Friday, July 13, 2012

Spirited Killer - A Thai Murder Jacket Musical...

OKAY... So, when you find yourself out at the video store, picking through the piles upon piles of never heard before martial arts films and you stumble upon a "Featuring Tony Jaa" film that you've never seen, and you think "OOooh. Awesome. I could always use 30% MORE Tony Jaa in my life!" ... please note that anything produced before 2003 (Ong Bak) features Tony Jaa for a total of 3 minutes, and he's usually the guy in the back row, second from the left, taking a punch to the face.

And that folks is where our blog begins, with the film "Spirited Killer", FEATURING TONY JAA!!!! (for 3 minutes. Literally)

Now, all is not lost on this 1994 release by Neung, Towatchai Ladloy, and Panna Rittikrai. Why? Because Panna Rittikrai IS Tony Jaa's Trainer and the head of the "Amazing Flying Elbows" stunt team.

Ok. That's not their real name. But this film has brought out both the best... and the worst in us with the giggling and one-liners. So, just accept that this blog is going to be insanely funny, and read on for maximum entertainment.

OK. So, our story begins deep in the Thai jungle. But this is no ordinary jungle because it exists in a vacuum, having absolutely NO ambient sound... like birds, bugs, or monkey's. And amazingly enough, Thai sounds a lot like bad English overdub.

But we digress.

Now, we can't tell you anything about the village, where it is, who the people are, or even the year, because both sets of credits are entirely in Thai. (Yes. There really are two sets of credits, 10 minutes apart.) HOWEVER, we do know that there is some sort of ceremony going on. And, for a minute you're not sure if its a black magic, alternative universe, Buddhist thing... or just a really strange Thai version of "Old Country Buffet".

Promises or not, would you drink this???
 None-the-less, the evil Dr. Voodoo Duwang (his formal title) is brewing up what appears to be a combo of Mentos, Diet Coke, and glue, and is promising that this bubbling, foamy brew will bring eternal youth. And by eternal youth, he means eternal death in the entirely dead sort of way. A mid-50's ish Thai woman hops on that brew, paying out top dollar to be young again. 

But, within two shakes of a monkey's tail, because we are in Thailand, she's dead as a cockroach on a southern Arizona highway.

Naturally,  everyone freaks out and runs. And, you know in Star Trek when you see the guy in the red shirt and you KNOW he's going to be the first to die? Yeah. The guy that's wearing the "Wrangler" t-shirt bears the mark of "dead meat". It of course doesn't help that he runs like a girlie monkey either.

Now, our lone survivor, Piak, swims across the river a total of three times to get away from the infamous "Dr. Vodoo", which should technically put Piak in his clutches, but rather follows the rule of "three lefts makes a right"... and with each step he takes, Dr. VooDoo utilizes his roadrunner-like speed, ninja like silence, and Fist Triangulator to catch up.

In a moment of exasperation, Piak confronts Dr. VooDoo, threatening to turn him in to the tribal elder. Dr. VooDoo's only response???

"If they arrest me, then no one will know that I did it!"

I... errr... uh... Ok. Wait a second. Time out for a technicality there Dr. VooDoo... that is if you have a real PHD in VooDoo. IF they arrest you, then they KNOW that you did it. Perhaps in your evil chicanery you got distracted and forgot that your line should have read:

"If I kill you, then no one will know that I did it, and I can't be arrested!"

But then that would change the whole feel of this movie and the resulting blog.

SO, Piak give his best "throw down" moves, there's a fairly good fight, and then he flees back to the village where he happens upon a conversation where the village elder is telling a group of young guys that the men of the village are too old to fight anymore. This is VERY important to note and save for a few paragraphs from now. You won't regret it. Trust us.

Piak tells everyone about what has happened. The elder steps up and in a concerned tone states that: "We need to catch him before he escapes in the Laos!". (Insert Shrug)

SIDE NOTE: If he leaves on his own, doesn't that sort of solve the problem?

Back to the film

So this group of villagers, all 4 of them, head off to capture the Infamous Dr. VooDoo (his title just keeps getting better and better). When confronted he states "I didn't kill anyone". And you  know what, I'm pretty sure he didn't. It was the bubbling bowl of Botulism that did it. A fight ensues with fists, and kicks, and swords, and the cornering of Dr. VooDoo, and the  "mortally wounding" him with swords... though it honestly looks like they are just slapping him with the blades, and then tossing his body into the river.

Uh. Wait. End of movie right? Because the bad guy didn't resurface.

