April 3, 2008

DVD Review: Six-String Samurai

I cannot recall how I stumbled across this film. I read about it on some forum at some point and lucked upon a lone copy on a store shelf. Following my first viewing, some years ago, I realized that I had stumbled across a little known gem. It was a truly good film that combines many different elements from many different films in an original concoction that seems just as fresh upon multiple viewings as it did that first time. It is one of those films where description defies words and what words do come do little to adequately convey just how odd the film is.

Over the years there have been any number of post-apocalyptic films made. There are all sorts of different types, zombies, gangs, mutated creatures, violent regimes, you name it. All manner of different takes have appeared over the years. Then there are films like Six-String Samurai, which feels like something completely different, like it doesn't belong lumped in with all that had come before it.

This is what you get if you take the editing room trimmings of Mad Max, The Warriors, Wizard of Oz, The Seventh Seal, mixed with any number of other films and topped with the threat of heavy metal overtaking the world of rock and roll. Yes, you read that right. This is an odd film that could have any number of themes read into it. I, however, just enjoy watching it for the quirky oddity that it is. No, that is not a knock against the film or what it may or may not be trying to say. I just look at this film and enjoy it, is that so wrong?

The film opens with a screen crawl setting up this alternate reality. In 1957, the Russians drop the bomb on the United States, turning the nation into a wasteland following a hard fought war that obviously did not turn out well. The last free city in the country is Las Vegas, renamed Lost Vegas, this last bastion of freedom is ruled by the King. Yes, the King, as in Elvis Presley. Now, forty years out from the dropping of the bomb, Elvis is dead and a new king needs to be crowned. One of those seeking the crown is Buddy, a guitar-slinging samurai making his way across the wasteland that was once America.

The opening scene shows a young boy and his mother fleeing some Mad Max-looking baddies, only to be stopped by the appearance of the mysterious Buddy, but not before the boy's mother loses her life to the assailants. Following this tragedy, the boy latches onto Buddy as he continues along his way, this, despite his protestations. Nobody wants a little boy following them into the wastes; especially not anyone who has Death following close behind, quite literally.

The journey brings him into contact with a wide array of wacky fellows, from a gang of bowlers, to a cannibalistic family, to some weirdoes slinging candy. Not to mention crossing paths with the Russian army, and the windmill people! Each interaction brings him a little bit closer to his destination, the biggest gig of his career.

Jeffrey Falcon, veteran of a number of kung fu films, stars as Buddy and is credited as co-writer of the script. He brings a deadpan charisma to the screen. While he is not the liveliest of characters, it is hard to look away. His performance is like Buddy Holly by way of Clint Eastwood, something of a nerdy badass. He is never without his 1957 hollow body guitar, complete with samurai sword attachment. He is definitely the center of the film, viewing the insanity around him with a cool detachment, only heightening the lunacy. It should also be noted that all of the stunts he did himself without the aid of wires.

Lance Mungia made his feature directorial debut here, he brings a strong visual style to a film that obviously had a very low budget. There is distinct flair to his choice of angles and cuts. He did not set out to make a dull movie I can tell you that! While the film has that cult indie edge, it does not draw much attention to itself, it is clever but not flashy. It is a shame that he has not had more work over the years, he could have proved to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Overall, Six-String Samurai is an strange movie that will appeal to those who like low budget oddities, martial arts, and rockabilly. It is a movie that will take you on a journey, a journey filled with metaphors and symbols to be deciphered if you so choose. It is not a film to take literally, although it works in that manner as well. As you can see, this can be fun on any number of levels.

Audio/Video. The tech side of the disk is about as good as it is ever likely to be. It is non-anamorphic widescreen in its OAR of 1.85:1. Its low budget roots are plainly apparent, but it is still a clean, clear transfer. The audio is available in both stereo and 5.1 surround. Both do a fine job delivering the rock tunes and clear dialog.

Extras. Not much to write home about here. Bonus material is limited to a couple of videos by music contributors The Red Elvises and the original trailer. If ever a movie cried out for a cast/crew commentary, it is this one. Sadly, I doubt we will ever see it.

Bottomline. Fan of weird, cult flicks? Do you like rock colliding with kung fu? How about Death as a metalhead? Perhaps you just like post-apocalyptic tales. Whatever the case may be, this is a film to be experienced.

Highly Recommended.


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