You know, some people would sit down with pen in hand and engage in multiple viewings of a great and respected movie, taking meticulous notes pertaining to various aspects of said film that would promote intellectual dialog amongst high-minded luminaries in the field of film criticism and analysis. I, on the other hand, did much the same thing with Space Thunder Kids, and by “high-minded” I mean low-brow, and by “meticulous notes” I mean drunken ranting, and by “pen” I mean bourbon. Trust me, a bottle of bourbon is all that’s going to get you through the brain-frying glory of Space Thunder Kids, a film so utterly confounding, so dazzlingly inept in every single way imaginable, that it achieves an undeniable aura of the sublime that glows so brightly it threatens to blot out the rest of existence. And if you are worried that perhaps drinking an entire bottle of bourbon during a single movie could be detrimental to your health or to your comprehension of what you are watching, I say to you, “Have no fear, for Space Thunder Kids defies comprehension, and by the end of it you will be mopping up your own brain, which will have melted and oozed out the corner of your eyes as you vomit up your own intestines Lucio Fulci style.” The bourbon only makes it hurt less.
Now if that isn’t a good review, I don’t know what is.
Truth be told, I sat through multiple viewings of Space Thunder Kids. I did do it with a pen and paper and a dedication to taking notes. I wasn’t taking notes because Space Thunder Kids was so full of meaning and subtext that it demands to be studied. I was taking notes so that I could have running documentation of every completely bizarre moment in the movie, of every Japanese robot and anime character that appears via a cheap knock-off simulacrum, of every time the movie becomes a completely different movie with different characters and robots and without any explanation whatsoever. I was doing my best to keep up, sweating furiously as I scribbled out page after page of mind-boggling insanity. And then the dudes from TRON showed up, and I decided to thrown in the towel.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning, or as close to the beginning as I’ve been able to trace. It all started one innocent, carefree day when an email from my friend Bill showed up urging me to get out to Wal-Mart and pick up a copy of a movie called Space Thunder Kids if I had not already seen it. He also mentioned that he moved to Korea, which would eventually turn out to be an important piece of synchronicity, if indeed synchronicity comes in pieces. I replied that I had not seen Space Thunder Kids and that I generally avoided movies with the word “Kids” in the title, because I almost always don’t like them — Alexander Lou’s Ninja Kids being the big exception since it contains no kids but does have a bunch of nudity in it before Alexander Lou puts on a little button-down newsie cap and kicks the shit out of some ninjas.
And besides, I wrote, this is New York City. We don’t have a Wal-Mart here because they are an evil corporation that destroys the small-town, mom-and-pop quaintness that is so important to a city like New York, where there are no evil corporations. A few days later, Bill wrote back and urged me once again to do all I could to get a copy of Space Thunder Kids. Ebay it if I had to, or pester friends, or just drive upstate to the nearest Wal-Mart. Eventually, I broke down and decided to mount a quick search for the movie. A dollar and a week’s shipping time later, I had a copy, along with two similar DVDs: Defenders of Space and Protectors of the Universe — or as it’s known in its own opening credit sequence, Protectors the Universe.
All three titles, along with a couple others I got later thanks to my buddy Todd in Atlanta (Hotlanta to you), showed up a few years ago on the racks of Wal-Mart’s discount dollar DVDs, alongside the usual assortment of Max Fleischer Superman cartoons and old Amos ‘n’ Andy shorts. Although these types of DVDs get sold in all sorts of places (much to the delight of people like me, who enjoy the occasional Flash Gordon serial or movies where Julius Harris is the main star), it seems these particular anime titles were only available at Wal-Mart. The initial assumption was that these are just old Japanese cartoons dubbed and dumped on the market for peanuts. Indeed, flipping the DVD over and looking at the artwork on the back would seem to support this assumption. Isn’t that Mazinger after all? So these must be old Go Nagai cartoons or something, like that Robo Force thing I got on VHS a long time ago. But wait, I thought as I continued to peruse the snapshots on the back of the Space Thunder Kids DVD — isn’t that guy in the picture below him one of the Transformers? And is that the Space Battleship Yamato? And is that…is that Sark from TRON?!?!?
