Thursday, May 21, 2009

21 Greatest Pinoy B-Movies article (2008)

You know you've made it both as a writer and a film historian when your work is featured in the Philippines' version of FHM magazine (December 2008 edition)!

Here's what I originally sent them...

The Greatest Pinoy Bold Film:There’s a huge number of runners-up – Celso Ad. Castillo’s Snake Sisters and Isla, Tikoy Aguiluz’s The Boatman, Peque Gallaga’s Virgin Forest and Scorpio Nights – but the most striking of all is Silip (dir. Elwood Perez, 1985), a clearly insane assault on religious dogma set in a fundamentalist Catholic dune-locked village, featuring Pasolini-style sacrilege, gore and near-hardcore pornography. Silip’s three devout sisters (including bold megastars Maria Isabel Lopez and Sarsi Emmanuel) are in love with Simon, the promiscuous village buck whom they brand a demon due to his abnormally large organ. “We must cleanse you!” screams Maria at her aroused younger sibling while throwing handful after handful of purifying sand up her skirt.

Greatest Pinoy Copyright Thefts:James Batman (1966) HOLY BATCOW! A pop culture free-for-all from the all-time king of Pinoy parodies, Dolphy stars as James Bond AND Batman, and often in the same shot! It’s BIFF, POW, ZOINKS with the exaggerated cartoon angles and a surfadelic soundtrack from Carding Cruz…

The Bionic Boy (dir. Leody M. Diaz, 1977) Produced by Bobby A. Suarez, a miniaturized kung fu-kicking version of the Six Million Dollar Man (that’s technology for you!) played by a precocious 8-year-old kung fu prodigy named Master Johnson Yap, who can do everything Steve Austin can except buy a pack of cigarettes. Of course the producers of the Six Million Dollar Man sued, but forgot you can’t trademark the word “bionic”. Bobby Suarez one, Universal Studios nil…

Mantis Boxer (dir. Ronaldo P. San Juan, 1979) An almost scene-for-scene redux of Jackie Chan’s original Drunken Master starring the hair-helmeted Chan-alike “Ulyssess Chan”/Ulysses Tzan…

Alyas Batman en Robin (dir. Tony Reyes, 1992) Jaw-droppingly absurd Batman parody with spoof king Joey de Leon, the cadaverous Rene Requiestas as the Joker, and Dolphy's sidekick Panchito as Tio Joker. Oh, and it's a musical! Brothers Kenneth and Kevin (aka the Caped Crusader and Wonder Boy) drive around in a convertible with tacked-on Bat Wings and battle the Joker (who has a gravity-defying Dali moustache) and an extremely portly 'Tio' Penguin for truth, justice and the Filipino way of life. The entire incomprehensible mess is in Tagalog, except for the Beach Boys' musical numbers which are (almost) in English. At the end, Kenneth and Kevin teach the Joker and Penguin a lesson in morality, who then proceed to sing (to the tune of 'Let's Go To The Hop')... “Let’s be good, not bad, Let's be afraid of God!” The entire cast, including Wonder Woman and a go-go dancing midget in a Spiderman outfit, all launch into a rendition of the title theme (to the tune of "Surfin' Safari"). An easy candidate for Most Ludicrous Film of All Time, and possibly the most flagrant breach of copyright known to the legal system.

Greatest Pinoy Fighting Cock Film: Supercock (aka Fowl Play, 1975) Ross Hagen and Nancy Kwan runs around the Philippines looking for their stolen fighting chicken. Essentially a one joke movie: “Have you seen my cock?” Comedy Gold.

Greatest Pinoy Samurai Zombie Film: Raw Force (1982) Imagine a film shot by Americans in the Philippines exploiting every possible angle: cannibals, zombies, samurais, white kung fu (this WAS 1982, and Chuck Norris reigned supreme!), gumby comedy, and more flesh on display than a Friday night karaoke crawl. Aging name actor Cameron Mitchell stars as the skipper of a rusty tub washed up on Warrior’s Island, home to a renegade group of grinning, clapping cannibal monks who can reanimate the corpses of disgraced martial artists to do their bidding.

Greatest Pinoy Rambo Ripoff: No Blood No Surrender (1986) God knows there were more than a few, but this one takes the biscuit. The corpse-thin comedian Palito (Ram-Buto, James Bone) is our Stallone clone, running around the Filipino jungle clutching a machine gun twice his size! With Max Alvarado, Ruben Ramos, Panchito as his commander sent to "bring him in," and a surprise cameo from FPJ as – wait for it – actor Sylvester Stallone!

