05 March 2013

The Deadly and The Beautiful

Philippines – 1973
Director – Robert Vincent O’Neill
Media Home Entertainment, 1984, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 32 minutes

When a famous Jai Alai player disappears without a trace, Mike Harber is off to track him down. Leading with his libido, he soon discovers that a syndicate of beautiful but deadly Wonder Women (the film’s original title) is behind the kidnapping. When Mike decided to pursue a career in insurance he never quite pictured himself fighting criminal masterminds or mad scientists in the seedy underbelly of Manila. The job description “insurance investigator” doesn’t exactly ooze sex appeal after all, but nothing is quite like it seems in The Deadly and The Beautiful. In fact, cockfights and cycle-cab chases aren’t exactly the “underbelly,” and Dr. Tsu’s Go-Go squad aren’t quite a syndicate.

Combining the well worn action spy/secret agent plot (the pre-credit sequence does a worthy Bond imitation, only topless) coupled with the mad scientist performing unorthodox experiments on humans, The Deadly and The Beautiful is essentially a film version of a men’s adventure magazine come a few years after its time. As such it’s not exactly unique or terribly inspiring in it’s content, at least nothing we haven’t seen from Eddie Romero or Cirio Santiago a few dozen times by now. Where it might suffer from a lack of budget or originality however, The Deadly and The Beautiful is extremely generous with sincerity. With all the dire intensity of a 40’s science-fiction serial, and the gritty peril of a location shot action flick, this film literally revels in it’s milieu like a pig in shit. Sincerity goes a damned sight farther than “propriety”, and no matter how many bad rubber monsters and shitty drunken lead actors you have, what an old friend of mine used to call “heart,” will make your movie.

Using a decrepit warehouse to transplant the organs of young athletes into the aging bodies of her wealthy clients, Dr. Tsu somehow manages to turn a profit despite her rickety handmade equipment. When Mike Harber shows up, Tsu cuts short her vinyl clad hit-squad’s latest session of frozen donor boner and sends them to make-out/take-out the erstwhile insurance investigator. Careening through a veritable buffet of Manila scenery and culture with the help of the ubiquitous Vic Diaz and crushed-velvet and ascoted Sid Haig, Mike at last lands on the couch for an up-close-and-personal round of ‘brain sex’ with the good Dr. Tsu. Just before they can reach whatever climax happens at the end of brain-sex, the doctor vanishes in a puff of smoke promising to return a-la Mad Doctor of Blood Island for a second round and possibly even a franchise. I suppose that would explain the carboard laboratory. If you had to abandon all that equipment every time some clunky gumshoe with an ethical hang-up came snooping around (and this seems to happen a hell of a lot,) you’d probably build your lab on the cheap too.

The Deadly and The Beautiful isn’t purely Pinoy. The writer/director and the big ‘stars’, Sid Haig, Ross Hagen (Mike,) Nancy Kwan (Tsu) and Roberta Collins are all American, but as soon as the principals are done forwarding the plot or whatever it is they do, all sorts of Filipinos suddenly appear with vintage WWII weapons and start blasting the shit out of each other on behalf of one or the other side. It reminds me more than a bit of Western colonialism in that the Westerners (Europeans and Americans, in that order here) moved in and made the locals do the rough stuff. Only, underneath it all, nothing would have run without the locals, it was an economy of deception.

The more contemporary Westerners in question were just as dependent on this “cheap” exoticism (and labor) to make their movie(s.) There is an exemplary scene in The Deadly and The Beautiful when, after seducing and attempting to assassinate Mike, one of the Wonder Women flees and initiates a long chase scene through the streets of Manila. The local color makes for some exciting realism, but at the same time can’t help but reveal true local flavor. At one point can be seen a Mule carrying a man with a bullhorn followed by a string of pedicabs bearing banners campaigning for “Remy – Councilor.” This is, I am pretty sure, a frozen historical reference to the late martial artist Remy Presas who worked for the Philippine government for a minute in the early 70’s and which only Pinoy audiences would have appreciated.

To tell the truth of course, the movie industry in the Philippines was initially a product of colonialism as well. Dependent on the whims of the Western dollar to a great extent, but as with any local industry, the Filipinos built their own cinematic house with the master’s tools. The underlying myth to this whole narrative is revealed in the fact that without the local, without Pinoy, the whole ruse would be both narratively and economically impossible. Filipino, and I dare say Southeast Asian films in general (I'm thinking here specifically of Indonesian and Thai, but assuming it applies elsewhere) are some of the best in the world. I hate to say it’s purely a factor of scarcity because despite a relative dearth of these films in USAmerica, I don’t think it is. One gets the impression however that, at least during this period, Filipinos must have really cared about making movies because they put their heart into every one. The Deadly and The Beautiful is a prime example and a rare treat which, thanks to Jack at En lejemorder ser tilbage (among other fine sites,) I’m glad that I revisited.

Sorry about the image quality, its an old tape of a bad print!


Jack J said...

That's a cool review, mate! And glad I could convince you to make a revisit. xD

Apparently both Code Red and Retromedia have announced they're going to put the movie out on dvd soon!

The Goodkind said...

Thank you, Jack. I ended up rewatching it twice! If I hadn't I would have completely missed the Remy Presas scene which is exactly the sort of esoteric historical nugget I love to find.

I just might have to get one of those DVD's.