It turns out that Space Thunder Kids and the rest of the titles in this esteemed collection were actually made in Korea — where my friend Bill had to go before he was allowed to tell me about them, as if on some Space Thunder Kids pilgrimage. All of the animation is original. Well, sort of original. Some anonymous bunch of Koreans drew it all (their names have been replaced on the credits), but they used existing icons of the Japanese animation industry as “models,” sometimes putting one character’s head on another’s body, sort of like those cheap bootleg toys down in Chinatown where you get things like Spider-Man’s head on a Power Ranger’s body with Batman’s cape. In a way, I guess this is really no different than when porno movies feature someone with a name almost like some famous celebrity’s name. So the Space Thunder Kids robot is to Mazinger what, say, Britney Spheres is to Britney Spears, though maybe that’s a bad example since, at this point, it would be hard to guess which one is the respectable person (it’s Spheres, in case you were wondering, even if that’s not an actual porno star. She should be, is all I’m sayin’).
Space Thunder Kids is full of moments when one movie stops and a completely different movie begins (sort of like the piecemeal bodies of the robots in the movie), complete with different film stock, grain, and art style. This is largely because Space Thunder Kids is assembled Frankenstein style from various bits and pieces of the other films in the series — which themselves borrow scenes pretty heavily from one another. Trust me, if you watch all of these movies, you are going to become really familiar with the evil general (sometimes he’s Chinese, sometimes he’s North Korean, sometimes he’s from space, but he’s always a grotesque caricature of Kim Il-sung) with the giant goiter hanging off the side of his neck. But unlike any of the other titles, only Space Thunder Kids was willing to put the guys from TRON in it. I suppose there is source material for that as well, but it’s one I don’t have — though I desperately would like to. Now, I may dismiss this whole thing simply as “batshit insane” filmmaking were it not for the fact that the very first credit to appear when one sits down to experience Space Thunder Kids proudly proclaims it to be a Joseph Lai production, accompanied by his signature grand music and crazy disco lighting.
Anime fans, who seem to be the bulk of the people who have stumbled across this lost work of art, may not have any idea who Joseph Lai is. They wouldn’t even think to suspect that having his name attached to a project is in any way significant. Ahh, but we fans of old kungfu B-movies… we know better, don’t we? And we can impart our knowledge to the anime fans who have not ventured into the dark realm of crappy slapdash ninja films. Lai forms a mysterious triumvirate along with Thomas Tang and Godfrey Ho — indeed there are those who swear the three men are actually the same man, or are some sort of super-being that can split a single consciousness into three separate entities with, I assume, cheesy 1970s pencil-thin mustaches and Amber-vision sunglasses. I like to think of them as akin to the Holy Trinity. Lai (and when I refer to Joseph Lai, I am by default also referring to Thomas Tang and Godfrey Ho) Is best known for coming out of relatively nowhere to produce an unheard of number of movies in an extremely short period of time. Binding these films together was the presence of ninjas.
And there’s no doubt that they are ninjas even if they’re white guys (most often, Italian b-movie staple Richard Harrison) because they often wear headbands that say “Ninja!!!!” on them in that jagged “Oriental” font. The Tang/Ho/Lai uni-mind was able to produce, direct, and distribute so many films because their style of filmmaking was to buy up a couple cheap Taiwanese or Filipino films, splice them all together, then inject some new scenes of white guy ninjas and try, via dubbing, to tie the whole thing together into some sort of story that might flirt on occasion with coherency without ever actually committing to the concept. According to Richard Harrison, he agreed to do a day’s filming on a single film, and that somehow became dozens of films (more are being found every day) thanks to Filmark and/or IFD film magic.
