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By Mariko McDonald | May 31, 2004

After last week’s disastrous double bill of mystery screeners (so disastrous that I chose not to report on it) we decided the best antidote was some good old fashioned Asian sci-fi. But, like most things here at the Den of Sin we couldn’t just pick any darned pseudo anime out of the air, we had to pick a theme. And so it was by complete accident that two Asian Star Wars rip-offs fell into our possession just in time to take away the bad taste of “Dragonstorm” (if you see it at the video store, just keep walking… no wait, run).

The first film had again been brought to my attention by my colleague Sinister Sam whose buddy had picked up a copy of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” of somewhat dubious origins at a local Chinatown DVD store. Basically all he needed to tell me was that it was a Shaw Brothers sci-fi movie and I jaunted off to Chinatown that weekend to see if they still had a copy. By all accounts this is quite an oddity, the Shaw Brothers being better know for their chop-socky stylings than for space operas, and having now sat through it, I have to say I’m prone to agree. For starters, it was made in 1983 near the end of the Shaw Brothers’ hay day. Secondly, it’s actually a “wacky” comedy, and for anyone who’s endured their share of Hong Kong popcorn flicks, you’ll recognize that the “humor” in most of them is of such a caliber as to make Adam Sandler flicks look sophisticated. Oh, and did I mention it’s a musical?

Our second choice was equally dubious: Kinji Fukusaku’s “Message From Space”. Yes, that Kinji Fukusaku, the guy who made Battle Royale and countless Yakuza epics (usually starring Mr. Badass Bunta Sugawara). What many people don’t realize is that he was also responsible for a number of late seventies exploitation flicks, usually with a sci-fi bent and mostly Western cast. “Message from Space” was made a mere year after the original “Star Wars” and features among other things a “Princess Meia” and Sonny Chiba (!) as “Hans”. And the bad guys fly around in space galleons. Space galleons I say!

It was an average turnout with 7 people in attendance, although Corinne was noticeably absent, especially after she attempted to beat my fiancé to a pulp at the end of last week’s program. Did I mention not to watch “Dragonstorm”? We started a little late since the FI and I were still eating dinner and he had to continue apologizing to each person individually for the previous week’s fiasco, although I know he wasn’t sorry at all (sadistic bastard that he is) and was just trying to make sure no one larger than Corinne decided to beat him up.

The opening of “Twinkle Twinkle” was promising enough with a sort of wooshing-disco title sequence that was more than vaguely reminiscent of the original “He-Man” cartoon. Graeme declared that the titles really made him want to roller skate and I made a note to try to program “Xanadu” (but only after the taste of “Dragonstorm” had faded sufficiently). This was followed by a “Starlight Express” joke from my sister. It was at about this point that we discovered that the film wasn’t in English, and there were no subtitles. My FI then used the DVD remote to change the audio option to what it told us was the English Language track, but it just turned out to be Mandarin. In mono. After some wrestling with the option menu and panic on my part as I was sure I’d checked that there was an English language option before I bought it, we discovered that there were in fact English subtitles. Hoorah, but being that it was a bootleg there was still no telling just how helpful the subtitles would be. The consensus was not nearly helpful enough, as the translation was painfully literal and although somewhat amusing for zingers such as “you witchy bitch”, they mostly served to render the already corny dialogue even cornier.

From what we could follow (which wasn’t a whole hell of a lot), the plot is sort of a spoof of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with a group of seemingly unconnected weirdos meeting at the sight of what is thought to be a UFO sighting. On second thought, that’s all we could follow. About 5 minutes in all hell broke loose and it was anyone’s bet as to what was supposed to be happening. There were numerous film references including “Some Like It Hot”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Taxi Driver”, “Alien” and obviously “Star Wars”. There were probably a lot more based on Chinese films that we just wouldn’t get. There were a lot of puns and jokes that we didn’t get such as “Konglumbo” (if anyone out there has a clue, let me know). There was a guy in a monkey suit and a guy who looked a lot like David Suzuki who turned into a h***y were-creature. There was a lot of bad Canto-pop. There were multiple alien rape jokes and a general air of misogyny. But, ultimately the thing that made any of this tolerable was the final fight sequence, which was actually well choreographed and fairly engaging. It also included an impotent light saber joke and light saber nun chucks. No really, light saber nun chucks.

The rip-offs continue in part two of ENTER THE DEN OF SIN: CRAZY ASIAN STAR WARS RIP-OFFS>>>

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