Rock's Cheapo Theatre of the Damned

→ in

minds his own damn business
Like the slow creep of hypothermia in Ang Lee's best film....

minds his own damn business
I've always confused The Ice Storm with The Sweet Hereafter.

They're both very good, and Atom Egoyan is just as disappointing in his later career.

(I still kinda like Hulk)

I probably should get into Egoyan at some point, but he's had that incredibly lame Canadian stench about him that's kept me away.

minds his own damn business
I probably should get into Egoyan at some point, but he's had that incredibly lame Canadian stench about him that's kept me away.
I thought it was all pine up there.

I liked The Adjuster and Exotica, as well as Sweet Hereafter. I haven't seen the earlier ones. It feels like the quality has dropped off with the last couple I've seen (Where the Truth Lies, Chloe, Devil's Knot, Remember).

This porn thread devolved into a discussion of Ang Lee's filmography so subtly we didn't notice until it was too late . . .
Sort of the opposite of what happened with Fox, huh?:


Carter Stevens Double Feature

House of Sin opens with a woman's car having broken down. Who shows up and offers to help but our old friend Robert Kerman? (He plays a character named "Marvis", which not only sounds like a typo, but happens to be the name of a toothpaste brand. He dodges the question when asked if it's his first name or last name.) Lucky for her he gladly helps her put her things into his trunk and drives her over to his place where she can stay until her car situation gets sorted out. But given the title, things are not what they seem, as we soon find out. It turns out the Kerman is some sort of evil satanic figure, and the house is full of his disciples who practice some kind of devil worship through fornication. That's about all there is to the plot, and we have to sit through a number of basic variations of sex scenes, most of which end with the participants pledging their loyalty to Kerman (who watches most of the action approvingly alongside the heroine). There's little energy in the execution of most of these, although the loud squealing of the bedsprings had me a little worried about the structural integrity of the beds being used and the potential for injury for the performers. I must note that the scene with Tigr (who was my primary point of interest for this movie; judge not that ye not be judged) has her temporarily upside down. (What's she doing upside down? Because I am a gentleman, I'll let you figure it out.) There's also a BDSM scene at the end involving Phil Prince regulars Mistress Candice and David Christopher, which the heroine watches while making disgusted faces. This is therefore the most interesting sequence. A lame attempt at a mind**** ending caps off the affair.

I've reached some kind of a shameful low point when I watch a porno and my primary criticism is that it isn't sleazy enough. Let me explain. Director Carter Stevens made this for the Avon theatre chain, which distinguished itself with cheaply made, unpleasant roughies (full of rough sex, BDSM and rape). This is supposed to be evil, satanic sex we're talking about here, but most of what follows is pretty routine stuff, and filmed in the most perfunctory way possible. I contrast this to the films Phil Prince also made for Avon, which aren't necessary more artful, but seem more committed to their depravity. (I do think those movies have an interesting, if crude, aesthetic that results from their meager production values. The ones I watched had a surprising stylistic and tonal consistency given that they were made for purely cynical reasons. They're also intentionally funnier, if usually in a more rancid way.) While I normally like Robert Kerman, he's a little too nice to play the villain here (going back to Prince's work, I think of the demonic energy George Payne brings to his roles there), and the qualities I find most intriguing about Tigr as a performer are absent here. If I can say some nice things about the movie, it's that the soundtrack (mostly punk or hard rock, some atmospheric rumbling, but with some wildly out of place twangs of sitar early on) makes this sound a lot more exciting than it is, and that the extensive print damage on the transfer I watched helped make this feel grimier than the actual direction. There's also some comedic value from the hairdo of Kerman's right hand lady, who sports an unbraided rattail. With the caveat that I actually like lady mullets, who thought this was a good hairdo? Did her stylist play a practical joke on her? These are answers House of Sin refuses to provide.

