Saturday, 25 October 2008
86 Mins Approx.
There are many, many Bruce Lee rip-offs out there. Following Lee's tragic demise, untold quickies were furiously pushed out from skid row chancers such as IFD to respected big hitters like Shaw Brothers (whose sleazy trash fest I LOVE YOU BRUCE LEE is definitely worth a look). However, for sheer crazed out-there lunacy, THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN wins hands down. Yes, there really is no contest here.
When Bruce dies he is transported to the underworld (a kind of twilight zone nether world). Here he encounters a bizarre array of characters from popular culture - James Bond, The Exorcist (typified by a shifty monk replete with cloak and cross), The Godfather, The Man with No Name, blind swordsman Zatoichi, Dracula and Emmanuelle. These disparate figures are out to usurp the kingdom's emperor and it's up to Bruce (with a little help from the One Armed Swordsman and Popeye!?) to cut some serious shapes and tackle Dracula's army of zombies (various stuntmen jumping around in skeleton costumes). Incensed with a deeply narcotic strangeness, this berserk enterprise transcends its cut-price kung fu tag and drifts in to stylisations one usually associates with a Dali-esque surrealist pop art painting. There's a surprisingly great cast on hand too – look for 'Lucky Star' (and future INFERNAL AFFAIRS player) Eric Tsang as Popeye (his performance is pretty weird) and DRUNKEN MASTER legend Simon 'Sam the Seed' Yuen as a kindly doctor. Amazingly, Little Dragon look a like Bruce Liang went on to depict the villainous 'Beast' in Steven Chow's phenomenally popular KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004).
I first caught this insane wonder during the early days of the golden video age some 25 years ago and haven't been the same since. Released on VCL with proper old school packaging (in those huge clamshell hard plastic boxes that you just don't see anymore), many missed this obscure gem because of a misleading sleeve (that depicted naked courtesans bathing). Over the years there has been a gradual buzz amongst genre fans, resulting in many ropey online DVDR bootleg issues (taken from the VCL UK video print) and grey area budget releases (such as the Return of the Dragon quad pack from Video Asia). Now recently re-issued on prolific UK DVD imprint Vengeance Video, all can now marvel at this truly bizarre Eastern oddity in a fairly clean full screen transfer at an agreeable budget price. For the truly obsessed, there is also a Mandarin language print in circulation that omits a farcical sex scene between the emperor and Emmanuelle.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
(aka. Niet Voor De Poezen/The Rape)
Directed by Fons Rademakers
94 mins approx.
Aside from the work of mavericks such as revered crackpot Paul Verhoeven, Dutch cinema appears to receive scant attention from genre buffs. However, this haunting crime thriller helmed by respected, Oscar winning filmmaker Fons Rademakers is a refreshing forerunner of the 'bourgeois bashing' potboilers that littered Euro film screens throughout the seventies. Following the vicious attack of a wealthy couple in their home by a mysterious masked gang of serial housebreakers, the case is assigned to unconventional sleuth Inspector Van Der Valk (British TV and LONG GOOD FRIDAY star Bryan Marshall). The gang leave a distinct pattern – while nothing valuable is actually stolen, possessions of wealth and status are duly trashed. They also like to indulge in the humiliation of their victims, in this case gang raping the women whilst forcing her helpless husband to watch (a truly disturbing set piece that may well derive from the CLOCKWORK ORANGE text book analogy of sexual abuse as power, but manages to piss all over Kubrick's hysterical vision with a quietly naturalistic 'you are right there' edge).
Using the services of Feodora (sexy Alexandra Stewart), a prostitute with ties to a seaside bar frequented by spoilt rich kid boy/girl gangs the Ravens and the Cats, Van Der Valk conducts an unorthodox and morally questionable investigation in to the lifestyle of these upper class 'tribes'. Gate crashing the mansion of snide, sociopathic ringleader Frank and with no warrant to hand, the policeman wastes no time in chastising the teenager for his crimes.
He soon moves on to the rest of the gang members, individually intimidating them in the hope that one will crack under the strain. These psychological mind games pay off. When a novice Raven dies in a tragic swimming 'accident', events take an even more sinister turn as Van Der Valk discovers unseen forces using both gangs for an altogether more fascistic motive…
On initial viewing, fans of the beloved giallo and poliziotti may find the ragged texture and style of BECAUSE OF THE CATS resolutely flat – there is none of the colourful pulp fumetti stylisations so prevalent and loud in fare such as Andrea Bianchi's lurid STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975) going on here. Add to this a clinical coldness you can almost smell in characterisation and narrative (even in the most shocking scenes) and you could accuse this oddity as an empty exercise unworthy of Rademaker's sincere artistic intentions (an exploitation filmmaker he is not).
But that's the very reason why I love this movie. It refuses to be tagged and goes about its own damn business as it pleases. Rademakers appears to be sticking his fingers right up the asshole of the Cinecitta dream factory: the beautiful people so out of reach from reality. Their composure rigid, uptight and forced as if redundant models for a painter. Rademakers obviously despises these notions and rigorously turns the 'populist' European cinematic rulebook on its head. When you see nudity (and there is plenty) it has a ruffled, 'just out of bed' look. There's a great scene of Van Der Valk and Feodora in her apartment. Whilst she prepares breakfast – he slouches around casually showing his unerect penis. There is an absence of the usual visual flourishes prevalent in most Euro productions around this period. No heavy set make up, flash designer clobber, soft focus framing or sensual Morricone score here – just two people post sex, looking a little rough, unposed, and ultimately 'naturalisitic'. The sequence is certainly understated, however, I found it more arousing and sexy than THE SENSUOUS NURSE (1973) or any fucking routine Gloria Guida movie you could care to mention.
BECAUSE OF THE CATS is undoubtedly a quirky, jagged ride that does not care for such trivialities as a conventional ending to tie up those loose plot strands. Indeed, criticisms levelled at Rademakers for deliberately setting out to make a 'difficult' picture can be fully accepted. But, scratch beneath the surface and you will find an offbeat, cool little number that twists and turns like the best gialli. Add to this a cracking glam rock soundtrack from Ruud Bos (reissue CD please), an early pre-EMMANUELLE appearance from Sylvia Kristel, not to mention some very salty dialogue and you have a truly unique 70's Euro crime bookmark that could well become a genre fans sleeper in time to come. The print under review is a nice looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen 5.1 stereo DVD transfer from Dutch label Afilm. Fans of Fulci and his gore soaked ilk should perhaps steer well clear, however, the more exploratory 'seen it all' readers out there may wish to seek this off kilter curiosity. For the really adventurous, BECAUSE OF THE CATS is also available as part of a 12 title Afilm Rademakers DVD box set.
Source Print: Afilm DVD (Netherlands)