The movies they used were almost always dirt cheap nonsense, though from time to time I have seen one of their ninja movies and recognized at least one of the films that served as the source. Aside from splicing films together, dashing off a new script, and inserting random scenes of white guys in shiny metallic purple or red and yellow ninja outfits into the proceedings (and all movies could benefit from such insertions), they’d also steal music cues from whatever movie happened to be popular — which, to be fair, was hardly unique to the poverty row Lai/Tang/Ho operation, as even big budget films from Hong Kong during the 80s were known to lift cues and entire musical scores from other films. But while some films, say John Woo’s The Killer or Hard Boiled, lifted scores people might not recognize (save for the ten people in the world who rushed out to buy the Red Heat soundtrack), the cheaper films usually just used Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Mix all these ingredients together, and you have a nearly endless reservoir of movies than can be made, quite literally, in a few days. And so the world is blessed with titles like Ninja Phantom Heroes, Ninja Terminator, Ninja Diamond Force, and countless others. You could probably write a thousand-page tome by doing nothing but reviewing these ninja films, for their numbers are so great. That Lai saw fit, for a brief spell, to turn his attentions to anime, or at least to animation, isn’t really surprising given what I have to assume was a keen sense of how to make a fast buck. The results also aren’t surprising. From what I can tell, Lai basically made a few movies, cheaply and sloppily animated by a bunch of Koreans chained to their desks, and then cut and recut those movies into a whole bunch of other separate movies. All of the films rely on the popularity of giant robot animation from the late 1970s and early 1980s, though they hardly restrict themselves to it. And like the ninja films, it seems that these movies were produced largely for a foreign — as in Western — market, to be dumped cheaply onto home video or to fill late-night television programming holes.
The majority of these cartoons actually make some rudimentary type of sense. The plot is almost identical in each of them — a belligerent alien race, most likely blue or green in color and sometimes both from one shot to the next depending on who was coloring in that frame (shades of the sloppiness so prevalent in the old Super Friends cartoon, where costumes would change colors and pieces randomly, and The Flash could, on occasion, fly) attacks the earth with a space armada, usually enlisting the aide of a nefarious human general (Kim Il-sung) with a lot of tanks. The earth can only be saved by a group of people dressed like Robotech characters and piloting giant robots. In between the initial assault and the eventual victory for the earth forces, there’s pretty much nothing but lots of scenes of spaceships and robots fighting each other. Usually it’s the same robots and spaceships and fights, because they just loop the footage. Still, a crappy cartoon full of robots and space ships fighting each other is better than a good romantic comedy.
But Space Thunder Kids is a horse of a different color. In fact, it’s several horses of several different colors. It never makes any sense at all. Ever. Even in the realm of Joseph Lai movies, it stands out as exceedingly incompetent. And although it relies on the same basic plot as the other cartoons, it hardly matters since it gets buried beneath so much totally random weirdness. Not only do things like uniform and skin and hair color change from frame to frame — sometimes the entire cast changes from frame to frame. One minute we’re looking at five people in blue uniforms inside a giant robot. We cut to a shot outside, probably of the robot swinging a giant chain while flying through space, and then when we cut back to the crew, there’s three of them and they’re in completely different uniforms. Plot points are introduced out of nowhere and vanish immediately. Entire armies are set on the march, and we never hear from them again. Characters come out of nowhere and then transform into other characters. Space Thunder Kids represents that point in the space-time continuum where every single law of logic, coherency, and physics — not to mention the simple, basic concept of competent animation and film making — are rendered meaningless.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t rely on quoting ad copy from the back of a DVD cover, but these are hardly normal circumstances so if you will permit me:
The Dark Empire is determined to conquer the Universe and get rid of anyone who acts against it. The Space Thunder Kids, made up of three valiant youths, are responsible for patrolling space and obstructing the invasion of the Dark Army.
Doctor Sparta, a scientist, is pursued by the Dark Army after the devastation of his planet. He flees to the Earth and meets Doctor Rhodes, who develops advanced weapons for the Guardian Army.
The Dark Army bombards the Earth aggressively and kidnaps Dr. Sparta and Rhodes. The Space Thunder Kids come to the rescue with the fighter robots, and together with the aid of the Guardian Army, the Successfully save the two scientists and shatter the Dark Empire.