Much more fun than House of Sin, if still not especially well made, is Punk Rock, which is an attempt to mix punk, noir and porno. The story involves a private detective played by Wade Nichols as he tries to rescue a girl from a sex slavery ring run by an evil punk musician played by Elda Gentile of Elda and the Stilettos. The most notable thing about this movie is that Debbie Harry was at one point a member of the Stilettos and that Stevens originally wanted her for the role. (This seems like wishful thinking to me, as Harry was already conquering the charts with Blondie by the time this movie was made, but one can still dream.) I naturally assumed that the musicians would be nowhere near the porn elements, but nope, a late scene has Elda and her friends hanging around and offering colour commentary during a lesbian scene. Joining the fun are Robert Kerman as a police detective also investigating the case and Bobby Astyr as a low level pimp who runs an establishment called the Polynesian Pleasure Palace. It even has a pinball machine, and at one point we get a pinball montage, which I'm sure the raincoat brigade must have been thrilled to see.

To be honest, this isn't the best made movie, but the mix of elements gives it enough novelty to make it worth checking out. The sex scenes are done in a pretty perfunctory manner, but the movie comes alive during the noir elements, taking relish in the touch guy banter between Nichols and his foils. Nichols, with his chiseled jaw, immaculate mustache and steely gaze, is almost a primal image of a male pornstar, but his streetwise charisma and sarcastic delivery make him a pretty fun noir hero, and has in Kerman and Astyr two sturdy character actors to bounce off of. It helps that the movie has a decent sense of humour, like when he promises Kerman "no rough stuff" and mercilessly beats Astyr in the next scene ("That was for general principles") or when he explains the presence of a spinning dummy ("Just a routine precaution, I happen to be very popular with murderers this season"). Apparently there's a version where the hardcore footage is replaced by musical performances, and while I wouldn't say the Stilettos are all that good (oddly enough for a punk band, they have a saxophonist and two nude dancers, but I guess Blondie wasn't a typical punk band either), I suspect that version plays somewhat better given that the sex scenes are the least interesting thing about this.

House of Sin

Punk Rock

The American Friend (Wenders, 1977)

More than most of our great actors, Dennis Hopper's personal life and career are difficult to separate from his performances. Here's a man who started off in studio pictures, directed one of the defining films of the American new wave, had his next film buried and was cast off into the wild, so to speak, as his drug problems escalated, and after a successful stint in rehab, found a second career playing great movie psychos. This is an extremely simplified summary of his life and career, and Hopper certainly had films in each era that buck the trends I refer to, from his early role in Curtis Harrington's strange and mystifying Night Tide, to his directorial success with gritty cop drama Colors to his turn as a villainous real estate tycoon in Land of the Dead (a film whose satirical points proved to be entirely on target when I revisited it last year), but the point still stands. I mean, you look at his role as a photojournalist under Kurtz's spell in Apocalypse Now, his best known role during his "wilderness" years, and it doesn't seem too far off from the real Hopper. Wim Wenders' The American Friend was another film Hopper made during these years, and by Wenders' account, his initial behaviour very much justified that reputation. (Apparently a night of partying helped patch up any disagreements on set.)

Here Hopper plays Tom Ripley, that great psychopath of print and screen, but what will struck any viewer familiar with the source material is how unusual a fit he is for the role. Certainly there's no one way to play Ripley. One need only look at the different film adaptations, where he's been played by actors as diverse in style as Hopper, Alain Delon, John Malkovich and (in the shamefully yet to be seen by me Anthony Minghella film, given its reputation in menswear circles) Matt Damon. And Ripley himself changes between novels. Compare the insecure, aspiring character in The Talented Mr. Ripley to the survival instinct in Ripley Under Ground to the strange benevolence of Ripley's Game, of which this is an adaptation. When reading the source novel, I pictured Ripley as cold, composed and calculating, an approach Malkovich took in Liliana Cavani's adaptation a few decades later. (I like that movie quite a bit, but if one must quibble, Malkovich plays the role perhaps too conventionally.) Hopper is anything but. He's impulsive, mercurial and tortured, and comes sideways to the material yet in a way that's ultimately quite fitting. We can believe this is a man who would seek to ruin Bruno Ganz's hero's life over a minor insult and also a man who would stick his neck out to assist the man he wronged over something so meager, if only to rebalance the scales of cosmic justice. Movie psychos don't always adhere to the psychological realities of real life sociopaths, but Hopper's anguished demeanour makes the portrayal work.

