Gang of Women (Essabet el Nissae)

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“Turkish not-such-a-delight”

gangofwomen2Having enjoyed (albeit in a loose definition of the term, admittedly) Karate Girl, I figured I’d dip my toe again in to the world of the middle Eastern action heroine, with this promising-looking poster, which came out the year before. It may be Turkish. It may be Lebanese. It doesn’t matter much. Because it’s largely disappointing as a GWG film, though you probably haven’t seen anything like this before. Unless, that is, your normal viewing combines slapstick comedy, manic overacting and musical numbers that appear to have strayed in from a Quaalude-overdosed Bollywood film. The main point of interest is probably that there was a time when Beirut was less a war zone than the Monte Carlo of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The story, such as it is, focuses on Murad (Arkin, who could be played by Bruce Campbell if anyone ever does a Hollywood remake), a journalist under pressure from his editor to get some more exciting stories. Along with his fraidy-cat photographer, Fouad (Yasin), he visits a supposedly haunted house and they get a picture of an apparent spectral apparition. However, it turns out the house is actually the lair of an all-woman group of counterfeiters, whose cover is as nightclub entertainers, and the photo is now potentially incriminating evidence against them. Their boss sends a stream of minionettes to retrieve the picture and ensure they don’t get exposed, but Murad is also falling for Seham (Sabah), one of the singers for the group. Is she what she seems? And what of the mysterious, unseen “lady” who is in charge of the crime gang? Before all is revealed, there will be laughter, PG-13 rated stripteases, a cat-fight, pauses for the heroine to burst into song, and manly fisticuffs.

gangofwomenI will confess that I enjoyed this a little more than the 1.5 star rating above, which is based more on expectations and genre interest. I was looking for some sleek Eurospy nonsense, not comedy which would be rejected by the Carry on crew as unnecessarily broad. In the right mindset – which would have to be fairly undemanding – this could be entertaining nonsense, and as noted, is so “not Hollywood,” it should certainly have novelty value. I’ll admit, I did laugh when Fouad and Murad dressed up as women, to enter a health club for a rendezvous with one of the gang, simply because it’s so ludicrous: Arkin is the least-convincing lady you’ll ever see.

But it’s incredibly dated and localized, with aspects that would shame a local amateur dramatic society. Witness, for example, the cameo by Farid Shawki, an icon of Arabic cinema. He’s introduced by someone saying, “It’s OK, it’s Mr. Farid Shawki,” which is about as clunky as imaginable, and also patronizes the audience by thinking you have to tell them [it’d be like having Clint Eastwood in a Hollywood film, and introducing him with, “It’s OK, it’s Mr. Clint Eastwood”]  The musical numbers largely consist of Sabah lip-syncing while standing as still as a deer caught in headlights, which is about as enthralling as it sounds, and even for its time, what passes for the action sequences appear to have been made up on the spot, with whatever happened on the first take, making the final cut. Nice scenery (of the geographical as well as human kinds) can only take you so far.

Dir: Farouk Agrama
Star:  Cuneyt Arkin, Sabah, Ismail Yasin, Mayada

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