Friday, October 23, 2015

005. Chase Step By Step and 006. Country Blue

Jump to Country Blue (1973)

005. Chase Step By Step aka Bu bu zhui zong (1982)
Director: Min-Hsiung Wu (as Yu Min Sheong)
Writer: Yang Hsiang
From: Cult Cinema

Two acrobatic fighters are dispatched from a circus troupe to escort a shipment of gold to a drought-stricken region. As word spreads of their travels, various bandits scheme to overwhelm them and steal the gold.

This movie has immediate strangeness to entertain. The characters' voices are all dubbed by British actors so while I'm watching people I expect to have the wrong voices, somehow they have the wrong wrong voices. On top of that, the dub itself feels sort of loose, like the voice actors were ad-libbing a little. It's not as extreme as the initial US dub of the anime Ghost Story, but it does explain why parodies of this genre had the vocal cadences they did.

As for the story, our two leads are a male and female team from a circus that's also a martial arts training ground. They set off together and, of course, there's immediate sexual tension. She doesn't want anything to do with him but gets very angry every time he flirts with another woman. His flirting inevitably lands them in a trap where he's been seduced by bandits. In her jealousy, the woman loses track of the gold, but, fear not, he thought ahead and had actually stored it away.

This dynamic is the bulk of the movie and it gets tired almost immediately. The film's a product of its time but it still feels like a tired trope. She's as good a fighter as he is—that's why she's on the trip—so the forced humor of their middle-school level interactions falls flat. The whole thing prevents them from being characters so the movie has to rely on its fight scenes for the entertainment.

Which is what this genre is supposed to do anyway, but generally the fights were boring. There's a nice one on stilts and an inventive tightrope walk sequence, but the movie's shot pretty poorly and, when it seems to get the angles right, the poor cropping and transfer does the rest of the work of killing the tension and excitement.

This is, by the way, a really poor transfer. Not only does the lazy pan & scan (featuring very little panning or scanning) kill this, the film periodically goes out of focus. True, there are a lot of close-up shots so you wouldn't see many hits land anyway, but there are also scenes with long-handled weapons, fights with people being flanked, and shots of people leaping through the air that suggest the original filmmakers did try to make full use of the entire screen.

From a camp perspective, there are two moments that are pretty entertaining: there is a nice long shot of a dummy being thrown from a cliff and, at 54 minutes the movie just cuts to a man with a sword through his body. No fight scene, no appearance of the man before, just—cut, dead, heroes moving on.

Despite a few peaks, the movie never really hits its stride, mostly because there's no internal clock. The heroes have to get to the region before the residents starve, but there's no sense of how long that would be, how long their trip is taking, or how the people are suffering due to the delays. On top of that, none of the villains ever rise to the level of being a big bad. Each one is just yet another in a series of pointless fights.

This isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but is mostly meh throughout. Fine enough for throwing on during a Sunday afternoon or redubbing with friends, but I wouldn't recommend it too far beyond that. Unfortunately, the forums list this as being under copyright.

006. County Blue (1973)
Director: Jack Conrad
Writers: Jack Conrad, William F. Conrad
From: Cult Cinema & Drive-In

Bobby has just gotten out of jail, but is chaffing at small-town country life. He goes on a crime spree with his girlfriend Ruthie, but the law is starting to catch up with them.

From the start you know you're in for something. The film is written, directed, produced, edited by, and starring John Conrad. No wonder all these shots lasted so long. He did every bit of every one of them and each one was gold, Jerry, gold!

The opening shot is text telling it's a hot, humid day. Expository text superimposed on characters and giving us their background and relation to each other continues through the opening sequence because none of that can be communicated through story or acting.

Bobby, fresh out of jail, comes to the race track where J. J., the man who raised him, is hanging out doing spot repairs on various cars. Ruthie, Bobby's girlfriend and J. J.'s daughter is there as well. They chat a bit over the noise of race cars saying. . . something, when Bobby throws a beer at the sheriff. The sheriff comes over and knocks Bobby out. Cut to an aerial shot of the race track, the title sequence, and the titular theme song (+2 points for titular theme song)

Within two days of being out of jail, Bobby is tired of small-town Southern life. He decides to rob the bank in the next town over which has the most amiable hold-up victims ever. I mean they're downright sociable. They don't get as much money as they would like from the bank, but leave to celebrate anyway. While traveling, Bobby holds up a gas station they visit—just because—and picks up a newspaper with an article about the robbery and how the bank manager tricked them out of stealing more money. So they return, steal all the money, and are now on the run from the law in earnest.

I couldn't stop thinking about Bobby being Ricky from Trailer Park Boys. He's relentlessly stupid, always scheming about his next big score, and hooking up with his girlfriend who's married to a guy he doesn't like, which makes taking the movie seriously a little difficult. The movie starts out relatively light—Bobby's stupid, J. J. is ad-libbing throughout, and they work at a scrapyard with a pet monkey. Then it turns into this grim Bonney & Clyde thing that doesn't make sense, especially since Bobby keeps coming back to J. J.'s place after screwing up the various robberies.

Eventually Bobby and Ruthie get arrested and the movie enters its grindhouse portion with their friend Arneda showing up to break them out in a massive gun fight. The sheriff chases them but goes over a cliff and explodes (for no reason) and they're all driving off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Until Bobby takes a wrong turn and drives off a cliff into a lake where Ruthie and Arneda drown.

This still isn't the end though! He goes back to J. J., who is really sanguine about Bobby killing his daughter, and borrows yet another car to go off and start his life anew, except a police car starts following him into the final shot.

This movie is just exhausting. The characters aren't sympathetic, it's trying to be serious when it's drastically silly, and it has no pacing whatsoever. I don't recommend it mostly because there's nothing to grab on to—the character parts don't pan out and the action parts are entertaining mostly for how from out-of-nowhere they are. It's just that they're not worth the time it takes to get to them.

There's a copyright logo for 1973 on this movie and I have no reason to doubt its validity.

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