Two obscure genre nuggets you might want to check out

AUGUST 15 — With Covid-19 disrupting all manner of businesses and modes of doing business, making 2020 a headache for bosses and businesses everywhere, it’s a given that the movie industry is also having a tough time adjusting to the new norm of social distancing and severely limited, even prohibited, public gatherings.

It’s a good thing that we have streaming to keep ourselves occupied during these months of lockdown and quarantine, which the studios have used to keep their releases flowing. 

An upside to this is that we’re seeing more and more big budget and star-studded films turning up on the many streaming and VOD platforms currently in existence and competing with each other for the best and most high-profile content.

A slight downside to all this is that all this high-profile content will very likely drown out most of the little guys, and I don’t mean indie films that at least have some semblance of star power. 

What I’m referring to are the total underdogs, those B- or C-grade films with no star power, not even Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage or lately Mel Gibson slumming it for an easy paycheck, turning up for maybe 10-20 minutes of screen time but with their names and photos displayed on the cover art as if they’re the star of the movie.

Even before Covid-19 struck, these obscure underdogs already faced the daunting task of trying to catch viewers’ attention amid all the noise made by higher profile movies. 

Now that the prolonged closure of cinemas means that quite a few of the films intended by the major Hollywood studios to be released in cinemas have ended up on or will end up on streaming and VOD platforms, the noise these underdogs have to fight through just got louder.

So, here are two of these underdogs that I came across in the past few weeks, both not exactly great or even necessarily “good” films in the traditional sense, but they might just offer something of value, depending on the kind of films you fancy.

Assassin 33 A.D.

Undoubtedly not a “good” film in almost every department — laughable dialogue (which definitely does not help the actors’ performance), inconsistent footage quality that will bring to mind student film efforts, absolutely awful VFX, and the list goes on  —  Assassin 33 A.D. will probably fit in right next to other “so bad it’s enjoyable” movies like The Room and Birdemic: Shock And Terror.

Very obviously one of those faith-based Christian propaganda movies, the ace up this film’s sleeve is that it wraps it all up in a trashy genre movie package, which resulted in a movie that’s never boring and is always on an exciting forward momentum, despite how “bad” the execution is.

To sum up the plot, a bunch of genius scientists (led by the hero, who is Jewish but is a man of science and therefore agnostic and the heroine, a devout Christian, with two other characters mainly there to provide comic relief) working for an Arab Muslim (who is of course the evil villain) accidentally create a time machine, which then leads to a sinister plot by the villain to go back in time and assassinate Jesus, which therefore, by the movie’s wonderful logic, would also mean erasing Christianity. 

So, it is up to the scientists to stop this from happening and along the way learn the meaning of faith, love and forgiveness (while killing bad guys, of course).

If that plot summary arouses your interest, then I urge you to quickly seek out this endlessly rewarding and compelling train wreck. 

Marvel at how the script attempts to answer some of the things you will laugh at later on in the movie, like how Jesus can speak in English with the time travellers, or a hysterical switch in mood and mannerisms from an actress very early on in the film. 

If you’re one of those people who can find enjoyment in watching bad movies, you won’t be disappointed with this one. Enjoy the lunacy!

Contracts

Another one of those not exactly “good” movies, mainly because of the questionable and varying quality of the acting and the consistently and startlingly abrupt use of music between scenes, Contracts is a labour of love that I can and will totally get behind simply because it totally excels at the main thing that it wants to be — a brutal, no holds barred fight flick. 

Multi-hyphenate Alex Chung seemingly does almost everything in this movie, from writing, directing, starring, editing, choreographing, down to even operating the camera and boom, with quite a lot of help from some of the other actors as well, who take on a lot of the technical roles, if you look at the movie’s end credits.

Essentially telling a story about a battle between a group of contract killers, with a mole hiding among the good guys, the film’s narrative is not exactly easy to follow, with character motivations not making much sense some of the time (apparently the result of this being an expansion of a few short films), but when it comes to the raison d’etre of these films  —  the fight scenes  —  Alex and Co absolutely deliver with lots of finely choreographed and shot, not to mention brutal, fight scenes.

And unlike a lot of fight films, be they from Asia or Hollywood, Contracts is completely unafraid of gore and blood (even if some of it is quite clearly CGI blood), and while this one’s clearly not in the same league as modern classics like The Raid films, The Villainess and The Night Comes For Us, the fights here are good enough to rival those of Thai films like Bangkok Knockout, Chocolate and maybe even the Ong Bak sequels. 

And when you consider the fact that this is more or less a homemade passion project, with what must surely have been a pitiful and measly budget, to achieve results like this is already a huge positive. 

Give this guy a proper budget (which would then result in better actors etc.) and we might just have a potential action maestro on our hands here.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.