Well, it's that time of year again. New York Asian Film Fest is always a joy: the organizers run as many classy films as they run crazy ones, and they pick out some of the craziest damn movies you've ever seen. I was particularly attracted to the Saturday midnight showing of ACTION BROTHERS' LA Streetfighters (Ninja Turf in the print we watched, despite the movie's complete lack of any ninja whatsoever), a film whose language is listed as "in English...kind of" on the festival website. These guys found me House, so I was willing to take the gushing website description on faith and buy my ticket (and invite my friends: the people who GET IT came) without really knowing what I was in for. It paid off: this movie is really... something. It is undeniably a thing.
Shitty 80's action movies are a dime a dozen, but this one's above and beyond. Yeah, you'd expect a low-budget action movie like this to have a bad script and nonexistent acting, but that kind of movie tends not to take itself too seriously. LA Streetfighters takes itself extremely seriously despite the fact that it is a series of nonsense scenes strung together until someone realized they had enough to fill 90 minutes, and that's what makes it special.
First and foremost, the lead in this movie is an unmistakably middle-aged man masquerading as a high school gang leader. Lead actor Jun Chong was 41 when this movie came out, and his sidekick was 25. A 25-year-old guy trying to play schoolboy would be bad enough in any other movie, but as it does in every other area, LA Streetfighters says FUCK THAT and goes for the most awkward possible situation. You want to know what the guy's name is? It's... Young.
This is perhaps the least strange thing about LA Streetfighters: until it decides on a plot in the last half hour, the movie is a random barrage of surreal, non-sequitur scenes-- a well-dressed businessman and his trophy wife appear after a gang fight in a pitch-dark alley, saying "we heard about the rumble, that's why we came!"-- punctuated by some admittedly entertaining fight scenes against increasingly bizarre opponents. NYAFF staff was cosplaying as the Spike Gang (they were also, by their own admission, rather drunk: these guys' intros often give the impression that they have been partying hard all night since the fest started). You'll understand when you see the movie.
LA Streetfighters is so bad at everything that it starts to feel like maybe it's not bad at all. Maybe it came from another planet where people just do things differently. A planet where people count how many bananas they've got, and then hand them to a naked guy while he bathes in public. A world where thugs play bamboo flutes in convenience stores to intimidate shopkeepers, where some guys have just never had a birthday cake before. The script feels like it was randomly generated by an alien computer, and the actors delivering the lines are often fobbish and incomprehensible. And good luck seeing a damn thing during the night scenes that make up about a quarter of the film: these guys didn't believe in lighting. There's also the theme song that plays during every single fight scene: the dudes in the back were singing it every time it came up and eventually we all had to join in.
Despite (or perhaps because of?) all the incompetence on display, LA Streetfighters takes itself incredibly seriously. It is a very serious drama, you know. Young is a deeply troubled youth. He wants to return to his home planet-- I uh mean Korea, and he has problems with his drunkard mom: I'd have a problem with my mom too if she was about the same age as I was. Sidekick Tony is the laid-back guy by contrast: by night he helps his parents count bananas at the produce stand and he's dating the sister of rival gangster Chan. Tony only really serves to compound Young's misery by being the guy he sees making out with Chan's sister every single god damn time he walks down the street. If only Young could live that life! Young's angst only gets funnier and funnier as we watch this old dude try (but not very hard) to sell himself as a teen with real problems.
In the last half hour, after the heroes' homoerotic gang has gotten their fill of beating up various gimmick gangs like the Spikes and the Mexican Guys, the film remembers that it is supposed to be telling a story. The gang, now known far and wide for their deeds, takes up security work at an affluent businessman's coke party. When Young sees that the guy is selling coke at his coke party, he steals the ill-gotten gains ("I'll use it for good cause!") and the rest of the movie is spent dealing with the vengeance of their former employer. Without giving away the ending, it is the film at its most hamfistedly serious, and the movie finishes on its most hilarious possible note.
When the credits had finally rolled the lights never went up: I don't know whether they were making a final joke about the movie's horrific lighting or whether nobody was there anymore and they were all just really, really drunk.
Usually I can't send you to go (legally) see the movies I watch at NYAFF, but if you have a Netflix account you can watch LA Streetfighters right this second here. Just get yourself some friends and some booze before you do, because it's that kind of movie. At the showing shushing was deemed punishable by assault with a glass bottle. It's that kind of movie. You won't be able to stay quiet.