Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters

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“Interesting, only if you want a lesson on making a poor movie worse.”

After the excesses of Lady Terminator, I hoped for something equally as berserk here: instead, however, I got a reminder of why I sometimes hate Troma so much. Here, they took a fairly lame Indonesian movie (called, I believe, The Stabilizer) and handed it to the brother of head honcho Lloyd Kaufmann, who wrote a “funny” script and dubbed it: imagine What’s Up Tiger Lily with fart gags replacing all wit and humour. Here’s a sample: they make the hero an Elvis impersonator. Oh, hold my sides, for I fear they may split with laughter…not.

Fortunately, the DVD offers the option of the original soundtrack which is, at least, slightly less grating. The main plot there concerns a judo champion (Arnaz), lured into working for a criminal syndicate that stages dreadful women’s wrestling matches on the side. Her trainer (Prima) is actually a good guy, and together, they struggle to bring down the villains. There’s a lot else going on (the heroine’s kid brother desperately needs an operation), but it’s of no interest. Indeed, even the main plot is lame, and while the martial arts battles are okay, any entertainment value is more than negated by the horrible wrestling, which make WEW look like the golden era of All Japan Women.

I admit, I did laugh at the mud fight, which replaces Barbarian Queen 2 as the most gratuitous ever – one second our heroines are jogging along a road, the next… Otherwise, though, it’s easy to see why Troma opted to dub it, even if the end result stinks worse than week-old diapers. Why they bought it in the first place, however, remains a mystery.

Dir: Jopi Burnama
Star: Eva Arnaz, Barry Prima, Ruth Pelupessi, Youstine Rais

Rumble Roses

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“Let’s Get Ready to Rumble…”

This is our first ever video game review on gwg.org, and just so you know I’m not making any of this up, here’s a synopsis of the storyline for this one, taken from IGN.com: “A sick and twisted half-naked scientist has decided to dress up like a nurse and hold an international wrestling tournament for the world’s greatest female grapplers. Once the women have entered, the evil doctor then takes samples of their DNA so that she can create a cyborg super-soldier to do her bidding for some unknown purpose. In the meantime, the mad puppeteer has also decided to brainwash all the contestants she’s met by turning them into an army of trashy, leglock-giving bad girls with skirts so short they should be called Smurfs.”

On the off-chance that you are not already whizzing out the door to your nearest electronics store to obtain this title, I’ll tell you more, but first a little background. I’m not a great computer game player, having completed precisely three in my life (Zork, Doom and Tomb Raider), but Chris bought me this for Christmas [how I love my wife!], so naturally I felt morally obliged to play it… The basic concept is straight out of Game Cliche Academy; a bunch of characters with various motives, get together to beat the crap out of each other in a range of interesting ways. See also Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Dead or Alive, etc. etc. The key difference here that while most offer a token woman or two, here, every character is female, which may be a unique feature for a Western release [there was an AJW game for the Playstation, but it was Japan only]

It’s kinda hard to decide whether this is feminist or sexist. There’s no doubt that these are strong, independent women who can kick ass with the best of them. Yet they also wear outfits which would prove structurally unfeasible in real life, and you could say the same thing about physical attributes resembling a multiple Zeppelin pile-up. Then there’s “mud mode” (left), which is exactly what it sounds like. Of course, this cheesecake aspect is far from unheard of: Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball took the female characters from the beat-em-up game and put them in swimsuits to play volleyball against each other. Yet, its roleplaying aspects made that one a favourite with our teenage daughter as much as our son. That’s unlikely here, shall we say.

On the other hand, the in-ring battles are still a step or two more credible than anything I’ve seen out of a regular all-woman federation in the US [I did enjoy the Heatwave show staged by IZW here in Phoenix, which was a one-off event], and approximately ten miles ahead of the farce that passes for woman’s wrestling in the WWE these days. Admittedly, in terms of personality, they’re from the shallow end of the character pool – teacher, nurse, punk rock chick, etc – but again, this compares not unfavourably with the sole flavour, Silicone Slut, available in the WWE.

