Sunday, October 19, 2014

BONUS REVIEW: The Gods Must Be Crazy 4 (aka Crazy Hong Kong)


Yikes, is this ever a terrible movie.

Where Part 3 at least had a basic understanding of Uys's style and comedic sense, 4 appears to lack any understanding of comedy at all. The wretched dub doesn't help matters, but I doubt that even A-list voice actors could save this mess.

Segments end whenever the director gets bored with them (and he clearly has much more of a tolerance for boredom than I do), and many of the gags go far beyond the typical zany pitch into completely stupid when they're not just aimless and dull. This is a film whose story is firmly rooted in the mundane real world, yet still manages to feel exponentially more idiotic than the previous entry which had a hopping vampire and kung fu N!xau in it.

I spent a lot of the viewing time on this one wondering what Uys would have done with the setting. Watching Xi... oh excuse me, he's apparently called Nixau in the story now... watching Nixau and John's friendship develop could be charming in a moronic way sometimes, but I have a feeling that the parts that work for me have a lot more to do with N!xau's contagious smile and charm than any other element that the movie brings to the scene.

There's a warmth and potential for depth, and an interesting story that keeps threatening to seep up but is constantly cemented back by horrendous directorial choices, tired gags forced into the script, and limp, abandoned ends of scene fragments. Two people wrote it and an entire crew collaborated on it, why didn't any of them realize any of this? Why is the bird suddenly real at the end? Why do some of the musical instruments in the soundtrack sound like bodily functions? What the hell is going on with that ending? Why does this movie insist on being so relentlessly awful?


"N!xau running around a big city" is a hard plot to fuck up. You have to either try very hard or be incredibly inept to fuck that up. Neither Jungle 2 Jungle nor Just Visiting are particularly good movies, but they don't fuck it up and are enjoyable and entertaining enough to get by. That's your bar, to not fuck it up more than Jungle 2 Jungle or Just Visiting.

Crazy in Hong Kong fucks it up. It fucks it up HARD. Crossing over N!xau with hopping vampires somehow didn't fuck it up. N!xau running around a big city, so beyond fucked up that I'm left in a stupor.

To be fair, there's a lot that the film does do right. N!xau, while visibly aged (he was in his late 30s during the original Gods, 50 here) still has a lot of spring, vigor, and expression in his performance as he dives into scenes, like freaking out at a tiger on a TV, or walking into oncoming traffic for the first time, or trying to shoo off statues of birds from around a fountain, or breaking out his bow and arrow on multiple occasions. Whatever this film's weaknesses, he's still a fun performer to watch, and many scenes almost skate by purely on his charm. There's also a great recurring use of water, like him being shown a water and ice dispenser on a fridge, or celebrating in a rain storm while everyone else huddles under umbrellas, or dancing as he discovers the ocean, a pool of water large enough to quench all thirst... until he drinks some and spit at its saltiness. And he's not just about having water, but sharing it, as he's always going back to the dispenser to fill glasses for others, or trying to get everyone to share in the celebration, or even gathering drops in a leaf to cheer a sad friend. There's a touching story thread in this, and I even love the visual of the over-sized suit coat they wrap N!xau in, I just wish the film was capable of pulling most of this off.

The first major fuck up: the score. This score is such a foul air of flatulence wheezing out of an 8-bit synth that they stick a few actual fart sounds in there as if to acknowledge how much of a hind ripper it is. It's not only hideous to catch a whiff of whenever it appears, but it's improperly placed, often playing moods counter to what we're actually seeing, and drowning out sequences that would be stronger without any score whatsoever. The score is an ass, hogging the spotlight from the film and making everything about itself, whether appropriate or not, and even the good aspects I can see in there are insufferable as these notes just toot their way in, shooing my attention away from the screen.

The second major fuck up: the narrator. I don't know if this is how it was in the original cut or an alteration made by the dub, but instead of going with a satirical nature documentary-style observer, we're instead having the story related to us by one of N!xau's nephews in the village, a child when pointed out onscreen, but now an adult as he's telling the story back to us. It's a very awkward dub, like some half-stoned college kid trying to relate an old family vacation, giggling at things he thinks are funny before actually getting to why they are, and making anachronistic references that don't fit the perspective. I could see this working if it were going into N!xau's head, letting us take in the alien culture of a city from his point of view, but that's not how they play it, and I just wanted this kid to shut up every time he talked.

The third major fuck up: the villains. Through complete random happenstance, N!xau manages to snag a pouch full of smuggled diamonds during his trip to Hong Kong, and as these goons keep showing up and chasing after him, running into sheets of glass or flinging themselves about with teeter-totters, they're played with such a childish level of cartoonish buffoonery that even Bulk & Skull would be telling them to rein it in a little. There is one bit, a single quick bit involving sliding doors on a porch that's actually kind of fun, but everything else just gives in to the fart score whenever these two are around.