Hopper also diverges from other incarnations of the character in his wardrobe. The Talented Mr. Ripley, set in an Italian resort town, suggests that its characters should be sporting relaxed, maybe a little louche, vacation wear, which is certainly the case in its adaptations. Ripley's Game has an older, more discreet Ripley, and Cavani's adaptation has him dressed fairly conservatively. In contrast, Wenders has Hopper (my guess is at Hopper's insistence) decked out in workwear, sometimes in a jumpsuit, sometimes in denim (providing more evidence that a Canadian tuxedo is a good look in the right hands) and almost always with a cowboy hat. It's a look that suggests honest Americana in most contexts, but here takes on a sinister quality. ("What's wrong with a cowboy in Hamburg?" he asks, none too reassuringly.) Highsmith as an American ex-pat living in Europe likely had a different relationship to the character than Wenders, a German in West Germany, and one can read a political and cultural dimension into the way Ripley, an American, influences sometimes nefariously and sometimes beneficently the life of the German hero. The hero's initial disgust at Ripley's involvement in an art forgery scheme, a plot point lifted from Ripley Under Ground, seems pretty pointed in this respect. Lest I suggest that Wenders' views towards Americans and their cinema are entirely ambivalent, it's worth noting that he casts crucial supporting roles with Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller. (He also places Jean Eustache in a brief scene, but one which hits a key narrative beat.) To an extent, their casting plays as iconography, and a moment where Hopper parts from Ray, the former marching towards a modern skyscraper while the latter is framed against an aging building, feels like an attempt by Wenders to find a place for his movie, loosely falling in that very American genre of film noir, in the context of both American and German tradition.

In adapting Highsmith's work, Wenders shuffled the settings to place most of the action in Hamburg, and perhaps because of the contrast with his preceding road movies, he seems particularly interested in the realities of the location. There is of course the scene I mentioned above, and the way the joyless industrial settings seem to colour the mood. (That mood is of course enhanced by the cinematography by the great Robby Müller, which is a masterclass in its use of colour. The fluorescent lighting is bold yet harsh and chilly, creating a movie that's gorgeous to look at yet a little oppressive to spend time in.) Ripley's lair even looks like a crude cartoon sketch of the White House, which again plays into the movie's curious yet critical view of American iconography (a quality which would bloom in Paris, Texas). This kind of specificity also ties nicely into its qualities as a thriller, of which this is a terrific example. The movie's most thrilling sequence (shot both on a moving train and also in the studio, with the footage later assembled with immaculate timing) is the hit on the train, where the hero, eventually assisted by Ripley, has to devise and perform a pair of murders in a crowded, cramped, moving train and dispose of the bodies without anybody noticing, sometimes hiding bodies in the bathroom, sometimes stashing weapons in different nooks, sometimes fleeing to unattended cars (the hero sticks his head out a window at the train's rear and cries in relief, as seen in the bizarre visual of a helicopter shot that makes it look like the bright red train is moving backwards). I also think of the way the victim's body tumbles down the escalator after Ganz's character performs his first hit and the sight of Ganz fleeing the subway as seen through the security camera, which evokes the feeling of being trapped by the location and enhances the subsequent sense of freedom and exhilaration experienced by the hero. Ganz's character is a good man, but Highsmith understands and Wenders captures the subversive thrill his terminally ill character might get from checking out, however briefly, from societally accepted morality. If the movie has a weak spot, it's the character of his wife, whose concern for her husband and suspicion of his activities make her a firm moral centre but also a little one note. But one suspects this is less a result of a failing of Wenders and Lisa Kreuzer, who plays the character quite sympathetically, and more from Highsmith's comparative disinterest in the good and normal. Bad guys are just so much more interesting.

Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
only a porn review thread cuz u don't deserve a pink film review thread
"Rarely has reality needed so much to be imagined." - Chris Marker

only a porn review thread cuz u don't deserve a pink film review thread
Anything can be a porn review thread if you set your mind to it.

