I love introducing people to “big” names from B-movie history, and we have a fine one for you today, David Heavener. Sadly, details on his early life are hard to come by, but he apparently parlayed money made from writing country songs into a film career, and has written, produced, directed and starred in 15 movies since the late 80s (as well as just starring in a bunch more, plus producing and distributing others).
Like every cheapo director with pretensions of grandeur, he’s hired the occasional big-ish name to turn up for a few minutes in his movies, such as Martin Landau, Karen Black and Tony Curtis; sadly, this was right at the beginning of his career, when he was just hired as “star”. His output is a bit like normal Hollywood stuff, only uglier, cheaper and more stupid; we may get bored of Heavener after a few movies and leave his career overview to another site, if “Massacre” (aka “Border Of Tong”) is anything to go by.
Just recapping this movie is confusing. We’re treated to a “Star Wars” style info-crawl at the beginning, and you’ll be pleased to know that it keeps up with the tradition of every movie with an info-crawl (“Star Wars” excepted) being absolutely terrible. The Tong were a friendly organisation for new immigrants way back when, but with reducing resources had to turn to crime, or something, while still being welcoming to new immigrants desperate for things that remind them of home. None of this makes the slightest bit of difference to the movie that’s about to unfold, in case you were wondering.
There’s a couple of Chinese guys, and they find a guy on the street who’s presumably a friend of theirs, but seems super-unwilling to go with them. They then go to a gambling den of some sort and kill everyone inside, but the unwilling guy, Joseph…nah, I got nothing. I have no idea why these people did what they did, and knowing it’s based loosely on a real-life case (the Wah Mee Massacre, in 1983), does little to resolve my confusion. It’s a robbery, apparently?
A very significant problem with “Massacre” is that the dubbing is really bad. All the Chinese actors are dubbed by people who appear to be reading English phonetically, for the first time, which leaves every bit of motivation for the characters curious at best. The actual people who are doing their own voices are fine, including Heavener himself, who isn’t terrible considering it’s his first ever movie, but…well, I guess it strays over the edge into being quite funny at times?
There are only a couple of chuckles, even if you’re a really dedicated bad movie enthusiast. There’s the way that the people tracking Joseph and his new girlfriend (who’s a really really bad actress) seem to have supernatural powers, as they’re always two steps behind him, no matter what he does. And there’s lots of fun to be had watching Heavener as he does all the things a badass cop from the mid 80s would do – have a sweet-ass mullet, for one, and sit on a chair the wrong way round, for two. Near the end, he says “I’ve been on this case for a year”, and you’re all “huh? If you’d said three days I’d have believed you, but a year? At least give some indication of the passage of time, dammit”. Although it sorta felt like I’d been watching the movie for a year by that point
The other, and far worse, problem, is how boring it is. The alleged star, Heavener, is barely in it (more on that in a moment), and Joseph is such a wet blanket, giving no indication why he’s doing anything or why we should care about him. After a while, he manages to attract a prostitute and they run away together (why is he hooking up with a prostitute? Because he thought he was going into a noodle place, apparently) but their trip to Canada and setting up of an origami business feels like a weird fantasy and not so much a thing that would happen in real life. But it’s also dull, we need to remember. Any fun you might get is quickly sucked out by the lack of a sense that anyone involved knew what they were doing.
Now, it turns out that a substantial amount of the footage was shot for a movie called “Dark Side Of Chinatown”, which was only released in Hong Kong, as far as I can tell. Heavener is in that even less than he’s in this, and there’s apparently more motivation given for what the characters do and some scenes are edited differently. This feels like a trick from our old friend Godfrey Ho, but it’s not two movies cobbled together, just one movie edited in two different ways.
There are millions of movies like this, leaden thrillers from all over the world rushed into production after the success of stuff like “Lethal Weapon”, the VHS boom ensuring they’d turn at least a small profit. If you spent any time in a video shop in the 80s or 90s, you’ll have seen the boxes of hundreds of them. Sadly, I can’t recommend this one, even a little bit. Not funny as a bad movie, not interesting as a good one. I guess we’ll try and track down “Outlaw Force”, his next movie, made three years later and with him as director, producer, writer and star, and see if there’s more fun to be had.
Rating: thumbs down