7/3/09

Island Warriors (Au-Yeung Jun, 1981)

Hey guys, when you were young, did ever crash (or at least try to) a girl's sleep-over or pool party? I only did once, and I wasn't much younger than I am now. My friend Pilgrim's then girlfriend was hanging out with some of her friends, and when we called to see if they wanted to hang out, they declined, saying that they were about to go swimming. We were specifically not invited. This, of course, only made us want to show up unexpectedly, which we did. Showing up much too early, we stood outside for a while before Pilgrim decided to actually call his girlfriend to see what was up. After a few minutes of him trying to talk to his likely exasperated girlfriend, I heard him say "_____ wants to know if you're changing right now." Most surprisingly, they were (and they told him), and by the time they actually came out, I was so annoyed by the whole idea that I didn't care to stay long, and after revealing himself, Pilgrim found that his girlfriend and her friends were more annoyed by him than anything else. They didn't tell him to go away, but it was not hard to tell that they wanted us gone. I'm pretty sure those girls think me an irredeemable pervert to this day.
Why am I telling you this? Because it really seems like writer Cheung San-Yee and director Au-Yeung Jun told each other similar stories one day and decided to work it into a script for their new kung fu movie. Island Warriors is two guys getting revenge for every pool party that they got kicked out of as kids, or at least it seems very much like that. It's a movie about ass kicking, independent amazon women who live on an island where men are not allowed, with the ultimate lesson being that even amazons need men around, else they become bitter, cruel tyrantesses and lusty tribades. Just let us go swimming with you, dammit!

Granted, while this theory accounts for much of the film's content, I'm still at a loss to explain how the graphic scenes of castration figure into my "it's not a big deal if we see you girls in your bathing suits, so just let us go swimming with you already" mode of interpretation.
The movie opens with a narrator informing us about how a king from China's antiquity banished his queen to an island, and how over the centuries it became a land of amazons, where men are either deported, executed, or made into eunuchs. Segueing into a festival of amazon women set to a goofy pop song, it's a wonder that the film makers even bothered with that much of an explanation. It's fine with me. I hate how every action film these days comes with about thirty minutes of useless exposition for its incredibly shallow world-building at which even the most easily pleased role-playing and fantasy nerds would roll their eyes. At least Island Warriors knows enough to keep the expository narration to its opening.
It's not long before pirates interrupt the festival, which leads to a few being captured, one being castrated, and a good few being killed. In spite of what the queen tells her subjects before the festivities begin -- that "All men are dangerous" -- it doesn't seem like the men pose any greater danger than the women on her island. After the pirate threat has been beaten, a new one emerges. Three men are searching for treasure on the island. Captured, one claims to be a doctor, one claims to be a very potent breeder, and the other a master cannon builder (the latter is true) the islanders decide to let all three live. With that under control, a new man shows up: the leader from the island of men, where the cast away male babies from the island of women are taken and raised. He demands that the amazons stop fighting men and start loving them. The queen imprisons him, but her younger sister sets him free after taking a fancy to him.

The rest of the movie consists of comic relief, pirate attacks, and much too mild exploitation for a movie which took such pains to justify having a land of women. By comparison, Amazons versus Supermen (Alfonso Brescia, 1975) didn't explain its isle of lesbos at all, but at least there was more evenly spread amounts of amusingly grotesque sleaze. Although Au-Yeung provides less of what some might expect about a film with an island of women than other films -- there's only two lusty tribades in spite of there being innumerable female warriors -- the pace never really flags since there's three sets of major characters not including the pirates, who are really only there to provide fodder for the finale.

The cast deserves some credit for being game. The ladies wear any number of totally absurd costumes reminiscent of what one might see in one of the more impoverished Italian peplum (lots of white sheets), but the best among them is Elsa Yeung's Tiger striped one-piece. In fact, she has the best, most absurd costuming in the picture. The other women are mostly just there to fight, and two of them are there to make out (I didn't recognize either actress). The only two that have much to do besides fight are another actress I didn't recognize -- who practices virgin kung fu and is the only one of the women to actually appear topless -- and the Queen's sister. The princess is played by Fong Fong-fong, who also starred with Elsa Yeung in Thrilling Sword, released in the same year and directed by Cheung San-Yee, the writer of this film. That just goes to show how tightly knit Taiwanese genre films were around this time. The men in this film are barely there for anything, but watch out for kung fu film star Wong Tao as one of the leaders from the island of men.
As weird as Island Warriors is, it never truly gets as bizarre as Thrilling Sword or Pearl Cheung's fantasy films around this time, like Wolf Devil Woman (1981). It isn't like this is the only movie that tried to use amazon women as a vehicle for exploitation, and it's not the only one I've seen. Truthfully, I liked Island Warriors way more than the others, but none of them really hit that sweet spot. Watching any movie with this plot, I really just want to break into the middle of the movie and say, "c'mon guys, leave them alone -- they just don't want to hang out with you." And since the film is really no different in cinematic terms from any other Taiwanese exploitation flick -- albeit with worse martial arts choreography than many -- the only thing it really has going for it is whatever amount of interest it generates with its weirder bits (castration scenes), infrequent sex scenes, and close ups of heaving cleavage.

Au-Yeung Jun directed quite a few movies, ranging from confusingly bad to rather impressive excursions in the kung fu/wuxia genre. He made Thou Shall Not Kill... But Once -- which easily has the best title of any movie ever made -- and the very cool spaghetti western-esque desert intrigue wuxia film, Big Land, Flying Eagles. Island Warriors is neither impressive nor confusingly bad. It's just bad. Some will get a huge kick out of this. I don't really care for it.

1 comment:

  1. Can u send me this movie somehow, if u have it?

    ReplyDelete