The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lady Dragon 2 aka Angel of Fury (1993)

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I guess I got the UK VHS of this, because one, it's titled Angel of Fury, and two, it's rated 18 by the British rating system. Not a bad deal for this post to be a symbol of UK/US solidarity, after both of our countries were jobbed by FIFA and the World Cup decisions-- though losing out to Russia isn't even a fraction as ridiculous as losing out to Qatar (not pronounced "cutter", buy the way).

Lady Dragon 2 is not an actual sequel to the original, it's just named like one. Here we have DTVC Hall of Famer Cynthia Rothrock as a karate champion married to an Indonesian soccer star. Billy Drago and his two buddies have stolen some diamonds, and need a way to get them out of the country, and happen upon a bellhop taking Rothrock and her husband's luggage out of the hotel they're all in. Drago stashes the diamonds in one of the hubby's suitcases, and when they make it back to Jakarta, the Dragonator and his buds pay Rothrock and her beau a visit. They carve up the husband's leg and rape Rothrock, but can't get the diamonds because the maid storms in with a shotgun to save the day. Anyway, turns out the hubby kept the diamonds, Drago kills him, and Rothrock swears revenge, taking Drago and his two buddies out one-by-one.

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This is a weird one, because the description I'm about to give you will make it sound awesome. It's like a Rothrock Lifetime movie. I know, the idea of Rothrock in a Lifetime movies sounds awesome, huh? Well, this ain't that awesome. It's like it's Lifetime in the wrong areas, and action in the wrong areas, if that makes sense. I mean, the plot hits all the spots of the Lifetime movie: woman attacked by a criminal, husband turns out not to be the man she thought he was, the authorities are no help (but to be fair, Rothrock never gives them a chance to be), so this one woman takes things into her own hands, against the system, against all odds, and wins her vengeance. The problem was, this is Rothrock, and that kind of thing doesn't work with her. She's the one training Meredith Baxter-Birney or Joanna Kerns, not the Baxter-Birney or Kerns character herself. Plus, the areas without action were kind of weird, especially the conversations during her husband's funeral. There were a few bright spots, like the end fights (though the ending itself carried on a little long), and this really cool tribute to A Clockwork Orange in the scene where Drago's gang finishes off Rothrock's husband. Overall though, a total miss for me.

I don't think this film did Rothrock any favors either. She did get to show off her martial arts eventually, but being the damsel in distress first diminished it all for me. I was always under the impression that Rothrock's selling point was that she was a hot chick, but she could hold her own with the big boys, and by that I mean can play parts usually written for men, and play them as a woman without losing any toughness. Sure, we've seen guys like Dolph, Van Damme, and Lorenzo Lamas captured by the enemy and held captive, but this was different. This was a straight up Lifetime movie victim, damsel in distress kind of deal, which might work with a lot of other actresses, but it just goes against what I think Rothrock is about. No matter how much ass she kicked after, it wasn't enough to make up for making her into Meredith Baxter-Birney.

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A couple weeks ago I watched The Expendables with some friends, and my buddy's wife, who was already complaining that we weren't watching a movie she wanted to watch, made a comment to the effect of "why do they always have to capture the girl?" I had never really thought about it, I guess in part because they don't always have to capture the girl. Sometimes she's killed off. Sometimes there isn't any girl period. Sometimes she's captured, but we find out she's in on it. But yes, I guess when you get down to brass tacks, more often than not, the girl is captured by the baddie and menaced in some way, and it's up to our hero to save her. This is the stereotype Cynthia Rothrock was supposed to be challenging through her success as an action leading lady, and seeing her bound and gagged and helpless as Billy Drago fondled her in front of her husband, made her the cliché she was constantly challenging in all of her other films.

It was funny though just how much this film followed the classic Lifetime movie paradigm. It was clunky in a lot of cases, because all the characters behaved in ways that made no sense. First, if Rothrock's character was as with it as she ends up being, why did she not insist on filing charges aganst Drago's gang when they first attacked her and her husband? We find out he didn't want to file charges, because he had the diamonds, but what about her? Second, they know full well Drago's gang wants these diamonds, and have already attacked them at their home once, yet they continue to live there, easy prey for future attacks. Why would you do that? Why not get the hell out of their and hide out some place else? Finally, why would Drago's gang try to smuggle diamonds in someone else's luggage in the first place? Diamonds have to be the easiest things ever to get through security. I mean, are there some kind of diamond sniffing dogs I'm unaware of?

