Youtube Film Club: The Silent Force (2001)

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I’m always happy to track down another Loren Avedon movie, because I know you, dear reader, are in a state of worry. “Which Loren Avedon movie from the VHS bargain bin should I buy?” you scream, and I hear you. Avedon was one of my favourite 90s martial arts / action movie guys, being able to kick ass and act, occasionally at the same time, and he’s been in at least one classic of the genre (“No Retreat, No Surrender 2”) and plenty of entertaining trash, like “King Of The Kickboxers”.

Around the millennium, looks like he sort of gave up on acting as a career, only appearing for his friends and doing the odd bit of “uncredited goon with no lines” work here and there. Avedon thinks this is due to an incident in 1991 with ISCFC favourite Sherrie Rose (“Summer Job”, “Lauderdale”) where he insulted her on set and she then badmouthed him to producers afterwards – but it’s not like her career was amazing either, so I just think he was a pretty tough guy to work with, if far too talented for the trashy roles he got.

 

The gist of “Silent Force” is there’s a group of Federal agents, working off-book, who are trying to take down some Chinese drug smugglers. Avedon is Frank Stevens, as nicely generic a name as you’ll ever find, and he’s got a sort of Lethal Weapon buddy-cop thing going on with Billy Lee (Clint Jung). They arrest Kim Pao, the son of the main guy Hue Gung Pao, and it’s on!

 

A brief aside at the casting of Pao, pere and fils: George Chung is the dad and Brian Tocchi is the son. These guys are both much better known as comedy actors – Chung from “Austin Powers” and “Rush Hour”, Tochi from the “Revenge Of The Nerds” series, so it’s a tough sell to see them as murderous villains. But anyway.

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The Pao family then wipe out Silent Force’s base, kidnapping Billy Lee and only leaving Frank because he was out buying groceries at the time of the attack. They have a mole inside Silent Force who they just straight-up murder as soon as the job’s done, which would not exactly inspire loyalty in any future moles; but there’s a mole inside Pao’s family as well, Natalie, the beautiful new girlfriend of one of his lieutenants (Karen Kim). The FBI list Frank as dead so he can go after Pao undetected, but then he tells the first group of baddies he meets what his name and plan is, so he’s perhaps not the smartest Federal agent of all time.

 

From the beginning, it will come as no surprise to the discerning B-movie fan that this is writer / director David May’s one and only credit. That first-timer’s incompetence is all over this movie, from the very beginning, with its self-consciously cool location (Silent Force is in what looks like a dojo in a disused factory), to the terrible sexist dialogue – “a woman on the rag can be a very dangerous opponent” to the meaningless cop jargon spewed all over the place. It’s a level 3 priority, you guys! Cos level 2 priorities aren’t worth a damn!

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There’s plenty of editing that makes potentially decent exciting scenes look terrible, like the shootout in the neon-drenched restaurant / bar. There’s a guy coming round the corner, but we’re not sure which corner, and the killing shot landed on him appears to just teleport into his chest, as there’s no gun pointed at him. Then there’s a few fights where obviously bad angles were used, so you can see punches miss their target or really awkward-looking swings – little stuff, admittedly, but when you’re operating at the lower end of the cinematic pool, you need to get all this stuff right to rise above the rest of the dreck.

 

There’s also the bizarre Matthias Hues cameo to talk about. When they capture Frank, they decide to make him fight to save the life of Natalie, who they’ve captured too, and for absolutely no reason whatsoever, they bring in Hues (uncredited, too) as a ringer. If you’re going to stack the deck against Frank, why not just shoot him? The Feds bust in and Hues shoots a few of them before going down himself – perhaps the director was a really big fan of the fight the same two actors had in “No Retreat, No Surrender 2” and wanted a rematch?

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This is a curious movie. Released in 2001, it was clearly destined to be straight-to-video shelf-filler, but those shelves were shrinking even as early as then, and one can’t help but think it must have sat unreleased for quite a while. Evidence – Avedon looks a decent amount younger than he does in “Manhattan Chase”, filmed the year before this was released; and if it had been released in the mid-90s, it could have done a lot more business probably. Kung fu movies and buddy-cop movies were both pretty old news by 2001, more evidence for it being a little out of time. Plus, the director does have one other credit, second-unit on 1994’s “A.P.E.X.”, so I can buy him working on that, rounding some money up to make a movie, failing miserably and then going back to his day job, but to wait 7 years? I don’t see this as anyone’s passion project.

 

Aside: take ISCFC legend Brion James, for example (who is credited as the singer and songwriter for this movie’s theme, amazingly) – despite dying in 1999, the last film he acted in wasn’t released til 2005. This is clearly more common than I thought.

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Sprinkle on an ending where the previously psychopathic villain turns into a camp bit of comic relief, as hero and heroine sail off into the sunset on the drug dealer’s yacht with all his money, and you’ve got yourself a movie. But should you watch it?

 

If you’re a real hardcore fan of Loren Avedon, then yes. But then if you’re one of those you wouldn’t need my review! It’s not quite terrible enough to be on the so-bad-it’s-good spectrum, and it’s certainly not good enough to just be a decent movie in its own right – but it’s just about okay enough that you won’t want to throttle me if you watch it based on this. Plus, it’s free, so put your feet up and enjoy.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

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Youtube Film Club: Ninja Terminator (1985)

This never happens

This never happens

The ISCFC has already tackled “9 Deaths of the Ninja”, but it’s time to move on to what could be Godfrey Ho’s great classic.