My playing-style is your average button-masher, but it took me only an hour or so to beat the game with my first character – there are ten to choose from at the beginning, and playing through story mode in each one unlocks their alter-ego. Play through all 20, and you can be the bosses too, but be warned: the voice acting is horrible, and the storylines positively wince-inducing. In addition, you can play straightforward exhibition matches, and carrying out certain tasks, known as “vows” e.g. winning inside three minutes, can cause characters to switch from good to bad versions too. A problem here seems to be that you can’t have both alignments active simultaneously, so you’re not able to have Reiko Hinomoto (nice) take on Rowdy Reiko (naughty).

The controls are similar for all the characters, but they have different move sets, so that adds variety. Personally, I sorely wanted a practice mode (like Dead or Alive, for example); as is, the only way to learn is in actual matches, hardly the best way. I remain clueless about blocking attacks, but muddled through, despite some annoying occasions where my AI opponent seemed to perform a lengthy string of attacks that I could do nothing to counter. On offense, successful moves gradually fill up your meter (the yellow bar at the top); each completion gives you the chance to perform a lethal attack. Computer-controlled fighters tend not to use it immediately; don’t make that mistake, as a lethality, followed up if necessary by a pin attempt, is a good way to win.

The graphics kick ass. An awful lot of polygons (I believe around 10,000!) go into each character, with detailed hair, costumes, tattoos, backgrounds and other refinements that look good even on the biggest TV set. However, when the wrestlers run, it sometimes doesn’t work at all. The music is pretty lame J-Pop, so you’ll probably rapidly find yourself turning off the entrance videos too. On the down side, as well as practice mode, we could have used tag matches, survival mode, create-a-character, a bigger range of locations… The options present here are pretty sparse, though in gaming I suppose it’s usually better not to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Still, with all the different characters, there would certainly be plenty to keep the dedicated completist playing. I’m not sure I’ll have quite the stamina to do that, and it’s more likely to be the kind of thing I pick up casually for half an hour. It is definitely a guys’ game – our aforementioned teenage daughter used the word “nasty” more than once while spectating – and contains enough elements to have Chris’s eyes rolling, such as the mud and gallery mode. But as a crass, shallow, mildly guilty pleasure, it’s great, and despite some obvious short-comings with the story and lack of variety, as a wrestling game, it’s actually pretty good. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I must go ice down my thumbs.

Dist: Konami
Platform: Playstation 2

Lady Terminator

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“She came from the past, to destroy your future. Or something like that.”

Watching the unstoppable female killing machine in this 1988 Indonesian film might make Terminator 3 seem less original – except most of the concept here, as well as entire scenes and exact lines of dialogue, come directly from the original Terminator. There are admittedly twists, such as the incorporation of local folklore figure, the Queen of the South Seas. She gets miffed at her lover, and vows vengeance on his descendants. A century later, a scuba-diving anthropologist (who reminds us with lines like, “I’m not a lady, I’m an anthropologist”), gets possessed, and goes after a great-granddaughter (Rademaker).

However, it’s amazing how close 80% of this is, as said unstoppable female killing machine (Constable) runs amok, with no concern for collateral damage and apparently infinite ammo. Heroine defended by macho human (Hart)? Check. Assault on a cop station? Check? Impromptu eyeball surgery and “Come with me if you want to live”? Check x 2. Admittedly, Arnie never bit anyone’s dick off with his vagina, and most of the special effects here are primitive, to say the least. Hence, the rating above is a composite: fans of wacky, weird cinema will love it, those expecting sophistication or polish will hate it, and there’s not likely to be much middle ground.

Mondo Macabro’s DVD does full justice to the film, with a good-quality print, an amazing trailer (under its alternate title, Nasty Hunter) and background info including a fine 25-minute documentary on the region’s exploitation films. Having reviewed Indo-“classic”, Special Silencers in 1991, it’s nice to see the rest of the world catching up, and appreciating the delights – take that how you want – of Indonesian cinema. Though given recent events, the footage of huge waves crashing on the shore is perhaps the most horrific thing in the whole endeavour.

