Monday, July 21, 2008

Jing Wong's Naked Genres Part 2

Naked Killer begged for a follow-up and got it in the form of the even more perversely titled Raped By An Angel. Again written by Jing Wong and starring some of the same cast, distributors caught whiff of a franchise and released the movie in same markets as Naked Killer 2.

The storyline is once again on the Skinemax level, taken to "the max." There's no kung-fu action but the graphic sex remains. When rape hits the screen the sex crime is treated as a plot point rather than a dramatic end in itself. It's only the beginning! It's the focal point of "Raped By An Angel," natch! My podcast co-host and I touch upon Korean film's matter-of-fact acceptance of violence against women as part of reality in our next episode; the same can be said of Asian films as a whole.

The funniest thing about the genre-title treatment of rape is the titles it produces. You wouldn't think twice about seeing a bunch in a row like "Murder Party," "Kill Bot" or "Blood Diner" but replace those death words with sex crimes and you're into uncharted territory for Western genre fans (ie Western Civilization.) Asian films don't flinch about brutal inequities between men and women, so when the focus of a genre thriller is sex, look out.

The plot of RBAA is a lot less gonzo than Naked Killer but begins in a comfortably uncomfortable place: a hockey masked strong man breaks into a woman apartment and rapes her. Then he stops. It's her boyfriend, a lawyer who happens to be into rape play...perhaps a bit too much (dun dun duuuun)

Soon enough, a beautiful commercial actress has moved into the apartment next door and the lawyer begins an intricate plot to rape her and get away with it. First he makes himself seen around the building in just the right way so the tenants think he's her boyfriend. Then he befriends the actresses best friend. Then the crime happens, and it's time for some revenge. Unfortunately the revenge involves entrapping the lawyer in another rape attempt rather than slicing his head off, but it all remains as suitably trashy as Naked Killer. The direction doesn't have nearly as much zip, either, despite some bold colors and Dutch angles.

I might've stopped there if Netflix didn't also have Raped By An Angel 2: Uniform Fan available.

......."Raped By An Angel 2"


Well I can't resist that. Even the title blows away the Skinemax competition in sheer brassiness. Titles like "Fatal Seduction" are entirely emblematic of the faux classiness that's plagued American trash since the death of the drive-in. "Raped By An Angel" is trashy but "Part 2: Uniform Fan" sends it into the stratosphere.

The alternate titles for Part 1 included "Legal Rape" and "Super Rape" by the way.

I'm not proud to say that to me the phrase "Uniform Fan" is immediately evocative. It should be obvious to everyone, right? In the opening sequence we meet our rapist, who is much more at the center of the action than in the previous installment. He explains his love of girls in various uniforms came from being a boy scout. He became a dentist to meet women in uniforms (???) and has a nurse girlfriend whom he makes wear the clothes to bed, natch. She works in his private office and helps him get away with molesting the patients he sedates with gas.

Mr Dental Rape is also a psycho who likes to pick off the occasional victim off the street. One morning an ex-Triad and his toadie find a victim's body and have to stand her upright against an alley wall so that they're not seen with her. It's goofy, and this hilarious show of bad taste introduces these two as protagonists. Hey, compared to a psycho rapist...?

Later that day the ex-Triad happens to accidentally be present at the scene of a sidewalk shootout and is taken into custody by the female cop who saw him. He wants her but she's not having any of it. Lady Cop also has a little sister in high school who just happens to need to see a dentist...

As in Part 1, the rapist has an intricate and devious plan to get away with it. Then he turns his attentions to Lady Cop - but she's onto him, and with a little help from Ex-Triad, justice will be served.

Despite even less resemblance to Part 1 or Naked Killer in directorial style, there's a great deal of sexploitation amiability - particularly the recurring motif of crazy Mr Dental Rape fantasizing the nonexistent come-ons of every female he meets.

I recommend the whole batshit crazy trilogy. Maybe when the rest of the (mostly) Wong-penned series arrives, I'll check them out too:

Raped by an Angel 3: Sexual Fantasy of the Chief Executive

Raped by an Angel 4: The Raper's Union (directed by Jing Wong!)

