The Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit
Minoru Kawasaki has been given the nickname of late as the “Ed Wood of Japan.” I think this nickname is misleading, because Minoru Kawasaki’s films aren’t bad, they are just really weird. The kind of weird that plays well to international cult audiences but if you try to describe them to your coworkers they just look at you weird and then avoid talking movies with you in future conversations. He first burst in the international scene with Calamari Wrestler in 2004, about a squid that showed up at wrestling matches. His other films include Executive Koala – about a koala executive who may have murdered his wife, Crab Goalkeeper – about a crab that is a goalkeeper on a soccer team, The World Sinks Except Japan – a parody of The Sinking of Japan film (this was also Kawasaki’s first film filled with political satire), Kabuto-O Beetle – another wrestling film with a giant beetle, The Rug Cop – a parody of 1970′s Japanese cop tv shows involving a living toupee, and the upcoming Neko Râmen Taishô – about a cat who runs a Ramen stand. This resume makes him the perfect person to helm the return film for the giant monster Guilala. (He actually did work with giant monsters on Ultraman Tiga.)
Guilala first appeared in 1967′s The X from Outer Space (aka Uchi Daikaiju Girara, literally Giant Space Monster Guilala.) This was the first daikaiju film from Shochiku. After Guilala was brought to Earth as a spore it grew into a giant monster and rampaged until it was coated with Guilalalium, which returned it into a spore and it was shot back into space. The goofy monster design is probably what the film is best remembered for. There have been rumors for years of Guilala returning, most noticeably the long-standing rumor that he would fight Gappa, another Japanese monster who was a one-shot deal from the Nikkatsu studios. And now Guilala reappears years later in The Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit (as well as a promotional exercise video released around the time of the movie’s release in theaters in 2008 that I have been unable to track down!) After the film was released in Japan, Guilala showed up again in the US in a commercial for Ladders, some job website.
The Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit is not a daikaiju movie in so much as it is political satire set against the backdrop of a monster attack. The political caricatures are independent enough that you don’t need to know who they are to follow along, but if you are versed in foreign affairs than you get a whole new layer of jokes that others will miss.
The G8 Summit is a forum for governments of eight nations of the northern hemisphere. The leaders of the eight member nations each get represented here as exaggerated caricatures, though how exaggerated you are can vary. There is also a few changes from who actually attended the G8 Summitt due to political changes in power that happened after the script was already in production. The most noticeably is that Prime Minister Shinz? Abe hosts the summit here, while in reality the 2008 G8 Summit in Japan was actually hosted by former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who took over after Abe’s surprise resignation. The Russian president is also called Putin, though the Russian president at the time of the meeting was Dmitri Medvedev (and the actor resembles him more than Putin.) All other minor differences are listed below in the Social Studies 101 section. But first we need to introduce the non-political characters:
How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp
There is a lot of old Chinese cinema. Many films were made in the post-war period based on plays, operas, folk tales, and old novels. There was also a bunch of original content created. These old films have handpainted backgrounds, origins in operas and classical tales, and were produced quickly and cheaply. That doesn’t stop many of them from being interesting. I am fond of old-style effects, goofy plots, and stylized action as long as the film remains interesting. And in between all the older love/opera/drama type stories, there is a large pocket of wuxia/swordplay movies just waiting to be discovered. Although the audience for these films was large long ago, nowadays few people are even aware of them. Older Chinese people know of the films, but most of them don’t watch them regularly anymore, and even fewer have websites on the internet. So any specific film backgrounds I can find is few and far between (or in the case of this film, almost non-existent!) Heck, there is no IMDB entry for this film (no surprise there), and even the often reliable Hong Kong Movie Database has the wrong English name for the film.
Tribute is paid to these classic movies in the film Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic, which even co-stars Walter Tso Tat-Wah, one of the stars here and dozens of other classic films. How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp is a lucky pick grabbed from a Chinatown movie store based solely on the pictures on the back of the VCD, which included some kids dressed up like monkeys. I am happy to report there are crazy monkey children in the film, but there are also lots of other cool retro effects. Even if I didn’t have my wife there to translate the film for me I would have been entertained (although slightly more confused.) The VCDs for these old films have no subtitles (why would they? I am one of the few non-native Cantonese speakers who would watch these) so the best to hope for is lots of fun stuff happening on the screen.
The VCD case makes the presence of Josephine Siao Fong-Fong well known, though at the time this movie was released (1962) she hadn’t taken off into super-stardom (where her major competitor would be the other, bigger 1960′s Cantonese sweetheart Connie Chan – seen here in Lady Black Cat) so Josephine has a supporting role in this film. Josephine Siao would later become a major leading lady, and participate in many of the Jane Bond films of the late 1960s and even do many films with her “rival” Connie Chan. She first appeared in 1954 and two years later won the Best Child Actor award for Orphan Girl. Like Connie Chan, she also had an impressive output in the 1960s, but in 1969 she slowed down her acting to focus on education and marriage (to actor Charlie Chin, which lasted three months – she later remarried and had children) She later appeared on TV as the bumbling plain Jane character Lam Ah Shun in 1977, followed by three films (one of them was Plain Jane to the Rescue, directed by a young John Woo). She is probably best known to fans from the 1990s for her parts as Fong Sai Yuk’s mother in the Fong Sai Yuk films. See the Jane Bond article for more of her films.
