Thursday, February 13, 2014

Raw Force

AKA Kung Fu Cannibals
Directed by Edward D. Murphy
1982. Rated R, 86 minutes.
Cameron Mitchell
John Locke
Geoffrey Binney
Hope Holiday
Jillian Kesner
John Dresden
Carla Reynolds
Chanda Romero

Revisiting this flick for the first time in many years, I'm reminded that the 80s really were a different time. Before the VCR (and Betamax, to a lesser extent) revolutionized the movie watching world, films stayed in first-run theaters for months. It was not uncommon for the better movies to still pack houses over a year after their release date. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no - Raw Force, released in the summer of 1982, is most definitely not one of those. The movie that brought about the tangent I opened on is none other than the Spielberg classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, you're probably scratching your head and saying "what the hell does one of the all-time great adventure movies have to do with something known in some circles as Kung Fu Cannibals?" Honestly though, I'm not sure why you don't understand where I'm going with this. In my mind, I cannot think of either one of these movies without immediately thinking of the other. It's not that way for you? You don't understand why it's that way for me?

Sigh. Okay, I'll explain.

Back when both of these movies came out, it was still fairly common for theaters to actually run double features. If you were not born before these movies came out, you may not comprehend what I just said. If this is you, don't drop your tablet or smartphone when you read the next sentence. A double feature meant the theater was showing two movies back-to-back, and only charging you for one ticket. So no, Tarantino and Rodriguez did not invent the idea. Sorry to burst the bubble of any QT devotees.

By now, you've guessed what I've been rambling about but let me set the scene. Where I lived in Queens, my best friend's grandfather ran the Block Association. Every summer he would organize trips for local kids to amusement parks, Yankees and Mets games, and the occasional museum. He also set up the block party and ran a youth softball league. Once, only once that I can remember, he rounded us up with as many parents as could go and took us to a movie. He took us to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. This was in the summer of '82. It actually came out the year before and was already a huge hit. It was a known quantity even to people like us who hadn't actually seen it yet. The only theater anywhere near us still showing it had it as part of a double feature with a new movie. Yes, the new movie was Raw Force. My buddies granddad didn't know anything about this other movie. In truth, none of us did. We had seen the commercial on TV and it appeared to be a harmless kung fu flick with both Asians and white guys. It couldn't be but so bad. After all, it was being paired with the family friendly Raiders. Right?


Really wrong.

Really really wrong.

I'm not sure who at the theater decided these two movies made a good pair, but I have to believe heavy narcotics were involved in the process. I might be willing to say that I'm blowing things out of proportion, but not when I remember beyond a shadow of a doubt that Raw Force played first.

So here we are, thirty or so kids ranging in age, and I'm guessing here, from about 8 to 14, and a handful of adults arriving for the double feature because you had to get there early to take advantage of the price. No showing up for just the second picture. Not even a full minute after the opening credits things get very uncomfortable. An Asian guy with a Hitler 'stache in a white suit and a white guy dressed like a reject from The Warriors lead a bunch of women off of a boat onto the coast of an island where they are greeted by some rather creepy looking, sweaty and cackling monks. After the guy in the suit and the head monk exchange a word or two, he tells the white dude to strip 'em. Of course, this means the white guy literally starts tearing the clothes off of the women. After they're all naked, or darn close, the women are herded into a cage and left with the monks.


I can just imagine my friend's poor granddad wondering what the hell he had just gotten into. Unfortunately for him, this was only the beginning of one of the most bizarre cinematic rides of all time. It got progressively worse from this point forward. Much worse. Or better, depending on your point of view.

There is some sort of plot cobbled together. The two guys who dropped off all the chicks for the monks do this sort of thing on a regular and get paid a handsome fee. They are also part of some big jade smuggling operation that they hope will make them filthy rich. Meanwhile, a cruise ship that so happens to be stocked with various martial arts instructors, including a Bruce Lee wannabe, and students along with the usual gaggle of drunks looking to get laid is carrying said jade. One of the main attractions on this cruise is visiting that island where the monks are. This whole jade thing causes lots of kung fu fightin'. When I say fightin', I mean of the poorly choreographed and executed sort where we get the usual punch/kick sound effects even though often we can clearly see either the punch or kick miss by several inches. Between the fights is lots and lots of female nudity. And I'm talking full frontal (and rear) buck nekkidness. Outrageous things conspire to bring the two together on a regular basis. Of course, there's the obligatory strip joint brawl during which the strippers pay almost no attention to what's going on. There is also the scene where a woman gets down to her birthday suit while informing her about to be one night stand that she's on the run for murdering her husband. At this point, one of the jade thieve's henchmen comes bursting into the room. Even though he looks to be of Pacific Island or Hispanic descent, he inexplicably has a swastika on his helmet (and is wearing a Superman T-shirt), which comes off during his beating down of the poor dude who was only there to get some easy nookie. During this, the woman, still naked, grabs a gas can (?) and starts hitting the bad guy over the head with it. I'm not making this up. As time passes, the plot just gets stranger and stranger as we go.

How could it get any stranger than what I've already told you? Let's think about that alternate title again, Kung Fu Cannibals. Now let's talk about those monks. Eventually we find out that they aren't getting the girls to make sexy time. In the words of the Asian guy with the white suit "They get them for food." Eventually, we even see them preparing one unlucky lady to be roasted over an open fire. Oddly, she's not nude. However, they don't fight. So that title is a bit misleading. But they do indeed have someone to fight for them. They have a cemetery full of martial artists whom they raise from the dead to do their bidding. Yes! We have now added zombies to all the insanity! And I haven't even mentioned how piranhas figure into all this!

It's getting tough to contain myself. I get giddy just thinking about this movie. To reign myself in just a bit, I'll spend a moment on normal movie stuff like the acting, dialogue, directing, special fx, etc. It all sucks. Okay, that's enough of that. You know what, that's enough period. Let me wrap this up so I can go watch it again.

Oh, what about my best friend's grandfather? Whether or not he actually wanted to see a movie like this, I have no idea. I do know it's not something he wanted us to see. To his credit, or discredit, take your pick, he let us stay and we got through what must have been a terribly difficult hour and a half for him. Honestly, I'm not sure that rounding us up and leaving was ever an option. The thing is, he was a man who legitimately tried to keep whatever promises he made to us kids. In this case he promised he was taking us to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. That's what he did. It was great. A true classic. Still, it has nothing on Raw Force which is so bad it's awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

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