Miss Kwan a writer with writer's block and her goofy cop boyfriend are being tormented by an American named Daniel who's housing two escaped rapists. Daniel and the two friends spend there time combing the bars and clubs looking for girls. They cross paths with Kwan and her friends and the madness and carnage begins. Anthony Wong also stars as a lunatic named the Human Milk Drinking Doctor. A madman who rapes lactating women. He's reformed though (through working as an projectionist in a porno theater). Wong helps the couple defeat Daniel and his co-horts. Written by Joseph P. Ulibas {}

Raped by an Angel 5: The Final Judgement

Five women seek revenge against their rapists. Can they get to him before he can strike back? (penned by Wong)

You know what? This stuff'll never arrive over here. Check out what little miraculously made it to Netflix, and revel. You pervs.

Hats off, Jing!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jing Wong's Naked Genres

A screenwriter with titles like Fight Back to School, Death Mask of the Ninja, Evil Cat, I'm Your Birthday Cake! has little to answer for, come judgment day.

I don't mean films, necessarily, but film titles. What sort of a Hong Kong film workhorse has a career that spans such variety of titles over three decades?

Jing Wong is your workhorse.

Granted, a lot of funny titles come from rough translations. The variety of output they convey is simply delicious though: action-comedies with HK talent like Stephen "Kung Fu Hustle" Chow (Fight Back to School), Jet Li (The Enforcer) and Jackie Chan (City Hunter) that occasionally become series (God of Gamblers), vintage Ghostbusters knockoffs of the 80s (Ghost Fever, Ghost Snatchers), sex comedies (Sex and the Beauties, Boys Are Easy,) yakuza flicks (Cheap Killers, A True Mob Story, etc) and even goofy family stuff with titles like Spy Dad and Dating a Vampire.

He acts, he writes, he directs. Anything. Some HK filmmakers apparently get to live filmmaker's life like one-man-band auteurs while working their asses off on whatever the next assignment's genre may be....

Being a hired gun for any and all types of movie has gotta warp your perception a little. Thinking about Quentin Tarantino this past week for the podcast, it occurred to me that the whimsical relationship his first three films had with their audiences is partially born of a schizo viewpoint into a movie world where anything can happen at any time as long as ACTION AND DRAMA result. Guns must be fired, banana peels must be slipped on, good is righteous and evil is horrific. There are extremes at play. This is why we go to the movies.

The variety of moods that are created by skillful variety of extremes take great precision to juggle. Hence the classic ad line from when Hollywood used to give a damn about the potential of the medium: You'll LAUGH! You'll CRY!

There's something about the number of endearing classic-status films which can do the mood juggle that is quite sobering: Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, Jaws, Blue Velvet...even non-respectable genre fare like Dawn of the Dead...they don't just do many things well, they practically make up their own rules by being funny or scary or sad as the story requires. There's no one category for any of them, unless it's horror, but at this point most people expect horror movies to make them laugh a little too.

It's easy to remember the praise lavished upon Pulp Fiction for the fact you laughed with the hitmen before they became intimidating and scary in the very next scene. The engaged relationship to the audience that film possessed has been replaced by a more snarky and contemptuous self-awareness with Kill Bill.

At some point after the mid-80s, Troma's Lloyd Kaufman coined the monkier "Movies of the Future" for his company based largely on the fact Troma embraced genre-mixing chaos with The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke'em High.

Watching more Korean films as of late it occurs to me that the Asian film industries have for the most part excelled at creating pure entertainment devoid of filler and formula. The juggling occurs in different ways. Korean studio films sometimes embrace the juggling head-on, as in the popular Mr Vengeance trilogy of Chan-Wook Park. Like Kill Bill there is all manner of outrageousness, and not at the jokey expense of the story and characters' integrity.

