Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fantasia Day 13 - Raging Phoenix

I had to sneak out of work early to make sure I got a good place in the line-up for this 5:20 showing. I needn't have worried, as it wasn't sold out. Remember the hardcore Fantasiac that I met while waiting in line for The Disappearance of Alice Creed? Well he pulled a fast one! Minutes before the doors were to be opened, he showed up with a friend and a very friendly greeting. We chatted for a bit (I was hiding my anxiety about whether to invite him to join us or not the whole time so wasn't reciprocating in quite the same way). When the line started moving, he subtly slid in with us. Rather than being resentful, I was actually rather impressed. It was very well done! Furthermore, the guy is a veteran and is going to 50 movies this year, so he has earned the right to not always have to wait in the line. And maybe he'll have a debt to me if the roles are reversed!

We got another Shaw Brothers trailer as a treat. This time it was Brave Archer IV. I have not seen any of this much loved and respected series, but this one looked fairly tired, though I could be wrong. Raging Phoenix was certainly entertaining, but once again failed to live up to a great premise. It was also weighted down by excessive sappiness. Still, it had tons of action and a completely over the top plot that almost put it into the realm of science fiction. It was so preposterous that it was fun. People were laughing scornfully, but I really appreciate that kind of stuff. Fuck realism.

Basically, it's about a gang of drunken capoeira muay-thai breakdancing kung fu masters all of whom have lost a lover to a gang of white slavers. They band together to hunt down the gang and get revenge. But as you learn, this isn't just any prostitution racket. These guys are kidnapping special girls who emit a rare pheromone that can be distilled and sold as a highly addictive perfume to the very rich. The essence comes out in the form of tears and the most sorrowful girl produces the best stuff!

You learn all this through the eyes of Deu, a spoiled young rock drummer (and natural muay thai master as it only takes her a few weeks of training to become the best) who is set up to be bait for the gang by the good guys (who hang out in a ruined castle on the beach wearing awesome loose-fitting ethnically hip clothes).

The first and second fight scenes are absolutely delirious and fun. The locations are these hilariously over-designed industrial sites, like a warehouse with different coloured car doors hanging from the ceiling, or an abandoned ship with captured girls draped in nets. The fighting really is a drunken, breakdancing muay thai full of creativity and joy. The audience was laughing aloud in pleasure.

Unfortunately, the style is totally abandoned after that. The three guys who were doing the most fun fighting basically get their ass kicked way too early and we don't get to see them properly perform after that. Even weirder, the use of alcohol is entirely absent from any of the later fight scenes, even though a whole section of the film is devoted to explaining the philosophy of drunken fighting. Furthermore, it would have been the perfect vehicle to allow the heroes to find a second wind when they were just about defeated by the bad guys. Instead, it's just pure emotion that makes a complete turnaround in the fight, a real cop-out.

There are still some great moves in the final fight, but I was sort of out of patience at that point. I suspect there was probably some rush to do the filming in the end and possibly something in the star's contract that made it so she had to be the main fighter. She is great, but there were ways to keep the rest of her team on the screen as well.

The final thing that really annoyed me was the coda, which is each of the good guys saying goodbye to the girl, even though she was now totally alone and had nothing to do. Why do they have to separate? Is there some need in Asian culture for everything to be sorrowful and tragic? Let's see, we've got these 3 cool and wacky dudes whose skills are investigating evil girl-stealing gangs and drunken kung fu breakdancing. And now we've got this girl who has the best kung-fu of them all. Hey, I've got an idea, why don't we stick together and continue to live on the beach, fight crime and kick ass?! No, instead we are all going to go off in the gloomy sunset. Lame ending and lame waste of potential for a great sequel.

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