Thunder Cops (1987)

Once again, we have a moderately confusing film numbering situation. My copy is actually billed as “Operation Pink Squad 2”, and while the name might have you think it’s a more, er, “adult” movie than we normally cover, it’s merely a sequel to a movie about a group of female cops who have to put up with office sexism and so on. But there’s a sequel to this which is called “Thunder Cops 2”, which is only related to this in that it shares a director – it’s a dark thriller, apparently. Not quite as weird as the late numbering of the “No Retreat, No Surrender” series, but still.

The 80s and 90s gave us quite a lot of supernatural-themed movies from Hong Kong – there’s the two “Heroic Trio” entries; “The Bride With White Hair”; “The Storm Riders”; and so on. But what few of them gave us was a solid five minutes of jokes about “turd”, a pissing contest to decide which one of the two remaining men gets his penis chopped off, and the implied sacrifice of a foetus to save the world. Yes, dear reader, when I say “you’ve not seen anything like this before”, you’re going to have to believe me.

It starts off where I presume the first one ended, with one of the lady-cops getting married to a guy who looks like an extremely nerdy Chow-Yun Fat. Their wedding night, he’s ludicrously nervous, but when she asks if he’s a virgin, he says no to try and look cool. She says she isn’t either and is delighted!

But, of course, our friend isn’t delighted, because now he thinks his wife is damaged goods. This rather insane state of affairs, which is played for laughs throughout, ends up with him chasing his boss through a hotel with a gun, thinking his boss is having an affair with his wife; but as we all know, he’s merely hired Pink Squad to go undercover as prostitutes or money forgers. It’s a little unclear what he expects them to do. And then it turns out the hotel is haunted, and is on the Hellmouth (it’s not called that, but it’s much easier to call it that than look it up again).

Things go bonkers quite quickly. There’s a Buddhist monk (whose gear is absolutely covered in swastikas, which is a bit weird to our Western eyes) trying to trap an infestation of ghosts; the criminal the ladies are trying to trap, a fun performance; and the chief ghost, a woman who spends about a third of the movie as a disembodied head.

First things first: I’ve got no idea what’s going on. At all. Why the ghosts have picked this spot, why the Buddhist guy is trying to trap them all, why they need four cops and a hotel room to do a simple handover, why Chinese ghosts are sometimes solid and can have their heads chopped off, and why elves are on hand to save the day at the end. Yes, elves.

This weird farce, where you get gore and pee jokes in the same scene, is also staggeringly sexist. You’d think the four female stars of the movie would get to be, you know, the stars, but until about ten minutes before the end, they do absolutely nothing, just simpering in the corner while the guys do all the actual action. Given the number of Jackie Chan films from the same area and era that treat women as objects, it’s not extremely surprising, but it’s still crap. I’m sure it didn’t even enter their heads to have the women do any of the action, and they saw it as entirely natural, which just makes it worse. The mild racism (a black woman in a strip club dressed up like a savage, dancing to jungle drums) is almost quaint in comparison.

If anything, it feels like “Re-Animator” without any of the decent acting or script that that classic had; but even that doesn’t quite cover it. The sheer what-the-hell?-ness of seeing all these ideas and styles just getting thrown at each other is something we poor Westerners aren’t really used to. But imagine Re-Animator played as a farce, and way more sexist, and you’ll be somewhere around the right area.

The thing I left this movie with was I wanted the ghost to win. It might have been the comically poor subtitles confusing me as to everyone’s motivations, or something else, but she was just interested in helping her people out, and getting some sweet loving from one of the living people. Nice and simple, she only fought in self-defence and had some fun with being a ghost.

There’s a parody of “The Killer”, the John Woo / Chow Yun Fat classic, in there, which leads me to believe there might be lots of other parodies I just didn’t recognise due to being, at best, a casual fan of Hong Kong cinema. We don’t get to see tons of HK comedy (I guess because most of it remains un-translated for Western audiences) so if this is what they get on the regular, I want to see more.

