Sunday, June 13, 2004

kung fu laughfest

A colleague generously lent me a 5-DVD set of obscure kung fu flicks, packaged as volume I in the "Wu Tang Clan presents" series. The first of these flicks was this standard by-the-numbers movie called 18 fatal strikes. The film follows the classic 3-stage approach: (a) We have a talented exponent (in this case a Shaolin monk) of an famous[sic] Martial art bearing a numerically or lexicographically qualified moniker (the DVD says the 18 Buddha palm, but the bad dubbing hints at an art form which has 18 variants, of which the monk knows only 6!) (b) A clash with a foe leaves the exponent on the verge of death. The exponent is then rescued and resuscitated by some simpleton/simpletons with a pure heart, mischievous ways, and a superficial knowledge of/interest in Martial arts. (c) an emotional tragedy fuels in the simpleton(s) a renewed desire and motivation to learn from the monk, leading to an inevitable showdown with the foe (who, for narrative ease, has been the cause of grief to the simpleton(s) as well) where all is resolved.

The standard elements of such imports are evident: a randomly constructed standard-format version of a widescreen film, strange closeups, obstreperous background music, bad dubbing by people faking an insulting faux-Asian-imitation mix of British and American English, strange sounds, obscure dialogue, and action sequences.

The action isn't all that great, but what really appeals is the villain, a white-haired pony-tailed, red-gown-clad effeminate-faced dude called Shaking Eagle. His performance represents an interesting visualization of the workings of a capacitor. His move-set is apparently so complicated that he has to perform an eager load of the complete instruction set and cache it for use. We know this because every time he is about to switch to this set, he begins flailing about kung-fu fashion and his arms trace strange wing patterns. Furthermore, the soundtrack is filled with a mix of samples of flapping bird wings and canine squeals. The interesting thing about these squeals is that they even extend beyond the charge-up phase, and often, given the complete lack of dubbing synchronization, seem to be produced both verbally as well as via merely him lashing out with arm and limb (sound-enabled kung-fu moves, if you will). ASIDE: When the monk is training the revenge-driven simpleton, he notes the caveat with the whole enterprise -- the monk knows only 6 moves in the canon of 18, and even if the simpleton managed to master the remaining moves as well (perhaps by going to the nearest Kung Pao Net Café and Googling it), it would not be enough to defeat Shaking Eagle. Given this caveat, nature has to play an important role in bringing about the downfall of the Eagle. What happens is this: Eagle inadvertantly steps into a booby trap mine comprising wooden stakes. One of these makes amazing headway into his foot leaving him momentarily crippled with pain. Infuriated and confused, Eagle does what no one else would do in this situation: he lets his anger fuel a decision to finish off the good guys once and for all. He begins to charge up again, but realises too late to his dismay (and our pleasure) that the stake has effectively caused a break in the circuit, and thus, failing to charge up, he is defeated. Touché.

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