I am unapologetic: my favorite part of New York Asian Film Fest is the superb trash that the curators find. At last year’s midnight show, LA Streetfighters changed the way I think about middle-aged high school gang members. This year it was Raw Force, a humble martial arts film which-- despite Hitler, cannibals and zombies, all of which appear in spades-- aims only to put some breasts on the screen.
A synopsis: a pothead and a fellow who resembles Hitler guest-starring in an episode of Wacky Races run a successful jade import business by trading kidnapped women for their product on the mysterious “Warrior’s Island”. Now the island is inhabited by monks who eat these women in order to cast a magic spell that animates the corpses of martial artists that cover the island. The monks use these zombies to... well, it’s not really clear why these guys raise martial artists from the dead on a regular basis, because there isn’t anybody on the island for them to fight with until our heroes arrive!
You might think this was a B-horror film, but so little time is spent on that premise-- and its appearance is so abrupt-- that it’s almost besides the point. Our heroes, you see, are unsuspecting Karate Club tourists who board a party boat (really, this movie is about half karate and half partying) which is inexplicably headed for this mass kung-fu graveyard, which everybody is pretty sure is covered in the living dead. And they party!
“When we get together, the way to get by
is pull out the booze and let’s get high!”
Raw Force is a comedy, in ways it means to be and ways it does not. The film’s constant broadsides with ill-timed non-sequitur one liners and the many, even weirder lines hidden in the background of every conversation indicate that someone was definitely trying to be funny. They didn’t quite know how, though, and the film gets even bigger laughs than it was looking for when the scene cuts immediately after an exchange like:
“Do you love him?”
“I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to hear that.”
Blurring the “are you joking?” line further are the supremely low production values: the “effects budget” was clearly set aside for a single basket of dynamite and a small army of women willing to get naked on camera. One of the highlights of the film is the bar-fight scene, in which a nude dancer awkwardly continues her dance on the bar as the menfolk throw each other into tables, all the while surveying the scene below her with a puzzled “so do I stop?” expression on her face. The crew could hardly even afford fire (a blaze aboard the ship is represented by an explosion effect that’s superimposed over the frame), and the zombies’ martial arts outfits appear to have come from Godfey Ho’s leftover Halloween costume stash.
So yes, the NYAFF midnight crowd and I agree: Raw Force is a tremendous success. It’s not the kind of slow-burn exploitation film where you have to wade through a dull hour or so for a crazy thirty minutes: it’s a mean, lean and utterly incoherent 80 minutes of laughs and chaos with no downtime. Raw Force is indisputably trash, but it knows what its job is, and it delivers. Did I mention that the film ends with a “To Be Continued”?
Unfortunately, while low-quality copies are floating around online, the film is not legtimately available on DVD. Happy VHS hunting!