Monday, September 29, 2008

Challenge of the Tiger

Plot: CIA playboys/agents Bruce and Richard Harrison (the thinking man's white ninja) track down a Mafia gang - apparently consisting of three employees - who have cadged a drug that will render the world infertile (a sort of anti-viagra). After brief match of slow-motion topless tennis, a punch-up with a bull at the bullfights, and a visit to the token martial arts school island where the processing plant for the drug is 'hidden', our heroes beat up all the gangsters and get the drug formula back. Astonishingly, there is a third group involved - Chinese agents Hwang Jang Lee and Bolo Yeung - which immediately means all fanboys must see this.

Dialogue: Jaw-dropping. Harrison is no 'new man', to say the least: in a patio scene, he and Bruce are served tea by a female agent: Bruce: "Smells nice". Richard: "So does she...". Just one lowpoint of scripting, they come so thick and fast it's hard to keep up. "I'll have a Coke" "Sorry we're out of Coke". (pause) "OK, I'll have a beer". One of the oddest parts of the film doesn't involve dialogue: the writer crowbars in an expo at the Macua yacht club, where real-life celebs Jack Klugman (Quincy) and Jane Seymour are swanning around. Bruce actually lines up to shake Quincy's hand!!

Similarity to real Bruce: must try harder. You could easily distinguish between the two due to (a) Le's Johnny Ramone barnet, and (b) the utter facial mismatch. He does a few token Brucie bounce steps between moves, but he may as well be copying Bruce Forsyth. Bruce Le has arguably the best-spelled rip off of Bruce Lee's surname; after all it's missing one out of the two e's. However he loses a point for not rhyming with 'Lee', like 'Bruce Li'.

Fights: Generally pretty disappointing, the 'one v many' stuff is poorly staged and has neither the variety nor technical excellence of, say, Way of the Dragon; nor the imaginative use of the environment that Jackie Chan excels at. Two absurd fights stand out: Bruce's fight againt a bull at the bullfights, where instead of simply making good his escape over the barrier when he has the chance he wrestles the 'bull's' (i.e. model's) horns and then unleashes some sidekicks on our bovine friend. Later Richard Harrison, who has been badly beaten offscreen (probably due to budget cuts) turns up at martial-arts-school-processing-plant-island punch drunk, and proceeds to beat up black-belts with thumps and shin-kicks.

There are, however, three good fights: a sadly short Hwang vs Bolo match, which should have been a highlight but didn't explore "superkicker vs muscle guy". Bruce's final three fights are all one-on-one's and get progressively better until his finale against Hwang, who, as ever is the man to watch. This climaxes in the worst on screen car crash explosion ever, with an impact which would only raise mild glances in a town-centre car park.

Title relevance to plot:Tenuous. There's undoubtedly a Challenge, but it is neither set not undertaken by a Tiger.

Overall: 2 kicks out of 5, some good camp fun and decent fights if you get that far.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925-2008

Paul Newman, RIP: one of the few actors I considered a huge screen icon and a magnificent film actor. Whilst Steve McQueen and Alain Delon had the on screen charisma, Paul Newman had the talent to go with it to lead five masterpieces (The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Verdict) and to produce terrific entertainment in Somebody Up There Likes Me, Harper,The Towering Inferno, The Color Of Money and The Sting . Like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven he was able to produce an excellent later years performance with Road to Perdition, and I've not even mentioned his charity work or sporting achievements.

All readers of this eulogy must watch one the aformentioned films tonight, and remember a true Hollywood legend and great guy.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Kongsploitation review: King Kong Escapes (1967)

Kongsploitation is of course nothing new: the orginal King Kong was almost immediately followed by the far inferior Son of Kong and the not bad at all Mighty Joe Young. But what of the big lad himself? Before he was resurrected for the terrible Dino De Laurentiis 1976 production (and its even worse sequel, King Kong Lives , in 1986), the mighty Toho studios had made the match-up that everyone wanted: King Kong vs Godzilla (1962). Of course, Godzilla is about 20 times bigger than Kong, but who's complaining: Willis O'Brien himself even proposed Kong vs Frankenstein's Monster at one point.

But anyway, on to King Kong Escapes, which finds our furry chum peacefully living on Mondo island (presumably a lot funkier than Skull island), with only the occasional dinosaur to wrestle. Meanwhile, the utter dastard Dr Who (yes, Dr Who) is plotting to mine and sell Element X to the Commies by setting up a mine at the North Pole. Note that the North Pole is now mysteriously solid ground, and not an ice sheet. Dr Who has created a robot King Kong to achieve this task, but soon realises he will need the real thing to finish his mining due to sub-standard construction of robo-kong.

Meanwhile a UN task force led by Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason - Best.Name.Ever.) and token lady Lieutenant Susan Watson (Linda Miller) steam to Mondo Island to find Kong. Of course, Kong soon falls for Susan and wrestles a dinosaur. Meanwhile Dr Who sets out to catch Kong and enslave him in his mine, At this point Dr Who makes Dr No look like employer of the year: any delay in his commands being carried out result in him hurling the poor engineer out of his office chair so that Who can man the controls himself. Kong soon escapes from the mine, and eventually faces off against the newly restored robo-Kong in Tokyo.

Match stats
Kong: 48ft tall
Robo-kong: 48.5 ft

Kong: strength, driven by love
Robo-kong: hypno-lamp on head, searchlight eyes, and according to Dr Who, 'he never tires' (in fact this is ambiguous: Dr Who has such a great, twisted bad guy accent that he may have said 'he has Hoover tyres', which would help him climb skyscrapers I suppose).

Suffice to say Kong wins the day and then cheerfully murders Who and his henchmen aboard their ship, before wandering back to Mondo island.

Verdict: 3 bananas out of 5, fun special effects and enough great dialogue/fights to keep you happy.