Armour of God (1986)

As I said two weeks ago, tonight’s film review would be my last, and for my last film review, we have Armour of God, probably not the best Jackie Chan film, but a decent enough film for me to bow out on. The film is perhaps more known for two things. One, for its confusing release in the West (it was released as Operation Condor 2 even though it was made before the actual sequel, Armour of God II: Operation Condor). Secondly, the production of this film saw Jackie Chan come the closest he has ever come to death while trying to perform a stunt for the end of the film. All things considered, it’s a pretty good film, if mainly because it doesn’t take itself seriously, which is imperative considering its silly premise.

In this film, Jackie Chan is a former member of a Cantonese pop band called The Losers, but he became an adventurer under the name “Asian Hawk”. Later he is reunited with former bandmate Alan, whose girlfriend and fellow bandmate Lorelei has been kidnapped by an shadowy monastic cult who is holding her hostage in order to get Jackie to bring them the remaining pieces of the eponymous “Armour of God”, including the sword he found in Africa. To save her, he and Alan must strike a deal with Count Bannon, who has the pieces of the armour the cult is asking for, and allows Jackie to take them on the condition that his daughter May accompanies them. They are in for a surprise as the cultists know they are coming.

Right off the bat, it’s basically Jackie Chan’s answer to Indiana Jones and similar adventure films, with his style of action comedy. The writing isn’t great, but it’s simplistic enough that you can enjoy it, like a matinee film. My main problem is that the film tends to meander on, though only a bit.

As for the acting, it really depends on which version of the film you watch, and unfortunately, I saw the version where they re-dubbed the voices in English and created a newer, cheesier musical score (I think this is the Operation Condor 2 version, but the “Armour of God” title appears). This dubbed version is incredibly corny and at times, it doesn’t seem like it synced well with the original film. I almost don’t think Jackie here even sounded like Jackie.

But at least the film is pretty fun to watch, in the enjoyably cheesy sort of way, with decently well choreographed action scenes, and humour that falls into the “so bad it’s funny” category. That’s it from me. It’s been a good run.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C
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World on a Wire (1973)

After I had seen Logan’s Run for the first time around five years ago, I stumbled upon this film in the related films section on Rotten Tomatoes, a site which describes this as “a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses”. It’s not so much a feature film so much as it is a TV film serial in two parts, with the combined length totalling three hours and twenty minutes, almost as long as Ben-Hur. But if you have the patience to sit through both parts, you’ll find a very engaging sci-fi film, and perhaps a good example of the style of sci-fi that was still prevalent in the early 1970’s.

The plot of the film revolves around a supercomputer called the Simulacron, a powerful computer project operated by the Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung (or IKZ) that is capable of simulating a full reality with “identity units” serving as citizens of that world. The technical director of the project, Professor Henry Vollmer, is on the verge of making an incredible discovery, but suddenly he dies in a mysterious accident. His successor, Fred Stiller, experiences odd phenomenon, including the disappearance of a good friend name Gunther Lause, who none of the other IKZ employees have any memory of. Soon after the attempted suicide of an identity unit, Stiller is informed that the world he inhabits is in fact a simulation, and when he tells an IKZ psychiatrist of this, he is found dead, with Stiller framed for the murder in a reality-bending corporate conspiracy.

You could consider this an early precursor to The Matrix, only far longer, and requiring much more patience. You could perhaps argue that the comparatively slower, colder approach is the way that The Matrix perhaps ought to have been. Of course, taken as the whole three-and-a-half hour film, the pacing can definitely be quite sluggish, although if you’re into this sort of film, dive right in, but make sure you’ve got a lot of time to yourself, and that you don’t have to prepare any meals in the middle of it.

Since the film is mostly in German I doubt I can offer much commentary on the acting, though I don’t have much issue with the performance, and I’m tempted to say that it’s somewhere above the par of TV acting. To the producers’ credit, the film does do a good job of immersing you in a world that may in fact be an artifice. It has a distinct film noir vibe, the kind you might later see in the notably superior Blade Runner. The music is mostly synthesised, though I find it interesting that the film chooses to end with Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Albatross” (also used at some point close to the end of the second part). The film itself isn’t as dull as its length might imply, so I wouldn’t pass it up, especially if you’re a sci-fi nut.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B

Trick or Treat (1986)

As I’ve frequently pointed out on this site, it’s usually a bad move to make films based purely on a musical subculture, which is usually just some excuse to get more money for music royalties. This film in particular seems silly, and that’s mainly because it was the product of a time in which there was a silly moral panic over heavy metal music “corrupting the youth”, which films like Trick or Treat cynically attempted to exploit for some easy money. The actual film isn’t bad, and it has its moments, but it’s certainly a relic of time, with much of the cheese that comes with it.

The plot is simple enough. It revolves around a metalhead teenager named Eddie Weinbauer, who is constantly humiliated and treated like an insect in a painfully typical high school setting. The one comfort in his life is the music of heavy metal superstar Sammi Curr, but that’s all torn away from him when he suddenly dies in a hotel fire. His friend DJ Nuke (played by guest star Gene Simmons) gives him a copy of Sammi’s last and upcoming album, which apparently allows Eddie to communicate with the spirit of the dead rocker when he rotates it backwards (a play on the whole “Satanic backmasking” scare). The spirit helps Eddie get his revenge on the people who bullied him, but eventually he begins to get more murderous in his intent, and eventually comes out of the record in order to raise some hell.