Ohp... No. Here's the second set of credits. We happen upon a scene of several random villagers driving what can only be described as drag racing tractors. They turn a corner and find a man in a blue windbreaker blocking their path. After several lame attempts to get his attention and insult his dignity, he turns and lays down some serious WUPATCHA!!! And, just in case you DIDN'T recognize this evil windbreaker wearing guy... THIS is Panna Rittikrai. And yeah, he is JUST that good!

The punching, and twisting, and kicking, and hat casualties galore...


Some guys die. Some guys escape. Un-named windbreaker murderer slowly and methodically follows them back to the village. Oh man. Carnage is SOOO going to unfold!!

Oh no! There is a lovely couple paddling down the river. Are they going to find the body of Dr. VooDoo? Is he going to spring up out of the murky deep like a hungry alligator in wait? Is Mr. Murder Jacket going to take out this innocent couple???? (insert tension here)

(sliding needle on the record noise)

Uuh... No. The girl springs into song and oddly enough everyone seems to be hip to her Karaoke river groove... even that little kid in his underpants. (2:40)

And honestly, if you are entirely confused at this point... so were we.

So, the lovely couple heads back to the village, crackin' jokes the whole way. Mid-way there they run across the villagers that were attacked back on the road. These two remaining men state that they were attacked by the thief. Wait... what? Was he a thief? I don't think he stole anything, other than their pride. Or, was he a murderer? What type of perpetrator are we talking about here? Can you give a clear description to a sketch artist? Because, being clear about what is going on will help out the plot of his film a WHOLE LOT.

So, during this intense debriefing we are told that there are some Japanese students arriving to study some ancient relics... "or something". Now, within mere seconds we can all ascertain that these individuals are obviously not Japanese NOR students.

During their generalized banter, some serious banditos arrive on the scene and attempt to rob them. And, as I pointed out to MJ, I'm surprised that they didn't get attacked by monkeys earlier on as the only girl in the group is dressed like an over-ripe banana.


As the banditos attempt to make their move they discover that at least three of the students are martial arts masters. Aaaand... the butt whoopin' commences. And just when things are about to get ugly, one of the sleeping students pagers goes off and wakes up an additional fighter. And it is here that we can say that this is the only time in the history of EVER that a pager saved anyone's life... especially in a remote Thai jungle.

We never did find out why exactly one would carry a pager into the jungle... or who would be paging you on it... or even where you find a phone to return their call... but that's neither here nor there.

Having their pride bruised, the bandits are sent packing, only to happen upon the blue windbreaker of doom... and the bearer of it's namesake. Within mere seconds the banditos, who thought they were home free after that "Japanese Whipping", are beaten bloody in their tracks. And, the only reason that they thievin' hides are ever found is that one of the students needs to relieve himself, and ends up finding the bent, twisted bodies of the banditos.

You want us to come out now? Yes? Wait, no? So no then. Ok.
Back in the village, Piak (the original survivor of Dr. VooDoo's brew, and the second boatman on the Karaoke stream) is offering to give the beatdown to the windbreaker man of doom. Serious conversation. Serious, serious, serious... HEY, who are those @ssclowns in the background waving into the camera like this was a "Live on the Scene" evening news bit???

OK. Now we're launched back into the jungle where we are introduced to a very strange group of Chinese grifters looking for "HOLY METAL"!!!

\m/  \m/

So, cue the epic great American Western theme music as they forge through the jungle on their way to the village. And now that we're nearly 40 minutes into the film we find ourselves beginning to wonder where Tony Jaa is? Didn't the box say that this was his major debut and that he co-starred in the film? (scratches chin) OH, CRAP! We can't really worry about that right now as the Chinese have crossed paths with the windbreaker man. Man, you should see their faces...WWWWAAaaaiT! There's Tony Jaa! And if his shirt is any indication of what his fighting skills are going to be like... we're all in terrible trouble.

But now for a moment of seriousness:
It is in this scene that you REALLY get a sense for Panna Rittikrai's absolute athletic, choreographic, and martial arts brilliance.


So, here's the part where my husband wanders into the living room to join in on the film watching. His response? "Wow guys. This is the strangest episode of 'Saved By the Bell' that I've ever seen!" (insert wild laughter, snorting, chorteling, side grabbing, etc) This was only made worse by the fact that Tony Jaa's character is completely and utterly dead in 10 minutes. End.. of... co-starring role.

So, back in the village the students arrive, tell of the attack, and then an awkward love/flirting scene. And, we soon realize that this movie could have also aptly been named "Bill & Ted's Thailand Adventure"... Brah!

