Saturday, 14 April 2012

Them's fighting words!

Today is my birthday. I'm going to spend the night the best way I know how: at Night Visions Festival, enjoying a full night filled with horror, oddities and hilariously goofy old movies. But I'd also like to spread the cheer. After all, this blog recently topped 50,000 viewers so I figure I owe my loyal readers a treat (feel free to thank me in the comments). I'll take a page from Chris Sims and present several of the rootinest, tootinest, fightinest films known to man! If this doesn't grow hair to your bathing suit area, nothing will. Let's party for our right to fight!

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (Lik Wong, 1991)
Director: Ngai Kai Lam

I like my fight scenes like I like my stake: RAW and with an obscene amount of killings. That is also why probably my favorite splatter film is this gloriously over-the-top Japanese manga-based prison flick. The titular Ricky is certainly a kind of a superhero – of beating people until there's nothing more than a pile of bloody goo! The super-powered youngster is sent to the big house for killing a crime boss responsible for the death of his girlfriend. Ricky always stands up for the down-trodden, the persecuted and the weak, and thus sets out to clean out the corruption and the gangs from the joint. Thus, his chief rivals are the joint's sadistic warden and The Gang of Four, a fearsome crime boss ring, each of which controls one wing of the prison.

Unlike other films listed on this post, Riki-Oh is clearly meant to be funny. But it does it so violently and with such an over-the-top mentality that one can't help but to love it. The film clearly has a comic book sensibility, and it tops the ante with each subsequent action scene. It's even just the right length so that when you feel that you're finally getting tired of the gore, the film ends.

Plenty of Japanese flicks (many made by the company Sushi Typhoon) have tried to imitate its madcap charm, but none have succeeded. It helps a lot that all the gore scenes in this are practical effects as opposed to computer-generated blood. Thus, stomachs get blown open, jaws disengaged, organs fall into meat grinders and heads explode a plenty. There still didn't seem to be enough in the effects budget to make a convincing dummy girlfriend to throw off the roof. And there are also other ridiculous scenes such as Ricky practicing with his sensei by punching through gravestones he's throwing at him. Or the downright nasty scene where Ricky is buried alive. Or, or...

If films like Evil Dead 2 and Braindead are your thing, you owe it to yourself to check Riki-Oh. It should be just as big as a splatter cult classic. It does have friends in high places, though, as director Edgar Wright has admitted loving the film.


Avenging Force (1986)
Director: Sam Firstenberg

American Ninja mastermind Sam Firstenberg reunites with his star Michael Dudikoff for this dumb-as-a-rock action flick. Dudikoff plays the ex-secret service man Matt Hunter (a great character name, by the way), who arrives to New Orleans to help his friend Larry Richards (Steve James) run for governor. But since Richards is both black and a democrat, he's also the target for the secret Nazi Illuminati called The Pentangle. Hunter attempts his best to keep Richards and his family alive from the hit attempts and hides them in his grandfather's farm where he lives with his sister Sarah. But The Pentangle can receive information of their whereabouts with their connections and do a major strike. Hunter soon becomes the hunted, but he's also going to make sure The Pentangle never hurts anyone any more.

The plot mashes it's perfectly serviceable espionage plot to a mind-bogglingly stupid manhunt plot. The Pentangle like to dispose of their victims by hunting them like animals through a large swampland area. The end fights there are what really make the film memorable. Hunter takes care of each Pentangle member in a hand-to-hand combat. The shirtless Dudikoff wrestling with various burly men (one of which is dressed like a gimp) in the mud is astonishingly homoerotic. In particular, Hunter likes to lock his enemies to the ground with his thighs, and penetrate them with a knife or some other phallic object. Each villain also has a orgasmic last gasp that Vernon Wells would see as a bit overdoing it. The film's uneasy sexuality also doesn't end there. Hunter has a bit too much affection to his 10-year-old sister. When The Pentangle's top members kidnap her, they threaten to take her virginity (!). She's later found among transvestite hookers in the red light district. Firstenberg doesn't strain himself much, and gleefully burns likeable characters to death and executes children. The end result is very special 80's cheese, and another evidence that Firstenberg is the man to go to when you want some so-bad-they-are-excellent action films.

The entire film is currently on YouTube, if you want to watch it.

★ or ★★★★★

Undefeatable (Cui hua kuang mo, 1993)
Director: Godfrey Ho

I'm not actually sure where this film is supposed to take place. It's in English, but the film crew is from Hong Kong. The American-seeming setting, however is some warped version of our reality, where every person, man and woman, is a musclebound martial arts expert. From the look of things, as well as the slowness of their thinking, it seems that steroids and other illegal substances seem to be legal in this world, too. And everyone is on drugs, all the time. The mafia, however, organizes illegal street brawls that the police are unable to stop. Kristi (Cynthia Rothrock) turns tricks at these fights to earn money. Hey, it beats being a crack whore.

Unbeknownst to her, Anna, the wife of the notorious underground fighter Stingray (Don Niam) leaves her abusive husband. This drives Stingray mad and into a frenzy. He starts a killing spree of kidnapping any women that come into his path and gouging out their eyes. If any men try to stop him, he beats them to a pulp. When Kristi's sister dies at the hands of this brutal mass murderer, it becomes personal. Kristi joins with detective Nick DiMarco (John Miller) to take down the killer – by any means necessary!

