Hell has always been popular cinematic fodder. Italian strongman Maciste has conquered it (twice, at least), Claude Rains has managed it, and Nollywood has done its best to make a basement look like it (see Die Danger Die Die Kill’s review of 666: Beware! The End is At Hand). Still, when it comes to off-the-wall interpretations of the subject the countries of Asia have something of a monopoly. That all seems to have begun with the inimitable Nobuo Nakagawa (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan — reviewed on Teleport City here, and WtF-Film here), who persevered against a studio in a death spiral to produce Jigoku, an avant garde guignol masterpiece and perhaps the quintessential “hell” movie. Twenty years later acclaimed Nikkatsu roman porno director Tatsumi Kumashiro paid his respects to that film with The Inferno, a lavish Toei epic that matched Kumashiro’s own experimental flair with gobs of big studio production value.
At this point, I don’t think there is much cause to recount the ninja craze that swept the world in the 1980s (you can piece together the story from our reviews of The Octagon and Enter the Ninja). From Hong Kong to Japan, Bollywood to the United States and of course Turkey, these black-clad shadow warriors fanned out and did that really rapid baby-step ninja run into our hearts. Although the ninja originated in Japan, and Hong Kong produced more ninja films, for my money the United States was still ground zero for eighties ninjamania (many Hong Kong ninja movies were made purely to export to the United States, as often as possible, with as many different titles for the same movie as distributors could dream up). But while the US was inarguably the capital of ninja fanaticism in the western hemisphere, we were not entirely alone. In the snowy northern land known as Sweden, a man named Mats-Helge Olsson was building a sizable filmography of hyper-violent, mostly terrible action films that shocked and disappointed his countrymen. That Mats Helge would make a ninja film was inevitable. That he made two is unfortunate.
In 1964, James Bond creator and sole author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming, passed away. While the future of the movies, which had taken on a life of their own, was not in doubt (at least not for a couple more years, which was when Sean Connery left the series), the novels seemed like they might go to the grave with Fleming. After scrambling around for a way to continue the series, the Fleming estate and its publishing wing, Glidrose, chose acclaimed British novelist and well-known asshole Kingsley Amis to continue the series. Amis, who had previously written some Bond non-fiction and seemed to take the job solely so he could indulge his hatred of the character M, wrote the first post-Fleming Bond novel, 1968’s Colonel Sun. It was received about as well as one could expect (actually, about as well as any of Fleming’s novels before the rose-tinting set in after his death), with common criticisms being that it wasn’t Fleming enough, or that it was too Amis, or it was Amis writing down. So on and so forth. Whatever the case, plans were for Amis to continue, though when one hears some of the ridiculous ideas he had, including killing Bond off with an exploding martini, one thinks that it was perhaps for the best that these plans fell through. Similarly, plans to hire a series of authors who would all write Bond novels under the same pen name — Robert Markham — never came to fruition.
Here’s a good example of why you need to take care in how you make snap judgments about things (as in, judgments made quickly and potentially without all the facts, not judgments where it’s judged to be appropriate to wag your head and yell, “Oh snap”). Before sitting down to watch it for this review, I’d never seen Crusher Joe. Not only had I never seen it, it never even occurred to me that I might want to see it. I’d heard of it, seen it around, but I never bothered with it. And I handled it in this matter for one reason and one reason only: the title sounded kind of lame. I mean, Crusher Joe? Wasn’t he in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out? Wasn’t he one of the ham ‘n’ eggers the old WWF would trot out for their Saturday Night Main Event when they wanted someone for a superstar to beat? I think Crusher Joe used to tag team with Leapin’ Lanny Poffo.
Let me start off by saying that I love Odin. Absolutely love it. All those people in the world who call it one of the worst animated films of all time? Liars. Every one of them. Dirty, rotten, filthy liars. Let me further preface that admission by freely admitting that I have no illusions as to the quality of Odin. It’s awful. It’s a shining example of everything that can go wrong with anime feature filmmaking. It’s bloated, needlessly long, often tedious, thinly characterized, nigh incomprehensible, and since the creators dreamed that it would be a Yamato-style series, it doesn’t even have an ending. Even if, like me, you are a fan of so-called “old anime,” there’s a 99% chance that if you rent Odin, you will never make it to the end (much like the filmmakers themselves). And there’s a pretty high probability that it will make you angry at me, and possibly mildly violent over the fact that I somehow swayed you into thinking it might be a good thing to add to your queue. So let me get this out of the way right now: Odin is a completely pointless 140-minute disaster that you should avoid at all costs.
Unless, that is, you happen to think like me.