Greatest Pinoy Midget Spy Films: For Y’ur Height Only (dir. Eddie Nicart, 1981) Over the astounding course of the film our 2 foot 9 hero Secret Agent 00, a curious little brown creature with a receding Ramones bowl cut and an all-white suit and boater, cracks an international drug ring, gets the girl, loses the girl (“Irmaaaaa!”) and infiltrates the secret lair of evil criminal mastermind Mr Giant (played, appropriately enough, by three-foot dwarf star Goliath!), all with an armful of gadgets and his famous trick of punching someone in the balls, then running between their legs. It’s not just the novelty of seeing a Filipino midget pretending to be a gun expert and ladies’ man, or the inexplicable thrill of watching bad (and I mean BAD) kung fu movies. Maybe it’s the surreal dubbing that takes For Your Height Only into another dimension. Perhaps it’s a combination of its constituent elements, or something new altogether… followed by The Impossible Kid (dir. Eddie Nicart, 1982) midget superhero Agent OO is back and is shorter than ever in his little white suit and pudding bowl haircut, now working for the Manila branch of Interpol. The Chief, a low-rent version of M complete with his own Miss Moneypenny, sends him in the pursuit of Mr X, an arch villian with a white sock on his head, who is holding the Philippines to ransom. Two businessmen, Senor Manolo (classic bad guy Romy Diaz) and Don Simeon (Tony Carreon), pay the demands but Weng Weng suspects foul play and goes deep undercover to reveal the identity of Mr X. Here the James Bond references kick into top gear: Agent OO has even MORE gadgets at his disposal, including a miniature bike which sounds like one of those high-pitched grass cutters and does an incredible leap across a ravine - along a very visible wire! Another highlight is an incredible stunt where Weng Weng gets to use his circus training and walks along a tight rope between two buildings. He then jumps down a garbage chute straight onto his waiting motorbike. Impossible? Mais non!

Greatest Pinoy Western Parodies: It’s a one-two punch from two-foot-nine superstar Weng Weng, whose first hit movie was in Da Best In Da West (1981) as Dolphy’s miniature deputy Bronson. RVQ’s joyously elaborate tribute to the Golden Age of Pinoy Westerns features cowboy sensation Lito Lapid as Dolphy’s straight man and every familiar “goon” from the Sixties and Seventies. Followed by D’Wild Wild Weng (Eddie Nicart, 1982), one of Weng Weng’s rarest starring roles as “Mr Weng”, a government agent sent to the troubled Santa Monica to rescue the townsfolk from the corrupt new Mayor (Romy Diaz). It’s a midget Filipino spy western with half the cast in Mexican mustaches and sombreros, and the other half – a tribe of dwarf “Red Indians” – in war paint and feathers!

The Greatest Female Pinoy James Bond: Never has Filipino cinema been so gloriously derivative, so cheesily Seventies, or so much goofy, jaw-on-the-floor fun than in the “Cleopatra Wong” trilogy from director Bobby A. Suarez. They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong (1977) starts the series with an outrageous pan-Asian actioner starring Singaporean beauty Marrie Lee as the high-kicking disco diva, weapons expert and secret agent Cleopatra Wong. While on holiday in Manila, Cleo uncovers a major currency counterfeit operation, and immediately her kindly but sleazy Interpol chief orders her on the trail. Clad in orange hotpants and white boots, shooting through thin air on a turbo bike and taking on thirty balding wrestlers at once, it’s little wonder fanboy Asian fetishist Quentin Tarantino cites Cleo as a major inspiration for his Kill Bill series. In a classy display of Filipino ingenuity, producer/director Bobby A. Suarez milks his international locations for all his micro-budget allows: from a chop-sockfest above Hong Kong harbour and a riotous free-for-all on Singapore’s Sentosa Island to the film’s explosive finale, a thirty-minute undercover raid on a monastery with Cleo and co in nuns habits (and moustaches) tearing up the Philippines countryside in possibly the only entry in the "Nuns with Guns" subgenre.

In Dynamite Johnson (1978), the Bionic Boy returns - and Cleopatra Wong (Marrie Lee) is his auntie! While in hospital his bionic ear picks up a burns victim rambling insanely about a fire-breathing dragon. The 'Dragon' is later revealed to be a neo-Nazi organization complete with bleached Aryans with eyepatches, who plan to blow up the world's major capitals starting with Hong Kong (why?). Our diminutive part-animal part-machine, aided by the cat-like Auntie Cleo, dispatches the denim flared cartoon baddies kung-fu style with a stoopid-sounding synthesiser da-na-na-na-na-na-na. Devil's Three (aka Devil’s Angels, Pay Or Die; 1979) sees Cleopatra Wong in her third and final adventure with a cross-dressing Franco "Chito" Guerrero and a 300 pound psychic sidekick!

Greatest Pinoy Amputee Revenge Film: The One-Armed Executioner (1982) An essential addition from director Bobby A. Suarez to the short- lived 'Amputee Revenge' subgenre. Interpol agent Ramon (Cleopatra Wong’s Franco Guerrero) is horribly truncated by the henchman of an evil drug baron. The super-suave Wayne Newton lookalike turns into an embittered One-Armed alcoholic beaten up by Two-Armed dockside bums. His former boss tracks him down and sends him to a One-Armed kung fu training camp, turning the digitally-challenged agent into a One-Armed killing machine. Like you can't see the arm under his shirt!