Dir: Jalil Jackson
Star: Barbara Anne Constable, Claudia Rademaker, Christopher J. Hart

Elektra

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“Sai It Ain’t So…”

True story. A friend of ours has a job as an intern in Los Angeles, and coming round the corner at work one day, he literally bumped into Jennifer Garner. He immediately started apologising profusely (he’s an uber-nice kid, who wouldn’t say “Boo!” to a fly) but she wouldn’t have any of it and began cursing him out in the nastiest of ways. Garner finally stalked off, while he continued to apologise – just before vanishing, she turned round and gave him the finger. So now we know: Jennifer Garner = bitch.

Despite this, it gives me no real pleasure to report on the failings of Elektra. It was a pleasant surprise, and says a fair bit about Daredevil, that the studio chose to pursue her character as a spinoff, rather than following up with a sequel. I hoped that they’d do a good job, capturing the dark passions and conflicts of the character, whose incarnation in works like Frank Miller’s Elektra: Assassin is truly memorable. [Interestingly, the screening was preceded by a trailer for another Miller adaptation, Sin City, which looks at least stylistically accurate] Unfortunately, what we have here is another shallow dumbing-down, offering little more than another straightforward good vs. evil battle.

The first issue is, of course, that Elektra died in Daredevil. No problem: we have a Yoda-like character, Stick (Terence Stamp), who can bring characters back from the grave. Yet this causes more problems than it solves: sure, Elektra’s back, but now, death, where is thy sting? Any threat to life is now no more inconvenient than in a video game: press X to continue. Anyway, after getting booted from Stick’s training camp in her second life, Elektra becomes a freelance assassin. However, when assigned to target a father (Visnjic, who remains miraculously just stubbly throughout) and his 13-year old daughter, Abigail (Prout), she suddenly has second thoughts.

This is kinda fortunate, since the pair turn out to be lynchpins in a battle between good (Stick and his allies) and evil. The latter are a group called The Hand, led by villain Roshi (veteran Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, from Mortal Kombat), who sends his son Kirigi (Lee) and his interesting-ability acolytes after Elektra and her wards. They can do stuff like make their tattooes come to life, kill things with a touch, or withstand shotgun blasts. Poor Elektra is just very, very good with weapons, which comes across as rather weak in comparison.

The aim is clearly to put Elektra across as an emotionally-scarred individual, who connects with Abigail, seeing herself in the teenager, and has enough baggage for an entire convention of shrinks. However, all we get in terms of her psychology are some clumsy flashbacks and a touch of pointless OCD which feels like it strayed in from Monk. Even after her agent (Colin Cunningham) both offers the trio shelter, then bravely stays behind to give them time to escape, his sacrifices don’t merit the slightest subsequent mention. Superheroes: they’re just so damn ungrateful.

There is entertainment, mostly lurking in the background. A moment with impact sees Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), the girl with the poison touch, kiss Elektra; the pair fall to the ground surrounded by a shower of dying leaves. It feels almost like it could have been inspired by the work of Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers), and is at least less obviously stolen than the “House of Flying Bed-Sheets” battle later on. It’s also interesting to see Mark Houghton as a chief bodyguard in the opening scene: he made his debut against Yukari Oshima in The Outlaw Brothers, back in 1987.

The fight scenes are actually pretty good too, though the editing occasionally borders on the incoherent, and there just aren’t enough of them. What about Roshi? After sending out his son, he vanishes entirely from the picture, leaving the result disappointingly like a Bond film where 007 never gets to meet Blofeld, and is left dispatching minions instead. I guess they were perhaps hoping to save that confrontation for a sequel, but having just seen the first week’s box-office returns (Elektra took in several million dollars less than Catwoman), doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

┬áIn terms of quality, this is probably about the same as the recent version of The Punisher, and that started from a lower point, the comics adapted there being basically a hyperviolent revenge fantasy for teenage boys. Frank Miller’s work on Elektra was truly for mature readers – in both the sense that its intricacies require a sophisticated mind to unpick, and the intense nature of its images. Instead, we get this PG-13 rated Elektra, that simply rolls out the usual comic-book cliches without sufficient enthusiasm or invention. It’s polished until the surface positively gleams, but is just a thin layer of precious gold, over a heart of basest metal.

