind of tragic if it wasn't dubbed to sound like an episode of Voltron. But really, what you're going to remember is little Johnny learning to be a man by beating up other kids, going face-first through plate glass, and letting his father use him as a weapon. I don’t care what the title says: This little dude is the real hero.

Oh, and if this movie sounds familiar, you might have seen it under its American title, The Enforcer. Thank you, Dimension Home Video, for watering down the quirky flavor of Hong Kong cinema into something that sounds like a straight-to-video Dean Cain movie.