And, we are suddenly reminded that Piak and Chawalay are on a quest to find that evil blue windbreaker. They're running through the jungle, rammed in high gear. But so are the two remaining Chinese grifters. They clash, they talk, they slap backs, they decide to work together. The Chinese men head back to the village, the two young Thai men stumble upon the perp. And again, with no words spoken, Panna Rittikrai lays the hammer down, and stops a knife stab to the gut with his apparently Kevlar jacket of imperviousness! Pretty sweet.

In the end, despite their best efforts, the Murder Jacket remains undefeated.

Villager/Chinese/Japanese            Murder Jacket
                0                                        12, at least

And, this whole theme of "Let's go kill the bad guy" followed quickly with "OMG!!! RUN AWAY!" continues to another 40 minutes or so. And, at points the fighting becomes so epic that it changes the landscape, from hillside to plains at the kick of a foot to the face of an opponent. And, there are some strange interpersonal flirting scenes that just have absolutely NOTHING to do with the tea in China, which has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Chinese grifters looking for "Holy Metal". Personally, I suggested they look to Norway for an answer. (Bah-dump-dump, CHING!)

At some point here we realize that other than the main film characters, we have never seen anyone else in the village, aside from the two dummies who wandered on camera, and a chicken. A very talented chicken, yes, but still just a chicken.

So that whole thing about the villagers being too old to fight?

It's a coverup. A coverup for the fact that the village consists of four main characters, a few other minor characters who are now dead, and a couple dummies who can't remember their cue. And a single chicken. Not that the chicken couldn't stand up for itself. I mean, for all we know, that chicken could be a total bad@ss.

And now, to really save your time and ours and prevent this thing from getting entirely out of control, we're going to just jump ahead in the film. 

Feel free to make tape-winding noises in your head as we fast forward through some Jason Voorhees style serial killer music,  some cracks about not keeping your grape jelly packets in your front pocket, and more fabulous early 90's pop culture references mostly having to do with Trini (the yellow power ranger), assorted after-school specials, whatever happened to Patrick Duffy, and how they managed to make Tony Jaa look like a member of NKOTB. And then killed him. Yes, we're still stuck on that.
It's ok. You didn't really miss too much. However, were pretty sure that you've been wondering who this killer in the blue windbreaker is, and what he has to do with the village, the Chinese and Japanese visitors, and the now long forgotten Dr. VooDoo. Well suddenly, about 10 minutes from the end of the film, Dr. VooDoo strolls back on the scene all like, 

"Hey guys. Sssup? I know you thought I was dead. However, I faked my death and have just now come back to assist my evil impervious warrior of imperviousness in your ultimate destruction, because I'm a bad guy and that's what I get paid to do. Shall we now?"

By the end of the film, we have witnessed fighting, swordplay, an impervious murder jacket, the return of Dr. VooDoo, the absolute final death of Dr. VooDoo, and the destruction of the impervious warrior of imperviousness in his evil blue windbreaker/jacket of death.



Starring the chicken! That would be awesome. Do we dare to dream it?

Ok. So, what did we learn from this film? 1) Tony Jaa doesn't really do any substantial bone snapping until after 2003. 2) If you happen to find yourself getting tangled up with a guy who has a PhD in VooDoo don't run. Just make sure you kill him absolutely dead. 3) Anytime is a good time for a karaoke river party. 4) This movie makes for a SUPER great time. Rent it if you can find it.

SO, with the completion of this week's blog, we wish you well and look forward to sharing next week's blog on "Supercop". SO YA'LL COME BACK NOW!!!

- The Mavens (Kelly and MJ)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kung Fu Hustle - Good clean axe whippin' fun!

What do you watch when you want that good old Kung Fu movie classics feel, but want a modern story line?


And that is exactly what we did this past week at PiTN.

Kung Fu Hustle is a 2004 Stephen Chow release. Not only did he direct the film, he co-wrote it with Man Keung, Xin Huo, and Kan-Cheung Tsang.

And, if that didn't make him cool enough, he plays the lead role in the film as well... at the age of 42... and, let's just be honest right here, right at the beginning of the film. He doesn't look 42. His physique is amazing, and he has nary a wrinkle, blemish, or single gray hair.

I wanna look that great at 42!!!
Ok, but seriously... let's talk about this film.

Our story takes place in 1940's Shanghai. This is a significant historical note in that China was in turmoil at the hands of that Japanese, just prior to the second Sino-Japanese war. We're talking poverty, corrupt government, and the rise of organized crime.

And this my friends is where our story begins.