The story is pure nonsense, and its based almost entirely on the moral panic, but it’s also another boring teen film setting, which just as well gets you thinking about the terrible state of American teenage life in 1986, which is something a film like this shouldn’t do but it’s so repetitive and stereotypical that it does that anyway. That’s my problem with exploitation films like this – the writers think only in stereotypes. I’m not saying there’s no truth in stereotypes, but it’s just lazy. On the plus side, it is good to see Ozzy Osbourne playing the kind of person that always complains about him being a bad influence. The irony of it is entertaining as it stands.

The acting isn’t really bad, though to be fair it’s rather uncharitable to except fine acting from a low budget horror film. The characters themselves weren’t exactly works of great imagination. I’ve seen more original characters in Future Cops. They may as well be cookie-cutter characters brought to you by the PMRC.

There’s a reason this sort of film ended up in the bargain bin. It’s cheesy, badly written, and it’s much of a horror film, or even a comedy since this isn’t really a serious film. On the plus side, it does have a good soundtrack courtesy of a band called Fastway, and if you happen to be a metal fan anwyay, you’ll probably ignore everything else and just focus on the music. Given some of the reviews on IMDB, some people probably did.

  • Score: 63%
  • Grade: C

Night of the Comet (1984)

Some films don’t seem like much on the surface, and in that regard Night of the Comet seems like a B-movie very much of its time, with the sole difference being that the main protagonists are women. That is still broadly true, but there’s a certain campy 80’s charm that, far from being a dampener on the quality of the film, is something that can be worn as a badge of honour.

The plot of the film starts out eleven days before Christmas (so December 14th to exact), when the Earth is about to pass through the tail of a comet, an event that supposedly hasn’t happened in 65 million years, when it coincided with the extinction of the dinosaurs. On the night that the comet is supposed to pass, crowds of people across the world gather to watch the comet pass by. Unfortunately the comet crashes into Earth, wiping out most of humanity (except those who hid in steel-lined accommodation at the time of impact) and leaving piles of red dust in its wake and zombies roaming the Earth. No explanation is given for how a comet crash might have that aftermath.

Among the only living residents in Los Angeles are two valley girl sisters, Regina and Samantha Belmont, and a boy named Hector Gomez, and together they attempt to survive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Los Angeles become, but apparently the two girls can’t help but go shopping, even with zombies and mad scientists following them around.

The plot is very much a B-movie, but not so much a genre film. It has elements of sci-fi, comedy, disaster film, horror, and even teen films. The result is an entertaining pastiche of pretty much all the genres that it incorporates. My problem is that it’s not entirely believable. First of all, the setting shows a comet wiping out all human life, except that sounds more like an asteroid than a comet. Second, I find it hardly believable to think that a bunch of valley girls who seem more interested in shopping and pep rallies than survival could even have a realistic chance of making it out of this kind of scenario alive.

That said, I like the fact that they at least attempted to make the two main characters into self-reliant, heroic characters. Given the B-movie quality of the film it’s not totally convincing, but it was a noble attempt. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. In fact, it’s the kind of acting I expect from an 80’s-era TV show. That’s perhaps one of the reasons I find the film to be so cheesy and unbelievable.

For some reason, however, I can’t quite fault Night of the Comet for being such a B-movie. It has a certain independent charm, having been made on the a quantifiably modest $700,000 budget. It’s also a good film for synth-lovers. Pretty much the entire soundtrack sounds like a Berlin school electronic album, and for the cheesy pop lovers, there’s plenty of campy, synth-laden pop songs for you 80’s nostalgists.

Overall I would say it’s a pretty decent film, definitely one for the independent film enthusiasts, and certainly for those who like some silly fare.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C

Holy Weapon (1993)

For some reason, much of the Chinese films I’ve watched are quite batty. With a few exceptions, I mainly seem to find films that are balls-out crazy to us, but I suppose not so much in China. In this regard, Holy Weapon is another level of silliness entirely. It’s the equivalent of a live-action anime film, only if it were made in China and nothing made any glimmer of sense at all.

So let’s see if I’ve managed to piece the plot together. Set in China during the Ming Dynasty, the first part of the story sees a warrior named Mo Kake taking a special invincibility drug from a crazy “Ghost Doctor” (who looks like Dr. Wily) so that he can fight “Super Sword”, the most powerful swordsman from Japan. Three years later, he comes back looking for revenge. The only problem is that now Mo Kake is too weak to fight on his own, and needs the help of seven women to regain his power defeat Super Sword again using the Yuen Tin sword technique.

For the first ten minutes you’re treated to some of the most off-the-wall action scenes in the world, with flying bird men ripping the head of a horse and eventually colliding into each other, resulting in an explosion. Meanwhile, Super Sword and Mo Kake cause the ground the break apart, and fighting with bizarre powers and objects the size of buildings. That’s the fun part over. For most of the film afterward, you’re treated to a meandering comedy plot, and the comedy is initially hilarious but it ebbs as the film goes on.

Therein lies my main problem with the film. It’s inconsistent and spends what seems like eternity on a barely passable comedy plot with better jokes than writers. A lot of the plot is based on magic, with a plethora of special effects. Towards the end it’s even weirder, with the film turning into an episode of Power Rangers but with a mostly female cast. It’s almost exactly like Future Cops. In fact, it was made by the same director.

The acting is sort of all over the place, and you can never really take it seriously. Serious acting in a film like this may as well be construed as hammy acting. Fortunately nothing about the characters are serious, which is good because the entire film is a bukkake of wire fu and slapstick humour. It’s totally crazy, but if you’re into that sort of film, it’ll be an absolute blast.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C