I quote this because after two viewings, one of which was spent taking some notes, I had no idea that this was the plot of Space Thunder Kids. Some of the names were recognizable to me, but I didn’t and still don’t even remember any of this stuff being explained. I didn’t even know there were any space thunder kids in the movie, let alone that they were supposed to be rescuing anybody instead of just flying around in a giant robot, and sometimes in a giant spaceship, randomly fighting with other giant robots and spaceships. I guess upon breezing through it a third time you could claim that the things indeed could have happened even though it is never expressly stated in the movie itself — sort of like how some assholes will lay all sorts of Star Wars nonsense and back story on you, and when you tell them, “That dude didn’t even have a name in the movie,” they get all huffy and explain to you that if you’d read the biographies of the Mos Eisley cantina aliens that was available in the Star Wars screensaver from 1995, you’d know this basic information. I guess I never got the goddamned Star Wars screensaver, pal, and didn’t know that a screensaver was a legitimate avenue for fleshing out the back story of a movie. Are Burger King glasses considered canonical, too?
Anyway, whatever claims the DVD case makes regarding a plot can be easily disregarded since the movie doesn’t seem to care about it. Besides, you’ll be too distracted with counting the sheer number of gaffes, animation oddities, and stolen robot and character designs on display. Space Thunder Kids may be cobbled together from animation that was also used to make a bunch of other movies, but all that animation was still original, in that it was drawn specifically for these features. What isn’t original is that the artists rely pretty heavily on just copying existing Japanese character designs, including but not limited to: Space Battle Cruiser Yamato, Captain Harlock, Queen Emereldas, Mazinger, Gundam, Getter Robo, Transformers, Raideen, and, ummm, TRON.
TRON is the real stand-out here, because it’s even more non-sequiter in its introduction than anything else. At least the Japanese stuff is all robot and space opera stuff from the same general source. What the hell possessed them to suddenly cut to a scene in which a bunch of TRON guys fight Sark and then team up with a Queen Emereldas rip-off in Captain Harlock’s ship to destroy the Master Control Program, which is inhabited by Captain Ahab in a Kentucky Colonel ribbon tie. If Joseph Lai was in the room right now, I’d kiss him. It takes a lot of work to turn every single scene in a movie into its own plot, largely disconnected form any other plot presented up to that point. If ever a movie defied description or competent critique, this is it. It’s hardly even a movie. Forgive me as I lapse into “play-by-play” commentary for some of this review, but it’s worth it, I think, and since you can’t actually describe and then comment on the plot, I thought I would simply recreate for you, here, the notes and comments I made so I could remember and try to sort out the sheer madness I was witnessing on my television screen.
The action begins on an orbiting space fortress, though I can’t tell whether or not it’s super dimensional. The fortress is lorded over by a pipe smoking captain and a room full of people who always look angry or constipated. They might be angry because their entire computer bank is made up of VIC-20 computers that do nothing but display those staticky wave things. A sudden meteor shower causes a guy to groan and fly backwards through the control room even though nothing actually hits them. That’s OK, because he apparently noticed himself that he jumped the gun, and he does the exact same fall again a couple seconds later, only this time some debris also falls. It would seem that this freak meteor shower is actually an attack, but when the presumed attacker disappears from the radar where he just saw it blinking, the captain decides it was all just the fault of the jackass running the radar.
When the same mysterious disappearing ship attacks a space station lorded over by a guy with a pencil thin mustache, his female radio operator attempts to identify “the sauce” (her words, not mine). Oh no, wait, this is an entirely different UFO messing with this space station. The UFO is part of the Dark Emperor’s armada, and he is keen on conquering the entire universe, but especially Earth because the Earth is awesome and every guy on the planet wears either a blue suit with a green tie, a brown suit with a dark blue tie, or a green disco shirt and blue jeans. Even though he has a vast armada armed with death rays at his command, the Dark Emperor sends a giant monster to smash cities, because giant monsters smashing cities is awesome.