We should have guessed: January is a bad time to release an action movie, and Garner’s absence from publicity (allegedly due to a viral infection or “nerve damage” – though that’s actually what our intern friend suffered at her hands) was another warning-sign. So was the fact Daredevil wasn’t that good. Regardless, it doesn’t bode well for a year where adaptations of comic-books come thick and fast, with February’s Constantine next. And after the failure of Catwoman, it unfortunately seems to be strike two for big-budget action heroines.

Dir: Rob Bowman
Stars: Jennifer Garner, Will Yun Lee, Kirsten Prout, Goran Visnjic

Black Mama, White Mama

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“A P-movie: Prison, Philippines and Pam Grier.”

The biggest shock this has to offer is likely the opening credit, “based on an original story by Joseph Viola and…Jonathan Demme“. Yep, future-Oscar winner Demme, director of Silence of the Lambs, came up with this story, though if truth be told, it’s largely a ripoff of The Defiant Ones, which also had a black/white pair of prisoners escaping jail chained to each other. Here, it’s moved to the Philippines, where revolutionary Karen (Markov) and drug-lord moll Lee (Grier) are both wanted by their respective parties, albeit for entirely different reasons: Karen to help broker an arms deal, Lee because she stole forty grand. While being transported to the city, the two break free and head off across country, encountering nuns, drunk drivers, lecherous handymen and dogs – dressed in skimpy prison tunics, naturally…

Actually, if they’d stuck to this unwilling pair and their bickering, that gradually turns from animosity into mutual respect, the film would likely have been a damn sight better. You can see why Grier became a star, and Markov’s screen presence is almost equally obvious. However, the film instead diverts its energy into subplots involving the rebels or Ruben (Haig), a local slimeball who agrees to track the escapees. Both subplots seem more like excuses for bad T&A, largely involving ugly Phillippino actresses. Ditto the lengthy shower scene near the beginning – while our heroines are still in jail – though it shows the prison staff are equally as sexually frustrated as the inmates. Of course, it ends in a massive gunfight on a dock, between all interested parties. It’s cheap, campy and passes the time, albeit only just.

Dir: Eddie Romero
Star: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Sid Haig, Lynn Borden

Women’s Extreme Wrestling

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“Horrible. Makes you yearn for the subtlety and wit of GLOOW.”

In my collection, I have DVDs from six different American wrestling federations, plus others from Japan. This is, by far, the most tedious and badly-put together. There isn’t an aspect here that even reaches bearable: the wrestlers are almost without exception incompetent, the announcers are juvenile jerks, and the presentation is truly dreadful. Shot at WEW’s first two pay-per-views at Viking Hall, Philadelphia on February 22nd and April 6th, 2002, it is frankly a mystery how the company didn’t immediately fold. But rising from the remnants of GLOOW, it uses some of the same “talent” plus porn stars, and still seems to be offering its X-rated mix of sex and violence – though this DVD entirely lacks the nudity promised by the commentators, which has presumably been edited out. Really, all the naked female flesh in North America wouldn’t have helped this – the only thing that’s “extreme” is some bad language, and while I could be wrong, personally, there’s more to being extreme than a potty-mouth.

The number of blown spots and flubbed moves here is almost uncountable, and the live audience seemed severely unimpressed: applause was sporadic and outnumbered by chants of “You Fucked Up!”, a nostalgic throwback to ECW days that brought a smile to my face. But I digress. GI Ho, Laree and Weed have some skills. As for the rest, I think every single woman at our local federation, IZW, could use them to mop the floor. Time is short, so let us gloss rapidly over the two commentators, who have the combined mentality of a single 13-year old, and finish on the incoherent presentation. For example, a tables match manages to edit out the actual breaking of the tables entirely; disc four contains repeats of half the disc one matches; and you don’t even get to see who won the final bout, since the DVD ends in the middle of it! The 4-disc set may run 210 minutes, and seem good value for money, but don’t be fooled. Setting ten bucks on fire and ramming it down your own throat would be more entertaining.

Star: Alexis Laree, Amanda Storm, Tai ‘Killer Weed’, Psycho Bitch