The Bad Movie Report

Drunken Wu Tang

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You know, I wasn't even going to review this movie; it received high marks at, (from whom I cribbed a couple of the pics for this week) and this intrigued me enough to obtain and view it for my own pleasure. It was great fun, but, at the time, I didn't consider it proper fodder for this site. After all, it had no giant spiders, smoking rocketships, rabid hippies or mad scientists. But it continued to linger with me, moments and events leaping unbidden into my brain when I least expected it. And finally, it caused me to re-examine what I considered to be a Bad Movie.

The Bad Movie, as I have stated before in my Philosophy rant, represents the best-laid dreams and plans of someone gone terribly, terribly wrong - these are your Robot Monsters, your Plan 9's, your Astro-Zombies. But there are other kinds, those that exude a delicious, creamy cheese filling by their own design, yet are very well-made (From Dusk 'Till Dawn, Evil Dead II), and those that go beyond bad and should have been used as mulch (I Drink Your Blood, something called Forever Evil). Then there is another sort, the kind that dumbfounds you and leaves you constantly saying, "What the f*@k just happened?" These are the movies that drop you down the rabbit hole, "ass over teakettle", as Harlan Ellison likes to say, and deposit you in the middle of strange, unexplored turf. Eraserhead is such a movie. Drunken Wu Tang is another.

Make no mistake; I normally avoid foreign comedies like (insert favorite disease here). No matter what some pedants might claim, comedy is not the universal language (that title more properly goes to violence). Oh, there are exceptions, certainly - there's a reason Marcel Marceau and Red Skelton kept wowing the United Nations - but most comedies depend upon the "Dude - are you supposed to, like, be funny or somethin'?"spoken word, and it's a rare bit of wordplay that survives the translation process. This is especially true when dealing with a rich, multi-tonal language like Chinese, whether Mandarin, Cantonese, or something in between.

But in Drunken Wu Tang, the dubbing has done a fairly decent job of capturing at least the flavor of the jokes (which were pretty darn silly to begin with, it seems), and the plentiful slapstick humor, being based in violence, works nicely.

The very first scene piles weirdness upon weirdness as a cross-eyed palm reader finds a widow has "the husband killing line!" in her palm; she leaves in a huff as the reader wails "You haven't paid!" A bizarre, red-clad figure apparently hanging upside down from the ceiling offers to pay. The reader, ignoring this gigantic crimson bat next to him (and how he got there) happily accepts the coins, but notices the red guy doesn't have any lines on his palms. The red guy - who will be known as Old Devil, the villain of the piece - immediately kills the palm reader. Sheesh. How touchy!

Old Devil and his -- wait for it -- Balls of Steel!The body of the fortuneteller knocks over a screen revealing a man meditating behind, who rouses himself and calls Old Devil by his former name - Ruthless (note to parents: choosing this as your child's name is just asking for trouble). The meditating man was apparently some sort of judge who sentenced the criminal Ruthless to a bunch of nasty punishments, including what appears to be riding a steel sled down a metal slide that is heated from beneath by fires, with the result that he has to be scraped off the sled like a pancake. Hence, the lack of lines on his hand. (Yeah, I'm sure they used that punishment a lot, too)

The mandatory fight follows, during which the judge pulls off his shirt, revealing a vest covered in back by sharp nails - the video box calls him Porcupine Back - which explains his unusual kung fu style of leaping into the air and landing on things on his back. Old Devil, however, has an even more bizarre weapon, a cannonball that splits and shoots out eight smaller balls, as well as bouncing about the room and generally obeying his commands. Porcupine Back, dying from his beating, refuses to tell Old Devil where the "Sacred Document" is hidden. There were a lot of Sacred Documents floating around China in those days, to judge from the many movies who use this as their MacGuffin.

The new 2000 Volkswagen hits the road.Next we are treated to the outlandish sight of some manner of wicker bumper car shaped like the head of a rat. This is piloted by a merrily humming inebriate known as Ratface, a perfectly appropriate name. Seated within, he cannot see a thing, yet he continues to peddle away, drinking all the while. As he rolls into the temple run by his brother, the local Taoist priest, he succeeds in running over housecleaning monks, causing general chaos, and accidentally desecrating the temple's idol. Whoops! As penance, he has one month to find a virgin boy born on the 15th of August, to perform a placatory ritual.