Meanwhile a trio of heroes — maybe these are the space thunder kids, I don’t know — fly around in a giant robot. Not fighting the aliens destroying the earth or anything. When they are attacked by the UFO that apparently lost interest in menacing that space station (even the Dark Emperor knows not to mess with a man with a pencil thin mustache), the crew of the robot — which looks an awful lot like Mazinger — finally throws down by pulling out a handgun. Wait — you build a giant robot that can fly around in space, and you make him use a handheld gun instead of just building guns into his hands? Oh hey! He can also separate into three different pieces!
This robot is apparently called Solar Mac 1, and the Dark Emperor hates Solar Mac One so much that he sends the blue-skinned, bearded Commander Dolly to demand that the Earth turn over the one weapon they have that can defeat the Dark Emperor. And just to be a dick about it, Commander Dolly unleashes a giant fanged robot monster thing to blow up the UN and cause volcanoes to erupt. It turns out that the earth actually has three kick-ass giant robots: Solar Mac 1, Zortek 2, and Tiger SX-3, which looks just like Solar Mac 1 but drawn at a slightly different angle. With those robots under our command, the Earth refuses to capitulate.
Further hijinks are being mounted by someone who is maybe called General Mon, who is a green-skinned alien with a giant forehead. Working with a nefarious human general who bears a suspicious resemblance to father of North Korean Kim Il-sung, Mon decides that the key to success is kidnapping Dr. Sun, creator of the giant transforming robots. Considering that he’s already built the robots and the crews are already trained and flying around in the robots, I’m not sure what kidnapping Dr. Sun will accomplish. But whatever. It’s a plan hatched by a green dude with a giant head and a fat guy with a goiter who is supposed to be a stand-in for Kim Il-sung, so I guess that they can do anything at all should be impressive. And it doesn’t really matter anyway, because these guys never get around to kidnapping Dr. Sun, and I don’t think there’s even a a character in this movie by that name.
Meanwhile — and this movie has a lot of meanwhiles in it — some more blue guys are about to attack a satellite moon, whatever that may be. This spaceship also has a hot chick on board, just for the hell of it. Unfortunately for the forces of the Dark Emperor, two of the generals — who I think are named General Shark and General Tim — hate each other and are always trying to show one another up. Commanding officer Saga loves messing with them (just wait until commander Dolly finds out about this tomfoolery!). When it comes to this competition, my money is on the guy whose name is General Shark. It turns out this isn’t a good bet since Shark, Tim, and Saga all seem to trade names and appearances every other scene. How three guys can be drawn in five or six completely different ways is just part of what makes the Dark Emperor’s army so dangerous.
The satellite is taken by surprise, and it makes one wonder why these places even have radar if all it does is warn you when a vast enemy armada is about ten feet away. But then, maybe if the guy manning the radar actually payed attention instead of sitting there staring blankly at the screen until another guy walks by and goes, “What’s that? Oh no, it’s an attack!” these attacks would not happen so often. Some actual astronaut looking astronauts launch a missile at one of the marauding space ships, but when that ship vanishes, the missile heads straight for China, which upsets some American military guy standing in front of a map of what I assume to be Asia, labeled “America. Map.” Maybe that’s not a designation of what the map shows but is instead simply a label of ownership. Given many of the things about the people in charge of our military, you might think that the American general would be pleased with this whole “errant missile hits China” situation, but when Earth is threatened by an outside force we all band together except for that fat guy with the goiter and a green alien friend. So America launches what I’m pretty sure a guy calls a “patriarch missile” while the general sieg heils madly. Man, there’s enough material for a “politics and cinema” and “women in cinema” class right there, what with the phallic patriarch missile and all. Oh wait. Yeah. Patriot missile, but it sure sounds like patriarch, so that’s what I’m going with.
For some reason, this makes the Chinese ambassador to the UN — didn’t they get blown up at the beginning of this film??? — scream and beat his show on the table, until the American ambassador — who, in a fit of eerily accurate premonition, looks and acts just like infamously antagonistic US ambassador to the UN John Bolton — tells him to “Put your shoe back on! You’re stinking up the General Assembly!” Something like this actually happened during a session of the UN General Assembly some years ago, so you know. Like, history and stuff. Back in 1960, Soviet prime minister Nikita Khruschev famously used shoe banging to express his displeasure with statements being made by Philippine delegate Lorenzo Sumulong and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Whatever the case, I’m not sure why the Chinese ambassador in this movie is mad that his country was saved from being blown up, but you know those Commies.