Sek Kin is another major Hong Kong actor making a supporting role here. Usually Sek Kin played villains and evil men in his movie roles. He was the ultimate Hong Kong villain character actor for decades. Oddly enough, although his character is a jerk in several scenes in How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp, he isn’t the villain, and ends up doing some pretty noble things near the end. It was sort of weird seeing Sek Kin as a non-bad guy, I have only seen him in a few films but he was always over the top evil. Bruce Lee chose him as the villain in Enter the Dragon. At the time of this writing Sek Kin was still alive and kicking at age 95! He is also in Lady Black Cat where he plays a more common evil villain role.
Fitting with Chinese films, the cast is enormous, so here are the major players listed out (that way we can get shoutouts to all the more obscure Chinese actors and actresses that probably have next to nothing written about them in English.)
Lady Black Cat
aka Haak Ye Maau aka 女賊黑野貓
Directed by Cheung Wai-Gwong
One genre from older Chinese films which is barely known today despite how awesome some of the films are is the Jane Bond genre, which are films with tough female leads who are either spies or thieves or super-heroines who beat the tar out of evil dudes. Women as central figures has a long history in Chinese opera/film, and some of the earliest surviving Chinese films have female fighters as leads. The popularity of James Bond translated to female leads wearing slinky outfits, disguises, and beating up lots of dudes. There was a whole ton of these films produced in the 1960′s, many starring Connie Chan Po-Chu and/or Josephine Siao Fong-Fong. Sadly, many are lost today.
The Jane Bond films were proceeded by films based on the Oriole, the Heroine (Wong Ang) stories, a series of books which were first shown on film in the 1950s. Even those came from the Nuxia (swordswoman) genre, which dates back to at least 1928′s The Burning of Red Lotus Temple, the first martial arts blockbuster and which spawned 18 films total in the series. Here is some more information.
There is also an article I wrote on Jane Bond films here, which references several other good articles written on the subject. The most famous of the Jane Bond films is probably the Black Rose films (also starring Connie Chan Po-Chu), which produced a complicated string of pseudo sequels after the one official sequel, which eventually lead to the Protege de la Rose Noire film. Michele Yeoh’s Silver Hawk is also a modern update of the old source stories. The two classic Black Rose films are only available on old VHS tapes, thus we don’t have them.
We do have this old film that made it to DVD, thanks to Chinatown DVD shops and the cheap prices there-in. Lady Black Cat is a heist film starring a thief who is a girl dressed as a cat who steals from the evil rich guy and beats up his goons single-handedly. It has an unrelated sequel, Lady Black Cat Strikes Back, starring essentially the same cast with the same plot (except instead of a diamond being stolen it is a role of microtape.) Director Cheung Wai-Gwong is also credited as Jiang Weiguang depending on your translation methods, he directed the sequel and many many other films from the mid-1940′s until the 1970s. He was also a prolific writer for films during that period.
The internet is helping shed light on this forgotten classic films. Good links in addition to the ones above include Connie Chan – Movie Fan Princess, The Lucha Diaries, Teleport City, Electric Shadows, SoftFilm Blog, Illuminated Lantern, and probably many more unsung sites that I don’t have links to at the moment. There is not much written about this genre, it has much to discover and reviews are much needed. Do your duty and locate films today, write up reviews tomorrow, and sign up for the Mobile Infantry. Service guarantees citizenship!
There are no subtitles on the DVD, wife translated some of the names and some of the plot, so I have some of the character’s names (but not the main two) My Cantonese is sub-elementary school, but I am slowly but surely catching on to a bit. At TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles, but will accept help from out lovely wife!
aka Shen long
Directed by Juang Lung (as Huang Lung)
Written by Tsai Yung
Deadly Strike is a pretty good kung fu film. It follows a pretty average plot, but takes it and runs with it, making the entire film be a whole lot of fun. There is rarely a dull moment, and they only occur when setting up the next cool fight sequence. The basic plot involves a new sheriff taking on a gang of bandits, recruiting some prisoners to help him as the bandit thugs get tougher and tougher. It all plays out like a video game, and Bruce Li does a good new Sheriff who is eager to kick some bandit butt and save the people. And many people die. The plot sounds familiar, and the style is similar to films about the Old West. I am sure there are probably research appears on how old film Westerns influence films from all over the globe, but I am hardly an expert in the matter enough to give more than an outline. Taking basic stories and transplanting them to new settings is not a new event, and it continues to happen to this day in multiple directions.
The plot of the film necessitates that there is a great number of actors and memorable bit parts, so we will have one of the rather large Roll Calls that stretch throughout the film review. We have tried to identify many of the actors, but there is scant information and many are either best guesses or left blank for later. Some of the faces are familiar to fans of the 1970s kung fu film genre, so it is only a matter of time before everyone is properly credited. So we will start out with our main characters: