Friday, November 06, 2009

Zombie Kampung Pisang and Other Stuff

There hasn’t been very much going on for me Asian film wise this past week or so. I took a break from obscure Hong Kong films to watch an obscure Malaysian film. By that I should add that I mean obscure outside of Malaysia; in Malaysia it was apparently a box office hit in 2007 and actually got an invite to the Udine Festival. The title is Zombi Kampung Pisang or Zombie of Banana Village and is a rather fun frantic low brow Zombie comedy. Think Bob Hope movie without Bob, Bing or Dorothy Lamour and it will give you an idea of the constant antics and silliness that abounds within. It is fun up to a point but felt more like an overlong sketch without any characterization but lots of running around by everyone. There are also some clear social and political pokes in the eye but I think most of it went under my radar. The story takes place in a small isolated village where cell phone reception is nil and any outside help is even niler.

A couple young village slackers are being lectured to by a religious elder when in mid sentence the old fellow keels over and dies. Not long afterwards the same thing occurs with another elder. Their bodies are laid out but mysteriously disappear and the village goes into frantic mode – among them a couple good looking girls, the slackers wannabe musicians (played I think by some pop stars), a hard of hearing gentleman and a clearly gay fellow where the old term limp wrist is very literal and who runs in circles when he is scared. It is that kind of movie. Sure enough the old men become Zombies as do many of the other village people and the ones who are still alive board themselves up in a small meeting hall and try to fend them off. The Zombies are decked out in badly painted white faces and one fellow screams out Alice Cooper when he first spots one. The Zombies form a union of fellowship and promise not to smoke because it is bad for the health but that eating human brains is not. There is a DVD out there but as far as I can tell it has no English subtitles; I was able to watch a screener.

Non-Asian Films:

I have found myself watching a lot of older American films recently – a slew of the old Saint films from the 1930’s starring George Sanders or Hugh Sinclair as Simon Templar. These were great old B films that fall very much into a predictable pattern but are still lots of fun. TCM was showing a load of them last year and I recorded the films then and finally saw about 7 of them. Now, I wish they would show some from The Falcon series that starred Sander’s brother Tom Conway (and on occasion Sanders as well). Even as a good guy Sanders was so irredeemably wonderfully smirky and suave. He committed suicide I think because he was just bored. Of course Roger Moore will always be The Saint for me. Val Kilmer will always be an ink blotch stain as The Saint.

Then today I tried to revisit my two favorite Hitchcock films – The Lady Vanishes (1938) and The 39 Steps (1935) and rented them from one of the few remaining local video stores in the neighborhood (they are going down like bowling pins around here). I was hoping they would have the Criterion version of The Lady Vanishes but no such luck – instead they only had these old public domain copies. The 39 Steps worked fine and I still found both co-stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll incredibly charming and the ending “What are the 39 Steps?” terrific. Sadly though, The Lady Vanishes died in my DVD player. I had particularly wanted to see that one because I came across the book it was based on and began reading it and am loving it. I found it of all places behind my parents CD collection where they were using all these old Penguin mystery novels that they purchased decades ago as a backstop for the CDs! I was looking to download some of my father’s jazz and classical CDs and found all these wonderful old dusty books instead. I tore through a load of the Gideon Fell novels by John Dickson Carr who specialized in the impossible murder – i.e. behind locked doors – and then realized that The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White was the basis for The Lady Vanishes (the film The Spiral Staircase in 1945 was also based on one of her novels). Hitchcock made some interesting changes – primarily making the “heroine” much more likable – in the book she is a really snide rather insufferable young woman who thinks everyone else in the world is a fool. Of course saying that these are my two favorite Hitchcock films may sound like a lunatic to most people, but these two pre-Hollywood films are the two that I always revisit time after time – a perfect blend of suspense, comedy, romance and class.

Now that could not be said for a remake of The Lady Vanishes that I came across while looking for the original at the Brooklyn Library. This version was made in 1979 by Hammer Studios and stars Elliot Gould, Cybill Shepherd, Angela Lansbury and Herbert Lom. That’s a pretty good cast for a film that I bet not many people knew existed – but for good reason. Talk about taking a classic movie and making all the wrong choices from Elliot basically doing his usual deadpan shtick to Cybill screeching from beginning to end and the very inept Nazis. Most of the plot points stay the same but it is simply awful. The only good thing to perhaps come out of it is that the producers of the TV series Moonlighting saw it and were wowed by Cybill and her braless dress and thought she would be perfect for her role in that! Just a by the way since this Blog has a literary hint to it - The 39 Steps was also based on a novel of the same title by John Buchan and his chracter Richard Hannay was in a series of five adventures by Buchan that are quite out of date now but still fun to read

Sorry for having nothing much to say about Asian film this go-around but hopefully I can get back to the pictures and a film or two very soon – have Pinky and Aaron on deck.


Steve said...

Looking forward to a critical reappraisal of Pinky Cheung's career.

Brian said...

Let me know where and when you find one!