Which is where our other major character comes in -Cha Li, who is studying, under the tutelage of his Granny (played by a Aieeee!  Watermelon Monster!man), though not to become a monk but a witch. (I don't know - just try to keep up, okay?) His final test involves claiming the Sacred Document - now upgraded to a Sacred Book - from a training chamber. The chamber is laden with all manner of deathtraps, and Cha Li overcomes the pressing walls, the burning coals, and the sharpened bamboo, but he cannot get past.... the Watermelon Monster!!!!

Trust me, you do not want to meet the Watermelon Monster in a dark alley. Perfectly round, with flashing red eyes, whipping tentacles and a gaping maw, not a whole lot of money was spent on the Watermelon Monster, and it is very bitter about that. It uses its tentacle/antennae to whip itself about the room, and it's huge mouth has a predilection for snapping at your groin area. Eeee! It also has an annoying screeching voice that would be perfectly at home shrieking, "I'll swalla yer soul I'll swalla yer soul!" Cha Li bails on the test and goes to help his girlfriend, Jun, instead.

En route to that, he comes upon Ratface fighting with the two henchmen of the Princess (apparently some local cult leader), who appear to be named Shining Knight and Fat Chick * . Fat Chick's kung fu consists of spinning like a top and falling on you (comically pounding you into the dirt like a tent peg), while Shining Knight later demonstrates some bizarre style that allows him to pull his head and arms, turtle-like, into his breastplate. Right now though, his major duty is accidentally getting beaten up by Fat Chick, while Ratface employs his trademark drunken style that makes it appear he isn't even fighting at all. Cha Li jumps in with his more aggressive style, causing the Princess to also join the fray - and she uses that weird weapon, a long cloth sash with coins sewn in the lining, making it pack a wallop, and generally behave like a two-by-four. Phew. Got all that?

Old Devil starts cropping up and thrashing Cha Li every now and then, since he's still searching for the Sacred Book. GrannyNew - from Ginsu! shows up and saves the day, first by wielding the World's Largest Knife, then by leading Old Devil into the Testing Chamber. Whereas Cha Li defeated the deathtraps by brains and cunning, Old Devil blitzes through with his superior martial skills... but even he is bumfuzzled by the Watermelon Monster.

Granny hastily graduates Cha Li to full-fledged witch and entrusts the Sacred Book to him. Old Devil manages to poison the Princess with some potion that will - if an antidote is not taken every so often - cause her to grow old and die in a matter of minutes. Then Old Devil decides to take the book again, but this time he somehow defeats the Watermelon Monster and Granny must intercede, using her incredible Giant Meerschaum Pipe kung fu (the lady is serious about her giant props). During the course of the battle, Granny discovers how the villain overcame the Monster - it's not really Old Devil, it's the Princess in disguise! (Apparently, this makes a difference) Distracted, Granny is mortally wounded, and with her dying breath, tells Cha Li that Ratface is his only hope to defeat Old Devil.

"And tonight on Bong Hit Theatre..."For the most part, this probably sounds like a typical, action-oriented kung fu flick, but nooooooooo, that would be wrong. I've left out a lot of the comedy sidetrips. The reason that Cha Li stops his testing to help Jun, (his girlfriend, remember?): Jun's sister, a very recent widow, is trying to take up (far too soon) with a philandering wretch. Cha Li uses all manner of witchy tricks to make the lovers think they are being haunted by the dead husband. Then Jun manages to switch places with Granny during a seance and instruct her cowering sister that in order to avoid violent death, she must marry a man with a rat-like face. So, for the rest of the movie, the bewildered Ratface is pursued by the sister... hmm. Running away from an attractive woman with lovin' on her mind... Yep. Different culture.

Drunken Wu Tang staggers like a drunkard itself, staggers from goofy comedy to"I can't believe he just made a Bong Hit Theatre joke!" hyper-frenetic fight scenes and back to low humor without blinking. You may be tempted to fast-forward through the comedy pieces, but don't - they're short enough, weird enough, and you'll only have to rewind again because suddenly people are flying all over the place on wires or Old Devil has shown up out of the blue. Again. The plot synopsis above has barely taken you past the half-way mark of this singular film. There is still much mayhem - and mirth of a sort - ahead.

By now you probably know if this movie would be your cup of tea (or wine, to be more apropos). But if you're teetering on that fence, or if you're in the mood for something truly different - and more than occasionally astounding - Drunken Wu Tang is at least worth a rental, or the purchase of the impressively cheap EP version also offers (although not if you plan to make video captures - learn from my mistakes!).




The Watermelon Monster. Sweet Jesus!

- July 25, 1999

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