While this is happening, fucking Sark from TRON shows up out of nowhere in his glowing battle cruiser to make a speech about some secret power source. Then we’re back with General Tim and General Saga, who was called General Shark the last time we saw him, and General Saga was the guy pitting them against each other. Whatever. One of them has also become a bald guy with a Fu Manchu mustache all of a sudden, when the last time we saw him he was just some fat dude with shaggy hair. Once again the aliens sneak up on Earth — you kinda gotta think that maybe we deserve to be conquered at this point — and launch a bunch of fighter ships and some giant robots armed with bazookas. They blow some random stuff up, as giant robots armed with bazookas are wont to do. Our weapons seem powerless against the forces of General Tim or Shark or Saga or whoever the hell is leading this attack. All I know is one of them has a pencil-thin handlebar mustache. Whatever happened to our guy in the space fortress with the pencil thin mustache? General Mon also has a pencil thin mustache, which means the Dark Emperor now has Sark and two guys with pencil-thin mustaches under his command, while all the Earth has is a guy with a big bushy cartoon mustache. If it was a bushy mustache like Burt Reynolds or Maurizio Merli had, we might be in better shape, but it’s not one of those.
Just as it seems the mustache gap is about to doom Earth, three little kids launch the sleepy-eyed Zortek 2 to combat the alien armada. Seriously, this robot’s eyes make him look half-awake and stoned. No, wait. He’s not fighting the armada at all. He’s nowhere near that fight. No, he’s fighting that blinking monster from earlier, the one that destroyed the UN General Assembly but apparently didn’t. Well, that’s what happens when you send a stoner out to defend the earth. And while that monster was smashing cities a little while ago, now he seems to be hanging out by himself on a tiny uninhabited volcanic island. Zortek 2 gets his ass handed to him by the monster, which is probably what you should expect when you let teenagers pilot your giant robot. But then they shoot a crescent moon shaped razor off the top of their head and cause the monster to explode. Hooray!
But wasn’t this robot supposed to be fighting General Tim or whoever?
Well, no worries, because some guys in Battlestar Galactica helmets show up for a dogfight in space with a fleet of Space Battle Cruiser Yamatos. I have no idea who these guys are or who’s on whose side. But space battle dogfights are always cool, so who cares? Then we cut to a couple space pilots standing in some guy’s office, and their faces are doing this really freaky flickering thing I can barely even describe. I thought these three were the pilots of Solar Mac 1, but now they’re in charge of Tiger SX-3, which is neither a promotion or demotion since it’s the same robot. Oh wait, now Tiger SX-3 is a completely different robot than the last time they showed him. And one of the crew is a little kid who has no experience with any type of combat, including but not limited to flying around in a giant robot. That’s exactly the sort of crack squadron you want manning your last, best hope: a child with no experience at all. But what do I expect from a race that designs radar that warns you of enemy attack only after the attack has already started? What’s really awesome is that this spaceworthy flying robot gets inside a giant spaceship of its own and then sits at the controls to fly it around, which means to get from here to there a crew of three has to get inside the giant robot and pilot it to get inside the giant spaceship and pilot it.
Then it’s back to that battle between the Galactica guys and the fleet of Yamatos, and I still have no idea who these people are. Oh, OK, the Galactica guys are the humans I think, because they’re not blue and Tiger SX-3 shows up to smash the Yamato ships before taking on…I think that’s General Tim, but maybe it’s Saga. Whatever the case, he sends out “Super Shark with the Iron Ball” and “Super Lynx with the Thunder Axe,” two more giant robots armed with a ball and chain and an axe. You would think that if you had super giant transforming robot technology, you could come up with a more useful outer space weapon than a medieval axe and mace. But then, a giant robot flying through space while swinging around a big-ass axe looks pretty cool. Oh yeah, at this point Tiger SX-3 becomes an entirely different robot. Now he’s a Transformer. I forgot which one. The one that turns into a fire truck, I think. Also, he’s being piloted by an entirely different crew than the last one we saw a couple seconds ago.
