AUGUST 21, 2012
I can always count on Brian Quinn to program something both HMAD-able and enjoyably insane for his monthly Grindhouse nights, and Devil Woman (Cantonese: She yao jing) did not let me down*. While not as full blown insane as some others, it delivered everything I look for in such entries: a nonsensical story, curious translation problems, and a respectful crowd laughing and applauding at all the "right" moments.
The translation issue was a bit unique, however, as this was the rare dubbed Asian film. Usually the prints are subtitled by someone who most likely did not know the English language, but here the dubbers just tried to match the mouths as best as they could, giving every line in the film that had more than 5 syllables a strange cadence. Even Christopher Walken would be puzzled by some of the places where pauses were inserted, and the tone of voice was often wrong as well - questions sound like exclamations, and vice versa. The dubbing actors are also too cheerful - a character explaining that his family being poor is why he feels drawn to another poor kid is delivered with the inflection one might use to tell their best friend that they are getting married. It's not too big of an issue though, since roughly 75% of the movie is either someone calling Devil Woman's name ("Manda!") or muttering after getting their ass kicked.
See, another charming thing about the movie is that it was actually a kung fu movie with some horror stuff thrown in at random, though it doesn't start out that way. A baby is born with snakes growing out of her head, and the family hides her for a while and covers her head when she goes out, which of course gives her a very sheltered, lonely life, as well as the target of ridicule. One day when getting picked on, she uses her snake power (she can control local snakes, not just the ones on her head) to lash back at a bully, which causes his parents and the rest of the townsfolk to form an angry mob. Long story short, her parents are killed, and then 10 years (or so) later she returns to seek revenge.
So you're thinking it'll be like Stanley mixed with The Crow or something, right? Nope. Shortly after coming back and killing one of her tormentors, a Chinese doctor comes to town and instantly makes enemies with pretty much every asshole in town. Thus, most of the movie focuses on his encounters with this gang, who constantly get together, surround him, and then get their asses kicked (but never enough to just quit the gang or sit out the next fight). I'm not huge on this sort of stuff, so maybe this is par for the course, but after the 2nd or 3rd such fight I started getting kind of bored of seeing this guy take down 12-15 guys without ever being hit. At least with Jackie Chan there's some physical comedy built in as he scrambles around and uses props, but this dude just sort of stands in one general spot and kicks or smacks every anonymous goon who comes his way. I never once feared for his safety, so I wish there was more of a balance with the snake scenes.
Because the two plots take FOREVER to converge, to the extent where I wondered if they ever really would or if this was just the Filipino version of Best Defense. The only question is, would the doctor team up with Devil Woman to take down the gangs together, or would she see him as another threat? The answer is... uh, I don't really know. She has one of his enemies under her control, so when he kicks his ass she gets miffed, but otherwise they seemingly have the same goal and no real beef with each other, yet the finale finds him killing her snakes and trying to land a shot on her as well (she keeps teleporting). It's like the reverse of something like Ecks vs. Sever (yeah, I went there) where they think they are enemies and then realize that the only way to win is to join forces. In this movie, they only met because of coincidence and then the movie comes down to their fight. Not the tightest script, is what I'm saying.
There are some really great, entertaining scenes throughout though, so even if it's not perfect it's still worth a look. I particularly liked when the doctor went to a wedding (?) and was forced to take part in a boxing match. He's all like "No, please, I'd rather not" and everyone boos and the other guy sucker punches him, forcing him to defend his honor. Naturally, he kicks the guy's ass, which results in another guy getting into the ring and trying. After a few hits, the guy is like "OK I quit" and casually walks back out of the ring, while the doctor retains his "Everyone just enjoy their day" attitude. It's a delightfully unnecessary but awesome sequence. I also liked when the love interest was being kidnapped by one of the goons - she struggles and keeps brushing up against her dimwit brother, who just assumes she wants his attention and keeps ignoring her so he can focus on the fight happening nearby. There's also an odd bit where the doctor tries to enjoy a cockfight, but can't seem to get a good view of the action. All time-wasting nonsense, sure, but it beats yet another "fight" of no consequence.
As always, the IMDb page for these things tends to be a bit slim, but this time it's not really their fault - the movie itself had no end credits at all, which is why I don't really know anyone's name besides Devil Woman's, because it was said about 9000 times ("Manda!"). I don't even know who played the hero! And it has like 5 other titles (including, yes, Manda The Snake Girl - I am fascinated by the fact that all the titles are about the character who only has like 1/3 of the movie to herself), so good luck tracking it down if you're so inclined. It doesn't appear to be on DVD anyway, but either way I'd suggest just hoping to see it with a crowd - I am sure nearly all of my warm and fuzzies are due to the infectious energy an audience of one can't possibly muster.
What say you?
*He also showed Legend Of The Wolf Woman, but I sadly kept dozing off and thus can't write a proper review. I did see one of the most casual stabbings in cinema history, however, so I feel comfortable recommending it as well.