Friday, March 09, 2007


aka FIST OF Helali
Directed by Ibrahim Afeefi
Story by Basyouni Othman
Egypt; 1991
Amal Ibrahim
Hamdi Al Wazeer
Shareef Abdul Munam
Husni Abdul Al Jaleel
Kamal Abu Rayyah
Naheed Sameer
Deya Al Merchani
Seham Abdullah
Mutawe Owees
Seham Zaki
Jala Fahmi
Nasr Seif
Nabeel Al Hawari

Like most Egyptian movies I’ve seen (which isn’t many), KABDEH HELALI alternates between hallucinatory weirdness, goofy action and turgid melodrama with the greatest of unease. Violence, suggestions of sex, cartoonish villains, lots of victimized women weeping and wailing and the occasional mystical vision all feature prominently in this flick, which is primarily a martial-arts revenge number, but gets dragged down by a heap of social drama gravitas. Like South Asian cinema, the films of Egypt mostly follow a ‘masala’ approach, sprinkling a little bit of everything to make sure all bases are covered once the movies moved out into the wider Arabic-speaking audience. But unlike Indian or Pakistani films or even their closer relations in Turkey, most Egyptian cinema lacks the wild, untamed vitality which makes those countries films of interest to western cult-film fans. But there are wayward elements which will spin your head and even occasionally make roar with unbelieving laughter, if you stay with it and give in to the offbeat and very foreign charms therein.

From what I can tell of the plot (no subtitles as per usual here at Worldweird), the story involves a trio of lowlife crooks who forcibly take a brief-case full of cash from a somewhat-sexy/somewhat-chunky chick who has withdrawn it for reasons obscure to me since I don’t speak Arabic. Her brother, a tourist guide, attempts revenge on the neer-do-wells but gets an hysterical and embarrassing beatdown from the Head Crook. All attempts to bring him to justice fail miserably and so he and his scummy chums succeed in their diabolical plans to use the stolen life savings (one assumes) to open their own glitzerific disco (which sports a dome structure seemingly in mockery of the usual architecture of mosques, the evil bastards), pumping out such western secular jams such as “Smooth Criminal” and “Oops! Upside Your Head!” All very rotten indeed.

But their comeuppance is coming, you better believe. Good always triumphs in Third World cinema (remember that the spectacular bummer of an ending to the masterful Eurowestern THE GREAT SILENCE was changed for its release in the then lucrative Moslem market) and so it happens that our hero, the tour guide, while guiding tourists round the Great Pyramids and The Sphinx receives a cosmic vision of his training in the martial arts against a Halloween masked demon-ninja, and is given a new impetus to get him some good ole fashioned vengeance. Which, Allah bless him, he does, in spectacular fashion. The final showdown, taking place both in the devilish disco (which our hero literally tears down the walls of) and at the comfy looking beach resort HQ of Chief Baddie, is pretty fuckin’ awesome. The kung fu is surprisingly well accomplished, a bit better than scenes from similar Turkish or Hindi films of around the same period, although it maybe drags on a bit long. But there’s a smashing scene where our hero faces off in a disco-fu challenge that you’ve just gotta see. It’s a real hoot. In the end, the good guys triumph, the bad guys are beaten up and carted off to jail and that’s that. If your looking for complex motivations or ambivalent situations, you’re in the wrong country, bub.

I really enjoyed this peculiar little action time-waster. It’s better than THIRSTY FOR RED BLOOD but nowhere near in the league of WOLVES DON’T EAT MEAT (more on that one later) as far as Egyptian movies I've seen go. Check out some of the more outré DVDr providers for this one, as I highly doubt it’ll ever warrant the decked-out subtitled, restored DVD presentation we would like to see for even the most minor of cult film epics. I doubt Egypt is the “new Turkey” as far as excavations for exploitation oddities are concerned, but they are worthy of being noticed and taken heed of, if for anthropological reasons only. But if you’ve got the right state of mind (I found a bottle of wine helped considerably in this), these obscure films can be found to be quite entertaining little weirdo morsels in their own right.

Anyone able to provide biographical or production info pertaining to this movie, please contat me at jaredaunerATyahooDOTcom. Thank you.