After this fight, we cut to another robot and another robot crew, and another radar being manned by a sleeping guy even though they’re in the middle of a war. And once again the radar warns them when the evil armada has already started attacking. Baffled by this radar reading, a crew member asks for a visual even though they’re sitting in front of a giant windshield. This is when we find out that we’re back to Solar Mac 1, although he looks completely different than the last time we saw him, and this is a different crew. But that’s okay because a couple seconds later they show him again, and he’s back to being the robot with Mazinger’s head, and it turns out the problem was just that for a few frames, someone forgot to draw his head on him. Solar Mac One is fighting a fleet commanded by some guy we’ve never seen before, except that when they show the commander again, it’s back to being General Saga or Shark or whoever the blue guy with the handlebar mustache is.
As a last ditch effort to defeat Solar Mac 1, the blue general calls out Super Lynx, who you will recall was destroyed a couple minutes ago in a different battle being commanded by a different person. But no worries, because now Super Lynx is a completely different robot yet again. In fact, he’s Raideen but red and with abs, because nothing completes your giant robot quite like adding abs that shoot out missiles. It’s way cooler than Solar Mac 1’s lasers that pop out of his boobs. At some point during this battle the crew of Solar Mac 1 becomes an entirely different crew yet again, but at this point, things like this shouldn’t even phase you. Solar Mac 1 also has to fly down to earth and fight another robot with a big hook hand. This fight is awesome, and you know it’s awesome because the artist drew in some lens flares.
Anyway, after Solar Mac 1 beats that other completely unexplained robot — as if you ever need an explanation for a fight involving a giant purple robot with a hook arm — we cut to some dude we’ve never seen before who is apparently the sole surviving commander of the Dark Overlord’s forces. This guy looks human and commands some blue guys in stupid hats. He tangles with Tiger SX-3, which is back to being piloted by the first crew we saw. Unfortunately, I don’t know what Tiger SX-3 looks like in this scene, because this commander’s forces are so lame that Tiger SX-3 doesn’t even have to get out of his spaceship to beat them. Meanwhile, Kim Il-sung double crosses General Mon and decides that the war between the Alliance and the Dark Emperor has left the Earth ripe for the plucking. So even though all this guy has is an animated loop of the same tanks driving through the mountains, he launches his own assault on planet Earth, which consists of driving his tanks through a tunnel and never being heard from again.
So now it all comes down to a showdown between Sark and some guys who look like the good guys from TRON. This leads to the inevitable battle involving the hurling of light discs. And no, we’ve never seen anything like these good guys before, and there’s no explanation as to how they infiltrated the deepest inner sanctums of the Dark Emperor and Sark. And yeah, at this point, this pretty much becomes the single greatest movie ever. But then, because Joseph Lai loves us so, down swoops Captain Harlock’s ship, the Arcadia, piloted by a sexy Emereldas rip-off named Sheila. She sounds like someone with a nasally British accent trying to speak with an American Southern accent. Sheila joins forces with the TRON dudes after proclaiming both them and the Dark Emperor her enemies, but whatever, man. Fuckin’ TRON dudes!
The Dark Emperor doesn’t stand a chance against Space Pirate Sheila, so he flees in order to praise his atomic reactor thing, which looks like the MCP from TRON. I should also mention that Sheila’s sister is a deformed, diminutive robot thing. Sheila and the TRON guys — who show up out of nowhere and now include a couple old guys and a chick and no sign of the black guy who was with them earlier — finally blow up the Dark Emperor and his evil atomic devices! Hooray! The war is over!