Body Fever (Steckler, 1969)

Like many a budding cinephile, I'd watched Ray Dennis Steckler's Rat Pfink a Boo Boo years ago thanks to its reputation as a great bad movie, and mostly enjoyed it at that level. Certainly, the story about how the title resulted from a mistake that couldn't be corrected due to budgetary restrictions helped play into that perception. Alas, I later learned that Steckler made up that story, which made it harder in retrospect to enjoy it as a "bad" movie. And certainly there's one line, in which Rat Pfink reveals his one weakness, which never squared with the perception of Steckler as an oblivious incompetent. When the Important Cinema Club podcast did an episode on Steckler (one of their best, in my humble opinion), he came back onto my radar, leading me to believe that I'd perhaps misjudged him. When I watched The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters yesterday, my memories of Rat Pfink's shagginess came back to me (aided by the presence of Rat Pfink, leading lady Carolyn Brandt, and a man in a gorilla suit), but I also was completely taken with its sense of community cheer and unbridled energy, where the joy behind the camera can't help but liven up what's in front of it.

Body Fever is not quite as infectious as Lemon Grove Kids, but I found myself pretty partial to its meager charms as well. It's a darker movie, one which I understand anticipated the slashers and hardcore porn that made up Steckler's later career, and perhaps reflected a diminished optimism at the end of the '60s. As glib as it would be to cite the Manson murders as an inspiration (given that the plot only involves missing drugs), you can see similarities between this movie's late '60s California atmosphere and Quentin Tarantino's channeling of the same in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It also shares with that movie a languorous sense of pacing, which is definitely more of an issue here given the noir plot and the fact that Steckler is nowhere near the craftsman as Tarantino, but it's probably unfair to compare given the widely divergent finances at their disposal, respectively. But you also get the sense that Steckler isn't terribly interested in tying up his noir plot all that tightly, but would rather use the tropes for atmosphere. Steckler was apparently an admirer of Jean-Luc Godard, and you can see a similar kind of play-acting here as the movie shuffles through its story. "The only thing is I feel like I'm the movie, and somebody's watching me", remarks Steckler, playing the hero. (Another character tells him early on: "You don't look like a detective to me. I've seen movies.") There's a scene where Steckler's character and Carolyn Brandt, his wife at the time, play catch with a briefcase full of heroin. Does this scene advance the plot in any way? Not really, but you can see how much fun they're having doing this scene together. You can also see Godard's influence in the colour scheme, although the fact that I watched an overly dark, muddy transfer in the wrong aspect ratio limited by appreciation of the film's visual qualities.

I think one of the biggest shifts in mindset involved to appreciating low budget movies (as actual good movies, not things to mock) is to understand how a film's production circumstances colour the final product. With a big studio movie, you can throw money at the problem and craft mise-en-scene to suit the story. With smaller budgets, it can work the other way around, sometimes to interesting results. Steckler's movie, shot most likely without permits, is set in locations that feel like L.A.'s b-sides, more disreputable versions of the city's better known imagery, and the fact that the movie is populated by fairly marginal cinema figures adds to that quality. Gary Kent, who was an inspiration for the Brad Pitt character in the Tarantino movie, plays one of the heavies while Coleman Francis, director of The Beast of Yucca Flats, appears as a destitute friend of Steckler's character. At one point, Steckler has to fight Kent and fares a bit better than Bruce Lee did in Tarantino's movie. Does this mean that the director of Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, or even Rat Pfink himself, could beat Bruce Lee? I'm sure there's a Brucesploitation movie that provides an answer. In comparison, Francis's role manages to be even a little moving. Steckler apparently came up with the part after finding Francis destitute and drunk. Francis used his advance to buy a new suit, a shave and a haircut, and arrived on set clean, sober and ready to work. Nobody will accuse Francis of being a great actor (or a great director, given that his movie was featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000; full disclosure, I've watched neither the movie nor the episode), but there's a quiet dignity to his work here.

