Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Kung Fu Cannibals / Raw Force


Certificate: 18
Running time: 86 mins
Director: Edward D. Murphy
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Geoffrey Binney, Jillian Kesner, Hope Holiday
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: Philippines

A true gem from a genre almost forgotten.  The only version of the film remaining is a DVD transfer from a worn video tape and if it wasn’t for the 2007 Los Angeles Grindhouse Film Festival we wouldn’t even have that.  This, and others like it, would disappear into the abyss of technology leaving our cinematic heritage looking a lot more mainstream.

A group of American tourists dock in the Philippines to sample some of the offerings of the east.  The group, unwittingly, set out to travel to Warrior Island, the home of a group of Kung Fu practicing monks who offer up women to their gods in order to restore the honour of the fallen warrior’s spirits.  The sacrificial women are “farmed” by corrupt Police Officer Thomas Speer in exchange for access to the island’s rich jade mines.

There is a reason this film, above all other offerings from the Filipino Grindhouse movement, is held in such high regard.  It doesn’t contain as many of the insanely dangerous stunts that these titles were famed for like One Armed Executioner or TNT Jackson, though it does have one particular act of agility mixed with lunacy.  The sequence with John Dresden (John Taylor) fly kicking through the window of a moving vehicle before almost ending under the wheels is probably one of the most breathtaking moments you’ll see in cinema.  The reason Kung Fu Cannibals is considered to be one of the best exploitation films to emerge from the Philippines is because how well constructed and entertaining the film is.  The plot is a lot more ambitious and developed than most films you will come across in most Grindhouse movements.  Such is the ambition of the narrative that you’re almost left wondering when the contents of the title will actually begin.  Some thirty minutes of exposition and, frankly titillation, transpire on board the cruise ship ticking the essential boxes of gratuitous nudity, alcohol and some unintentionally brilliant lines that leave you wondering how comedy writers can’t be this funny.  The Kung Fu sequences are all very strong, it’s evident that most of the cast have experience with their fists.  Geoffrey Binney, Jillian Kesner, John Dresden and Chandra Romero all perform excellently in some extremely physical and lengthy figure sequences.  Perhaps the most physically exhausting for the performers and memorable for the audiences is the cabin fight between John Locke (played by Gary Schwartz) and a biker thug with a swastika helmet while Carla Reynolds (Maniac Cop) lays naked tied to the bed.  The stand out performances belong without doubt to Carl Anthony (as Lloyd Davis) the gin soaked husband of Jennifer Holmes’ romantic lead who not only is absolutely unlikable but so selfish that you’re left admiring just how wonderfully self absorbed he actually is and Ralph Lombardi.  Lombardi’s performance as bent cop turned jade smuggler and human trafficker is wonderful and his decision to perform the role with side shade and Hitler-esque moustache is simply genious.  There’s a level of comedy to the performance that the character is unaware of which hits the correct beats through the film.

Some of the visual effects of the film leave a little to be desired.  The fire on board the cruise ship can be seen to freeze on a couple of occasions as the holiday makers abandon ship, clearly the result of unreliable rear projection but even that doesn’t retract from Kung Fu Cannibals.  Similarly to other films reviewed, like Mega Piranha, Kung Fu Cannibals has something that a lot of mainstream films simply do not.  Edward D. Murphy’s film has heart, enthusiasm and a real joy of film making.  These actors, on occasion, risked their lives for the sake of making a film, presenting to the audiences something that exists between art and entertainment and did it all with very little financial reparation.  That alone has to be admired.  Kung Fu Cannibals may not be the most off the wall of the Filipino exploitation films out there but it has survived (thankfully) and is loved by so many people because of it’s quality, quality actors like Cameron Mitchell, quality martial arts performed by Jillian Kesner et al. and entertaining and endearingly ambitious screenplay by Edward D. Murphy.

There are three problems with Kung Fu Cannibals, the first is that the first ten minutes are a reminder of the fragility of VHS as sound and picture quality is lost for moments at a time and the second is that even though the film was made in 1982 and carries an indication of a sequel to come that sequel has never materialized and the third is, and perhaps the work of Lucio Fulci has spoilt me, but if a film calls the word ‘cannibals’ in the title then there had better be a lot of cannibalism.  Unfortunately there isn’t enough for me.  There’s no way to measure how long this film will be available so if you get the opportunity you should watch it and make sure that one of the Philippines’ best films isn’t lost to you.








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