It’s really really strange, and to say it throws everything at the wall to see what sticks is almost underestimating it. If only they’d bothered to have the women seen as in any way remotely equal to the men!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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U.S. Catman: Lethal Track (1990)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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It’s weird enough that even non-fans of martial arts movies or Godfrey Ho ought to check it out.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Alien Warrior (1986)

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The dawning realisation. If you’ve ever picked a film to watch mostly at random, you may be familiar with this feeling, which comes about 10 minutes in. That knockabout comedy that the cover promised you? It’s actually a pretty serious relationship drama. That big budget-looking action movie? Actually just a bunch of guys running about in the woods. And, more pertinent to our current review, that cool looking alien on Earth movie? Well, if I had to guess I’d say it was secretly funded by Scientology, or some other cult (more on that later); put simply, it’s the least subtle Jesus allegory of all time.

An old space king with a beard, surrounded by a beatific glow, is chatting to his son, a Hercules-in-the-old-movies-looking fellow who has no name until he’s christened “Buddy” on Earth (played by Brett Baxter Clark, who’s done time on soaps and plenty of cheesy movies). The king informs Buddy that his brother has died on Earth, and that it’s a strange and dangerous planet. Hey, I wonder if his brother had the initials JC? It appears his brother’s plan to vanquish GREAT EVIL failed, so Buddy takes it upon himself to go to Earth and finish off what was started.

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Now, if you or I were god-like beings, we’d probably prepare a little before visiting an alien planet. Find out about their culture, how to speak to the locals, that sort of thing. But Buddy is not like you or I, so after being told by Dad that they speak the same language as the people of Earth, he’s off, befriending the first hobo he meets (who gives him clothes) and then happening upon a drug deal being completed by Mr One. Buddy asks “are you Great Evil?”, Mr One replies “Yes, I’m the greatest” and Buddy has an antagonist!

 

I can’t go any further without mentioning the rather odd view of race on display. Apart from one kid (who steals a wallet from a dead man so he can buy his dog some food), every single black guy we see in this movie is a drug-dealing murderer. And the women are all prostitutes – this includes all the white women, too, with one exception. The Hispanic guys are all gang-banging rapist psychos, but at least a few of them are won over by the end. Mr One, though, really goes out of his way to be evil, talking about his “bitches” and how if any other heroin dealer tries to muscle in on his turf, he’s going to kill them. He also secretly records all the most important white people in town having sex with his “bitches” so he can blackmail them – he takes such delight in this activity that one suspects it’s also a fetish. Just in case you weren’t 100% convinced these are bad people, a vice cop comes over (seemingly unable to comprehend that turning up to a random location to have sex with a prostitute might be a setup) and Mr One arranges it so his “companion” is a woman he just picked up in his club that night, not a working girl. When she says quite reasonably that she’s not interested in having sex with some random guy, he beats the crap out of her – then the vice cop threatens her with a gun unless she disrobes and has sex with him immediately.

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The Hispanic gentlemen, on the other hand, drive round the deserted city streets at night on the off chance an unaccompanied white woman will be there, it seems, but they’re lucky immediately, running across Lora (Pamela Saunders), an angelic woman who runs a charity in the inner cities devoted to teaching underprivileged youth to read.  As they’re about to rape her, Buddy steps in (him being near stuff that’s about to happen is a theme), and kicks their asses – thanks to him wandering past a dojo a few hours previously and instantly learning all the moves. The thing is, though, Buddy doesn’t have any particular physical powers, and even says that using violence makes him weaker – but he does have powers, oh wow does he have powers, we just don’t see them yet.