Blood Shack (Steckler, 1971)

In Joe Bob Briggs' introduction to Blood Shack, he notes that Ray Dennis Steckler was a fan of both Ed Wood and Michelangelo Antonioni. Despite Wood's reputation (and I admit I'm not in his fanclub), it's easy to see what a filmmaker working with such meager budgets might have admired about Wood. Antonioni was a little harder to grasp, based on my prior experience with Steckler, which felt a lot goofier (and not in a bad way) that anything I'd see from the Italian director. Yet his influence is pretty clear in Blood Shack, a slasher in which characters are murdered after setting foot in a shack in a disputed property in the middle of the desert. If Body Fever could be seen as a lower rent version of Jean-Luc Godard's Made in USA, this is a substantially cruder approximation of parts of Zabriskie Point, bringing to mind the Antonioni parody sequences in The Other Side of the Wind, but without the immaculate craftsmanship or formal daring present in the Welles film or in Antonioni's own.

The previous movies I'd seen from Steckler aren't exactly what I'd call tightly constructed, but they do feel relatively busy and loaded with incident. Blood Shack in contrast is stripped down to the barest of narrative essentials, letting the environment do the heavy lifting in setting the mood. The desert is a hostile, barren and under a scorching sun, casting a primordial atmosphere over the inane proceedings. Every couple of minutes somebody, despite being warned otherwise, steps into the shack and soon after gets murdered by the Chooper, a slim male figure in tights wielding a short sword. The Chooper cuts nowhere near an intimidating figure, but I admit the sight of him in broad daylight, his unabashed goofiness unobscured, did generate a certain frisson, if only because of how incongruous he is to his surroundings. This will not be most people's idea of an effective horror movie, but I'm an admirer of the original Friday the 13th for the way it uses its marginal production values to add to the tension, and I think Steckler kind of does the same thing here, if with less potency. The environment also brings to mind The Hills Have Eyes, but Steckler lacks Craven's ferocity.

Were the movie just a cycle of desert sun and murders in tights, it might have worked on an avant garde level, but Steckler grounds this in a story about a woman who inherits the property and fends off an overly aggressive interested party. There's some reference to a decades-old familial dispute and an Indian burial ground, but as you can probably guess, neither is explored with much interest. The woman is played by Carolyn Brandt, who at the time was Steckler's ex-wife, and she plays the role with a certain magnetism even if there isn't a whole lot to her character. She brings some much needed style to the desert, sporting a number of monochrome outfits as well as a pair of stars-and-stripes pants during the climax, nicely complementing the attempted excitement during that scene. In reliable Z-horror fashion she also gets saddled with a few audience-pandering shower scenes, although these are relatively chaste. I assume the divorce was amicable.

Steckler also pads the runtime with footage of the rodeo and particularly a few kids palling around. I watched the 55-minute "director's cut", which I understand excises 15 minutes of additional rodeo footage. Hope the original audiences liked the rodeo, because they would have gotten a lot more than any sane person might ask for. Am I being unfair to the pleasures of the rodeo? As my primary reference point for them is the rodeo scene from Borat, quite possibly. Now, Steckler likely isn't putting in the kids to highlight their innocence in contrast with the bloodletting (a theme perhaps too sophisticated for this movie's narrative interests), but aside from possibly using the production as an excuse for daycare, why does he spend so much time on them? My guess is that he's secretly a big softie and is happy to fill up the movie with kids playing musical chairs (with one chair!), puppies, calves and horsies (including a pony named Peanuts) because he thinks they're cute. Is that so wrong?

minds his own damn business
For some reason, I left the Steck alone after Incredibly Strange Creatures and Rat Pfink. How could I have known waht a fool I was? Anyway, I know that this is all prelude to his vampire porn, so I'll stay tuned.

For some reason, I left the Steck alone after Incredibly Strange Creatures and Rat Pfink. How could I have known waht a fool I was? Anyway, I know that this is all prelude to his vampire porn, so I'll stay tuned.

JJ, it was less than an hour and starred Carolyn Brandt. What was I gonna do, NOT watch it?

The ones above and The Lemon Grove Kids (my favourite so far) are on YouTube. I suspect I'll get to The Incredibly Strange Creatures soon enough, maybe The Thrill Killers and a Rat Pfink rewatch as well. Who's to say?

minds his own damn business
(Sanity started to raise a hand, but felt the slow sigh of sloth descending on its wrist.)

(Sanity started to raise a hand, but felt the slow sigh of sloth descending on its wrist.)
That's right.

Ah hell, let me dig up some Bruce Lee write-ups (I'll do new ones soon, I swear ).

