Raw ForceReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/11/11 08:17:33
SCREENED AT THE 2011 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Though "Machete Maidens Unleashed!" is not a great documentary, I support it playing as many festivals and repatory theaters as possible, because it gives the programmers an opportunity to pull something nutty out of the archives to play afterward. The nutty thing they pull out likely also won't be any good, but it will be made with an infectuous enthusiasm. Thus, a 35mm print of "Raw Force" is pulled out from some archive, and it's not well-made at all, but it's a lot of fun at midnight in a crowded theater.There's an island somewhere in the Pacific where, legend has it, old martial-arts experts would go to live out their life in exile. A group of martial-arts enthusiasts from California aims to explore it, booking passage on a cruise ship that will also stop in the Philippines. This proves to be a doubly bad idea - a group of expatriate crooks regularly bring nubile young girls there in exchange for their weight in jade, because the monks living on the island believe that consuming human flesh will allow them to live forever and raise the dead.
The movie has a little bit of everything from the major exploitation-flick food groups: Kung fu, zombies, gratuitous nudity, weird comedy... The basics. The execution often varies as widely as the genre does at times - within a single fight scene, the audience will see some good choreography and several cast members (most notably, Jillian Kesner as a bikini-clad beauty on vacation from the LAPD SWAT team) selling the action extremely well alongside bits where people go down from blows that whiffed by a good six inches or so. An action scene where pirates attack the ship is actually fairly well-done (happily interrupting some fitfully amusing comedy), until the fire starts, at which point the low-budget effects work rears its ugly head. It's a weird but not unpleasant mix - the sort of B-movie where the audience can laugh at the low production values but which does several things just well enough for a good deal to be enjoyed without irony.
Part of what makes it work is that the movie does have an enjoyably offbeat sense of humor about itself. The mail villain (played by Ralph Lombardi) is a monocled German who is disgusted with the sort of hippies he's stuck working with, particularly Cooper (Mark Tanous), who is laid-back about his villainy and concerned about odd things ("they don't eat 'em raw, do they? I mean, they barbecue 'em or something, right?") The pirate attack is preceded by a bunch of loopy comedy bits that might work better if the audience wasn't wondering who these new characters were. The captain and owner of the ship bicker, and the ship's loudspeaker is a frequent source of snide remarks."Raw Force" (also known as "Kung Fu Cannibals") isn't really a good movie, but it does some things well enough, often enough, to work. For this sort of a flick, that's not minor accomplishment.
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