Maiden of Death trailer

Ok, this should have gone up in October month, when we had our Salute to Grindhouse month, but I was distracted by Sucker Punch [Look! Shiny, pretty things!] and getting the forum up. Anyway… Back when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made Grindhouse, they had a competition to make a fake trailer. The winner was Hobo with a Shotgun, which is now being made into a real movie, amd looks pretty damn cool – it’s Rutger Hauer, so what else can it be? But the other two finalists were both GWG-friendly. There’s The Dead Won’t Die, and below, Maiden of Death (perhaps a bit too polished to be “true” grindhouse). Maybe these will also follow in due course? All are pretty much Not Safe For Work, folks, in case you hadn’t guessed!

Virgins From Hell

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“Not as good as the trailer. Then again, how could it be?”

Let’s start with that trailer, shall we?

Like I said: no way it could live up to that, and I must confess, my consciousness was being sorely troubled by the end. It’s about two sisters (Beatrice and Farida), who watch the gang of the evil, if nattily-dressed Mr. Tiger (Zulkarnaen) kill their parents and vow to take revenge, recruiting a bunch of like-hotpanted colleague to assist. Unfortunately, the attempt goes badly, and they end up in Tiger’s dungeon, subjected to various indignities, such as being stuffed into a sack with a peeved mongoose, or tied to a spit and roasted. They eventually bust out, with the help of their captor’s pet chemist, Larry (Capri), who has been tasked with producing large volumes of an aphrodisiac, from which Tiger can profit. It all climaxes in a massive battle between the gang and…the other gang.

Let’s be clear: most of the entertainment to be found in this, is strictly of the “so bad it’s fun” variety. For instance, we perpetually found ourselves in Evil Overlord mode, i.e. “If ever I become an evil overlord, I will ensure my compound is not dotted with large, explosive barrels, clearly marked DANGER.” The lameness of this is often amusing, such as the complete aversion to nudity, an obvious product of its origins – the heroines even take baths with their clothes on. Other elements are just bizarre, if educational: it appears, if you get shot, you can jam a live snake into the wound and it will come out holding the bullet in its teeth.

Great as this may sound, the novelty and appeal do evaporate steadily, with the cheapjack production values, non-existent characterization and idiotic plotlines eventually more outstaying their welcome, even for a fan of badfilm like me. The highpoint is likely the gratuitous appearance of a musak cover of Nights in White Satin. It will have Justin Heyward on speed-dial to his agent, and you’re likely better off watching the trailer again.

Dir: Ackyl Anwari
Star: Enny Beatrice, Yenny Farida, Harry Capri, Dicky Zulkarnaen

Operation Pussycat

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“Superfluous if harmless remake, smaller in every way than Russ Meyer’s original.”

Faster, Pussycat is one of the icons of the action heroine genre, literally entire decades ahead of its time. This Japanese version uses a lot of the same elements, starting with a trio of go-go girls on the lam, under their macho leader. They stumble across a wheelchair-bound man and his muscular if taciturn companion, who appears to be stashing a large sum of money somewhere on the premises. If only they could find it… There’s also an innocent who gets entangled in the web of deceit and counter-deceit – in the original, it was because she witnessed them kill her boyfriend, while in this case, it’s after she apparently witnesses the three beat up a policeman, who stopped them for speeding, and discovered the dead body stashed in the back of their pick-up truck.

The main problem is likely anyone trying to step into the shoes – make that, boots – of Tura Satana. It’s probably a lost cause for anyone, trying to capture the complete commitment of Satana, who took the role by the scruff of the neck and shook it, like a Rottweiler mauling a rag-doll. It’s this which was largely responsible for lifting the original to its heady, dizzying heights. Much as Mizutani gives her all, in the parallel role of “Harry”, she’s inevitably going to come up short, and the film never reaches the same heights as a result. The dialog in the original was another highlight, cheesily fragrant like the ripest cheddar, and while it may be the translation at fault, none of the lines here stick in the mind the same way.

That said, while a pale imitation, this is still fun enough on its own terms, and was clearly made with a lot of love for the original, which I can only respect. At a mere 43 minutes, it gallops along at a brisk pace, and the areas where it diverts most sharply from Faster – particularly the end – were interesting and offered scope for future development. All told, while there’s really no point to this, that isn’t enough to condemn it, and if treated as a homage to Meyer, it’s a pleasant, if brief, diversion.

Dir: Ryuichi Honda
Star: Kei Mizutani, Nao Eguchi, Yukari Fukawa, Eguchi Nao

Assault Girls

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“20 minutes of acceptable entertainment gets stretched very thinly.”

A loosely-related sequel to Oshii’s last live-action film, Avalon, this is similarly set in a VR world, and muses on the relationship between real life and game life. This one is a lot less populated; there are only four people in it, roaming a desert landscape, with the targets being giant sandworms (think Dune) and the “boss” Madara, the mother of all sandworms, whom the game helpfully informs contestants, cannot be killed single-handed. The four get together to launch an attack on it, having agreed to split the game reward equally. Is that quite how things are going to turn out?