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I mentioned in the synopsis that Rothrock's husband was an Indonesians soccer star. I didn't mean an international soccer star who was born in Indonesia, I mean someone who played in the Indonesian soccer league. He plays for Jakarta, who played a game against Kuala Lumpur-- I guess it's some kind of Indonesian-Malaysian soccer league. I went to Wikipedia to see if this league really exists, and it doesn't, but there is an Indonesia Premier League that is starting in 2011. Should be exciting. I can't wait to see FC 1928 Jakarta battle FC Tashkent in the Asian Champions League.

That was totally digress city, so I'll wrap things up here. This was sautéed in wrong sauce, a bad mix of action and Lifetime movie, unfortunately marrying more of the poorer elements of both cinematic genres, instead of the best parts. Also, Rothrock as a damsel in distress, even if for only one scene, was a bad look for her, and made the film even weirder. Also, as far as I know, this is only available on VHS. I wouldn't go out of your way to get it though.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107356/

10 comments:

  1. The reason women are damsels in distress is because it gives the hero motivation, if she's killed off it gives the hero motivation, if she betrays him (They Live for example) it gives motivation. Sometimes the woman goes on the lam with the main hero (Last Man Standing) or a woman is pretty bad ass in her own right (Bridge Of Dragons) but basically it's because the theory of film is that every character play a significant role of some kind and women tend to be useless in these movies because the hero already is usually a loner, the stereotype of course is durable but it's just the way these things are. Just wait until you get to the Death Wish movies.

    As for Lady Dragon 2, the bound and gagged scene itself didn't bother me, because she was far more tough than her wuss of husband. Indeed she starts going to kick ass and the guns come out and put an end to her kung fu. What bothered me was the rape scene, this was unnecessary. Now the rape scene in Lady Dragon 1 made sense with the story but here it was unused. The thing is most action starts find themselves tied up sooner or later, but the rape with it, to me put a bad taste in my mouth. It also then opened up into a mean spirited melodrama.

    The action element felt like it was trying to be Death Wish but the problem was that it didn't have the same rhythm or over the top action. The lifetime channel stuff is an interesting point, I personally thought the pacing was what made it so dull. Like things take forever and once again Billy Drago is so one-note evil although fair as all the husband has to do is give the diamonds to him, indeed he could've even stopped the rape. Then they even have the idea to make him sad and sympathetic because he grew up in poverty, but if he's a soccer star now, i'm sure he is wealthy and so just give the diamonds. Indeed a far better movie and one with better motivation would've had the soccer player give the diamonds back and still get killed, that would set everything in motion.

    As for Rothrock,this is another one of those roles where she is clearly miscast. Rothrock just isn't your Charles Bronson styled vigilante. Also it clearly doesn't help that looks sort of like Wilson Phillips lead singer throughout. (According to my notes)

    Worst thing of all is the action itself. Where as Capital Punishment you could tell was trying hard to deliver fight sequences, it didn't have the budget and it was because the direct just had no talent and budget. This one was choreographed with all the excitment of televised golf. Basically the action sequences are indifferently staged and so we aren't impressed one way or another. The biggest thing though is that the movie looks quite ugly. I'm not sure if i'm imagining things as it's been at least 11 years since I saw it, but from what I remember it was a really ugly looking production. So the production values couldn't make the backdrop exciting.

    This in the end, is us back in agreement. I really thought this movie was piss-poor, unexciting, dull, chintzy looking, ugly to watch and needlessly unpleasant. In other words it's pretty awful.

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  2. As it turns out, the version of this film titled Angel Of Fury is heavily edited and cuts out alot of important scenes which explain the plot holes you mentioned, the international version called Triple Cross is 10 minutes or so longer, anyways I enjoyed this film despite the damsel in distress angle, I guess it helps that i've never watched a single Lifetime movie, so I never noticed any real similarities in that aspect.

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  3. Not only are we in agreement, Kenner, but I think you've done a better job explaining why the action angle didn't exactly work for me. It was like bad Bronson, and Rothrock doesn't do bad Bronson well, especially in this kind of bad Lifetime movie environment.

    When you say the rape scene was unnecessary, I agree, except that if you're going for bad Lifetime, you need it to make that victimized woman fights back paradigm. Of course, that paradigm, combined with the poorly done Bronson paradigm, led to what we had-- something sauteed in wrong sauce.

    I could probably write an essay on the damsel in distress, as I could write essays on other aspects of action films, like the Die Hard paradigm, the hero as a fugitive paradigm, the tournament film, or what makes a great baddie, but that's notsomuch my issue with it here, my issue is specific to Rothrock. She was trying to change perceptions of what the stereotypical action film was supposed to be-- beefy hero saves pretty girl-- but she was doing it, not by being a guy, but by being a woman who kicks ass. Part of it was the menacing angle with Drago that made it more damsel in distress than say Lamas in a sleeping bag swinging from a tree in Snake Eater; but part of it was just that that scene cuts at the heart of what Rothrock was all about. Again, she's not Meredith Baxter-Birney, she's the woman who trains Meredith Baxter-Birney to fight.