Undefeatable is a parade of hilariously awful acting, worse hair, mind-boggling stupidity and, in a word, insanity. But one can't say that there aren't a couple of nifty fight scenes in this. Hong Kong action director Ho knows how to make his actors do the splits. But he can't tell a story worth shit. In a Hong Kong-set film the context of the film's martial arts fighting would be right at home, but in an American film they feel really odd. It doesn't help (or rather, it does) that the film contains heaps of gore and brutal violence. It's more or less unexplained what makes Stingray so crazy as to kill people with his bear hands, other than misogynism and abandonment issues. Lucky for the viewers, most of the effects are cruddy and thus obscenely violent the murder scenes become quite funny as well.

The end fight of the film isn't the best choreographed in the film, but it is probably the most stupid, and definitely the most brutal. It's precisely because of clips like this why the film has gained new following from YouTube. Just don't spoil yourself if you intend to watch the loony film in its entirety.

★ or ★★★★★

Road House (1989)
Director: Rowdy Herrington

Easily the best-known of this post's films, Road House is a genuine cult classic about bouncers in a very seedy tavern somewhere in the midwest. Their leader, the New Yorker Jack Dalton (who incidentally shares his name with MacGyver's best friend) is played by the late, magnificent Patrick Swayze. And he's the toughest of the tough, cleaning the entire town when he was only assigned to clean up the local tavern The Double Deuce.

Dalton is an expert cooler, advising the other bouncers, and breaks up a number of violent bar fights before the property damage goes over $ 50,000. A lot of the fights are caused by the minions of local kingpin Brad Wesley (also the dearly departed Ben Gazzara), who has financial control over the town. When Dalton also becomes involved by his ex-girlfriend, the town's sexy female doctor "Doc" (Kelly Lynch), Wesley takes a personal vendetta to get rid of the man. But Dalton isn't one to be easily bullied, and as a student of philosophy, his conclusion is pain.

Road House would be memorable even from the odd table-turning of a film about bouncers turning into a modern western, where a stranger cleans up a corrupt city of criminals. The dialogue is deliciously foul-mouthed and the film's humor sexist and rowdy. But what really makes it a classic is Swayze's character. Always the philosopher, he delivers deadpan such incredible one-liners as "Pain don't hurt" or "Nobody ever wins a fight" (Both of which are rules he comes to break during the course of the movie). No wonder, he's been studying philosophy and that sort of shit. nevertheless, for all his zen approach, Dalton is basically just as vengeful and brutal as a Steven Seagal character when pushed too far.

The film is on this list because of the fight between Dalton and Wesley's right-hand man Jimmy (Marshall R. Teague). This is the scene where the film goes completely off the rails (although it had been odd before). First the homoerotic mouth-off, and finally the surprisingly brutal final blow, which would fit a low-budget splatter film better than a Hollywood high-concept movie. It's probably needless to say that this is one of my favorite films of all time.


Gymkata (1985)
Director: Robert Clouse

Last, but definitely not least we have the most Reaganist film ever created, and also one of the most awesomely 80's films. Someone had the bright idea to turn the Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas into an action hero, and thus the film sends him out to fight for truth, justice and the American way.

In what has got to be one of the stupidest film plots ever written, the US secret service contacts Olympic medalist Jonathan Cabot (Thomas), because they need to set up a Star Wars -space programme weapons satellite in the eastern European nation of Parmistan. The way Cabot could handle this is to win the age old The Game, in which the Parmistans compete against a flock of ninjas. Whoever wins, gets one wish granted by the King of Parmistan. The only problem is that no-one has survived The Game alive in 400 years. So, Cabot goes through a frivolous training to win. During the course, he falls in love with his martial arts instructor, the princess of Parmistan, Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani).

Needless to say, the satellite plot is dropped pretty soon, and the film mostly concerns Cabot trying to survive in the hostile country. There just being an American is enough of a reason for everyone to try to kill him, whether part of The Game or not. Fortunately, his gymnast skills combined with the martial arts training prove to be so deadly, he can beat down huge crowds of people (some of which fall down without even being touched by him). The Parmistanian architecture favors elements on the streets that could as easily be used as gymnastic equipment. But he needs them, since The Game is even more deadly then the Hunger Games, and mostly involves ninjas shooting people running away with arrows.

The hilariously awful fight scenes are not even the stupidest thing of the film. The film is astonishingly racist, seeing as European countries still being in the Medieval times. Save for the country's princess, every single Parmistanian is a hideous old crone or old peasant without teeth, and frivolously hating America. Which is why it is hilarious that Cabot decides to wear his Stars 'n Stripes-coloured sweater when walking through the country's streets. Cabot also doesn't care much whether he accidentally beats some innocent people when taking care of his pursuers. Or some too touchy old women. Stupidly, the film also comes up with the idea of Cabot's father being missing while taking part of The Game in the middle of the film. He appears unharmed and almost unexplained and dies almost instantly by taking a few arrows in the back. This insanity is truly brain-meltingly strange. The film should be watched for the extended scene where Cabot wanders across a misty town, where every inhabitant seems to come out to laugh at him from the windows. Which is followed by this gem:

★ or ★★★★★

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