Reviewing films is the journalistic equivalent of diamond mining: you have to dig through layers upon layers of muck before you find a gem. And after some excessive digging over the course of the year, I can boldly state that I’ve found a diamond unlike any other.
The film is “The Last Eve” and this can be described as the world’s first avant-garde theological martial arts love story. Taking the story of Western civilization’s first eviction recipients and spinning it across a bizarre variety of unlikely landscapes, the immensely gifted filmmaker Young Man Kang has brought forth a production which is so astonishing and original than it is impossible to compare it to anything that has ever been made.
“The Last Eve” is actually a trilogy of short tales which gives imaginative new interpretations to the Adam and Eve story. The first story is “Eve’s Secret,” which takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape. An ill-timed comet has turned the Earth into a barren landscape, leaving Adam and Eve to start the human tale all over again. There is a third person in an enigmatic hooded priest, whose presence is not entirely clear. Satan, naturally, wants to make mischief and stop Adam and Eve from procreating, so he sends seven martial artist demons to kill them. But the demons all want to possess Eve and they fight among themselves in fatal competition. The surviving demons, a chain-swinging Lucifer and a blind swordsman called Behemoth, due battle with Adam. Yet the prize of Eve comes with a surprise that Adam neither expects nor desires. Yet another surprise visitor shows Adam that the post-apocalyptic world may be a lot happier than he anticipated.
The second story is “Cain & Abel,” and the action is switched to contemporary Korea. Cain is now Eve’s sister and Abel is Adam’s brother. Adam works as a gravedigger; he used to be the star of the underground martial arts fight circuit, but he landed a fatal injury which numbed him to the activity. He is training Abel to become a professional fighter. Adam wants to marry Eve, but Cain (who orchestrates the underground fights) wants to lure Adam back into the ring. This happens when Abel is killed during one of those clandestine matches. Adam gets revenge and the girl, but loses something in the process.
The third story is “Snake’s Temptation,” which takes place in Los Angeles. Adam, Eve and Snake were raised by a priest in an orphanage. Adam and Eve kept their virginity and are now engaged to be wed. Snake, being the bad boy that he is, has his own harem of hotties who seem to lie around his pool all day sipping wine and dropping Biblical double-entendres (Delilah, Jezebel and Salome are among the naughty girls). Snake does his best to tempt Eve, while Adam views Eve’s betrayal with a visit to Lilith (yeah, she’s not in the Bible, but some folks insist she belongs there).
“The Last Eve” is such a weird movie that one is tempted to classify it along the lines of classic weirdness such as “El Topo” and “Begotten.” Both of those films had religious elements to them, but they seem pale and conventional when compared here (“The Last Eve” also lacks the pretension and plodding which those earlier flicks carried). The religious aspect of “The Last Eve” is clearly idiosyncratic – there is a strong Buddhist visual element present, and New Testament quotes are sliced in via intertitles. And at least one significant New Testament figure makes an astonishing guest appearance (I will not give it away – you just won’t believe it when it happens). Throughout the film, the liberties taken with the Adam and Eve story (especially in relation to the secret of the first story) will raise eyebrows and drop jaws among some viewers. Yet the film is not blasphemous in the least. There is a deep sense of piety, albeit within a mix of wild action and pulse-raising seductiveness.
“The Last Eve” is so rich is visual imagery and so beautifully framed for its martial arts sequences that it becomes a truly hypnotic experience. Don’t expect CGI-thick flights of fancy, as seen in the wuxia epics that play in American cineplexes. This is gritty, old-school martial arts with kicks to the chin, swords slicing across the throat, and human dynamos in full fury. The Adam of “Eve’s Secret” is Hapkido champion Bruce Khan and he is simply an amazing physical presence. Wandering the barren wasteland dressed as a monk and carrying a tattered paper umbrella, he appears to be the essence of introspective passivity. But when the demons come calling, he is a high-kicking human gyroscope who spins into a violent rage who leaves blood and broken bones in his path. In “Cain and Abel,” the final duel between Adam (Bruce Khan again) and the Muay Thai fighter who killed Abel (Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom) is a masterwork of muscular athleticism and subtle camerwork. The camera never engages in trick photography or hyperactive editing to make the fight more interesting: it is cinema verite view as two brilliant martial artists go into a stunning duel to the death.
The casting also helps bring this marvelous work to full fury. Special kudos are in order for Freddy Milligan as Snake (he embodies the slick charm which the original Eden reptile must have possessed), the three gorgeous Eves (Melanie Jean, Seung Min Kim and Kelly Hamilton in the respective versions – it is easy to see why Adam would go bonkers for her), Tomiko Lee as a rather strange fortune teller consulted by the L.A. Eve, Reuben Langdon as Behemoth (the seemingly sickly swordsman proves you should never judge a person by his appearance), and Chris Torres as the chain-swinging Leviathan. Torres in particular stands out as a force of personality and nature – he is a professional stuntman who is best known for filling in on behalf of less-than-nimble stars, but he is such a vibrant physical presence that he should be starring in his own films rather than substituting for others.
“The Last Eve” is the latest endeavor from Korean-born, Los Angeles-based Young Man Kang. For the past several years, he has been creating a series of fascinating films which span genres from romantic comedy (the $980 feature “Cupid’s Mistake”) to action/adventure (“First Testament: CIA Vengeance”) to girl power empowerment drama (“Soap Girl”) to documentary (“Haitian Slave Children”). With “The Last Eve,” has reached a career peak with a complex, challenging and utterly original work of art. From its intelligence, daring and intensity, “The Last Eve” proves Young Man Kang is one of the great filmmakers of today’s cinema. He is a genius, and this film is a cult classic in the making.