Game of Death (Clouse, 1978)

In 1972, Bruce Lee came up with an idea for the movie called The Game of Death, where he would play a martial arts master forced out of retirement by a gang planning a heist of a pagoda. The film would be a culmination of sorts of his philosophy of martial arts, wherein he would defeat his enemies through his superior adaptability. He shot three fight scenes that would form part of the climax, where he goes up different levels of the pagoda and fights Dan Inosanto (Lee’s sparring partner and previously known to me for his involvement in Steven Seagal’s best movie, Out for Justice), Hapkido master Ji Han-jae, and finally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who at the time had been Lee’s student). Before Lee finished the movie, he left to make Enter the Dragon and died before the latter film was released and became a massive success and his own popularity shot through the roof posthumously.

In the subsequent years, people decided to cash in on said popularity and start churning out movies which claimed to star Bruce Lee, starred people who looked a bit like Bruce Lee and sometimes had similar names, were about Bruce Lee himself or merely placed him in outlandish premises. A handful of these films I have seen and at least one I have enjoyed (Challenge of the Tiger, starring Bruce Le, who played the martial arts instructor in Pieces, and Richard Harrison, who yelled into a Garfield phone in Ninja Terminator). Eventually Golden Harvest, the studio behind the films Lee made when he was alive, decided that they also wanted to make some of this money now that he was dead. They got back Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse, dug up the original footage and “completed” the movie, by which I mean hobble together that footage with a completely unrelated plot. (A few years later they released a “sequel”, Game of Death II, that is quite a bit of fun outside of a questionable first act. I mean, how can you go wrong with a man in a lion suit, a villain played by Hwang Jang-Lee and action choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping?)

Game of Death, as the finished film is called, is the official Brucesploitation movie in a way, and its most interesting qualities stem from that. The plot, about an underworld syndicate trying to strong arm Lee’s character so they can exploit his fame, echoes not just Lee’s original story idea, but also the production circumstances, with Golden Harvest looking to exploit Lee’s image in as crass a manner as possible. Their methods of bringing Lee back on screen range from amusing (giving Lee doubles Kim Tai-jong and Yuen Biao beards and big sunglasses or hiding their face in the shadows) to outright laughable (a picture of Lee’s face pasted on a mirror over the reflection of the real actor’s face) to completely shameless (using footage of Lee’s open casket funeral). The film almost becomes a metaphor for this idea, and ends up acknowledging that it’s a self-defeating one. No matter how well the manufactured Lees ape his fighting style and body language, there’s no competing with the real deal, and the original footage, even in its heavily truncated form, are exhilarating and deflate the preceding sections by contrast. (The Criterion release includes a longer edit of the footage, better fleshing out Lee’s ideas around superiority through adaptability. The fight scenes in their longer form let us bask in his charisma even more, give the scenes a sense of strategy and real triumph that are missing in the released film.) In an age when dead actors are being exhumed via CGI to be put in blockbusters and dead musicians are playing Coachella in hologram form, not to mention the prevalence of deepfakes, the movie resonates in this respect.

It’s those qualities that make the movie particularly fascinating, but as I went into it with low expectations (most people I know who’ve seen it find it utter trash that doesn’t do justice to Lee’s memory, a not unfair assessment), I found it reasonably diverting. Robert Clouse may not be a great visual stylist (much of the fighting in Enter the Dragon is shot in a flat, demonstrative manner, although it worked in that movie as it was tasked with selling the concept of martial arts cinema to American audiences), but he does give this movie an attractive travelogue quality with its Hong Kong locations. The rousing theme music by John Barry makes the movie feel much classier than it is. Out of the “new” supporting cast, Dean Jagger looks very happy to be here despite playing a villain, while Colleen Camp plays the hero’s singer girlfriend and sings a song that plays at the end. (If you, like me, sometimes play the game that actors play the same character across different movies, this fits in pretty seamlessly before her role as a country singer in They All Laughed.) And of course, seeing Abdul-Jabbar fight Lee is seeing two formidable bodies move in sublimely choreographed concert.