That’s it, plotwise: describing the story as “slight” would be an insult to slight things. Opening with a burst of the most pretentiously incomprehensible voice-over in cinema history, this is only 70 minutes long, but still manages to outstay its welcome. This is mostly due to horrendous pacing; we watch one character do nothing but sit and fry breakfast for several minutes, while there’s an interminable sequence in the middle, where the characters trudge around the game landscape and stare at a snail. I get the point: these are archetypes depicting different styles of game player. No, really: I get the point. Move on. Please. I was ready to gnaw off a limb to escape, by the time that ended. Matters are not helped by the characters largely speaking English, apparently phonetically, and without much grasp of meaning. I’m pretty sure I’d not win any Oscars performing in Japanese, and while one admires the effort, couldn’t Oshii have found actors with some ability in English as a second language?

Things do perk up in the final act, when Jager (Fujiki, the only male) and Gray (Kuroki), have a battle over how the spoils will be divided. She kicks his ass, to his increasing annoyance. And I certainly appreciated the visual style here, which is easily the best component on view. This, along with the potential in the idea, saves it from being a total waste of your time, and I would not be completely averse to a further installment. Just as long as someone else writes the script.

Dir: Mamoru Oshii
Star: Meisa Kuroki, Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Rinko Kikuchi, Hinako Saeki

Silver

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“It’s not precious, and has very little mettle.”

Miike has provided some of our favorite Japanese films of all-time, including Audition, Ichi the Killer and The Bird People of China, but this entry in his prolific output has to count as a misfire, being nowhere near as interesting as it sounds. Heroine Jun (Sakuraba) is abroad when her entire family is killed by Yakuza: three years later, after working as an FBI agent (!) and continuing her karate education, she returns home, to track down those responsible. She does this by going undercover in a pro wrestling promotion (!!), on the basis they can tour the country without suspicion, letting her investigate as her wrestling alter-ego, Silver. However, she’s not the only one on the hunt, with a dart-using assassin contracted to stop Jun.

Let me repeat, however: nowhere near as interesting as it sounds. Initially, this starts off looking like it is going to be a Japanese version of those Santo movies (wrestler by day, crime-fighter by night), and it’s nice to see real wrestlers, like Shinobu Kandori. However, that angle is completely ignored, as if Miike got bored and drifted of. Instead, Jun heads into the seamier side of the Japanese underground, taking on a dominatrix and her slave, leading to a series of scenes which certainly have the Miike twisted sensibility. This is not necessarily a good thing, however; unless you’re into S&M, they far outstay their welcome, as does the tedious, soft-core (and pretty un-Miikeesque) sex sequence between Jun and her handler. As the film progresses, the main thing keeping it afloat is simply to see how weird it’s going to get, after the forced urine-drinking and someone getting their (digitized) dick smacked with a paddle.

Matters are not helped by the vague, nondescript ending, which clearly indicates this was supposed to be the first in a series. That no second installment ever materialized, even given the low cost of producing this, indicates that even the Japanese were uninterested. Given the huge volume of Miike’s work – at time of writing, the IMDB has 83 directorial credits for him – I suppose it’s no surprise some, like this, will be uninteresting at best.

Dir: Takashi Miike
Star: Atsuko Sakuraba, Kenji Haga, Rumi Kazama, Hisao Maki

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adele Blanc-Sec

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“Indianette Jones and the mummy’s tomb.”

Good to see Besson back in the director’s chair. Outside of the kids’ Arthur series, the only movie he personally helmed in the 2000’s was Angel-A, but Besson has been delivering action heroines for 20 years. Most obviously with the hugely-influential Nikita, but also in The Messenger and, to some extent The Fifth Element and Leon. Here, he goes back to just before the first World War, where journalist Adèle Blanc-Sec (Bourgoin) is kinda like a proto-Lara, whizzing around the globe in search of adventure. She heads to Egypt to grab the mummy belonging to Ramses’s physician: she’s been working with Prof. Ménard (Nahon), who has discovered how to bring the dead back to life, and wants to use the arcane knowledge the mummy possesses to help her sister, who has been in a coma for five years. But Ménard, unwilling to wait, tests his powers on a prehistoric egg: the resulting pterodactyl escapes from the museum where it is housed, and terrorizes Paris. Detective Caponi (Lellouche) is on that case…

This is a light, frothy confection of a film, that cheerfully whizzes around, and is clearly not to be taken seriously. Witness the scene where Adèle attempts to ride the pterodactyl off to death row, where Ménard has been sent, after being deemed responsible for the beast’s carnage. “It can’t be more complicated than a camel,” mutters our heroine, and one senses some of the Gallic humour may have been lost in translation. What’s left to enjoy are the broader strokes: caricatures like a moustachioed detectives or a big-game hunter, a beautifully-constructed recreation of the period and a heroine who is decades ahead of her time. Adèle is supremely self-confident, feisty and unstoppable, and former weather-girl Bourgoin makes you really root for her. Oddly, the highlight is perhaps a tennis match with her sister, that is simultaneously funny (it starts as a traditional 1910 women’s tennis match and ends up…not), tells us about Adèle, and terribly tragic.

More of that would have been welcome, as the film is too breezy for its own good, with none of the other scenes packing any emotional wallop heavier than a feather pillow. That’s a shame, as Besson has shown himself more than capable of that – maybe all those kids’ films have softened him? As a result, what you have here is something that’s a cinematic crêpe: sweet and tasty, undeniably pleasant to eat, yet not the slightest bit filling.

Dir: Luc Besson
Star: Louise Bourgoin, Gilles Lellouche, Philippe Nahon, Nicholas Giraud