 

I could go on for pages and pages about this wonderfully odd movie, and as it’s available for free on Youtube I hope you watch it so I don’t spoil too much. There’s so much lunacy to cover! Anyway, Lora has a rich boyfriend, and it’s with him that we witness Buddy’s amazing powers – he’s able to see inside his soul, and tells Lora he’s not interested in her, or their charity, he just wants to possess her. She, after like a second of doubt, believes him, and Buddy then sits her down, tells her to close her eyes and picture the life she most wants – it’s telling her rich boyfriend to sod off and giving back his money. Cool! Of course, then one of the Hispanic rapists turns up with a pistol to shoot Buddy and…finish the job off with Lora? Anyway, Buddy subdues him and then just gets him to talk about why he thinks he’s dumb, this opens up a whole can of worms about his childhood, and within a minute he’s sat reading a book, completely cured of his violent tendencies. That he almost raped Lora is never mentioned again!

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So this is how a large portion of the movie goes. Mr One does exceptionally evil things and Buddy sort of hypnotises people into instantly changing their personalities – memorably at one point, an entire huge Hispanic gang by just saying “NOOOOOOOO MOOOOOOORE” and punching a street sign. The reading charity starts going great, and Buddy and Lora grow much closer. Oh, and he rescues the hobo too, who’s a huge alcoholic (but used to be a mechanic, which is handy).

 

So let’s chat about why I think this movie is cult propaganda. Firstly, the way the ultimate goal is to get kids to read. This stinks of something like Scientology, who run numerous educational front organisations. At one point, Buddy insists on all the kids getting a dictionary, because they’re learning words they don’t understand…and of course this is a huge success. Scientology believes (apparently) in very granular learning, breaking sentences down into their component atoms, which educational experts say is an absolutely dreadful way of learning, but works for Scientology’s brainwashing. Well, I’m sure they wouldn’t think it was brainwashing, but you get the drift. While dictionaries are fine tools, they’re not the be-all and end-all of education. There’s also a symbol on the front of the “Reading Centre” and the sweet tracksuit Buddy wears that I didn’t recognise, that feels weirdly specific for a relatively low-budget movie like this.

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Secondly, is how Buddy is able to build a car, a beautiful shiny silver roadster, out of random junk he buys from a scrap-yard. As well as this being pretty much impossible, it also feels like the sort of thing a cult would say – “hey, you don’t need to spend money on expensive things! Build your own!” From my vague recollections of L Ron Hubbard’s “Mission Earth” series (I read all 10 books, long before I knew who he was), I feel like there’s something of that sort in there. They spend a lot of time on it for it to be an irrelevance.

 

Thirdly, is the way it doesn’t feel particularly Christian (certainly not any mainstream flavour). Buddy gets stabbed protecting Lora from the Hispanics, and while he’s leaving hospital he sees a girl in a coma, surrounded by her family and a Priest. He says a few words to her and she wakes up, obviously, and the Priest looks pretty upset he didn’t get to perform the last rites (or whatever the heck it is, I don’t know tons about religion). I guess it’s like how Jesus had no truck with the guys who were misusing religion back in ol’ Palestine? The thing is, there’s no element of collective worship, or banding together really at all, which you’d normally associate with a Christian propaganda movie.

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A quick word about graffiti. After shouting at the Hispanics, he turns them all into good guys instantly, and one of the things they do is go round and paint over all their old graffiti and replace it with something a little more positive. This is maybe my favourite bit of the movie – on one wall, we get “Do Not Murder” (I love this so much) and on the other? “Be Temperate”. Temperate! When was the last time that word was used? And the genuinely amazing thing, Mr One notices business for drugs and hookers is down because people are heeding the warning on the graffiti!

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It’s gloriously bizarre, with a weirdly mannered performance from Clark, who was clearly told to aim for a sort of kid’s story version of Jesus. In fact, it feels like a kids’ movie, with its simplistic morals, but at the last minute someone decided to put drugs, rape, nudity and murder in it. Then there’s how the denouement doesn’t involve Buddy at all, him having already “died”. I haven’t got a bloody clue, mate!