Our film opens to a "scene" taking place in the local police station. A strangely clad Chinese version of Wild Bill Hickock circa 1940 is shouting at the police about who he is, their ignorance, and the fact they they have arrested his wife. And, after seeing his wife you wonder what she was thinking when she agreed to be hitched to this rotten toothed dude who tucks his pants INSIDE of his western style boots.

No matter. The wife gets released, all the bad guys feel tough, and they all walk out onto a completely silent street ready to party the night away. Oddly quiet though. Suddenly, they realize that something has gone awry as there is not a soul on the street and the police bustle from door to window to door to quickly barricade themselves inside. What the... mysteriously they are entirely surrounded by the infamous "Axe Gang". An argument, some begging, a flying axe, a missing leg, a bad guy with nasty opium teeth, and a shotgun blast later we are introduced to perhaps THE MOST ENTERTAINING opening scene ever in existence. Seriously. Check it out:

Now, we would like to insert a small reference note here. There are some sources that confirm the actual existence of said "Axe Gang" between 1920-1940. They have also appeared in several martial arts movies and are somewhat of an urban legend. The sort of stuff that makes kids go to bed on time.

Yu Xing as "Coolie"

OK, so the story...
We now find ourselves outside the entrance of one of the local slum communities, called "Pig Sty Alley". It's pretty low-tech. There's whimsical Chinese flute music, children in period clothes running around, people standing in line for their water ration, and... wait...

OH MAN!!! 
(And the movie suddenly became about 37% cooler)

This scene is all about meeting the characters and learning about the lifestyle of the period. Let's see... you have:
Coolie - He is what he sounds like
Fairy - The Gay Tailor
Donut - The Noodle Vendor
Rabbit-Tooth Jane - the homely R.H.M. (Red Hot Mama)
The Barber - the skinny butt of the joke... LITERALLY
The lecherous Landlord
The hilariously hostile Landlady

Our "butt" is in line for water (in the public square) so that he can brush his teeth and bathe, even though they have a restroom and shower area. Coolie is carrying stupidly large amounts of stuff. The lecherous landlord is hung over and getting free noodles from Donut the noodle vendor. Jane is at the tailor's in a negligee. The landlord makes his rounds, flirts with everyone... a pretty normal slice of life scene. Then, out of nowhere, the water shuts off and "butt" is left half soaped... and half naked. And, what does any reasonable person do when standing naked in the public square his of her slum??? He shouts up to the landlady to fix the problem.

What a brave woman...

And so we meet Landlady. Cigarette-danglin', flip-flop face-smackin', insult-slingin' Landlady. She runs a tight ship and don't take no CRAP from nobody. She slaps the half-naked Barber kid into place, insults everyone else in the square of her insignificant little tenement, and pushes Landlord out a window for good measure (he's fine, really). And now that we've met our fabulous little cast of colorful characters, things really get rolling.

So these two good-for-nothings show up out of nowhere... Sing (Stephen Chow) and his sidekick Bone. They try to pass themselves off as members of the Axe Gang, blackmailing The Barber for money, but soon realize they are in over their heads when the whole damn town turns out to be trained in some kind of fabulous fighting skill, including the 9 year old with the Schwarzenegger-sized guns. He finds himself in even deeper doodoo when the actual Axe Gang shows up and Sing somehow manages to blow one of them up (well, sort of... singe his hair anyway) with a rogue firecracker.

Landlady, being the macho woman that she is, barricades herself in her apartment and lets the townfolk handle the Axe Gang for the time being. Before anyone knows what in motherland of Abraham Lincoln is going on, someone has stuffed the Axe Gang Expedition's leader in a barrel, the Axe Gang members have called for backup, and pretty soon the swarms of axe-wielding, top hat sporting men have us starting to suspect that we have been dropped headfirst into some kind of Monopoly convention.

WHEW... if only he didn't have such terrible teeth.
And wasn't... you know... a bad guy.
With all of the other silly looking bad men comes Brother Sum. We met him earlier, he's the fabulous dancer with the opium teeth. He wants to know who stuffed his advisor in a barrel, so rather than just asking, he douses a couple of innocent people in kerosene and tosses a lighter at them in hopes of invoking a response. Because that's an entirely rational way of approaching the situation.

But wait! Here comes Coolie! He swoops in, catches the lighter, and starts busting totally insane kung fu moves all over the place! And wait, wha? Hold the phone! Did Fairy the Tailor really just throw some axe-slinging maniac 30 feet out a plate glass window?? And holy crap did Donut the Noodle Dude really just take out 40 guys with a really, really big stick?? Well, ok, it's a staff, not a stick, but you catch my drift. What just happened here??? How is it that these three random guys from the slums suddenly possess a whole new brand of badass awesome?

