Friday, January 15, 2016

029. Deadly Duo and 030. Weapons of Death

Jump to Weapons of Death (1981)

029. Deadly Duo aka Shuang xia (1971)
Director: Cheh Chang
Writer: Kuang Ni
From: Cult Cinema

Rebels supporting the deposed Sung Dynasty are attacked and poisoned while transporting a list of their allies. The only person who can cure the poisoned messenger is reluctant to return to the rebels' village because he's decided to turn his back on violence. Only the violent forces arrayed against him may not be willing to let him leave.

I actually have no idea what this movie is about, that opening summary is mostly a lie. I think that's what the story is, but the IMDB description refers to situations I don't recognize from the movie. Maybe they're there, but they eluded me. The bad dub may be responsible for the confusion, I couldn't say, but all that's irrelevant.

This is big goofy fun.

We open on two groups of fighters meeting on a hilltop to fight over a list of rebels. Who are the good guys? No clue, but they fight, the group that initially had the list regains the list, but then run into the boss of the other gang who poisons their leader. The leader hides the list in a tree before escaping to an ally who squirrels him away.

Word gets to a band of rebels that their leader is poisoned and the only person who can cure him is their old friend who is due to meet them in an inn. He arrives with his new fiancée and says he's not going back to the village and that whatever happened to their leader, he'll get over. He's already fought off a group of thugs on his way to the inn and now he must fight his friends. They kidnap his fiancée, as any friends would, and say he has to come to the village if he wants her back. Of course he leaves.

Then the warrior in the bedzzled robe shows up.

See what I'm dealing with here? This is all gibberish and it's only the first ten minutes.

The movie continues in this fashion largely being extended fight scenes punctuated by moments of plot. The plot points don't add up or make any sense, the main character basically dies and the last third is about two of the other characters, and then there's a conclusion that is a domino-series of “I was betraying you!”
“Ah, but I foresaw your betrayal and thus you are betrayed!”
“As I knew you would and so I have betrayed your betrayal of my betrayal!”

It's just nuts. Terrible dub, hilarious sound effects, and constant fight scenes that don't add up to anything but look pretty all right. Absolute recommend for a bad movie night.

030. Weapons of Death (1981)
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Writer: Paul Kyriazi
From: Cult Cinema

The Chinese mafia hires Bishop to kidnap Angela, the daughter of a dojo that refuses to pay protection money, only Bishop has a personal reason for taking this job. As Angela's family races to pay the ransom in time, Bishop and his thugs plan on turning the situation to their own advantage.

Bit of an odd duck. I've see the director's “lost” unreleased film Ninja Busters which is a screwball comedy mixed with a karate training flick, and it works. It's very 80's and not perfect, but is a work of competently constructed silliness. This movie has a much more earnest tone.

There is hope at the beginning of a film being made with its tongue firmly in cheek. The opening scene is Carter, a down-on-his-luck alcoholic trying to drink unattended beers in a divey bar. A naked woman is dancing on a makeshift stage so within the first minute of the movie we've got titties. The film could go two ways: be a goofy 80's R-rated action comedy or a borderline exploitation film that can get a bit uncomfortable.

Unfortunately we end up with the latter. In fact, “unfortunately we end up with the latter” is the leitmotif of the movie.

People start beating up Carter, Bishop comes in and we get a bar fight that's several muscly guys throwing each other around, which is pretty good. Kyriazi's movies walk just the right line between slick and inept. Like I said with Ninja Busters, he's competent. So all the action sequences in the movie are pretty well imagined, shot so you can see things happen, but done by people who aren't seasoned professionals so there's still an edge of physicality and reality to everything. There's a sequence later in the movie where a motorcycle blows up shortly after the rider is knocked off it and it feels like he only just got out of the way in time. It's not that I'm sitting here salivating hoping someone gets hurt, it's that this energy gives the scenes a weight they wouldn't otherwise have. Since there's literally no blood in this movie, that added weight is essential to making the action scenes feel like they have stakes.

Anyway, Bishop recruits Carter for the job, Carter figures out that Bishop wants to kidnap the girl to get a chance to kill her father, but it's too late for Carter to bow out. They kidnap the girl but get a flat tire while transporting her to the Chinese mafia. She escapes and the thugs split up to find her.

Meanwhile, the dojo head has called her ex-husband, Angela's father, and recruited him to help bring her back. He's an annoying prick with a pencil mustache that looks like an anchovy got stuck to his upper lip. His step-sons hate him and don't want him coming on the mission and he calls Joshua, the only black member of the rescue team, “boy.”

You see how I was initially framing the story in terms of what Carter does and then switch to Angela's father? That's not accidental because the film faces this same choice—is it going to be about Carter or the father? “Unfortunately we end up with the latter.”

Angela escapes but is captured by a biker gang who plan to gang rape her. So, yeah. Carter shows up and just lays waste to the gang. Rather than return Angela to Bishop, though, he makes a deal to protect her and get her back home. After defeating a group from the mafia, he sends her on alone to try to convince Bishop that he hadn't found her.

From there Angela is captured again, the step-father reveals that he left because Bishop broke into the dojo years before and raped Angela's mother so Angela is actually Bishop's daughter. The step-father couldn't handle that, so he left. And he calls the black guy “boy” again. Winner.

Then the showdown with the bad guys that runs pretty long and, as I said before, is competently planned and shot and has all the plot points resolved.

It's not that this is a bad movie, it's just that it hits those uncomfortable moments that haven't aged well. Invoking the threat of rape by a biker gang as an aside, as flavor text for your movie, sets off alarm bells. Then to have it come up again as the reason the father left the family suggests a cavalierness about the subject I can't get behind. It feels too much like something they threw in to show how edgy and serious their villains were as opposed to something that's part of the plot and essential to the story. Likewise the racism. When the hero—the goddamn hero—calls Joshua “boy,” Joshua calls the father out on it only to be told, “Yeah, we'll see.” Then he does it again. The hero, not the villains. Hell, Carter is black and none of the thugs say a thing about it. No, the hero drops the slur and, to just make the optics worse, Joshua's weapon of choice is a spear.

Just, no okay? Let's just not do that.

There's also the disappointment of not seeing Carter's movie. Not only is he the most interesting character—an alcoholic criminal whose addiction is forcing him to return to a crime he wasn't okay with in the first place deciding to turn against his psychopathic boss to do what's right—he's far and away the best actor in the movie. He even has a fantastic voice. But instead of his story, we get racist uncle anchovy lips.

I'm not inclined to dissuade anyone from seeing it or even recommending against it. The movie wasn't bad to watch and both the action sequences and stuff with Carter are pretty good. Likewise, there's a goofy low-budget charm that becomes its own form of entertainment. I don't think it's derailed by the uncomfortable 80's elements, but I can't talk about the movie without mentioning them.

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