Mostly, however, the shifts in tone come during the last act, as in the college sex comedy Sex is Zero which eventually, naturally turns dramatic and bittersweet. Usually such a shift is the result of bad screenwriting. When done right, it's all the more compelling.

Japanese auteur Takashi Miike's films have baffled and delighted audiences in Asia and America by seemingly embracing the cognitive dissonance of Asian 'sploitation...from the shocking conclusion of Audition to the assertively irreverent conclusion of Dead or Alive to the schizo superhero/gore oscillations of Ichi the Killer to the fantastical extremes of dysfunctional family behavior in Visitor Q and Happiness of the Katakuris.

Jing Wong's Naked Killer sounds on paper like a knockoff of Basic Instinct from the same year, but only a couple scenes are expended on any kind of imitation. The film's framework is textbook "Erotic Thriller," the type becoming more prevalent on Skinemax late night cable and starring classy ladies like Shannon Tweed...Stuff like this...

Naked Killer didn't directly influence the subgenre, instead it morphs the story of a cop in love with a bisexual femme fatale into a kung-fu comedy while retaining the erotically charged psychodrama. And Jing Wong isn't done making the most of the premise yet - what's better than ONE bisexual femme fatale assassin? A whole cadre of them, natch, overseen by a benevolent mistress Queen Bee assassin.

(fan made trailer, hence the Kill Bill theme)

Being an HK film, the deadly ladies aren't just axe murderesses or crack shots with firearms, they're freakin' backflipping ninjas!

The most striking aesthetic are the COLORS applied to the women of the film, straight out of the late 80s / early 90s fashion for bright primaries, and gaudy neons. Combined with the slanted angles you've got an immediately more exciting look and feel than the drab, serious monotonousness of any American "erotic thriller."

Wong's approach to the erotic thrills of titular naked killings and action makes the material kinetic, which feels far more congruous to the idea of a guilty pleasure escapist fantasy. Again, the Troma aesthetic. Be classy or don't.

Okay, the skillfulness of the filmmakers can't help but add some class. Trashy class, like, um, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Except not taking the femme fatale idea so drearily deadly seriously...

Take for example a scene in which our heroine, now being trained by the aforementioned Queen Bee to become a deadly seductive assassin, locks the Queen Bee into a basement with two slobbering sex-starved men in chains. This is in revenge for the harsh training she's been going through. So what does Queen Bee do? Seduces the men into submission by showing some leg and then dispatching them.

Another scene that summarizes the film's logic concisely comes earlier, when the film's hero - a cop in love with our assassin girl - encounters her for the first time stabbing a guy's nuts out on the set of a soap opera because her boyfriend just kicked her to the ground for becoming pregnant.

So he chases her outside onto some steps, but with memories of the stabbed nuts fresh in his mind he has to stop and vomit. The girl stops running and strikes up a conversation with him, since he's incapacitated.

All within the template of a renagade-cop-pursuing-a-femme-fatale story! There's so much you can do with any concept if you only try.

But most American trash, and mainstream American entertainment that cribs from trash, does it half-assed because the crew and cast would rather be doing something classier.

Content does not dictate form. What I'm saying is you should see this one for yourself.

Next post: The pseudo-sequel, and it's direct sequel, some more on Jing Wong and LOTS of RAPE. Be warned.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

White Dog, Yellow Audience

White Dog

I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of Sam Fuller's unreleased White Dog this past week. Filmed in 1981 and based on a magazine article written decades earlier, it's easy to imagine it might have been a better film had the filming begun even 10 years earlier. What would seem unlikely today is the reason for White Dog's unrelease: the NAACP prematurely protested without having seen the film and Paramount caved.

The story doesn't even sound anti-black on paper; the story is the rehabilitation of a stray attack dog found by an actress in the Hollywood Hills, who was abused long ago into attacking black skin on sight. The only hope is the treatment at an animal actors training camp, run by Burl Ives (annoying) and Paul Winfield (black.)

