Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Pacific Connection (1974)

1974 – The Pacific Connection (Nepomuceno Productions Inc)

[release date 14th November 1974, also released as “Stickfighter” and “South Pacific Connection”]

Director/Story/Producer Luis Nepomuceno Screenplay Jacques Ehlen, Cesar Amico, Robert Ursul Cinematography Loreto Isleta Sound Director/Unit Production Manager Wilfred Ruiz Editors Emil Haviv, Eli Haviv, Jacques Ehlen Music Yuri Haviv Art Director Johnny Crisostomo Assistant Director Mario David Script Supervisor Dennis Villaconta Wardrobe Lolita Parfina Makeup Angie Castillo Fencing Consultant Mario Escudero Arnis Consultant Remy Presas Samurai Consultant Hiroshi Tanaka Martial Arts Choreography Chiqui Ocampo

Cast Roland Dantes (Ben), Nancy Kwan (Leni), Guy Madison (Old Man), Alejandro Rey (Governor), Dean Stockwell (Miguel), Cole Mallard (Antonio), Gilbert Roland (Allan), Gloria Sevilla (Maria), Hiroshi Tanaka (Mori), Fred Galang (Ramon), Elizabeth Oropesa (Ligaya), Nonet Lagdameo (Bonggo), Vic Diaz (Tsang), Joaquin Enrique (Kin), Teddy Benavidez (Captain #1), Roberto Saez (First Mate), Mark Le Buse (Captain #2)

Julian Grainger's review from Stefan Jaworzyn (ed.), Shock Xpress #1, London, Titan Books, 1991

Every year a lot of movies are made in the Philippines, often produced with American actors and directors filling in the gaps between their Stateside assignments, but until the advent of video very few were seen anywhere else. There are exceptions of course: the Eddie Romero-directed Blood Island films (with John Ashley) were given an extended release in the US, and Roger Corman has had various co-production deals going since the early '70s - co-financing and distributing films by prolific Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago. But usually these movies remain effectively invisible in the West, and actress Nancy Kwan had a second career in Filipino movies during the '70s that has gone almost entirely unrecorded.

One film that does sometimes appear in lists of Kwan's work is The Pacific Connection made by Filipino mogul Luis Nepomuceno. It's a martial arts movie set in the mid-19th century and, with its locations and period galleons, must have had a relatively large budget by Filipino standards. Nepomuceno served as director, producer and writer and it was filmed at his own studio complex on the outskirts of Manila. The film is concerned with a vendetta between wrongly imprisoned farmer Ben (Roland Dantes) and the Governor (Alejandro Rey) who murdered his parents. Ben escapes to an idyllic island where he falls in love with beautiful local girl Leni (Kwan). Eventually the Governor hires a samurai assassin to hunt Ben down and he is forced to fake his own death. Ben is taught the higher martial arts by the mysterious Old Man (Guy Madison) and eventually overcomes his adversaries.

This is an immensely enjoyable movie; Dantes is an expert in arms (combat using sticks) and his skills are used to great effect in several well-choreographed and brutal fight scenes. The film does have its sleazier moments (the Governor's fairly graphic castration as he tries to rape Ben's mother, for example), but unfortunately it is top-heavy with redundant dialogue and the narrative is frustratingly unfocussed and episodic -at one point Ben is sent on a quest to find a magical reed (that will provide him with protection from wounding) yet there was no previous indication of mysticism in the plot. While by no means a classic lost film, it is recommended as a fascinating curio and is a must for all devotees of martial arts on celluloid.

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