And then we cut to Flint from GI Joe leading a commando raid on…wait. Who the hell is this? Oh, it’s that evil human commander of one of the fleets, the one who presumably got blown up by Tiger SX-3. I guess he escaped somehow, and now it’s up to the commandos to take him down. And just for the hell of it, a bunch of evil giant robots get launched and Solar Mac 1 kicks their asses, only now Solar Mac 1 looks like the second version of Tiger SX-3. Which I guess is only fair since the first time we saw Tiger SX-3 he looked just like Solar Mac 1. When this general discovers the Dark Emperor has been defeated, he surrenders and is forgiven and we all learn a valuable lesson about peace, the abolition of weapons of mass destruction, and how the leaders of the world should bend to the will of the people, and not the other way around.
Hey! Wait a minute! There was no Doctor Sparta! There was no scientist kidnapped and rescued by the Space Thunder Kids! There may have been a Doctor Rhodes, but it was hard to tell.
As bad as Space Thunder Kids may be, there are a number of things that are good about it — and remember that when I say it’s bad, what I’m really saying is, “Holy Christ, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!” For starters, you can’t say that the thing isn’t action packed. Minus some conversations here and there, almost the entire running time of this movie is taken up watching space ships and robots blow the unholy hell out of each other. Secondly, while the animation is cheap and relies heavily on looping, static shots, and repeated sequences, some of the artwork is actually pretty good. Whoever drew this couldn’t really draw human/humanoid faces, resulting in some mighty peculiar looking visages from time to time, but then there are moments when the artist was apparently inspired and comes up with an absolutely gorgeous slow-motion bit of some perfectly drawn and shaded dude getting blown up. And I guess I can say the mech designs are cool, but given that most of them were stolen from other sources, I’m not sure how much credit can be given to the artists here.
Third and finally, Space Thunder Kids has only two goals in life: 1) make Joseph Lai yet another bushel of cash to add to what I assume is already a Scrooge McDuck-like vault in which he swims on a daily basis, and 2) keep kids entertained. As a kid, all these logical shortcomings and artistic faux pas would have meant nothing to me (they barely mean anything to me as an adult). All I would have cared about is that there were a bunch of robots and spaceships blowing up. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed the repeated footage and looped animation, just as it was years and dozens of viewings before I caught on that Godzilla’s Revenge was comprised largely of stock footage stolen from earlier movies.
And even though I do notice and poke at all of Space Thunder Kids‘ sundry short-comings now, at the end of the day I had a blast. I live in fear of only a few things: being tortured, ending up in a situation where I have to eat disgusting bug-oriented food lest I enrage and insult some tribal chieftan, and becoming disillusioned with the wide world of weird cinema. So far, I have managed to avoid all three, and Space Thunder Kids is yet another glorious example of the fact that, no matter how much I see, I will never get to the point where I’ve seen it all.
Think of it as a bold experiment in deconstructing the myth of the linear narrative. Or think of it as the most accurate adaptation of the stream of consciousness James Joyce novel, Ulysses. Even actual adaptations of Ulysses can’t come close to capturing the randomness of Joyce’s scatterbrain stream-of-consciousness style as well as Space Thunder Kids. In fact, given the nature of Ulysses, I would say that any attempt at faithfully recreating the events in that book instantly become an inaccurate representation of that book. So indeed, Space Thunder Kids is the best and only true adaptation, capturing of both the stylistic spirit and plot of Ulysses. There you go. Fifty years from now, this movie will be lauded as an avant-garde masterpiece, and hunchbacked film students (hunchbacked because they spend too much time sitting with bad posture, but also because of the Spore Wars of 2050) will pore over its ever frame in search of meaning the same way current students are forced to scrutinize every shot in The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.
For now though, anyone who is a fan of colossally, brain-fryingly bizarre and incompetent films, anyone who is a fan of old anime and will love playing spot the influence (and sometimes you can spot a couple influences on one robot, as bodies and heads are switched with reckless abandon), and I guess anyone who would want to see a giant robot space opera that randomly cuts to a whole strange TRON sequence, then Space Thunder Kids is well worth the dollar. Or even a couple dollars. Sure, you could be watching Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love, or Yamato, or Harlock, or some other great and classical work of anime. But why do that when you can watch like fifty anime titles all at once, plus TRON, simply by watching Space Thunder Kids?