'Rad', 'BMX Bandits' and childhood nostalgia

JULY 11 ― Growing up in the 80s means that there are at least two things that will immediately summon that warm nostalgic feeling in us ― the mention of BMX bikes and memories of browsing shelves or plastic folders containing VHS covers for movies to watch.

I never had the privilege of owning a BMX bike because it was a luxury not many families would indulge their child with, plus issues of practicalities also meant that my bicycle was the normal, heavy one with a basket in front (to carry stuff from the local kedai runcit) and a pillion seat at the back (to carry my little sister, of course).

Of course that never stopped me from fantasizing that it was a BMX, attempting (and failing) to do the usual BMX tricks and falling off my bike multiple times thanks to wanting to emulate stuff I saw in movies like BMX Bandits.

Despite the unstoppable BMX craze in the 80s, it’s quite surprising there weren’t more BMX movies back then, or at least ones that are popular enough to resonate with 80s pop culture like BMX Bandits and Rad did.

For me personally, I only knew of and saw BMX Bandits on VHS (and probably on RTM or TV3 too) back then, having never heard of Rad in my circle of friends at school or at home in my kampung in Ipoh.

It was only when I was a bit older that I heard of Rad, but still did not get to watch it because it was only ever out on VHS back then and was not released on DVD, despite the cult following it has among BMX enthusiasts and 80s kids.

So when one of my favourite cult home video labels Vinegar Syndrome announced that it was releasing Rad on Blu-ray for the first time, naturally I had to bite and pre-ordered it straight away.

I’m glad I did so because the film’s astonishing 12,000 limited edition copies sold out real fast, and the Blu-ray is now fetching crazy prices on Ebay, with sold prices even going as high as US$250 (RM1,066).

When the Blu-ray finally arrived, of course I had to watch it straight away, and then followed that up with a repeat viewing of BMX Bandits as well to see which of the two would hold up better when viewed through adult eyes.

Rad

Seeing that this was my first time watching Rad, I’m really glad I did so on Blu-ray, because it’s quite an aesthetically beautiful film, with plenty of nicely framed and shot BMX action, and the film’s new 4K restoration for this release does full justice to the film’s sometimes very beautiful cinematography.

Granted, its plot and a lot of the dialogue are classic 80s cheese, but how can it not be when it’s a simple story about a talented local kid trying to compete at a BMX race that involves professional riders and of course his against-all-odds triumph in the end?

It’s what the film tries to do with an archetypal story like this that makes it stand out.

For one, director Hal Needham (of Cannonball Run and Smokey And The Bandit fame) creatively fills out the film’s running time not only with plenty of BMX action, but a variety of BMX action.

A BMX chase in a lumberyard, very neatly shot and edited, and the unforgettable “BMX dance” at some sort of high school dance event are just some of the set-pieces that will stick in your mind long after you’ve finished watching the movie.

And I haven’t even mentioned the BMX races, all very skillfully shot and assembled, resulting in a very exciting film that’s got just the right amount of 80s cheese to make you want to revisit it again and again, with a nostalgic grin on your face.

Bravo Vinegar Syndrome for bringing out this gem to the world again.

BMX Bandits

I remember loving BMX Bandits to bits when I was a kid, so I was very excited to revisit it, especially when I realised that its director is none other than Brian Trenchard-Smith, one of the leading lights of Ozploitation cinema in the 70s and 80s with films like The Man From Hong Kong, Turkey Shoot and Dead End Drive-In.

Viewing it now, no wonder I loved it that much as a kid, because it’s more or less The Goonies on BMX with all the cheesy kiddies humour and slapstick high jinks that the description implies.

A young Nicole Kidman was already proving herself a star with this movie, and her geeky gang of BMX riding kids are simply very fun to hang around with.

Unfortunately, as funny and charming as BMX Bandits may be, it doesn’t even come close to the unexpected excellence of Rad in one particular (but very important) area ― the BMX action.

The BMX action here is very much one dimensional and highly repetitive, with endless extended chase scenes forming the bulk of its action with no variety whatsoever.

Try watching this AFTER you’ve watched Rad, and you’ll realise and appreciate how artful, varied and thoughtful the BMX action is in that movie, and how it makes that one the better and more fulfilling viewing experience, even after taking into account the nostalgia factor.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.