It’s not unusual that I’m asked to watch and review a homegrown film—sometimes on a personal level, sometimes, as here, in a more professional capacity. It’s also something I’m glad to do, because I think local, grassroots filmmaking is important and should be encouraged. (Hell, I’ve done some of this sort of filmmaking myself, but we won’t talk about that.) Of all the films of this nature I’ve seen—and the quality has been remarkably high—TJ Wiedow’s playful Kung Fu spoof, Golden Blade III: Return of the Monkey’s Uncle, is without question the most stylish and best made. From the moment at the beginning of the movie where he punctuated a scene with a snap-zoom shot, he had me. The remarkable thing is he kept me.
What sets Wiedow’s film apart from most is the fact that it actually has a distinct cinematic vocabulary. Wiedow is never at a loss for a clever composition, a nice scene transition or a creative use of film technique—and all of it is surprisingly sophisticated. His use of split-screen in the latter portions of the film is on a par with Brian De Palma’s better work with this showy device, while Wiedow’s penchant for deliberately unrealistic sound is both delightful and spot on. The result is a movie that actually feels like a movie. Unlike many low-budget labors of love, scenes and shots do not run on endlessly while actors who shouldn’t, talk too much.
Conceptually Golden Blade III (yes, there are two earlier student film parts) is nothing if not unusual. A Kung Fu spoof in itself may not be especially original—especially in the post-modern world of Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and Prachya Pinkaew’s The Protector—but Wiedow takes it all to a logically illogical conclusion. The dialogue is entirely overdubbed (to give it that cheesy foreign film feel) in a mish-mash of Asian languages and guidebook phrases and then “translated” into subtitles that offer the appearance of having been written by persons with a sketchy notion of English. In other words, it plays like the real thing—pure 1970s Kung Fu import. (The fact that it also gets around the usual thorny problem of nonprofessional actors delivering dialogue is another plus.)
The plot is both simple—all about oppressed peasants and the evil Wang family trying to get their hands on the magical golden blade of the title—and deliberately screwy. The filmmakers have thrown in just about everything, the kitchen sink and various other bits of plumbing. How can you not like a film that not only offers you a classic man-in-a-gorilla-suit, but a man-in-a-gorilla-suit with a human head? And what of a mad scientist lair complete with that madman staple, a full-blown theater organ? What indeed! Terrific use is made of area locations (ultimately creating a separate world for the film) and it all comes together to be a lot of fun and darn clever filmmaking. Anyone interested in local film should see Golden Blade III. Anyone considering making a film of their own, on the other hand, needs to see it.