Thursday, December 21, 2006

Movie Review: HASEENA ATOM BOMB



aka ATOMIC BEAUTY
Directed by Saeed Ali Khan
Pakistan; 1990

HASEENA ATOM BOMB heaps on the insanity, never ceasing in its attempts to bury you under glitzy, near-psychedelic song-and-dance numbers and go-for-broke fisticuff scenes. It’s a pop-art extravaganza on the most limited budget imaginable. The movie does become something of an endurance test here and there at nearly three hours, like most South Asian films, but is so weird and overwhelming you can’t help but to watch, hypnotized by the z-grade skullduggery. And at times you might feel a little lost, if your copy like mine lacks English subs, at the subtle nuances of plot. Characters flow willy-nilly in and out of the story, which would seem to be balance at least two main plot-lines, if not more. It gets rather confusing. But let it ride. Give in to the uncanny and exotic kitsch on display, and it will reward you with exploitation riches of the most unusual kind.

ATOM BOMB is a sleaze fest from Pakistan. That’s right, Pakistan. In fact, the film originates in the Pashtun area, on the northwestern frontier which borders Afghanistan, which is the very cultural matrix that gave rise to the Taliban. And yet during the 1990s, this culture gave the world (or a small part of it anyway, these movies were not widely exported) an exploitation film industry that delivered astounding levels of sleaze and weirdness. ATOM BOMB is one such film, and according to critic Omar Khan, caused quite the sensation throughout greater Pakistan when it “blew up” on screens across that sun-baked, mountainous nation. He goes so far as to call it “a major work of art” and a “searing sociopolitical indictment” and while I agree that it totally rules, I don’t know if I’d go quite that far. But it certainly is an astonishing blast of gonzo world cinema at its most bewildering.

Compared with the graphic displays of naked flesh in American and European exploitation, you might think that this Pashto shocker would look kind of tame to us jaded westerners. But incredibly, it doesn’t. Sure there’s not a girl in the film that shows a bit of skin that’s not on her face or hands but the tone and technique of the movie thrusts sex and violence in your face at nearly every turn. The plot is (yet another) rape-revenge yarn, with an abundance of mustachioed bad-guys doing mustachioed bad things and getting their violent comeuppance. My favorite is the guy who punishes evil drug dealers by draining their blood with a giant syringe. It’s a truly bizarre site you won’t soon forget, even if you going blotto with uncontrollable laughter as you witness it. The songs are fun, and are highlighted with a high school drama club set design run psychedelically riot. Cheap, utterly poverty-ridden in fact, but like all great low budget cinema epics, it turns this limitation into an asset, an unusual and uncanny mis-en-scene un-achievable by more lavishly funded flicks. And the fight scenes are just as plentiful, thankfully, as the singing and dancing and are marvels of sub-Kung Fu action hysteria, with every hit, punch and kick reverberating across the screen with a loud, thunderous THWACK that pulverizes you even if you don’t believe for a second that those punches are connecting with their targets.

There’s a lot to recommend here for the adventurous cult-film fan. But South Asian films are a bit of an acquired taste, and can be utter torture to some. But if you’ve cut your teeth on the films of Italy and Hong Kong, and moved on to Indonesia and Turkey but are looking for something a little further out, then the low budget cinema of India and Pakistan might just be thing you’re lookin’ for. Just don’t try and watch these movies in one sitting. I don’t think it could be done anyway, but if you do, I think you might be risking aneurysm as these exotic potboilers will rend your brain if you aren’t ready. You’ve been warned.

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4 comments:

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