Greatest Pinoy Christian Gore Film: The Killing Of Satan (dir. Efren C. Pinon, 1983) On the surface a delirious Catholic horror - Ramon Revilla as a Jesus figure squaring off against a red-stockinged Satan! – but with much deeper roots in pagan folklore, and brimming with startling, primordial snake imagery.

Greatest Pinoy Vampire Films: National Film Artist Gerardo de Leon crafted two masterpieces of atmospheric gothic horror in the mid Sixties: Kulay Dugo Ang Gabi (export title “The Blood Drinkers”, 1964) and Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin (export title “Curse Of The Vampires”, 1966), both featuring the stunning though doomed Amalia Fuentes, and dripping with European-style atmosphere. In Kulay…, Ronald Remy is striking as the complicated villain Dr Marco, as bald as Nosferatu in dark glasses and snappy 60s black outfits, and simultaneously terrorizing a secluded jungle village while pining for his dying vampire love Katrina. As well as a vampire, he’s a man of science and medicine, and with the help of his hunchbacked assistant and mute dwarf, he plans to transplant the still-beating heart of the village girl Charito into Katrina (both played by Amalia Fuentes). Modern technology and traditional faith are constantly juxtaposed in a film which cuts between colour film and black and white footage tinted in cool blues and blood red. Ms Fuentes returns in Ibulong… as the heroine Leonore, a tragic figure at the centre of the doomed Escudero family riddled with vampirism and more. The father Don Enrique (Johnny Monteiro) denies permission for her to marry Daniel (Romeo Vasquez), a pure-hearted local lad who promises her to love her even from beyond the grave, due to the family curse - vampirism, like madness, is borne by blood, and he has unwittingly kept the curse alive by keeping his vampire wife Dona (Mary Walter) locked in the basement. Every night she wakes up in her coffin, her now-animalistic screams pleading for blood. Don Enrique is forced to whip her into submission but can’t let go – the family has become insular to the point of incestuous. Filipino gothic was a relatively small and short-lived genre, but de Leon certainly made it his own; weird without intent and without a single trace of kitsch, this is, along with The Blood Drinkers, undoubtedly one of Filipino horror’s finest moments.

Greatest Mutant Pinoy Monster films: The “Blood Island Trilogy” A trio of ooze-soaked atrocities tailor-made for the sex-and-blood crowd in US drive-ins. An insane Dr Moreau-like scientist, played alternately by Ronald Remy and Eddie Garcia, experiments on atomic mutations to the horror of visiting American John Ashley and his bevy of buxom bathing-suited beauties. Brides Of Blood (Eddie Romero, 1968), Mad Doctor Of Blood Island (Eddie Romero & Gerry de Leon, 1969) and Beast Of Blood (Eddie Romero, 1970)… Eddie told me both he and Gerry de Leon considered these films to be the WORST they’d ever made. Eddie, I for one violently disagree…

Greatest Pinoy Blaxpoitation Films: Again, not one but SIX in a row courtesy of Uncle Cirio, turning his wild mutant stew of black actors, kung fu thrills, flares, funkadelic guitars and exotic Filipino scenery into some his most successful exports: Savage! (1973), TNT Jackson (1974), Bamboo Gods And Iron Men (1974), Ebony Ivory And Jade (1976), The Muthers (1976) and Death Force (1978).

Greatest Mad Max Ripoffs: Stryker (dir. Cirio H. Santiago, 1983) The first of Santiago’s MANY Road Warrior riffs, a startlingly good vision of a post-apocalyptic world in chaos and littered with souped-up cars, white warriors in leather and studs, and an army of mutant dwarves with blowdarts. Then there’s W (aka W Is War; dir. Willy Milan, 1983), possibly the most outrageous, if only, entry in the Gay Post-Apocalypse (or “Gaypocalypse”) genre from veteran cheesemonger Willy (Clash Of The Warlords, Ultimax Force) Milan. Imagine an unnatural wedding of Mad Max and Death Wish: undercover cop Ally aka W2 is neutered by a futuristic, Nazi, Satanic and very non-hetero biker gang. Unable to pleasure his now-promiscuous wife, he embarks on a revenge spree against the eeeeevil Nesfero’s gang – in a souped-up penis subsititute! A squalling, fuzzed-out biker soundtrack, pointless explosions galore and literally every available stunt guy in Manila tumbling to their “deaths” make this the high watermark of insane Filipino cinema.

Greatest Pinoy Kung Fu Film: The Return Of The Dragon (dir. Celso ad. Castillo, 1974) Ramon Zamora trades in his usual cheap yuks for a more restrained and almost mythic performance in this uniquely Pinoy tale of death and retribution. With stunning direction from Da Kid, the always gorgeous Lotis Key, and of course the forceful presence of Zamora cementing his position as the Bruce Lee of the Philippines.

Greatest Miniature Pinoy Fantasy: Stone Boy (aka Boy God, 1983) Boy Wonder Nino Muhlach literally shrinks The Clash Of The Titans, donning toy armour to battle giants, a cyclops, Medusa and a staggering array of mythical creatures, all realized on a hundredth of its inspiration’s budget.

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