@aka_fatman attempts a review of a cult classic as part of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network fundraiser.
PERILS OF GWENDOLINE IN THE LAND OF THE YIK YAKS
I was given a choice by @HeSlimedMeRay of either doing a film review of Ponette – a 1996 film about a 4-year old who deals with the emotional turmoil of losing her mother in a car accident, or Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yaks, a sexploitation “comedy” based on bondage comics of the 1940’s by artist John Willie. I thought that Ponette might be a poignant and touching story about loss and coming to terms with genuine grief, so naturally I chose the other film because it seemed like there’d be more chance of boobs and action sequences. And what a horrible decision that turned out to be.
The movie feels like Larry Flynt’s opium-induced nightmare. It’s the kind of film you force your friends to watch if they’ve lost a bet. I’m pretty sure that the script was penned by some misogynistic producer’s 12-year old nephew who had rummaged through an elder sibling’s porno collection but didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with the naked girl pictures. The result is a confused mashup of tired adventure tropes, terrible acting, bad lip-synching and regretful life decisions.
This film starts out incoherently enough. We start in media res, with a doe-eyed young woman, Gwendoline (played by Tawny Kitaen, who would later go on to marry the lead singer of Whitesnake), emerging from a box in a Shanghai-style port city populated by Oriental stereotypes. She is there to find her lepidopterist father who has gone missing after trying to find a rare butterfly in this strange and exotic land. Before her maid/sidekick Zabou – who is already at the port for some reason – can retrieve her from this badly prearranged plan, Gwendoline is almost immediately sold into slavery to a Chinese gangster by a trio of thieves who happened by her. Note that, since the film is based around a French bondage comic, you can expect Gwendoline to be captured often and in more ridiculous ways
Gwendoline soon finds herself accidentally rescued by a reprehensible anti-hero, Willard (Brent Huff), who appears on-screen with all the subtlety of a grappling hook to the head. And, yes, that isn’t me trying to be cute here. He straight up murders the gangster and his two cronies without remorse, before proceeding to rob the dead men and spending the money at the casino downstairs.
Now, reluctant heroes are not necessarily a bad thing, if handled properly. Luke Skywalker, for instance, spent the first third of Star Wars being a whiny, spoilt moisture farmer before becoming an ace fighter pilot with magical powers. Willard is a charmless, homicidal bully who spends the entirety of the film openly mocking the two females, which enforces my view that the script was written by a chauvinistic social misfit. Why Gwendoline and Zabou don’t find anyone else to assist them is beyond me, as nothing Willard does seems heroic or smart. As far as I can tell, he loves money and hates women. In fact, the whole movie hates women on some level, which is disturbing as there are so many women in the film.
The rest of the film is a fairly pedestrian affair. The trio get captured, Willard rips the ears off a guard, they escape. There’s a few scenes of crap, they get captured again, there’s groaning and moaning, they escape. And so on and so forth. I’m pretty sure I blacked out several times throughout the film but I’d come to just as Gwendoline and co. were either getting captured or escaping. There was an obviously fake alligator and a Benny Hill chase scene with a bunch of cannibals in there somewhere.
The thing is, the production level of this movie is actually fairly decent. I’m sure I read that, at the time, this was the most expensive French film of the day. The sets look fairly expensive and is wasted on a mediocre film with an awful premise and amateur actors. Who knows what a capable director could have done with something of this budget?
So what of the Yik Yaks themselves? The titular Yik Yaks are a strangely advanced race of females in pseudo-scientific Amazonian armour with an occasional boob hanging out because f-ck it, this is the Perils of Gwendoline-verse and the costume department is made up entirely of horny comic book nerds. They are led by a deranged matriarch (Bernadette Lafont) and her second-in-command, an impotent and cowardly scientist named D’Arcy (Jean Rougerie). Gwendoline gets captured again (shock!) and we get to witness an incredible chariot race and a fight to the death between four combatants before the film’s climax (he says, smugly).
The film manages to have sexy themes without actually being sexy. It’s almost there but it doesn’t quite achieve its lowly goals and the nakedness never feels earned. There will be an Asian prostitute showing nipple or armour that doesn’t cover the breasts. At least in a porno, the pool cleaner turns up to fix the photocopier and the housewife and her sisters can’t pay (or whatever) and it leads to a crazy sex party. The Perils of Gwendoline is like a dinner party where everyone is nude and people are pointing at each other’s body bits but nobody does anything while the meal goes cold. And in the end, everyone leaves unsatisfied. Goddamn it….I should’ve chosen Ponette.