The fight scenes are choreographed by Sammo Hung doing an approximation of Lee’s style, and while the construction is at least a little slapdash due to the need to pass it off as the real Lee, the camera is pulled back far enough and the cutting conservative enough that the scenes are easy to follow and relatively engaging. There’s one action sequence involving a couple of bikers in a warehouse where the prevalence of slow motion makes it indirectly capture the staccato rhythms of Lee’s best fight scenes. The bikers don tracksuits and dehumanizing face-covering helmets that give the scene an almost metaphoric quality, as if they, like Lee, are being objectified through the film’s exploitation. Of course, this is also the scene where Lee puts on one of the tracksuits (perhaps the most famous one in the movies) with a pair of yellow Onitsuka Tigers to match, and only a star of Lee’s magnetism could make an outfit this ridiculous look cool. The king is dead, long live the king.

Game of Death II (Ng, 1981)

Perhaps my recent viewing of Game of Death has softened me to the idea of trampling all over Bruce Lee’s grave, but I did not find this movie’s first act as trying this time around. Yes, there is the extremely objectionable use of real footage from Lee’s open casket funeral, and yes, there are awkward inserts of the real Lee (dubbed so that he sounds the same as all the other male characters and nothing like his actual voice) when the movie goes in for close-ups. But the movie is slapdash enough about trying to disguise the lead actor (there are no fake beards like the other film) that it mostly stops trying during the fight scenes, of which there are a few, and opts to just pull back the camera and take it easy on the cutting. There is some novelty in seeing Lee as a child (the inclusion of this footage is explained by Lee’s character reminiscing about how much of a troublemaker he was at a young age), and the scene in the Japanese nightclub has a fun ambience (as well as a poster of Momoe Yamaguchi flashing a million dollar smile).

Of course, the movie does get immeasurably better once it kills off “Lee” and switches to that of his brother, who (surprise, surprise) is played by the same actor and can now be shot without trying to disguise him. Lee’s character was investigating the death of his friend Hwang Jang-Lee when he was killed (while dangling from a coffin being stolen from the funeral by helicopter), so it’s up to his brother to find out who’s behind his death. This involves visiting a secluded compound presided over by a white man in a tracksuit (Roy Horan, likely cast for his resemblance to Robert Wall but gets in a sweet fight scene nonetheless) who has a fondness for deadly martial arts and exotic animals. We see evidence of the latter with the monkey he carries with him and a tour of his facility where he points out different animals he is fond of (his menagerie includes peacocks and lions, both of which influence his fighting style). He is frequently accompanied by a sinister assistant who may or may not have just one arm. In my initial viewing I was not particularly attentive and assumed that he magically grew back his arm in the middle of a fight scene. This time around it still wasn’t clear to me whether he had been hiding the other arm the whole time or that he actually could grow it back as he pleased. Many famous, renowned films have ambiguous endings; Game of Death II uses ambiguity to complicate our relationship with one character in particular.

My favourite moment comes two thirds into the movie, where the hero, at the sight of a naked woman, has flashbacks to a dirty book and soon after is attacked by a man in a lion suit. It’s a culmination of a few threads in the film (the brother’s differing attitudes towards sex compared with Lee’s character, who is seen early in the film throwing away said dirty book and a bunch of porno magazines; also lions) and is still one of the funnier things I’ve seen in a movie. (This is another instance where the movie uses ambiguity, as it’s not entirely clear if it’s supposed to be a real lion or someone disguised as one.) The climax of the film takes the tower concept from the earlier film, literally turns it upside down and uses it as a launching pad for cheapo Bond-style theatrics. I won’t detail exactly what goes down, but a real flair for camp and a number of fast moving fights choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping make this all highly enjoyable. Now, if you’re worried that you need to see the original Game of Death to get anything out of this, fear not, as the movies are hardly related. Technically “Lee” is playing the same character in both films (and the lead actor, Kim Tai-jong, doubles for Lee in both films), but there are no story elements carried over. The more practical explanation was that Golden Harvest probably wanted to make their Brucesploitation entries feel more official, and as the last film had great “new” footage of the real Lee, naming this one similarly would likely get more asses in seats. Given that I first saw this because I mistakenly rented it thinking I’d picked up the other film, it worked in at least one case.