Monday, July 21, 2008

FIGHT BATMAN FIGHT! - A Gregarious Gallery of Counterfeit Caped Crusaders.

With the Dark Knight almost upon us (already unleashed overseas, to be exact) I thought it was time to take in some of Batman's previous big screen incarnations. Rather than go over the same ground as who-knows-how-many-other sites, here at Poptique we like to be a bit different...

So in a follow up to my earlier peek into the fantastic world of Filipino Pop Cinema here are some incredibly obscure Dark Knight doppelgangers courtesy of Video48, which may well be new to you (they certainly were to me...)

Supposedly predating Adam West's camped up Caped Crusader was 1965's ALYAS BATMAN AT ROBIN (not to be confused with the 1993 ALYAS BATMAN EN ROBIN, a painfully cheap singalong spoof of the 60s show, complete with a mustachioed Joker and a cameo by Wonder Woman). Since star Bob Soler also appeared on Filipino screens as the Phantom and home-grown hero Captain Barbell it's safe to suggest that the 1965 version was straight-laced action cinema that pipped the TV show to the post.

BATMAN VS DRACULA - a cataclysmic confrontation that didn't take place on the comic book page until 1991 was unleashed on an unsuspecting Filipino public in 1967. Quite what is going on inside Batman's chest-plate logo is open to interpretation. It's unlikely this version was influenced in any way by Andy Warhol's 1964 Batman Dracula, to be very honest.

1973 brought a crop of Batman epics, undoubtedly inspired by the massive box-office success of the first Darna movie with Vilma Santos - Lipad Darna, Lipad! (Fly Darna, Fly!)

FIGHT BATMAN, FIGHT! featured Victor Wood in the title role - just like Darna star Vilma Santos, Ronald Regan and Batman & Robin's Mr Freeze, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wood later entered the murky world of politics. Fight Batman, Fight! also featured the Joker, Robin, Catwoman and Filipino starlet Pinky as Batgirl. The same year Pinky starred in a smash-hit version of Supergirl for another studio.

Since super-powered lady crime-busters meant big bucks in 1973, Batwoman hit the screen soon after Batman himself. Darna also had a kiddie side-kick (the non-super heroic Ding) so mother and son team Virgina and Robin Aristorenas appeared in the title roles of BATWOMAN & ROBIN. Whether or not the film was a success would be pure conjecture on my part, but it was followed by a sequel the same year when the dynamic duo took on the Queen of Vampires!

It's doubtful that any of these films will be made available any time soon - chances are they've long since disappeared into dust, but one Filipino Batman has definitely survived to be witnessed with mouth wide open - the Bond and Batman comedy-combo JAMES BATMAN.

Camp comedian Dolphy had been rolling them in the aisles since the early 50s, and cultivated a long career in cinematic spoofs - taking aim on such targets as Darna (Darna Kuno?), Jackie Chan (the Dancing Master), Tarzan (Tanzan the Mighty) and James Bond (Doplfinger, Dr. Yes). Dolphy gave Bond another run for his money in 1966 by playing both the super-spy and the Caped Crusading super-hero in the same film. Teleport City Cinema also bagged a copy and unlike myself actually made it from the beginning to the end without skipping. A super-heroic effort indeed...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM - Jackie & Jet party like it's 1989

It's a strange year at the cinema - what with new Indiana Jones, Batman and Bond movies, alongside a Ghostbusters reunion in video game form. It almost seems like 1989 all over again.

However, the only film that has really taken me back to the sort of empty-headed but ultimately joyous fare I lapped up as a young whipper-snapper in the 80s is the long awaited Jackie Chan / Jet Li kung fu combo The Forbidden Kingdom. Despite looking sharp and of 21st century standard, for some strange reason it just feels like an 80s movie - a Gremlins, Goonies or Back to the Future type of movie.

Early trails didn't exactly look promising, and the more I saw of the white-bread geek-chic lead actor the more worried I got. Therefore it came as a pleasant surprise that after an almost unbelievably weak (but thankfully quick) set up the movie shifted in gear and entertained from there on in. It's exactly the type of "they-don't-make-them-like-this-anymore" family-orientated epic that Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull struggled to be.

Make no mistake - this is chop-sockey cinema at it's most lightweight - but with impressive production design, lovely locations, above-average fight scenes and best of all, Chan in Drunken Master mode, giving his finest performance yet in an American made film. Chan looks as if he's genuinely having fun, and his warmth is infectious, making the Forbidden Kingdom extremely likable escapist entertainment.

All in all it's a Martial Artists-on-a-mission movie I could happily take my nephew to see, safe in the knowledge he'd be kung-fuing all manner of inanimate objects for the rest of the day. Considering I've seen enough head-busting kung fu movies in my time that I wouldn't let him anywhere near just yet, what could be better than that?