Stefan Says So: [Media Fiesta 2011] Dynamite Johnson
The Media Fiesta this year has a Singapore Movies under the Stars highlight where films get played in the open air outdoors at *scape.
Although it’s touted as “Singapore Movies”, in all essence Dynamite Johnson, the oldest film on the lineup selected, and other films by the late Booby A. Suarez had ambition to be international films seeking to appeal to a much wider audience around the world.
Hence the concerted effort to dub all voices into English, and are filled with storylines that walk out of any James Bond film that era, coupled with the popular martial arts styled of action from this side of the world.
Dynamite Johnson, subtitled Bionic Boy II, is the third in a series of such action films, the first being Bionic Boy of course starring Johnny Yap as the titular character to cash in on the Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman popularity in the West, then They Call Her… Cleopatra Wong which launched the film career of Doris Young aka Marrie Lee (as she was credited), and this one that combined both characters into one film in a collaborative effort of international crime solving, pitting their skills against a Nazi called Kuntx who had settled in the Philippines, ensnared and enslaved a village to mine for resources for building that Laser machine that probably inspired Dr Evil in the Mike Myers’ film.
Don’t forget that the film opens with a group of para-military personnel assaulting some factory before having the tables turned not by the scores of faceless gun totting goons appearing, but by that of a robotic dragon that spits fire and burns almost everyone. It surely looked like something out of a Chingay procession float, given an obvious mounting on a lorry, only this time decked with metal plates as armour, and dressed to the nines with offensive weapons, more of which will be seen in action in the climatic finale. A quick opening credits scene with Johnson Yap parading his skills, before we see how he got checked into hospital for some bionics implant, followed by getting himself in the way of the Dragon clan thanks to his bionic hearing.
We get introduced to the villains and their diabolical intentions of blowing up major cities with their experimental laser beam in order to rule the world (can’t get any more dastardly than that, back in the 70s!) before a team of primarily made up of one ass-kicking heroine in Cleopatra Wong with her investigations shedding new light through an infiltration mission, then she gets caught, Bionic Boy comes to the rescue followed by the final assault on the villain’s hideout in what would look like an unused mine/quarry in the heart of some indigenous village. All in a day’s work actually.
Watching this film now is a lot of fun, and you’ve got to put it in context because it just cannot compare with the slick computer generated action flicks that you’ll probably be accustomed to today. Helicopters being the big thing that they are, get significant screen time either landing, taking off, or in flight. Villains wear hoods, so that extras can be reused in this modestly budgeted film. Fights are a combination of slow motion goodness and moments of speeding up, much like how Zack Snyder would be inspired to mimic. Bionic Boy gets enough scenes to show how fast, agile and strong he is, through a combination of practical and visual effects, while Cleopatra Wong holds her own in martial arts, with plenty of screen time devoted to many one on one battles with various larger than life villains.
Doris Young herself was present during the screening, and I had a brief chat with her where she reminded me this was done after her appendix operation, hence her fight scenes were somewhat limited. Even Johnson Yap had to work within his available time during the school holidays. But for what it’s worth, there are some cool moments in the film, much like They Call Her… Cleopatra Wong, in that her character trades the trademarked bow and arrow seen in that film for an upgraded crossbow cum rocket launcher in this one. You just have to see that in action, as it comes fully equipped with its own ammo pouch too. How’s that for compact?
The quality of the print undoubtedly need cleaning up, and it’s a pity that the aspect ratio isn’t quite right since there are always shots of people at the sides not getting caught in the same frame properly, resulting in half heads, or sometimes action being unseen, which are really obvious during fight sequences. It’s never cheap to restore a film, but let’s hope that this film does get on a queue for some sprucing up.