I Have No Idea What to Call This Smackdown!!!
June is not just giveaway month; it's also smackdown month! At least that's what it currently looks like. While I'd love to host tournament brackets more regularly, I can't always think of good themes. This month almost went by without one, but the cheesy part of my brain refused to give up without a fight. Hence this post and those which will inevitably follow. It rarely gets much cheesier than Hollywood orientalism where this former "unincorporated territory" of the United States is concerned.
You remember how this works, right? First, you'll help me pick which movie from each pair will move on to the next round. From there, I will decide which lucky films will make the Final Four, and then review them for your further entertainment. (I swear it will be entertaining!) The power to decide the ultimate winner will revert back to you. There may or may not be wildcards. (I really haven't decided yet. This is a tricky theme.)
* For those who have entered the June Giveaway, remember that voting in each round of the smackdown will help you earn extra entries! =)
** For those who haven't seen some of the movies, vote anyway! Honestly, I haven't seen most of the movies! But having done my research, I think these sixteen picks represent the "Philippine-shot Hollywood movie" fairly well. And I look forward to watching or re-watching those which will make the Final Four. =)
The Apocalypse Now Sixteen
Let's start with two contenders which were classy enough for the Academy Awards. It used to be that every other movie filmed in the Philippines expected the country to do some acting of its own--and with the right directors, she should have won her own Oscars for her performances as the war-torn Vietnam. (Then again, perhaps Thailand did Vietnam better . . .) Would you say that the local landscapes were more convincing as the backdrop to Martin Sheen's descent into darkness or the backdrop to Charlie Sheen's disillusionment with war?
If you know your history, you'd understand that the twentieth century should have seen the Vietnam War debacle coming for decades. The US government's imperialist expansion began as early as 1898, when it acquired the Philippines from Spain and began a long tradition of sending its armies wherever it pleased. Here we have episodes from one of the latest and one of the earliest chapters of its Philippine adventure: a WWII movie about American soldiers and Filipino guerillas forced to team up against the Japanese invaders, and what I can only call a Pacific-set Western in which US officers train one tribe of locals to fight against another.
We get it already: war is hell. There must be thousands of true stories which could have inspired a WWII film, but you'll mostly find screenplays made up from scratch. The logic is that any movie in which Filipinos and Americans team up against Japanese soldiers captures the conflict in a nutshell . . . and I currently find it difficult to disagree with that. Which functionally fictional flick will get to move on to the next round: the one with a US commando team that sneaks into the country to take down a Japanese communication post or the one with a mission to rescue hostages from Intramuros before it is finally, mercilessly bombed?
There's totally a martial theme going on, but let's be clear about one thing. Ninjas have nothing to do with the Philippines. We have our own martial art forms, but they are as distant from ninjitsu as the local stray cat population is disdainful of Hello Kitty. But straining at such gnats would discount an entire sub-genre that may or may not include mutant turtles, so let's play nice. Are these B-movies better represented by the Adventure trope of the Boy Next Door traveling to foreign shores and fighting in epic battles or by the archetypal setup of two old rivals settling the score in a final showdown?
By the early 1990s, the ninjas had been trounced by the kickboxers. After I recovered from the shock of learning that Jean Claude Van Damme never shot a single movie in the Philippines (the exotic locations of choice having become Hong Kong and Thailand), I found two other contenders to represent this cliche. One is supposedly set in Southern California, but was filmed here because it was cheaper--a decision producers made quite often at the time. The other makes the most out of its Manila setting, because the best way to sell the premise of an international kickboxing tournament where everyone fights to the death is to have it in a country which the target audience would be hard pressed to find on a map.
The Philippines has proven to be poor inspiration for Horror screenwriters. When some cousins of mine who had been born and raised abroad came over for a visit, I understood why. The eldest spent the entire afternoon at one of the capital's biggest flea markets worried that a stranger would jump out from behind the merchandise, drag her back with him, and sell her to a kidnapping ring . . . and when the younger one got a bit lost on the way to a remote beach, he started babbling about "natives with pitchforks" lying in wait to attack the car. Give or take a few details, those are totally the plots of these movies! Take your pick between an oddly classy "Tropical Noir" film about dead girls found drained of blood and a typical Cannibal Exploitation flick by an Italian filmmaker . . . neither of which have anything to do with actual Filipino Horror traditions.
Vietnam isn't the only Southeast Asian country the Philippines has stood in for, but you'll have to ask the locals in Thailand and Indonesia whether she was convincing in these two movies. Their controversial content kept them from being filmed in the countries where they were actually set, so the producers picked places where they believed they'd run into less trouble. But what you resist persists . . . The star of one movie became persona non grata in Manila after she described it in an interview as "weird," "ghastly," and "[smelling] of cockroaches" (ROFL!), while the cast and crew of the other had to move to Australia after local Muslim groups made threats against what they perceived as an anti-Islam movie.
Apparently, only really violent stuff ever happens in the Philippines! Decades after the soldiers, the ninjas and the kickboxers all moved on to different shores, the country remains typecast as a backdrop for both badassery and bad dreams. At least that's what these relatively modern offerings seem to say. The first is a very modern Thriller with chase scenes in an urban jungle of concrete and corrugated tin; the second is one of those fancy "art house" films with a mystery that begins in the real jungles of the south . . . before, of course, they take it to Hong Kong. Predictably. =P
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After you leave a comment with your picks from all eight pairs, you can start collecting entries on the Rafflecopter!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Image Sources: a) Apocalypse Now poster, b) Platoon poster, c) Back to Bataan poster, d) The Real Glory poster, e) Back Door to Hell poster, f) The Walls of Hell poster, g) American Ninja poster, h) Enter the Ninja poster, i) American Kickboxer poster, j) Bloodfist DVD, k) Blood Thirst DVD, l) The Last Cannibal World poster, m) Brokedown Palace poster, n) The Year of Living Dangerously poster, o) The Bourne Legacy poster, p) I Come with the Rain poster