Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Flash! Future Kung Fu (1983)

Fascism litters the landscape of dystopian cinema.  Everything from 1984 to 1990: The Bronx Warriors deals with government agencies seeking to control every aspect of a country’s economy and populace.  Fascist governments tell us what to do, where to work, how much we get paid, with whom we can associate, what we can do for leisure, etcetera.  This is a fear most people have deep down in their guts, because we recognize that, ultimately, no matter what form of government we say we have, there is always the faint possibility that the leaders of same will suddenly decide that they know what’s good for us better than we do (I mean, obviously, this never happens in real life).  This plays with the concept that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, something with which I do agree.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a future-set story where the government is actually peopled with civil servants who genuinely care about the citizens under them, but the common people still live in a dystopian society (there probably is one somewhere; WALL-E comes close, I guess)?  Of course, we don’t see this because it goes against the simple, black and white, cause and effect we anticipate in a post-apocalyptic/future world.  A beneficent, well-meaning government would only produce a beneficent, prosperous society and vice versa, right?  The old saw of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions rarely rears its unwanted head in these scenarios, and maybe casual audiences (and filmmakers) just don’t want to try to deal with the complexities involved in such a narrative.  Thankfully, Kirk Wong’s Flash! Future Kung Fu (aka Health Warning aka Digital Master aka Da Lui Toi) sticks to the accepted script and gives us a future which is not only dystopian but also one in which the Nazi party has actually made a successful comeback (flags and all).

Yes, the Nazis are in power again, and Kung Fu students like Killer (Lung Wei Wang) constantly train, either at their Kung Fu schools or in “Black Boxing” matches (think: underground fight tournaments), to fight them.  After meeting Monique and Fever, two femmes fatale who extol the virtues of doing drugs and living life like today was your last, Killer must choose between his Master Lau’s (Eddy Ko) naturalistic teachings and getting some.  And maybe beating up some Nazis.

Homoeroticism is alive and well in Flash! Future Kung Fu.  Lau’s students love to hang out together and shower together.  Men are constantly rubbing each other to relieve sore muscles and/or to bring them back to health after getting beaten or overdosing on drugs.  The Nazis seem to have a true fascination with navy blue briefs, because just about every male in their group prances around in them.  Master Lau commands Killer to burn his collection of Playboys (which may not seem that farfetched, but considering the context of the rest of the film…).  The arcade where Monique and Fever hang out features muscle boys posing all over the place.  When Monique offers to give Killer a rubdown, he demurs, then he yells at his buddy for letting her almost see him naked.  When a male character actually has sex with a woman (involuntarily, might I add) it leads directly to his death.  What’s interesting about all this is that it isn’t presented as the Nazis being against homosexuality and the Kung Fu students being for it.  They all seem to embrace it equally.  It’s accepted as just a way of life (it reminds me just a bit of Matt Wagner’s short-lived comic The Aerialist, which posits a world where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is deviant), and it leads directly into one of the other major aspects of the movie.

The main ideological conflict of the film is between the world of science versus the world of traditions.  Seemingly, Monique and Fever were grown in a Nazi lab (there’s no true explanation, as in so very, very much of this film).  The Nazis do drugs constantly, relying on scientific breakthroughs to bring them to new highs (and when that doesn’t work, they’re perfectly fine with pumping carbon monoxide directly into their own cars).  When Killer is shot up with rabies, Master Lau is offered the antidote, but he turns it away, saying it’s “a blasphemy against nature.”  Lau then takes Killer to some herbal medicine guy to get healed.  This healing process, however, is almost as barbaric as the disease and its delivery system.  Killer is rubbed with a fresh, open chicken carcass.  He beheads a snake and drinks its still-pumping blood.  He is bludgeoned with all manner of implements to harden his body.  Lau and company hold that “all-natural” is how everything should be done.  In fact, Lau sends Killer out to knock trees down with an ax as part of his training.  Theoretically, this breaks the opposing sides down further to being body versus mind.  The Nazis believe in strengthening (and enjoying) the body through science/drugs, whereas the students believe in strength through the power of the mind, their force of will.  Unfortunately, this is a distinction which is nebulous in the film, except when the head Nazi declares, “The power of the body is superior to the power of the mind.”  So there.

If my analysis of Flash! Future Kung Fu’s facets appears muddled, that’s because the film itself portrays them in muddled fashion.  Now, from what I understand, the original version of this movie was something much more elaborate and cogent.  It’s also, to the best of my knowledge, considered something of a lost film (which is not all that shocking considering China’s track record on film preservation).  More’s the pity, because this could have been something special.  As it stands, and in the only format I was able to see it (a crappy, pan and scan VHS copy), the film is a mess.  There’s no plot, no characterization, no reasons for why things happen.  In its current form, the movie simply sets you adrift in a succession of scenes, none of which matter, because we have no frame of reference for any of it.  Scenarios and interactions we expect to have some significance go nowhere and mean nothing.  The final twenty-two or so minutes are okay, because it busts out some nice imagery and moments (in a race to prevent something nonsensical which we couldn’t possibly give a shit about because it hasn’t been built up in any way, shape, or form), but it can’t save this puddle from itself.  Here’s a flash: this film is mostly junk.

MVT:  There is some decent production value on screen.  But it’s wasted on this thing.

Make or Break:  The finale.

Score:  4/10         

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