You know what I like about the world? I like… no, I love… that there are at least two films that vie for the title of “the Turkish Rambo.” One of them, Vahsi Kan, stars familiar face Cuneyt Arkin and has a cameo by, of all things, a gang of zombies. The second, Korkusuz, stars a perpetually confused bodybuilder named Serdar as Serdar. Both of them come from the same fertile mind: Turkish director-producer-one man exploitation machine Cetin Inanc. If there are additional claimants to the throne of “Turkish Rambo,” I hope they soon make themselves known, because as far as I’m concerned, a proliferation of Turkish Rambo‘s cannot possibly be anything other than good. Of course, it would be better if we lived in a world where both Korkusuz and Vahsi Kan were readily available on DVD, but then, it’d also be better if we lived in a world where Filiz Tacbas, Olga Kurylenko, and Monica Bellucci all dropped by my apartment one day to tell me they could no longer keep their lust for me under control… oh, and also they didn’t mind each other’s company. Barring that happening, we at least have Korkusuz on DVD. And Vahsi Kan? Well, you can watch it on YouTube.
Compared to the appellations given to the protagonists of other 1980s action films — the Exterminator, the Punisher, the Executioner — the Stabilizer sounds pretty benign. You’d almost think that he was given that name only because all of those others had already been taken. But then you learn that what the Stabilizer is in charge of stabilizing is the very balance between good and evil itself. And that, it turns out, is a job that involves an awful lot of exterminating, punishing, and executing. But if that name was the result of The Stabilizer being late to the game, that might be explained by the fact that The Stabilizer is an Indonesian film, and that Indonesian exploitation filmmakers of its day were generally loathe to jump on any bandwagon until its moneymaking potential had been well proven. There is no word for “art” in Indonesia, after all (I totally just made that up), and if there was one thing that those filmmakers were interested in above all it was a return on investment, especially on the international market. This last caveat explains another trend in Indonesian genre films of the day; the practice of using Caucasian lead actors, which tended to make it easier to sell the movies to distributors outside of Asia.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the titular gentlemen of The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema. Without them, it’s entirely likely that I would have lived my life without any knowledge of Peter O’Brian. And while that life would have been passable, filled at is with adventure and willing mod girls in mini-dresses and films in which Bruce Lee look-alikes fight Popeye in Hell, it would not have been complete. Lying on my deathbed, the final breath escaping from my gnarled maw, I would suddenly become aware of an emptiness in my soul — an emptiness shaped like a muscular guy with a huge permed mullet. Luckily, that hole has been filled, and I can shuffle off this mortal coil more occupied with my previous deathbed plan — making sure my final words are “avenge me!”
In the 1960s and 1970s — at the very least — there was no bigger star in Turkish cinema than Cuneyt Arkin. Whether he was a medieval dude with a steel claw defending Turkey from dastardly Crusaders, or a tough-as-nails cop in a plaid blazer defending Turkey from drugs and ninjas, no one could throw down with as much cool as Cuneyt. He was Bruce Lee (well, Jimmy Wang Yu maybe) and Maurizio Merli all rolled up into one glaring package. Similarly, in the 1970s, there was no bigger star in Hong Kong cinema than Bolo Yeung — and by “bigger” in his case we mean the size of his muscles. This bodybuilder turned kungfu movie whipping boy first rose to prominence when he showed up in Enter the Dragon to stand around with his arms folded, looking impressive until he gets his ass kicked by John Saxon — who kicks Bolo’s ass even though he could barely kick. After that role, which actually gave him his stage name, Bolo was in high demand. Pretty much every kungfu star in the world wanted to be filmed beating up the Chinese muscle man, and Bolo was always happy to oblige. The man has been beat up on screen by pretty much every martial arts star you could think of. It was inevitable, perhaps, that Cuneyt would one day cross paths with Bolo — even if it was only in the editing room of notorious hack movie makers Godfrey Ho and Thomas Tang.
The first ten minutes of Vahsi Kan are perhaps the purest and most potent distillation in existence of the Turkish action film as interpreted by exploitation kingpin Cetin Inanc. They are also ten of the seediest, sleaziest, most hilariously lascivious and violent ten minutes you’re likely to see this side of the opening montage from Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive. It’s made even sleazier by the fact that, due to a crackdown on nudity by Turkish film censors — who had previously tolerated a surprisingly vast amount of perversion and decadence in the 1970s — there’s no actual nudity on display. Somehow, the simple honesty of a bit of gratuitous nudity would have made the opening minutes of Vahsi Kan substantially less dirty, which is the glorious blow back that often results from censors mucking up the works.