 

It appears director Ed Hunt is a true UFO believer, having made “UFOs Are Real!” (bit of a giveaway) in 1979 and the glorious sounding “Starship Invasions” in 1977; he also directed an episode of a Biblical TV series, so who knows? It’s probably just catastrophically misguided Christian propaganda from someone who didn’t like churches and wanted to reform the inner cities, without the slightest idea of how to do it. Its heart is in the right place, but its brain is on another planet.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Raw Force (1982)

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I’m going to give you a one-paragraph recap of this movie and by the end of it, I guarantee you’ll want to watch it. In fact, I hope some of you stop reading there and go track down a copy of it immediately. Anyway, here goes:

 

Members of the Burbank Kung Fu Club decide to go on a cruise to Warriors Island, in the South China Sea, where the spirits of the disgraced martial artists buried there are said to haunt the place. After some hijinks, they arrive, interrupting a long-running business arrangement between a group of cannibal monks and a criminal gang led by Asian Hitler to trade kidnapped women for jade; to escape from the island, our heroes must fight them and the zombie ninjas and samurai that the monks reanimated.

 

Are you in? I seriously can’t say enough good stuff about “Raw Force”. It’s an absolutely perfect B-movie, delivering on all its promises (how many crazy-looking movies have we seen that turned out to be boring and tame?) and is fun from beginning to end. Not a dull moment! Okay, it’s wildly sexist and they seem to forget about a bunch of characters halfway through, but it’s a small price to pay for such entertainment.

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This was the first of two directorial credits for one Edward Murphy, who was slightly better known as an actor, and it’s that sense of no-one told him the rules yet, that makes this so entertaining. Even the bits with no wild action are great – a decent chunk of the movie takes place on board the cruise ship, with its captain Cameron Mitchell (last seen by us in “Toolbox Murders”) and drunk, cost-cutting owner (Hope Holliday) feuding throughout. The rest of the passengers are a bunch of oddballs, such as the woman who, while getting ready to hop into bed with some guy, tells him she’s on the boat due to murdering her Mafia boyfriend and wanting to escape justice; or the male stripper who tells of all the things he’s had shoved in his thong by excited ladies. I like the exceptionally odd-looking barman who hits on all the women, myself, and for fans of deep ISCFC links, there’s a brief (entirely topless) cameo from a rather beautiful redhead who it turns out is Camille Keaton, formerly of “I Spit On Your Grave” and latterly of “Savage Vengeance”.

 

You might read complaints such as “it takes them nearly an hour to get to the island” and I’ve made similar criticisms of similar movies. But there’s always something happening here! There’s the least suited couple in movie history, with the wife obviously going to end up with the hero and the husband obviously going to end up dead; the husband decides he wants to go to a whorehouse while stopping off in the Philippines (where this movie was filmed) but they end up having to fight Asian Hitler’s goons, who go there to steal some women. It’s just crazy scene after crazy scene, with really weird comic relief dotted throughout. Even the beyond-cheap special effects (fog and fire) add to the charm of it all.

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When they get to the island, they walk to the graveyard of the disgraced martial artist…only to have Asian Hitler fire a rocket launcher at them! Has any movie featuring a rocket launcher ever sucked? Then, after chasing them off, our hero carries it round like a normal sidearm for the next half hour!

 

The monks are some of the craziest over-actors it’s ever been my pleasure to see, led by B-movie mainstay Vic Diaz, and even manage to shock the goons, who think they’re just taking the women to have sex with. Oh no! Eating women gives them the power to raise the dead, or whatever.

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It is almost impossible, I’d imagine, to have a bad time watching this movie. Okay, women are treated poorly (with the exception of Cookie, a cop who’s had extensive martial arts training, all the rest of them are either there to get their clothes off or be rescued) and the extremely small budget shows itself in a lot of ways (for instance, the cruise ship they’re on is never really shown moving, indicating they just filmed it while it was docked and covered their angles). Plus, they don’t quite think through every bit of the plot – an example. The people on the boat are looking at a brochure for Warriors Island, yet apart from the monks and the criminals, it’s entirely deserted. Doesn’t a brochure kind of imply some tourist infrastructure, or at the very least semi-regular visitors?

 

Anyway, this is small potatoes. Maybe the wildest of all the 80s Filipino exploitation movies, and one you should definitely see, and even own.

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Rating: thumbs up