The Golden Cane Warrior

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“I guess Golden Cane Training Montage wouldn’t be as marketable.”

Veteran martial arts guru Cempaka has been training her four students, the children of other gurus she defeated, for years. It’s time to pass on the ultimate move, and the titular artifact which goes with it. She selects Dara (Celia) as her heir, but before Cempaka can bestow the necessary knowledge, she is attacked by Biru (Rahadian) and Gerhana (Basro), two of the students passed over for Dara. In the ensuing fight, Cempaka is killed and the cane stolen by Biru. The injured Dara is found and nursed back to health by the mysterious Elang (Saputra), a man with a murky past and no shortage of his own skills. Biru and Gerhana frame Dara for the death of their mistress, and use the cane’s power to take over the local area. Can Dara track down the last living practitioner of the Golden Cane style, and learn the skills necessary to defeat her fellow students?

Indonesia seems to be an increasing source of action films of late, though this is both different in style from, and not as good as, The Raid. It trades contemporary grit for a more classic and historical approach. Not that there’s anything wrong with this approach, intrinsically. It’s just that if you aren’t bringing much new to the table, then to make an impression, you have to do what you do well enough to make an impression. This only succeeds sporadically, and is bogged down by a middle section that’s positively glacial in pace. From when Dara falls off a cliff at the end of her first duel with Biru and Gerhana, the action takes a back seat until the final rematch. Cue instead, the training montages and drama that falls well short of being… well, dramatic.

Fortunately, the action which bookends this troublesome section is not bad at all. Though, unfortunately, the editing style is a little less than traditional, and appears more informed by MTV than classical kung-fu. This makes it hard to tell exactly how skilled Celia and her friends are; at least it never descends into incoherence, and you can tell who’s doing what to whom. The fight between Dara and Gerhana is likely the highlight, the two women battling both outside and inside, throwing everything they can at each other.

Of course, you wonder why Dara doesn’t break out the Golden Cane move quicker. Logically, it’s a bit like having a machine gun in your back pocket, yet still deciding to fight your opponent with a stick first. Dramatically, it’s both essential, and in line with the tropes of the genre. To be fair, you will need to accept that this is a film content to follow well-trodden paths, rather than breaking any new ground of its own. Even allowing for this, while delivering a couple of memorable moments, it certainly does not come anywhere near justifying its 112-minute running-time.

Dir: Ifa Isfansyah
Star: Eva Celia, Nicholas Saputra, Reza Rahadian, Tara Basro

Guardian

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“A coherent plot. It’s vastly over-rated…”

How you react to a film isn’t always a logical exercise. I’m a great proponent of “guilty pleasure” films: movies that, by objective standards, are generally not very good, yet still manage to be, on one level or another, thoroughly entertaining. Barb Wire is one: as soon as you realize it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi version of Casablanca, it’s totally awesome. Add this Indonesian movie to the same pile: it contains many things which, on their own, I loathe; yet here, for whatever reason, the whole ends up being a great deal more entertaining that you’d expect from the sum of its woeful parts.

Let’s start with that plot. Which is certainly a great deal more than the film does. Seriously: it takes 50 minutes for anything approaching a meaningful plot element to show up. It opens with a man driving home, being ambushed and stabbed to death. His wife and young daughter find him. Fast-forward ten years, and some thugs attack the house with what may be the longest single burst of automatic weaponry in cinema history, followed up, for no particular reason, by two rounds from a rocket launcher. Cue mother Sarah (Diyose) and pouty teenage daughter Marsya (Camesi) going on the run: Mom has clearly been anticipating this for a while, and has a hideout, stash of weapons and martial arts training. Turns out, there are two factions at play here: the one seeking to kill the family is led by corrupt cop Captain Roy (Fernandez), while playing defense is Paquita (Carter, best known for her role in Falling Skies), who… Well, you will find out eventually. Just don’t hold your breath.

guardian2.jogFor before you reach that point, there follows alternating scenes of ludicrous excessive gun-battles, and Marsya whining “What’s going on? Make it stop? I said, WHAT’S GOING ON? I want an ice-cream!” [I may have imagined the last, I’m not sure] Normally, this kind of thing would be incredibly grating. But let’s face it, she’s basically echoing what the audience is thinking, so it’s okay.  Throw in Kardit’s style of action, which consists of jerking the camera back and forth while simultaneously zooming in and out, and you’ve got the recipe for a headache-inducing exercise, about as far from fellow Indonesian flick The Raid as possible [seriously, if you haven’t seen The Raid, go do so now. It’s the best action movie of the past decade. You can thank me later.].

And yet… If you can handle the fact that the ratio of bullets to reloading scenes is several hundred to one, cope with not knowing what the hell is going on for half the movie, and tolerate characters that are basically a procession of shallow genre tropes, you’ll have fun. Against the odds, I did: there’s at least four women here with no qualms about kicking ass in industrial quantities, and both Divose and Carter bring the necessary intensity to their roles [there’s one awesome shot where Paquita is chasing after a car on foot and is just screaming at it]. There’s a chunk at the end where all three leading ladies are simultaneously fighting for their lives, and that’s a good deal more progressive than you’d get to see in most Western films. For all its many, copious flaws, I was kept entertained – as much by the daft insanity on view, as in spite of it. In the right hands, this could have been awesome: Kardit clearly is not those hands, yet it’s still more fun than I expected.

Dir: Helfi Kardit
Star: Dominique Diyose, Belinda Camesi, Sarah Carter, Nino Fernandez

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

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

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