We don't get to find out just yet. BUT... they do beat the bejeezus out of the entire Axe Gang, who pick up Sing and Bone as consolation prizes and run off to lick their wounds. They eventually let Sing and Bone go though, when they realize that Sing can pick a lock faster than they can swing an axe. Useful types to keep around, those worthless scoundrels. Brother Sum tells Sing to go kill someone to prove that they are worthy of being members of the Axe Gang, and off they go.

While looking for a lollipop image from
the film to put here, I got entirely
distracted by these adorable earrings
on I can has some plz?
Now here's where things get really deep. Sing and Bone are tooling around town, and Sing is giving Bone a lecture about how to live life, seize opportunities, be tough. When Bone asks Sing if he is really going to kill someone, Sing tells Bone that he knows Buddhist Palm Kung Fu, and launches into this crazy flashback in which little boy Sing is duped into paying $10 (his entire life savings) for a 20 cent Buddhist Palm manual. Little Sing practices his tiny heart out for about 15 seconds of film, and then attempts to save a mute little girl from a band of older boys who are trying to steal her lollipop. He diverts their attention from the little girl, but loses the fight, gets peed on, and somehow the moral he took away from that is that he wants to be a killer, because the good guys never win.

This whole scene simply confirms the time period of the story. This guy has obviously never seen a Bruce Lee flick.

So Sing wants to be a bad guy. And to prove how bad he is, he steals some ice cream from a mute girl with an ice cream cart and runs away laughing. Wow. Way to go tough guy.


Yes, those are shifty eyes. Did he really just miss the entire point of his own flashback?


Meanwhile, back in the tenement, Landlady is ticked. She doesn't want Kung Fu Masters mucking up the day to day life of her slum. Landlady is yelling at the Fairy, Rabbit-Tooth Jane is yelling at Landlady, Landlady is yelling back, and pretty soon the whole town is hollering about something or another. Feeling she has lost control of the situation, Landlady drops the cigarette that I would have sworn was superglued to her lip, and lets out an impressive wail that rattles the windows and splinters glass. While she's doing that, apparently she is the one Sing has decided to kill, as he and Bone are hiding in a shed a short distance away. Sing tries to kill her, but only ends up with three hilariously procured stab wounds and two snake bites to the lips, and is subsequently chased through the countryside by Landlady and her superhuman fast flip-flopped feet in fantastic Road-Runner fashion.

Don't worry, he gets away. And he really is very lovable by now, we promise. Even if he has been entirely dim-witted for the first 35 minutes of the film. I guess that's part of his charm. He runs off, lips swollen to the size of cantaloupes, hides inside a traffic light maintenance thingy-ma-bobber, bends his little steel hideout all out of shape with his palm, and comes out two minutes later entirely recovered from all previous injuries.

Color me confused. Does he know he has crazy kung fu healing abilities? Or is this like a Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk type thing where he has no idea what's going on? I personally have a feeling he knows and is playing dumb. We'll see.

While Landlady tries every trick up her sleeve to get the three superheroes out of her general vicinity, Brother Sum has come up with a fabulous plan for revenge. He hires the second best killers in the world, who look something like the Blues Brothers meets Nosferatu.

The best killer in the world is apparently unavailable, having lost his mind somewhere along the way. Anyway, the musician fellows are sent out to take down the three, who we have now learned are renowned warriors who all retired and somehow managed to end up leading mundane lives in the same dull village. The three are sparring, having fun, packing up their things and preparing to set out to find new mundane lives when these harpists show up, trying to claw their faces off. How rude!

So these harpists, they sit down and start playing this thing called a zither, and they....

Hold up.

This is ridiculous. I quit.

When I started writing this thing, I thought...

'Wow! What a fantastic movie to cover! All the great cultural and cinematic references, the fabulously hopeful moral of the story, the incredibly well-structured characters that play off each other so nicely!'

But let's be honest here. I am no Stephen Chow. I could only ever hope to be about half as funny or talented as his big toe. I have fought and struggled and toiled to try to convey the excellence and awesomeness, and it just ain't workin' folks.

The best thing I can do for you at this point is to say that if you haven't seen this spectacularly hilarious array of beatdowns and shenanigans, we highly recommend that you crawl out from the rock you've been living under for the last 8 years, sit your butt down on the comfiest seat in the house with a box of milk duds and a tasty beverage, and commence with the viewing. I promise, it's WAY better than anything I could ever possibly write.

Yours Humbly,

MJ, The Maven with the Epic Fail
(who also happens to reeeeeally want some of those lollipop earrings)