Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (1988)

I’m just going to be plain about this.  I’m not a fan of snakes.  I realize that there are people out there (maybe even one or two reading this) who love them.  I realize that, like most animals, they don’t have it innately in for humans.  I realize that my fears of them are massively unfounded and irrational.  But that’s the point.  Many times, fear is irrational.  It’s a ping deep in the darkest parts of the human mind that puts you on edge.  It’s the idea that there may be some nefarious lurker in the basement with you, over there in the part with no lights, just waiting to spring on you as you pass by.  Fear is the unknown.  Fear is ignorance.  Having said that, I still don’t think that, even if I knew everything under the sun there is to know about snakes, I would trust them in the slightest.  This goes back to my deep-rooted distrust of most things in this world.  Call me a pessimist, but I prefer the term pragmatist.  For instance, I love dogs, but I wouldn’t trust a strange one as far as I could throw it (and what with my bad back and all…).  This, of course, cuts me off from certain life experiences, but you know what?  I think I’m good with that (a mindset some folks just can’t seem to wrap their heads around).  Would I have the same phobia about snakes if I had a pet snake like Mozler (where this name came from is anyone’s guess, and my spelling is going solely from the way it sounded in the film) in Godfrey Ho’s Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (aka Daai Se Wong aka Terror Serpent)?  Possibly, but I’d still take Lassie over this any day.

Thunder cracks on the soundtrack, and snakes pour out of a mountainside.  Why?  Because.  Tense villain Solomon practices his beer can target practice and declares his great need to own a formula that makes plants (and soon animals, natch) huge so he can dominate the world food market.  Scientists in league with the military (who, if my eyes deceive me, have the Harley Davidson logo on their berets) kick off something called Thunder Project when their base is set upon by Solomon’s henchmen.  Young Ting Ting plays with her beloved and obedient Mozler, stumbles upon the formula, and – Voila! - next thing you know, Mozler is Kong-sized (or in this case, I suppose it would be more appropriate to say Manda-sized).  Oh, and Ted Fast (Pierre Kirby) is inexplicably on the case, too.

Humans (with or without special abilities) with special friends and/or pets (who almost certainly have special abilities) have been around for, what seems like, eons.  In everything from Flipper to E.T. to Willard and back again, there is a commune forged between the innocence of youth and nature (films like Willard and Stanley and so forth are slight exceptions in regards to innocence [though their protagonists normally start off as rather ingenuous before heading down a dark path], but I think it means something that the main characters in films like those are typically adults, not children).  Kids have the ability in films like this to touch something that adults usually can’t, and I think it comes from their purity.  Filmic kids see the world differently, and have none of the jaded perspectives of folks like their parents, authority figures, and so on.  This point of view is what creates the rapport children have with the natural (and sometimes supernatural) world.  Their love for each other is unconditional, and they would go to the ends of the Earth for one another (yet it’s often the non-human character who winds up making the sacrifice for the human and not the other way around).  Ting Ting and Mozler get along like a house on fire (the snake even saves the girl from an actual one), and Mozler appears to have the brain capacity of, if not a college graduate, a fourth grader.  He understands what Ting Ting says and nods in agreement with her when she asks him questions.  This is before he grows.  Afterwards, they toss a ball back and forth to each other.  But, as I’ve been trying to intimate, I don’t think it’s that Mozler is special in and of himself, so much as it is Ting Ting who is able to bring this out in the serpent.  Had the snake been with another child, I don’t think he would have been nearly so exceptional (and if Ting Ting had a pet lepidopteran, she may have inadvertently created Mothra).

Knowing what little I do about Ho’s work, I was kind of surprised at how many special effects are on display in this film.  Mozler is usually depicted as a duo of hand puppets, one for his head and one for his tail, with his midsection conveniently hidden out of frame, though we do get a life sized prop of his giant head that Ting Ting rides around on for a bit.  I’m a sucker for miniature work and practical monster effects, even when they don’t quite stick the landing (I am, for example, perfectly fine with the marionette from The Giant Claw).  That is not to say that the effects are very good, but they are plentiful and kind of fun.
Ho was notorious for making Frankenstein films.  In other words, he (and frequent producing partner Joseph Lai) would buy the rights to one film, shoot some additional scenes (oftentimes with white actors to give them, I’m guessing, an international flavor) and then edit everything together in a patchwork fashion whose seams not only show but also threaten to burst open at the slightest touch.  This is why many of his films feel like two films smashed together (or three of four, for all I know); Because they were.  This also explains the schizophrenic, disjointed, nature of his films.  Scenes rarely lead one into another.  Characters (like our own Ted Fast) act as if they are in their own storyline which ties in only tangentially to the main storyline, popping up every so often to have a martial arts scuffle and then disappearing again from the film for a long stretch (or even the remainder of the runtime).  It’s an economy of filmmaking (one could even call it a dearth of economy of filmmaking) that leads to some very odd choices (and what I would argue is the primary reason for Ho’s fanbase).  Characters often have information there is no way they could possibly have just to keep the movie hopping along.  Sequences just happen for no motivated, structured reason.  There are long scenes of characters watching one another and then reporting back to their superiors rather than actually taking any sort of action or talking and saying nothing outside of some exposition and filler.  Still and all, I did find myself enjoying this film to an extremely minor degree, lumps and all.  If you’re familiar with what a Godfrey Ho film is like, you know precisely what you’re getting here.  If you’re not familiar with his oeuvre, this is as good a place to start as any.
MVT:  Giant Mozler is the tops for me.  I have always loved giant monsters, I always will, and Thunder of Gigantic Serpent shows their giant monster quite often (wires and all), so I got my fix.
Make or Break:  The Make is the first time you realize that Mozler is actually reacting to what Ting Ting is saying to him.  If you can go along with this, you can go along with everything else in the film.
Score:  6/10

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