Six-String Samurai Review
The year is 1999. Forty years ago, the Russians dropped an atomic bomb on America and wiped out almost all human life. Las Vegas was left standing - A monument of fantastical proportions that beckons to all those left standing to seek it out. Its king, Elvis has died and now a new king is needed.
But reaching Vegas is a more difficult challenge than would be expected, for scouring the wasteland are four evil beings that stop all men from trying to get into the heart of the last great, promised kingdom. Leading this band of sinister foes is Death (Stephane Gauger), who seeks for change with the desire to overthrow Rock 'n' Roll with Heavy Metal.
Enter Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon) - a Rock 'n' Roll worshipping warrior, who follows the way of the Samurai, sword in one hand, a guitar in the other. His goal is to reach Las Vegas and become its new king, but before he can do that he must protect a pesky child (Justin McGuire), meet a gangster dwarf, defeat a Russian army, slay space men, deal with a cannibalistic hick family and defeat Death.
Six-String Samurai sounds great on paper. The idea is full of interesting, quirky characters in a time and place that is not too far removed from our existing world now, set in the same time period, albeit some kind of alternate reality.
Lance Mungia, in his directorial debut offers up a mixed bag of ideas, like a mixed bag of sweets but say a bag of liquorish allsorts that contain rubbish sweets like those round pink, coconut things or the square ones that you end up throwing away. The disposable proverbial sweets here are in the form of scripting and characterization.
For all its great ideas, the film has too many that are thrown at you without any prior explanation as to what is actually happening. The result is a surreal experience but one that doesn't actually benefit from its quirkiness. The films foundation is Buddy and his quest, his adventures are all very tongue in cheek but the main problem that arises is that not one character sparks much interest in the end, due to under development.
Jeffrey Falcon, better known for his appearances in several Hong Kong action movies plays Buddy - a role that requires not only stamina but a certain amount of acting ability. Falcon lacks the latter and ends up mumbling his way through the film. His poor delivery of some none too memorable lines brings his character down and you can't help but feel bored by his laid back, un-charismatic approach at trying to play a supposedly "cool" guy. His history isn't explained and we don't know where he's come from.
Young actor, Justin McGuire is simply annoying. When we are first introduced to him he appears to be a mute who can only yell out and moan as a means to communicate. Later on in the film, we discover that he can actually talk. So why after talking does he go back and just moan for the rest of the film? It's an unusual pairing that could have worked so much better - hardly Loan Wolf and Cub, more like Buddy and his moaning banjo.
The rest of the characters are bizarre to say the least and had the performances from the relatively unknown cast been better then maybe they would have been more enjoyable. Instead, characters like the strange family or bowling threesome quickly become tiresome.
The character of Death is a little more amusing - the idea that he loves Heavy Metal and wishes to overthrow a Rock 'n' Roll kingdom works well and the fact he looks like Slash from Guns 'n' Roses adds a more interesting flavour.
Whether or not it was Mungia's intention to place characters and plot on the back-burner in favour of driving the film faster is for him to say. Clearly he is focused on pacing, action and pretty visuals and had to shoot on a tight budget, but perhaps a little more time spent on writing and less on repetitive fight scenes would have helped the film greatly. There's only so much of Buddy jumping over things you can take.
Taking its cues from The Wizard of Oz, classic Japanese hack 'n' slash flicks, many an exploitation film and various comic books, Six-String Samurai winds up as being a visually interesting combo that is marred by its confusing execution. It deserves some praise for offering a relentless pace but at the same time it is no more exciting for it.
Credit when credit's due, Lance Mungia and star, Jeffrey Falcon funded much of this movie out of their own pockets and filmed a project they were passionate about. Acknowledging films like El Mariachi for inspiration, they follow a similar route of 'Do it Yourself' style film making.
The backdrop is Death Valley and Mungia milks the scenery for all it's worth. At least he gives us a good impression of this post-apocalyptic world, drenched in baking heat that reminds me of films like Mad Max and the aforementioned El Mariachi. Having little money, the desert would be the best place to film and while watching you notice some of the tighter constraints the production had, such as sunlight. Several times during certain fight sequences the picture goes from light do dark - a sign of struggling for time but the dedication is there.
Kristian Bernier won the "Vision Award" at 1998's Sundance Film Festival for his cinematography on Six-String Samurai which he deserves, as it is about the only interesting thing that the film offers. James Frisa took away the "Sync Speed Razor Award" for editing but to me eye he edits the fights scenes like a man who doesn't know how to edit fight scenes. I'm sure in the U.S. this kind of action is passable but it reminds me of American Style television editing techniques.
Jeffrey Falcon pulls of some nice moves but instead of being able to enjoy them in full, Frisa takes away the excitement and conjures up some repetitive, choppy editing that doesn't do the lead actor much justice. Sure, it's a low budget film but why get a Hong Kong film player in and make his fight scenes rubbish? Aside from that it was Falcon who partially funded the film. Frisa does manage to keep the pace tight though and I suppose you would have to forgive him for his lack of experience when it comes to editing action set pieces.
Six-String Samurai features a strange soundtrack, comprising of Rock-a-billy, surf bum-beach boy, Rock 'n' Roll, whiz bang, loopy doop, heavy metal, shebam, whoop, bamalama beats.
A strange one to call indeed. Brian Tyler's score works well and offers an eclectic mix of tastes. The soundtrack itself as a whole offers some slightly less enjoyable tracks.
For some reason the starring band, The Red Elvises get constantly praised for their music. I just don't get it - they're awful. That's all I can say about this Siberian group. Their musical influences, as listed on their own website is as follows:
"Strong musical influences include Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla, Chuck Berry, Spice Girls and speeches by Comrade Fidel Castro."
Six-String Samurai on DVD is brought to you by Palm Pictures, lacking certain features that would have been interesting.
Non-Anamorphic 1.85:1. Supposedly "Digitally Remastered", the film looks slightly soft throughout but colours are good and grain isn't too bad. Bearing in mind that it is a low budget movie it looks pretty good on DVD. Palm should have gone one better though and provided an anamorphic transfer.
2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital is on offer. Both tracks are rather subdued on the dialogue front. Buddy is too quiet, which is down to Falcon's performance but the audio isn't utilized to better effect. The action scenes fair better but in all these aren't particularly outstanding tracks.
Palm Pictures surely had an opportunity to provide more features on this disc. An audio commentary would have been a nice addition but instead they felt they should provide us with the following:
Yes it is.
Two really bad music videos from The Red Elvises
Some older trailers here for other Palm Pictures titles.
Lance Mungia and Jeffrey Falcon think of their film as being simply fun and having heart. I believe it does have heart and at times it is interesting but I just had a difficult time having fun. I'm dumbfounded by all the praise it has received over the years. I agree it shows promise and has some interesting ideas but overall it isn't a great film and I don't believe that nice looks make for quality entertainment.