It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any of Godfrey Ho’s movies, which means you get the recap of the great man’s career once again. His business model was to buy cheap films from elsewhere in the Far East, whether finished or unfinished, then film a bunch of footage with his stable of white actors, which would be edited into the action he already had. This ungodly concoction was then sold round the world, and it’s a business model that worked, as a conservative estimate of his output has him directing over 130 movies. We’ve covered tons of them, and it’s very difficult to pick a favourite, but if you’d like to dip your toe in, go for “Ninja Terminator”; if you’re feeling brave, go for “Death Code Ninja”.
And if you’re in the mood to be genuinely baffled by a movie, go for “U.S. Catman: Lethal Track”. This is genuinely one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen, and reminds me of the book “Infinite Jest”. In that book, one of the characters, James Incandenza, is an experimental filmmaker, and one of his movies begins with two separate stories, but rather than coming together at the end, they just continue getting further apart. “U.S. Catman” could be a James Incandenza movie (although he’d have probably had fewer martial arts fights in his).
The beginning is a mini-masterpiece of dumb, as three groups of people come together – the world’s dumbest, laziest delivery drivers, with a radioactive cat in the back; a couple of extremely clean-looking junkies, desperate for a fix after not having had one “for days”; and a couple of guys who’ve evidently just come from a softball game, just having a good time. These guys are Sam and Gus, and they’re the only two we’re interested in, as they protect the drivers from the junkies, but in the process Sam gets scratched by that cat. The “U.S.” in the title is presumably to differentiate Sam from the dozens of other cat-based superheroes that litter the world?
Sam (with an assist from Gus, who’s also apparently an undercover CIA agent) aren’t really the focus of the movie, though, because they’re the white people re-shoots. The bulk of the action is almost stranger, if such a thing were possible, and features Father Cheever, the head of the Cheever Church. He’s a Russian agent, and wants to destabilise the entire world so Russia can take over, as well as maybe being a Satanist, wanting to murder, rape and otherwise brutalise everyone. His plans are magnificent in their scope!
It’s around the time we’re introduced to the two young guys who I thought were the same guy, the two old guys who I thought were the same guy, and the young biker woman Frederick who the movie pretends is a guy for the first half, despite it being screamingly obvious it’s just a girl with short hair (the voice they chose for dubbing her is light and feminine, somewhat destroying the illusion) that I wrote “is this just a random collection of scenes?” They’re in a feud of some sort with a gang of criminals who want to destabilise the government, or deal drugs, or something; this gang is led by Bull, the one-eyed villain with very big plans, and several lieutenants who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup, 24 hours after watching it.
Every fifteen minutes, the drug-dealers vs. random people movie is interrupted with the Catman movie, and it is glorious. Despite him being able to punch through walls and use laser-vision, he helpfully never uses these powers in an actual fight, or indeed any powers relating to typical cat-like activity, perhaps because the effects would’ve been too expensive to film? He just runs about a bit, punching and kicking, oh, and at one point says , “to the cat-computer!”, which I guess qualifies as a joke.
It just keeps getting better, though, which is super-unusual for a Godfrey Ho movie. The Russians have a bunch of agents, and they’re the wackiest gang you could imagine. A room full of people, some of them lifting weights, some dancing, some breathing fire…I don’t know what government they’re going to bring down, but I’d sure like to see it! Cheever starts banging on about the anti-Gospel, and being the most evil you can be, but his ultimate base is, not terribly evilly, just a banner slung between two trees, out in the jungle.
The good guys vs other lot of bad guys side of the movie is good fun too, even if you can’t really tell who anyone is or what they’re trying to do. At some point, everyone figures out that Frederick is a woman, and even though she’s been a dick to everyone she’s met, she ends up being the hero. Ah well.
Even though I said it at the beginning, it bears repeating – the two sides of “U.S. Catman” never come together at any point. With your average Godfrey Ho movie, there’s at least characters pretending to have a conversation on the phone, linking movie A and movie B, or a conversation shot in some wasteground, or something – here they just don’t bother with any of that stuff. It’s a really peculiar feeling, because even though we know how lazy Ho was, I’ve never seen him be quite this lazy. Did the crucial linking material just get left on the cutting room floor and no-one bothered checking it to see if it made sense before releasing it?
I think my favourite thing about this movie is the dubbing. TV show “Eurotrash” has made a decade of fun out of dubbing weird old Europeans with broad British regional accents; while it’s not quite so specific here, I would bet every penny I’ve ever earned that the people in charge of the dubbing were having a laugh at someone’s expense. When you combine that with the less-than-professional acting chops of most of the cast, you’ve got a recipe for success!
It’s weird enough that even non-fans of martial arts movies or Godfrey Ho ought to check it out.
Rating: thumbs up