Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nam Angels (1989)

Remember the Vietnam War, when a handful of buff Americans slaughtered hundreds of Filipinos pretending to be Vietnamese standing in a row and doing backflips when getting shot by an assault rifle? By 1989, only a handful of Italian and Filipino exploitation filmmakers still did (most of whom were in bed with Roger Corman, I assume). Even the Philippines' finest in form of Cirio H. Santiago had his problems coming up with new twists in the tale of how some 'roided guy got his people out (a lot like Moses, but with an assault rifle, generally).

But hey, what's this lying around in the costume department? A handful of jeans jackets with the Hells Angels logo on them? It's exploitation movie gold is what it is! This, or something quite like it must have gone on in Santiago's mind when he came up with this one.

Just two weeks before finally being allowed to get home, manly man solider Calhoun (Brad Johnson) and his trusty lasso - yes, he's from West Texas - finds two of his platoon members taken prisoner by a former SS/Foreign Legion guy named Chard (Vernon Wells) who has gone all Colonel Kurtz as the living god of some formerly godforsaken North Vietnamese tribe. It's a particularly dangerous area completely under control of Chard's men and the North Vietnamese forces, and while Calhoun's superiors aren't going to hinder him from going on a manly rescue expedition, there's not much they can do to help him, especially because getting in and out quickly seems to be rather important to the whole thing. So Calhoun does the logical thing, goes into the next bar, sees the only (US) Hells Angels in Vietnam beat up some Special Forces soldiers and get themselves arrested, and offers them a get out of jail free card as well as the gold treasure Chard has assembled if they help him. For reason of later plot complications, our hero doesn't mention the whole "free my buddies" aspect of the plan instead of offering them the gold for their help in freeing the prisoners. Oh well. Anyhow, there will be many explosions, shooting and biking before the film is over.

Despite its particularly stupid/genius set-up, Nam Angels is one of the better namsploitation movies you can waste your time on. I was a bit surprised by that, because director Cirio H. Santiago's films often tend to waste perfectly great exploitation ideas on perfectly boring execution. Nam Angels, however, does include everything one could wish for in an exploitation film of its genre, gets to the point of shooting and explosions without pretending too long anyone cares about its characters, and never looks back once it's gotten going. In fact, the film seems hell-bent on including as many awesome/ridiculous bits and pieces as possible, so we're not just getting a film about Hells Angels led by a lasso-swinging super soldier from Texas biking through the Vietnamese jungle aka the countryside of the Philippines, causing backflipping and explosions wherever they (oh so stealthily) ride, that treats the silly set-up with all the seriousness of an epic, but also one that does its low-budget best to have variety in its action scenes. Would you believe some of the action scenes even show people using tactics like flanking?

Of course, Nam Angels does also include the genre-mandated exploding huts, a white bad guy with copious appetite for the scenery, utterly random nudity, cursing, hilariously "poignant" moments - all presented with an actual sense of breathless excitement that is as atypical for the often drab namsploitation film as it is for Santiago's body of work.

Nam Angels is a lovely piece of exploitation cinema that may have not a single clever idea in its head, but sure wants its audience to have a good, mass-slaughter-filled, time with all the dumb ideas it has. For me, it succeeds admirably at this.

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