    And your notes are correct, Wilson Phillips lead singer.

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  4. I actually reviewed them just now. The biggest surprise to me was that both movies were directed by one of the directors of Kickboxer (David Worth) I'm guessing though that it was Mark DiSalle that pulled the most strings cause The Perfect Weapon was also good and Worth made many Grade Z films that stink. Although Chan Of Command had good action. I don't know how a director would even try for Bronson meets Lifetime.

    As for the damsel in distress, I understand what you're saying as Rothrock was trying to change that, I think she thought on paper this would be a great idea, although Indonesia is one of the worst places to shoot a movie. It's even worse than South Africa (which has a desert so you can disguise the budget, see American Ninja 4, Laser Mission and Kickboxer 5) The Philippines meanwhile has lots of jungles and lush scenery (American Ninja for instance) In anycase Indonesia just screams dreary poverty. You'll see it again when you watch Angel Of Fury and Blood Warriors with David Bradley.

    I'm not trying to be offensive cause i'm willing to wager that it's because the filmmakers don't know how to make landscape look pleasing. Cause i've seen Canadian landscape look ugly too, As well as Irish locales to be ungainly (Bloodfist 8) And I know that Ireland is beautiful country. The thing is though, it's not like Thailand (Kickboxer and King Of The Kickboxers), Mexico (Kickboxer 4), Hong Kong (Bloodsport) or Austraila (Mad Max) where such takes a lot to screw up such.

    I think though is that Indonesia is a country you go when you really have absolutely no money. So it's kind of like the chicken and egg effect.

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  5. Yeah, the Indonesian ones do feel a little dirtier, though the Philippines and Thailand ones always seemed dirty too-- and the New York and LA ones if we're getting down to brass tacks. Those late 80s/early 90s action films always took place in dirty police stations, dirty bars, dirty restaurants, then they'd be contrasted by these beautiful mansions. I guess here they didn't have the mansion. A lot of it is the film stock too. This one I agree was dirtier than most though.

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  6. The thing about New York and L.A is that it grimy can look stylish. I mean just look at The Warriors, 48 HRS, Death Wish 1 and so on. This is often used to add grittiness to add to the atmosphere.

    As for Thailand and Philippines, I agree that it looks dirtier but it still often has moments of beauty. I mean you can't tell me American Ninja doesn't have great lush scenery. Kickboxer 1 and King Of The Kickboxers all have those moments. I mean look at the places with statues where Avedon has to mediatate and where Van Damme "listens" where great warriors fought there.

    What it goes back to is what you said film stock. However every Indonesian film i've seen looks really ugly. Part of it, is the film stock, cause I know that Indonesia was the place to shoot when you didn't have any money whatsoever. Just wait until you see Angel Of Fury and Blood Warriors with David Bradley.

    Actually the middle east serves as a great backdrop, I mean Cover-Up looked rather good. Brazil is another great locale, as is Japan and Hawaii (Andy Sidaris)

    The thing is though it's most likely a combo, because if you have money you shoot it in Hong Kong or Japan, if you have less money you shoot it Thailand, tight on money you shoot it the Philippines and if you have no money you shoot it in Indonesia. The film stock as well as the cameras and people all are part of the ripple effect in that they are the lowest bidders. That's how you knew David Bradley was fizzling out after he started doing films in Indonesia.

    Italian productions (usually the post apocalypse movies) are often very bad, but it has interesting locales. Indonesia though just seems like a dreary backdrop. Actually Lady Dragon showcases parts of Indonesia that are nice but once again the filmstock is just ugh.

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  7. Much of the nicest scenery in Indonesia would have been on other islands, like Bali. I remember reading about Indonesia in a book by V.S. Naipaul a while back. It was probably a little after this film that they started a bunch of plans to grow their economy, including starting their own airline. I haven't read up on them in a while, so I don't know what the economy is like since.

    The other possibility, because they have a totalitarian government (at least they did), is that the film makers couldn't always shoot in the nicer locations they wanted to use, for whatever reason. I'm sure there was tons of red tape involved.

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  8. There's also the fact that certain parts of Indonesia are very dangerous to film in because of extremely high crime rates, the nicer areas can actually be more dangerous then the seedy areas believe ir or not, the Phillipines has lots of dangerous areas as well.

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  9. It just shows that there are a lot of factors that can influence the end products of the films we watch, DTV or otherwise, but especially DTV.

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  10. Good review!

    Just picked up a cheap copy of this....hopefully it is as decent as the 1st one. Can't go wrong with Billy Drago as the villain.

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