Wednesday, May 13, 2009

13th September 2008: "Sonny Shiba vs Undead Ninjas" double!

The Killing Machine

Japan 1975 colour

aka Shôrinji Kenpô

Director Norifumi Suzuki Writer Takeshi Matsumoto

Cast Sonny Chiba (Mr. Soh), Yutaka Nakajima (Kiku), Asao Koike, Etsuko Shihomi (Miho)

First tonight is another film from the king of Japanese martial arts movies, Sonny Chiba. But rather than one of the myriad of Street Fighter clones like much of his Seventies output, The Killing Machine is a period film with a message: a rather cloying message of self-empowerment which gets a little much really quickly. Just stifle your gag reflex and let the skull-cracking begin.

The film opens in the closing days of World War 2. Chiba plays Soh, a Japanese soldier, killer and spy operating behind enemy lines in mainland China. Upon hearing his commander deliver the tragic news of Japan’s surrender, Soh shoots up his office with a machine gun, and yet the burning shame won’t go away. Cut to post-war Japan, and Soh is adrift in a society white-anted by American corruption: jazz clubs, youths in baseball jackets, black marketeers, and the omnipresent GIs as a reminder of the country’s ignoble defeat. The noble Soh, naturally, can’t keep his mouth shut, and cracks a few American skulls; his sympathetic jailer allows him to escape, and he heads to the countryside to start a Shaolin-style dojo, based on the techniques he learned as a spy in China.

Based on a real life Shaolin master who attempted to rebuild Japanese pride through Chinese martial arts, The Killing Machine is essentially a one-character study, thought the film touches on the two women in Sho’s life: Kiku, a young soiled innocent Soh tries to rescue from a life in the gutter, and Miho (played by Sue Sister Street Fighter Shihomi) who, along with her reluctant brother, is one of his dojo’s first pupils.

It’s always interesting to see World War 2 and the Occupation period from a Japanese point of view. But that point of view is hammered home with Chiba’s trademark ham fists and look of righteous indignation under furrowed brillo brows. I’m more interested to know how American audiences might have reacted to such pro-Japanese nationalistic fervour and glaring anti-US sentiment, and to the ever-present swastikas over their kung fu jackets (I know it’s a Eastern mystic symbol, but still…). If you’re longing for the blood and nihilism of the early Street Fighter films, you’re not alone, and that doesn’t make us bad people. Let’s just take a break from the blood and indulge Sonny at his most pompous. It’s time for Chiba Lite with the 1975 The Killing Machine.

Raw Force

USA/Philippines 1982 colour

aka Kung Fu Cannibals, Shogun Island

Director/Writer Edward D. Murphy

Cast Cameron Mitchell (Captain Harry Dodds), Geoffrey Binney (Mike O'Malley), Hope Holiday (Hazel Buck), Jillian “Kessner”/Kesner (Cookie Winchell), John Dresden (John Taylor), Jennifer Holmes (Ann Davis), Rey King (Go Chin), Carla Reynolds (Eilleen Fox), Carl Anthony (Lloyd Davis), John Locke (Gary Schwartz), Mark Tanous (Cooper), Ralph Lombardi (Thomas Speer), Chanda Romero (Mayloo), Vic Diaz (monk), Mike Cohen

When your writer AND director is the old boy who played the Captain in Mad Doctor of Blood Island, you may take this as an SOS call.

But fear not – Raw Force is out of its mind. In a good way, of course, but is also foaming at the mouth and howling at the moon. Imagine a film shot by Americans in the Philippines exploiting every possible angle: cannibals, zombies, samurais, white kung fu (this WAS 1982, and Chuck Norris reigned supreme!), gumby comedy, and more flesh on display than a Friday night karaoke crawl in Manila.

Executive Producer Larry Woolner used to be a mover and shaker at Dimension Pictures, who handled a few Filipino features for the Seventies drive-in circuit; Raw Force was his last hurrah, and has that weird tension between old-fashioned entertainment and what he believes the kids want to see. As such, there’s old has-beens hobbling next to young never-wills. It’s Porky’s with Sidney Greenstreet and David Carradine, and none of it meshes. But with a mess this entertaining, thank god for senile dementia.

Aging name actor Cameron Mitchell stars as the skipper of a rusty tub bound for the South China Sea and Hope Holliday is Hazel Buck, the boat’s New York jewish owner. On board are the Burbank Karate Club (actually a few no-name TV actors), plus blonde black belt champion Jillian Kessner, who had already played the lead in Cirio H. Santiago’s Firecracker (1981). It’s a motley crew on a crusty Love Boat stocked with degenerates, schmiels, and the brown end of California’s swingers circles.

Onto the ship comes Speer, a nasty German with a Hitler mustache looking for white women to steal, and his karate-kicking cronies. The ship goes up in flames, and the remaining cast and crew are adrift in a life boat before washing up on Warrior’s Island. There they discover Speer has been trading jade for his plane load of tasty-looking nubiles - Warriors Island happens to be the home of a renegade group of grinning, clapping cannibal monks who can reanimate the corpses of disgraced martial artists to do their bidding. The girls… well, they happen to be the monks’ main course.

And that’s the set up for one of the strangest kung fu horror sex comedies you will ever witness. Keen-eyed Schlock viewers will recognize the chubby features of the ubiquitous Vic Diaz as one of the head monks, alongside Mike Cohen who Weng Weng fans will recognize as Dr Kohler in For Your Height Only. All I can say right now is slip the brain into neutral and enjoy, and if you ever needed proof that the Philippines exists in a parallel universe in which our laws of taste, logic and sanity are turned on their heads, it’s this: the 1982 Raw Force.

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