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
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Future Cops (1993)

There are some weird and wonderful films out there if you know where to look, and amount the more bizarre films I can find you have Future Cops. At first glance, you’re probably thinking “is this some sort of weird Chinese Street Fighter knockoff or something?”, and you’d be sort of half-right. It uses parody versions of Street Fighter characters, but for some reason there’s also a parody version of Goku in the film. The actual film is even more ridiculous than it looks.

Here’s the plot itself. In the year 2043, an evil crime lord called The General plans to take over the world, but has been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment by judge Yu Ti Hung. In retaliation, he sends his three strongest henchmen, Kent, Thai King, and Toyota on a trip fifty years into the past in order to kill the judge while he’s in his twenties, before he even has a chance to become a judge and jail him in the first place. In order to put a stop to the General’s plan, the Police Director sends three future cops, Ti Man, Broomhead, and Sing, in order to protect the young Yu Ti Hung.

The story, I’ll be blunt, is ridiculous. It opens up as a frenetic action film, with lasers and kicks flying everywhere in an orgy of action. Ten minutes into the film, however, and the film turns into a bizarre sitcom starring a young adult with bad luck. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the back of the DVD for this film says “the future cops meet a retarded boy in the past, but it’s really just our hero who happens to have bad luck”.

My main problem with the story is not that it reads like a sci-fi Street Fighter knock-off. That I can somehow live with, in fact it’s actually better than the official Street Fighter film we got with Jean-Claude Van Damme. The main problem is that it’s all over the place and it tends to meander a lot. At one point it’s an action film, and at other times it’s a rom-com. Most bafflingly, there’s a scene in which Ti-Man and Yu Ti Hung’s sister are flirting inside a budget live action version of Super Mario World. It’s hilarious to say the least. If like me you’re watching this and you don’t know Cantonese, the film is best watched with subtitles, but just hope that you don’t end up watching it with erroneous subtitles, else you get gems like “the Pope is leaking”.

The presentation isn’t all bad. In fact, the music is quite good, in a cheesy sort of way. The whole film just oozes camp, like the Cantonese cinematic equivalent of watching an episode of the 1960’s Batman TV series, except it was actually intended to be a comedy, and you’ll actually bust a gut laughing. Of course, some of the props look like they were quite cheaply made, and you’ll notice this when some of the characters are shown crashing through walls.

On the whole, Future Cops isn’t bad, and it’s incredibly hilarious if you can get your hands on it. It seems like cheap action film that uses barely disguised rip-offs of Street Fighter characters, but when it gets down to the action, this is a film that doesn’t mess around. Truly, this is perhaps one of the most ridiculous films ever made, and seemingly proud of it.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

Last Action Hero (1993)

lastactionheroI’m not surprised that Last Action Hero was maligned by critics back in its day, and is still generally ignored by the public at large today. It was a ludicrously ridiculous action flick in a time when action films were just starting to go out of vogue. Of course, I’m certain this was intended as a satire of Hollywood action films (particularly the ones set in L.A.), and in that spirit it’s certainly more well-produced than a similar film named Loaded Weapon 1 (a cheesy National Lampoon parody of Lethal Weapon). It wasn’t a bad film, but perhaps it was a bit too silly for your average moviegoer.

A big problem is the ridiculousness that is the film’s main premise. A movie-obsessed young boy is given a magic ticket, and he’s somehow transported into the latest entry in the “Jack Slater” series, where he gets to see the world of a badass action hero, and Jack realises that he is just a film character. For me, the film could have been more satirical if the whole film played out like an action film that didn’t always take itself seriously, as opposed to the whole “magic ticket” approach. As it stands however, it’s essentially a matinee film with a goofy plot and wasted potential.

To be fair there’s plenty of humorous moments where the film essentially deconstructs its own genre, but that’s hampered by an often hackneyed script that, sadly, tends to rub off on the characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger still managed to play the lead role effectively, but mainly in his capacity as an action film star. The other characters seem to wilt in the background for the most part, if that is they aren’t hamming their way out of it. One silver lining I can count on is the skilful performance of Charles Dance in the role of the lead villain. A lot of times he unapologetically steals the show, even though he’s not immune to the iniquities of the film’s numerous script problems.

The way I see it, the problem with a setting that gives the characters licence to act like they’re in a Hollywood movie is that they always take it too far. To take this film for what it is requires not so much a suspension of disbelief, but a complete silence of disbelief, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film. There are many enjoyable fantasy films that constantly skirt the issue of suspension of disbelief, often to the point that they risk butchering it, but we still enjoy them. Besides, I kind of like the film’s obvious ridiculousness, which sometimes has a weird comic charm, but I think that comes from the fact that I’m familiar with it (having seen it roughly four times to date).

It also helps that the film had some good production values on its side, but I think they used way too much special effects, which lead to the film having a bloated budget so big that the seemingly plentiful box office returns could be considered a disappoint (a film needs to make more than double its budget to turn a profit, and Last Action Hero costed $85 million to produce).

In terms of ridiculous matinee fair, Last Action Hero isn’t actually as bad as people say it is. I’d say it’s mediocre, but with more than a few good moments. The problem, however, is that the producers wasted a lot of the potential that might have been capitalised on to great effect, and the end result can’t be anything better than a mildly humorous parody film with a choppy script.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Little Buddha (1993)

littlebuddhaLittle Buddha seems like the kind of film that was meant to capitalise on America’s infatuation with East Asian culture, particularly Buddhism, which I suspect was becoming insanely trendy for liberals during the 1990’s. That aside, the film itself seems to have been intended as an epic spiritual journey, and though I think it’s more for believers than any other demographic, I still find myself fascinated and somewhat enthralled by the film’s lofty vision.

The story is essentially split into two story arcs that eventually come together. One is the story of a group of monks travelling in search of a little boy from Seattle who they believe to be the reincarnation of a great Buddhist teacher named Lama Dorje, and the other is a rather religious retelling of the story of Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, and his quest for enlightenment.

The story sort of comes across as a naive parable of spirituality, or more or less the kind Hollywood liberals liked to dabble in back in the day. I found the idea that of a little boy being the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama to be rather ridiculous, and serving only the purpose of making an American (let alone from Seattle of all places) the centre of the plot, and it really seems to make this film a relic of a rather silly point in history. By contrast, the re-enactment of the story of the Buddha may well have been the best part of the movie, mainly because it was told in a very compelling way, and trust me, you don’t have to be religious in order to appreciate the way they’ve faithfully recreated the story of Buddha.

The acting throughout the film is quite good, and is best in the scenes with the Buddha. Keanu Reeves is a surprisingly good fit for the role. Aside from looking the part, he delivers a stand-out performance that, believe it or not, suits the role quite well, and it’s definitely a big leap from Bill and Ted. All the characters performed well in this film, even Alex Wiesendanger, the young boy who’s supposed to be the lead character, back when such starry-eyed child characters were still universally endearing (nowadays, they’re often more annoying, especially in family films).

The film also sported very good production values for the time, and took a rather interesting approach in terms of direction. Most of the scenes set in America are deliberately given a sober blue-grey lighting, while most of the scenes set in Asia (including the story of Buddha and the flight to Bhutan) are given a lush red-orange colour scheme. I think this is intended to present two different worlds in two different lights, though I think it indicates a bit of a bias in favour of Eastern spirituality. I don’t particularly mind though, because I think it gave the film a unique visual identity.

Overall, with nice characters, an unbelievable yet consistently interesting premise, and a compelling narrative and atmosphere, this, in my opinion, is a very underrated film, and it’s certainly one of those films where seeing is believing.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B