Intrusion: Cambodia

Here’s how to test whether or not you are a true resident of Teleport City: if I tell you there’s a movie starring Richard Harrison, Anthony Alonzo, and Tetchie Agbayani, do you look at me quizzically and shrug, or do you start to shake with giddy anticipation? If it’s the former, then let us soothe the wound by agreeing that you have much yet to learn, and the path before you is rich with astounding discoveries. If it’s the latter, then we are all together as one, like a rag-tag band of misfits soldiers fighting our way across ‘Nam on some mission whose objective is entirely unclear but never the less must be undertaken.

Of course, I’d be self-aggrandizing (relatively speaking) if I went into this review pretending that Anthony Alonzo had been common knowledge the whole of my life. In fact, it was only in the closing months of 2011 that I was made aware of his career. That revelation came in the form of the utterly bonkers Filipino actioner W is War. Once aware, however, I was quick to hit the books and learn what I could about Alonzo, and it was then that I realized I owned a good half dozen of his films on VHS. To the VCR I retired, and the first film I popped in was the Namsploitation war adventure Intrusion: Cambodia. I went into it blind, knowing only that Alonzo was in it and whatever other facts I could reasonably assume based on past experience with Filipino-made Vietnam war movies (most of the cast will die, there will be awkwardly worded cursing, and a bunch of huts and bamboo guard towers will explode).

When the credits began, I started to rock back and forth with near uncontainable bliss. Richard Harrison — he who appeared in a single Godfrey Ho ninja film that through the magic of splicing then became dozens of appearances in Godfrey Ho ninja films — was the lead? Who could ask for more than a trashy Filipino war movie starring Alonzo and Harrison? I could ask for more, apparently, and that’s what I got. Vic Vargas? That guy is basically a legend in Filipino cult cinema. And Tetchie Agbayani is in this thing as well? O rapturous day! You might know Tetchie Agbayani better by her stage name: “the princess from Gymkata.” I was hoping that maybe we’d get a little Vic Diaz action as well — every Filipino action film needs a sadistic warden or commandant, and who better than Vic — but that would just be spoiling us. Even without him, as far as I was concerned, this was an A-list all-star cast the likes of which one could only dream of assembling.

The movie they inhabit isn’t as stand-out as the cast, but it’s still a pretty solid jungle adventure with the requisite explosions, lots of grumbling from the troops, and a welcome spot or two of nudity courtesy of Tetchie Agbayani (sadly, there is no matching nudity from Harrison, and as much as I like Anthony Alonzo, I’m not calling for him to do any nude scenes). Harrison, whose career in Italy was winding down at the time, actually ends up being more of a supporting character here, with the heavy lifting done by Filipino stalwart Vic Vargaz. The story is standard issue. There are really only a couple stories that all Namsploitation movies follow, be they Filipino or Italian. Either they rip off The Dirty Dozen and send a group of misfit soldiers into hostile territory on some shady suicide mission, or they rip off Missing in Action, which means the same as above but the mission goal is clear: rescue POWs (this can happen either during the war or long after it’s conclusion). There are a few variations, such as the “taking down a Golden Triangle drug lord” or “all of the above but in South America.” The one falls pretty cleanly into Namsploitation despite the plot tweak. The ones set in South America, despite being more or less identical, I consider to be a war movie subset best referred to as “El Presidente movies.”

A rag tag group is assembled for a secret mission into Cambodia, led by legendary special forces commando Richard Harrison. Unfortunately, he’s mostly legendary for how all the men under his command end up dead but he always survives, which doesn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm among his new charges. Since all of these ‘Namsploitation movies need a cute woman to tag along, they also get Tetchie Agbayani as a spy and guide. Their mission is simple but impossible: to…ummm…actually, to be honest, I have no idea what exactly their mission was supposed to be. I wasn’t sure if this was because they never bother to explain their goal or if I simply forgot, so I had to go back and skim through the movie again. It turns out there’s some secret document they need to steal. Anyway, disregarding the details, their mission is the same as every mission in these movies: walk through the jungle, get in occasional firefights, blow up some huts and guard towers, then die in the end. In that regard, they cover all of the bases.

Intrusion: Cambodia is a pretty serviceable, by-the-numbers ‘Namsploitation film made somewhat more notable thanks to the (in my opinion) all-star cast. Star Harrison began his career, like many American Muscle Beach types in the early 1960s, in bit parts before being recruited as a leading man to fill a loincloth in the burgeoning Italian sword and sandal genre. He had a pretty substantial career there during the first half of the 1960s, leading gladiator revolts and beheading Medusa, before the genre died off around ’65 or ’66. Harrison, unlike many of his beefy compatriots from the sword and sandal films, boasted a leaner, more athletic build that made it possible for him to transition into spaghetti westerns, where he spent most of the latter half of the decade, with the occasional foray into Eurospy adventures. Those and a couple Eurocrime films kept the dashing blond actor employed through most of the 1970s as well, but at the dawn of the 80s, I guess he was looking for a change.