Sam Fuller's theatrical and intense techniques transplanted to 1981 are still often gripping, except the once or twice characters are called on to deliver speeches. As soon as 1981 theatrical-style monologues were a dying skill amongst film actors. Or maybe the writing just isn't up to it. Kristie Mcnichol, the girl who finds the dog, disappears for seemingly half the movie as the "retraining" scenes tend to chase their own tail.

The theater was the elegant Silent Film Theater, which I haven't been to since getting to meet John Kricfalusi at a screening of rare cartoons. The audience was...well. I thought I'd left the crowd behind at film school who need prove themselves superior by tittering at the slightest provocation. Only a few times was it warranted, ie, Mcnichol's hideous 80s outfits or Burl Ives' southern fried comedy "relief." The rest I couldn't understand.

It's not as though this were the New Beverley and we had all just been lined up for the 1980 slimefest Humanoids From The Deep and were ready to laugh for $7. This was 12 dollars for the privilege of giggling at a Sam Fuller film which never even saw the light of VHS and hasn't yet graced DVD. Where's the respect? The woman who introduced the film noted co-screenwriter Curtis "LA Confidential" Hansen's want for 'sploitation grit. Fuller's films always had a bit of that, with genuine compassion and humanity. Unfortunately you can't have a dog tear into black people with vitriol to give the audience "what they want" or at least what they're expecting before Fuller's humanity ponders the cancer of racism. That could have been the NAACP's unresearched original worry. But fundamentally, who were they to keep this film from seeing the light of day?

Audiences today, including and possibly especially LA audiences, seem caught off-guard to the point of liberally applied scorn and laughter. Or righteous outrage, as in a graceless display of immaturity the girl behind me. She didn't look 12 but sounded like it when piping up at the film's true pulling-the-rug-out moment, a throwaway playing on the audience's worst fears.

"What? Nooooo!.....(the moment passes).....Fuck that!"

Fuller, a man out of time whose sensibility to go for the jugular remains out of time amongst the easily placated.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Hostel Part Review

Hostel: Part II.

Has no one asked Eli Roth about the heavy use of Holocaust imagery in the Hostel series, perhaps soon to be part 3? Yes he's Jewish and there it is, from the factories to the sinister Europeans and WASP businessmen to the point blank execution of children. These are images that stick in the fertile imaginations of Jewish yuppie puppies, their connection to the unimaginable of being methodically and cold-bloodedly killed by those with the time to organize it only a generation away.

Roth's other influences - and they do seem influences, rather than Tarantino-style lifts - are filmic. Unfortunately like Tarantino, that seems to be the brunt of his experience. His depiction of a Slovakian village as a sinister force was a bit more theatrical, less verite, and this actually dilutes the more disturbing aspects of the story from coming out. Roth is too much an entertainer than provocateur.

The ability to make the truly repulsive campy and shocking here is the mainstream, big-budgeted version of the bloody knock-knock joke humor of Troma's The Toxic Avenger, Bloodsucking Freaks or Mother's Day with the eager reenactment of Giallo movies like Torso is a good one.

Roth doesn't seem to notice his own influence, though the dvds have a total of 10 commentary tracks by him and others, so he must get around to mentioning Aushwitz somewhere, right? I remember reading he knocks the Bush administration and the film itself name-drops Katrina, but the equation of Gitmo officers with a cannibal sadist played by the animal-snuffing director of Cannibal Holocaust would be par for shrill course for anyone redefining torture as they see fit. That's the bit of zeigeist on display for future generations.

Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato

The European™ dressings, which are ornate, betray the more primal fear being exploited by the "torture porn" stir. This isn't porn after all. Just mean-spiritedness with a contradictory need to please. And with about as much dialogue.

I never thought I'd find myself defending this film, but there you go.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Angry Youth Comix #14

Johnny Ryan is the rudest, most raucous practicioner of sincere stupid-smart funny drawings in the country.

And he was nice enough to include my fan letter in the current issue of his ongoing series, Angry Youth Comix!

You might know his Blecky Yuckerella strips published in many big-city weekly freebies - but certainly not in The New Yorker...

Available now, wherever fine comic books are sold!