I have never been skinny-dipping. I never fully understood some people’s fascination with it, but different strokes and all that. I have, however, streaked. Let me set the scene for you. I was young (I’m guessing less than ten years old), and I was taking my nightly bath. If I remember correctly, my parents had some friends over, and my calls to my parents were going unheeded (why, I don’t recall). For some inexplicable reason, I got it into my head that the best way to fix my parents’ wagon was to leap out of the tub and hustle my bare ass down the street. Which I did. At that time, we lived on 11th Street. I made it to 15th Street before I was finally nabbed by a couple of my siblings. I’m surprised I didn’t incur any injuries like slicing my foot open (even more surprising since I used to walk around barefooted a lot back then). At any rate, I didn’t do it because of any sort of exhibitionism on my part, no desire to show off the goods, such as they were. It was just an impulse borne of a child’s frustration (one that was repeated once more to much less fanfare a short time later). But the boys in Chi-Lien Yu’s Invincible Space Streaker (aka Fei Tian Dun Di Jin Gang Ren) love to skinny-dip. In fact, I could imagine these kids being perfectly at home in a Turkish bath house. You could notch it up to simply being a cultural difference, but seeing a bunch of naked boys on film is a bit jarring to me and more than a little creepy, considering this film’s plot and despite its innocent attitude.
Dr. Mou appears from a frothing lake in his golden-helmeted, supervillain persona and quickly transforms into his human form, which comes with a snazzy black dressing gown. He conjures up two red-shirted henchmen, one of whom I believe was supposed to be Scottish. Why? Why not? Meanwhile, pre-teen Hsiao Po is almost singlehandedly losing his team’s soccer match by being the world’s worst, most distractible goalie (primarily centered on reining in his brother/cousin/something-or-other Hsiao Wen who has a penchant for pissing in public [seriously, this kid has one of the weakest and/or smallest bladders in the world]). Post-game, the boys frolic in the aforementioned skinny-dipping hole, where Dr. Mou finds them and lures them to his secret lair with the promise of turning them into superheroes (but actually just turns them into monkeys, pigs, and more henchmen). Nevertheless, the joke’s on Mou, because he does actually manage to change Po into his nemesis, the titular Streaker. Fights and things ensue.
In the grand tradition of the Japanese Tokusatsu genre and the insanity of films like The Super Inframan, Invincible Space Streaker is aimed squarely at children and their desire to see shit blow up and monsters fight each other (who doesn’t?). This, then, is why the film focuses so strongly on a threat from a child predator. Dr. Mou is absolutely shudder-inducing in the way he entices these kids. He’s the Pied Piper, but instead of a flute, he uses a poster of a superhero to lead the kids into danger. Of course, there’s no actual sexual molestation involved (but, man, is it heavily suggested as a strong possibility), and I do believe that the filmmakers approached the story earnestly (plus, I’m sure there are culture gaps shading my impressions). Instead, the children are tortured and transformed into animals. The children all get along with each other, more or less. It’s adults who are threats and/or just incompetent (including, but not limited to, Mrs. Lin, the school teacher who barely keeps track of her wards and gets a slingshot to the ass for her trouble [don’t worry, she returns the favor]). In films like this, children are front and center, and what’s more worrisome to children than adults who intend them harm or can’t properly protect them?
Naturally, since the kids are the focal point of the story, they are the ones who are empowered in this world. Even while in the clutches of Dr. Mou, the children do just about as they please. Wen even gets to take a whiz over Mou’s shoulder due to a breakdown in communication (a classic metaphor for the disparity between the ways adults and children view the world as well as another excuse to have a kid flash his bird at the camera). The Space Streaker (I don’t recall if they ever call him anything other than “superman” in the film, and he never makes it into space, anyway) is the ultimate encapsulation of child empowerment. That the superhero in this movie is actually a child is interesting, unlike in other shows and films of this ilk where they’re teens or young adults. In costume, the Streaker is actually the height of a young boy (though for the more dangerous/experience-required stunts, he’s played quite obviously by an adult). His costume most resembles one of the famous Kamen Rider characters from Japan, just much, much cheaper and less colorful. Many a young boy dreams of being a superhero, and in this film, Po gets his wish without being matured into adulthood. In this way, it’s somehow more satisfying from the perspective of youth, because the superhero is still a kid. In other words, you don’t have to be a grownup to be powerful.
Why, then, is this film so incredibly dull? Well, several reasons. First and foremost is the fact that, even for all of the lunacy packed into this thing, it’s still extraordinarily incoherent. Even if you view the film as a childhood fantasy/nightmare, it just makes no sense. None of this is assisted in any way by the camerawork and editing. The shots are always uncomfortably close to characters, jittery, and cut together like they were just thrown into a blender. It’s what was once dubbed “MTV style” before MTV. I’m a fan of camera zooms, something for which Asian cinema is known (and sometimes ridiculed). Nevertheless, not only are there simply way too many of them in Invincible Space Streaker (if you made a drinking game out of their frequency, you would be obliterated within five minutes), but they’re also almost completely unmotivated. They’re zooms for the sake of zooms, and they make an already bizarre film into a muddled one. Most egregious of all, the action scenes, the one thing we hope will actually gratify in a film like this, are boring. They are one note repeated constantly, and like everything else in the movie, they leave the viewer scratching his head rather than grinning. All things considered, I suppose that the final (recycled) shot of the boys skinny-dipping with the title “Thank you for coming” rather than “The End” just about says it all.
MVT: The costumes are fun in a goofy, threadbare way (including a wolfman who looks like an escapee from a grade school production of Little Red Riding Hood), but they’re underutilized to the point of frustration.
Make or Break: The opening soccer game outlines the tenor of the film, for better or worse. Mostly worse.