Those are the only major fuck ups. There's smaller ones, but those three are what makes this film a horrible waste of everyone's time as it's now almost impenetrable and I only managed to keep my focus on the film through sheer force of will (and pausing now and then to text Jak how awful it is). Which is a shame, because there are other potentially interesting elements that we're not being allowed to enjoy.

I don't dislike our main "city" character (Carina Lau) of Shirley (going with the dub names as that's all I have). The setup of how she unknowingly steals away an unconscious N!xau after meeting him on a commercial shoot in the Kalahari is a bit forced, but I like her story of being a rising burger company exec who finds out her own company is forcing a buyout on her mother's restaurant, and she's being locked out of the deal by her slimy boss (a completely random Conrad Janis, for some reason). She's trying to sort this all out, while dealing with her angry mom, bitter restaurant employees, and N!xau crashing at her place. On top of things, her husband, who managed the restaurant, just ran off with his mistress and all their savings. There's a good character here who has good reasons for why she's impatient about having N!xau stuck on her tail, and we do get some good payoff as everything crumbles and he's there to cheer her up and help in whatever way he can understand to.

Not so successful are her friends, though both are at least partially interesting. Winnie (Cecilia Yip) is a wild, motorcycle riding party girl who hopes to woo her millionaire boyfriend into financing the restaurant, only for him to leave her just as screwed as Shirley is. When we first meet Winnie, she has the hots for N!xau, but that thankfully goes nowhere as, after spending a day on the town, they bond over how much they both love babies, his who are waiting back home, and hers which she hopes to have one day. It's a clumsy as hell scene, but I like the sentiment behind it. Then there's John (Ching Wan Lau). John is the office idiot, often tasked with keeping an eye on N!xau. Somehow, in his lunkheaded assuredness, he's able to understand N!xau, and the two have entire conversations with one another despite speaking in different languages. I'm sure some of this is just John making guesses and running with it, but he seems to be on the right trail most the time, and I like the scene of them saying goodbye, John giving N!xau his business card, and N!xau giving him a napkin with a crude map scrawled in salt. I had a few good chuckles during their time together - him painting N!xau to look like he's wearing shoes and a tie to get into a restaurant, N!xau building a fire out of matches to cook sushi on, John trying to mess with N!xau over what a cigarette is only for N!xau to pull out a lighter and blow a puff in his face - and had a genuine laugh when N!xau returns to his village only to find John there, having followed the map, though peeved a taxi wasn't where N!xau said it was.

But the film bungles that with the bizarre tag of N!xau and John starting a Kalahari food cart service together. And bungles Winnie's plot with the uncomfortable description of the ways in which she was sexually taken advantage of. And bungles the farewell between Shirley and N!xau by her giving him a comically humongous glass Coke bottle for no reason. And there's even a plot thrust of him trying to get her to remove a false bird she stuffed in a bottle as a magic trick that they bungle by having the glass shatter, and the bird is suddenly alive and flying off. HOW THE HELL WHAT NO! And there's other bits where they play N!xau as more a buffoon than just an outsider, like when he tries hunting animals or gives his bow and arrow to a soldier who wants to shoot an apple off his head.

And yet, these are still just minor bungles. Aside from the goons, I don't have a huge problem with the actual content of the film or the idea of many sequences. But that fucking score. And that fucking narrator. They make the bad stuff unbearable, and the good stuff pretty darn near impossible to appreciate. Maybe they're just elements of the dub, I don't know. If it is, shame on whoever put them in there. If not, and they still accurately represent what was in there, then shame on whoever thought that was a good idea in the first place. This was never going to be a great movie, but it still could have worked on that same bar of modest enjoyability that Jungle 2 Jungle and Just Visiting hover on. There's other nice bits, like N!xau wandering into a market with caged birds, and caged cats, and looks up to a child sitting behind a stair rail and thinking it's caged, too. Or Shirley's mother having her breakdown interrupted as she sees this tribal man just wandering around her daughter's apartment before offering her a glass of water with a smile. Or John and N!xau brotherly duking it out through the consumption of an ice cream cake. Or N!xau delighting as he gets away from the city to the rural rice paddy fields, then comes across the heavily guarded border to China.

There is some good stuff in here. Nothing amazing, but certainly not bad, and if you tone down those two goons, redo that score, and either redo or just outright eliminate the narration, then you'd have a watchable, pleasant movie. But as it is, it's awful.

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