Ending up in The Philippines was a normal enough route. Roger Corman spent much of the 1970s forging relationships with film makers in The Philippines, and the sprawling production of Apocalypse Now also called the island nation home. When ‘Nam movies suddenly became en vogue in the early 1980s, it was an obvious place to film. Sure, Thailand was nice, was The Philippines had all that Apocalypse Now stuff lying around. Obviously, the Italians were going to get in on the ‘Namsploitation trend, but even they weren’t so cheap as to try and pass off the Italian countryside as Southeast Asian jungle. So they went to The Philippines. A guy like Harrison, already established in Italy and probably looking both for work and a free vacation, would have had little issue finding a job.

But the Filipinos were keen, in a sense to beat the Italians at their own game, and as the Italian war film machine was rolling into production, the Filipinos decided they could do what the Italians were doing, but even cheaper and faster. So Harrison found himself in a Filipino production, not for the last time. He seems mostly disinterested in what’s going on around him, though he does come to life from time to time and remind you that there was indeed a reason people wanted to hire to him at some point.

This was an early outing for Tetchie, a (sometimes nude) model turned actress who is most famous, as I mentioned, for her role as the princess in Gymkata. The role of “the girl” in these movies is always pretty rote: she’s a spy or guide, probably from a village that was massacred by evil VC, and she will lead the heroes through the jungle. Despite what you might guess, she’s rarely a turncoat, though her chances of surviving the movie are about 50/50 — either she will die heroically and inspire the main hero to yell and fire a machine gun wildly, or she will be the sole survivor after everyone else dies. Tetchie Agbayani puts more effort into the role than most actresses did.

Rounding out the all-star cast are Anthony Alonzo — who would rocket to cult film prominence thanks to his turn in W is War and its batshit insane sequel, Clash of Warlords, a couple years later — and Vic Vargas, who starred in pretty much everything ever made in The Philippines. Other familiar faces pop up throughout the movie, including Don Gordon Bell (Stryker, Crossbone Territory, Wheels of Fire), Dick Israel, Robert Lee, Jim Gaines (who is overdosing on jive talk in this role and appeared in two of Italian director Bruno Mattei’s final films, both shot in the Philippines — Island of the Living Dead and it’s sequel, Zombies: The Beginning — which is a continuation, not the beginning, but hey — it’s Mattei), and Romano Kristoff (Terror Force Commando, Just a Damned Soldier, Ten Zan – Ultimate Mission, and about a dozen other Filipino made ‘Nam movies).

They all worked for notorious producer K.Y. Lim (not to be confused with martial arts school franchiser Y.K. Kim) and his Silver Star production company. Kim was sort of the poor man’s Cirio Santiago (contemplate that on the tree of woe!) and produced a slew of war and post-apocalypse films in the 1980s, most of them directed by either Teddy Page or this film’s director, Jun Gallardo. By all accounts, Lim was a monster to work for, putting his cast and crew up in the cheapest digs available and refusing to feed them while he himself lived it up like a millionaire playboy. Rotten working conditions didn’t seem to prevent people from going back to him for jobs, though, or maybe they all got swindled into shitty contracts or simply got strong-armed. Whatever it may have been, movies from Lim’s production company seem, in general, to have been very sloppy and, in my opinion, pretty entertaining. If nothing else, Lim afforded Intrusion: Cambodia, one of his first productions, some modicum of a budget. More so than many “nam movies would get anyway. They managed to rent an actual tank and HUEY helicopter instead of just splicing in stock footage.

The script was ostensibly written by Rodolfo Dabao Jr. and Don Gordon Bell, but according to Richard Harrison, he also had a substantial hand in writing and claims it was finished over the course of a weekend. That much is certainly obvious, as the screenplay suffers from the sort of scatter-brained meandering one expects from a marathon writing session. There is certainly plenty of action, but the details of the story get lost in the rush to the finish. Small details, really, like what the hell happens to Richard Harrison in the movie. In one shot, he’s heroically waving away a helicopter in the usual “leave me behind” fashion heroes so love. Then there’s a shot of the departing chopper, some dejected looking VC, and…well. The End. What happens to Harrison? Does he die? Does he just sort of crouch down in the tall grass until the sad bad guys turn around and head home? And why did he expend twice as much time and energy waving off the helicopter as he would have spent just hopping on board?

You have to roll with that sort of shoddy plotting when you enter the world of Filipino ‘Namsploitation. And within that world, I thought Intrusion: Cambodia was pretty entertaining. Lots of bloody shoot outs, exploding huts, some ninja stuff courtesy of Anthony Alonzo, Richard Harrison lumbering around in a jungle hat, gratuitous nudity, and plenty of scenes of guys leaning against walls and trees while holding M-16s. And it comes to us with a fair budget for the region and a cast of trash film royalty and comfortably familiar supporting players. It’s a fine example of Z-grade Filipino action films, or as fine an example as that genre can muster.

Release Year: 1981 | Country: Philippines | Starring: Vic Vargas, Richard Harrison, Anthony Alonzo, Robert Lee, Dick Israel, Jim Gaines, Don Gordon Bell, Tetchie Agbayani, Bembol Roco, Romano Kristoff, Greg Lozano, Stanley Orong, Bert Wilson, Dax Rivera, Ramon Jimenez | Screenplay: Rodolfo Dabao Jr., Don Bell | Director: Jun Gallardo | Cinematography: Vic Anao | Producer: Rodolfo Dabao Jr., K.Y. Lim