I think we’re going to launch a new section for the site called “Youtube Film Club”, only for films available in their entirety on Youtube. You can watch the film and then read my spoiler-filled review, or just read it (because chances are it won’t be any good). This is the third film I’ve given you the opportunity to watch and then read about, so strap yourself in and let’s go.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the ninja group’s ascent to power- over what, we’re never told. But they’re in charge, and have been for all that time, partly thanks to a Golden Ninja Warrior statue which permits its holder to be indestructible. To prove it, Boss Ninja takes on his three lieutenants, they strike him and the swords bounce off. In your face, lieutenants! Also, all the ninjas have mascara on, for reasons which are unknown to my humble Western brain. What my brain does know, though,  is not to play the “golden ninja warrior” drinking game, that every time someone says that phrase in full, take a shot. You would be distinctly ill by the 30 minute mark and dead by the hour (although you’d miss the last third of this film, so it’s not all bad).

Unfortunately for the Boss Ninja, the minute his back is turned three of his underlings steal the statue and leg it. The statue naturally divides into three pieces, so they take their pieces and go their separate ways. A sign flashes up saying “2 years later” and the main piece of the statue is immediately stolen by…well, it’s really quite unclear. I’m seriously not saying this for effect, readers.

So, we’ve got a magic invulnerability-providing statue in three pieces, and we’ve got a gang of ninjas who want their statue back. But more importantly, we now have Richard Harrison. Much like every Godfrey Ho review, I need to tell you a little about Harrison – an extremely busy actor through the 50s, 60s and 70s, a series of odd career choices left him acting in Z-movies in the Far East, and as he and Ho knew each other from way back, Harrison made a few films with Ho in the 80s. However, Ho was the master of making his footage work for him, and used the footage he’d shot of Harrison to splice into a number of other films, such as this one. Harrison wasn’t a huge star by any stretch, and was distinctly unhappy with the way he was treated, so it really makes no sense on any level.

Harrison plays a ninja whose outfit is camo – which is an interesting choice, if a bit of a waste of time inside his apartment, which is where he spends 90% of his time in this movie. Early on, his wife / girlfriend / whoever (who cares, it’s never explained) is cooking crabs, and we get an amazing scene which can be roughly summed up by “ever wondered what the lobster scene in Annie Hall would look like if Woody Allen was played by a fading B-movie star with a huge moustache and mascara, and he tried to kill the crabs with a ninja throwing star?”

Harrison has…I can’t quite believe I’m writing this…a Garfield phone, so he has a variety of conversations with his “assistant”, Jaguar Wong, using Garfield, one of the odder visuals you’ll ever see. Jaguar, who’s the real star of the film, tries to track down the sister of the guy who was killed near the beginning of the film for his third of the golden ninja warrior (take a shot)…I hope you’re confused by this point, because I was. It’s at least two films spliced together, and there’s quite a lot of both of them, and the only way they’re tied together is by extra dubbed-in dialogue and that damned magnificent phone.

You could be forgiven for thinking I was joking

You could be forgiven for thinking I was joking

The third ninja thief from the beginning of the film has some beautiful scenes too. My biggest laugh came when we see him eating breakfast, which is a large slice of watermelon. He’s just sat there, at a huge empty table, carving up a solitary slice of watermelon, and for some reason it made me roar with laughter. He’s attacked by a bad ninja who can shoot fire, and amazingly, the end of his sword has a button you can press that turns it into a fire extinguisher. If you don’t love this scene, I don’t want to know you.

It’s not all fight fight fight, though, and we get a love scene a fair ways into the film, soundtracked by Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. I’m willing to bet every penny I ever earned that a film so cheap it couldn’t even afford all its own footage was not willing to pay whatever Pink Floyd was charging. And you also get the eponymous “Ninja terminator”, introduced in a way that gives the impression the filmmakers were a little embarrassed at how little the title had to do with the film.

I think unpacking the ways this film fails might be interesting. It had a lot of hurdles to clear, and it unfortunately knocked every single one of them down, before dying 10 feet before the finish line.

Acting
Editing
Directing
Dubbing
Fight scenes

Fight scenes – I’m no expert on martial arts fight scenes, but I’ve seen my fair share, and this is the first one where I’ve ever really thought “wow, these scenes suck”. Jaguar doesn’t get a single blow landed on him until the very last fight; and there’s no sense why he’s so much better a fighter than everyone else he meets. There’s also a lot of daylight between fist and body while some of the very loud shots are being landed.

Dubbing – one of the dubbing guys was having a laugh, I think, because he kept popping up as minor characters with the stupidest accents imaginable. He’s the only person who earned his wage for this film. There are endless references to “Jack’s sister Jill” (rather than just calling her Jill, for heavens sake) and the golden ninja warrior, of course.

Directing – I’m not entirely sure this film was directed. No attempt is made to provide a decent ending to the film – it doesn’t so much wrap up as get to a point where they ran out of film and said “ah, this’ll do”.

Editing – I’m grudgingly respectful they made this, out of the scrag-ends of other films, and got it to the point where I can sum up the plot, just about, without wanting to shoot myself.

Acting – Harrison has the look of a man who’s only making films in the Far East because there’s a guy in the USA he owes money to. Jaguar decided “cocky asshole” was the way to go with his dramatic leading man portrayal. Everyone else I give a pass to, because the awful dubbing ruined any chance they might have had.

So, a pyramid of garbage. For fun, see how much impact the motivation of the thieves at the beginning of the film has on the way the plot goes (hint: none at all). You’ll be impressed at the way the film ends, because it’s so abrupt, you’re halfway through the credits before you realise “hold on, those two storylines were never close to coming together! What the hell?” And Godfrey Ho films are at least entertaining to watch – there’s an absolute shedload of filler, though, so you’ll need a good group of friends to help keep you awake through it. Me, I have a notepad and a cat that jumps on me every ten minutes.

Ninja Terminator on IMDB
Buy Ninja Terminator [DVD]