RIC MEYERS: The Thai’s have it
As a contributor (audio commentaries, on-camera interviews, liner notes, and packaging copy) to more than three hundred DVDs in America and Asia, I’ve always wanted a source for what ComicMix is now allowing me to do — review DVDs specifically on the quality of their extras (audio commentaries, makings-of, et al). When deciding upon which DVDs to buy and which to rent, that’s often the deciding factor.
All too often in DVD reviews, the extras are simply listed, which is misleading at best, since I’ve suffered through dry, taciturn, frustrating commentaries from a star-studded roster (the pre-ultimate edition The Spy Who Loved Me), but also reveled in funny, enlightening, seemingly drunken revelries (Conan the Barbarian). And even in the most prestigious publications, the critics get bogged down in their opinions of the films in question, leaving precious little copy for the quality of the extras accompanying them on the disc.
But enough raison d’etre. Now its time for shameful confessions. Naturally, I wanted to fill this first edition with insightful analysis of the most famous, anticipated DVDs on the market, but find myself presently concerned with quirky titles many of you might not have even heard of.
So, what to do, what to do: detail the flowing bounty of extras to be found on the consistently entertaining but hardly hilarious Night at the Museum or well-made but uninvolving Dreamgirls, or tell you about the demented delights of Thai cinema?
Well, given that this site is called ComicMix, and I’m best known for Jackie Chan comics and my annual three-hour San Diego Comic-Con Superhero Kung-Fu Extravaganza, I’m going for the stuff thats as exhilarating and under-reported as comic books. Staggering into video shops this week are some DVDs that will either have you trawling for Thai flicks forever or keep you from seeing another ever again.
More accessible and superheroic is Born to Fight (Dragon Dynasty [The Weinstein Co.] Two-Disc Ultimate Edition), which is flailing feverishly to get out of the shadow of Thailands most famous and popular action export (Thai Warrior, aka Ong-Bak). The same fearless stunt crew worked on both films, but the latter starred Muy Thai boxing great Tony Jaa, whos attitude and strength mirror Bruce Lee while his acrobatics and films crib from Jackie Chan’s homework.
In order to differentiate itself from Tony, the Born to Fight crew decided to create even sicker, and more bone-breaking stunts, while catering to Thai patriotism, in a plot that has a village overrun by nuke-carrying terrorists on the same day its being visited by the Thai Olympic team. The discs main extra — an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary lays it all out in loving, if repetitive, detail, with many interviews and glimpses at the set-ups for the insane stunts.
It’s hard not to marvel at the filmmakers passion, love for Thai tradition, and the crews willingness to risk their lives to gain America and Asias respect. The result is a flick that balances goofy and great (featuring one stomach-turning moment of near-suicide as a stuntman nearly gets ground up under a tractor-trailers wheels).
To tell you the truth, Thai cinema has always set the bar high. Every Thai filmmaker has felt the need to distinguish itself from the U.S., Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea by making its movies weirder, wilder, and more wacky than any other nations (in addition to Ong-Bak, you might also search for Sars Wars, a cult classic that combines zombie, gangster, and sci-fi movies with whatever else they can think of).
Tears of the Black Tiger (Magnolia Home Entertainment) has upped the ante to the near breaking point, being a purposely artificial, romantic, war/western, featuring cowboys on battlefields, alternating with anguished lovers in bright pastel sets, culminating in an outdoor shootout with painted backdrops. The DVDs single extra is suitably kitschy: what appears to be a Thai cable access special in which the cast and crew are interviewed by what appears to be an eager college student.
After all that dementia, it was something of a relief to consider MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, Season Two (Magnolia Home Entertainment), a two-disc set that includes all thirteen episodes of Spike Channels dubbing of an already twisted Japanese TV show. For those who don’t already know: an intrepid group of Hollywood comics got the rights to a popular 1980s Japanese game show/comedy series, then reedited and dubbed it to within an inch of its life resulting in a pretty hilarious hybrid.
What made this effort even more interesting to the cult film fan was that the original program is Takeshis Castle, starring Takeshi Beat Kitano (aka MXCs Vic Ramano), who went on to become one of the worlds great hard-boiled movie actors and directors (Battle Royale, Brother, Zatoichi, et al). So it was a fascinating revelation to see that the MXC Season Two set included a subtitled, uncut episode of Takeshis Castle, so fans of both Beat and the L.A. disembowelers could compare and contrast. I now think that the adapters improved the extremely Nipponese original.
The other extra is a behind-the-scenes at the tiny Cally studio where the comics change Takeshis Castle into MXC, which looks like it was filmed with a phone DV camera. Although cheap and simplistic, its an interesting glimpse into how the deed is done, and well worth seeing for any fan.
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, The Ultimate Death, Doomstar, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective, The Weekly World News and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.