Wednesday, March 27

Some quick thoughts on Cannibal Mercenary: Redux (The Mercenary) (1983)

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Wilson (dude to the right with the biggest gun), a war-weary soldier who finds his life reduced to introspective moments of staring at a ceiling fan ala Apocalypse Now pondering the horror...the horror of Vietnam newsreels and his polio-stricken daughter finds a last shred of hope undertaking a brutal mission that'll pay well if successful. Seeing a way to cure his ill daughter, he accepts and assembles a motley bunch to get back into the inferno to dispatch a ruthless drug lord with excessively gory results.

There are spectacularly cheap war flicks and then there's stuff like Hong Lu Wong's Cannibal Mercenary (aka The Mercenary on US VHS). This purely Thai picture lacks even the minimalistic coherence afforded to this type of ramshackle production that occurs when other countries like Italy get involved. The result is mean and nasty war exploitation that chugs along entirely on the spectacle of brutal fisticuffs and gory bodily harm in one scene to the next. As the troop descends into the jungle; tripwire bamboo spikes, springtrap decaps, penis mangling, railroad spike-to-the-brain murder, piss drinking torture, impromptu cannibal feasting, and gender and age neutral killings become what fuels the runtime.

The members of the group aren't exactly nice guy heroes themselves. Taking a page from The Dirty Dozen (1967), they're more like war criminals wrangling with issues of carnal lust and twisted morality taking what they wish by any means necessary in their quest to slaughter slightly worse bad guys. Our lead "hero" Wilson's pained disillusionment, ripped wholesale from modern Hollywood war classics, mostly takes a backseat to the kick ass gruesomeness only serving as a hackneyed bookend to give some semblance of purpose to the story. As evident in a scene where Wilson coldly executes a female spy at point blank range, Cannibal Mercenary ain't got time to bleed.

This still obscure film's version history might actually be just as interesting as all the bloodshed. The extremely scarce North American VHS from Public Video Company, Inc. is thought to be the original uncut version. At some point, Thomas Tang, a producer known for "westernizing" features such as these heavily modified the film for audiences across the Pacific. Many scenes (including gore) were chopped away, a few new scenes with English actors were filmed and inserted, and the intended narrative was entirely replaced by rewriting and redubbing the dialogue.

I haven't seen this bastardized edit, but Earl Summerfield of The Uneasy Archive and King of the Witches VHS, the producers of this Cannibal Mercenary VHS, describes the alternations as creating a darker tone with the character's motivations completely changed. This limited VHS edition uses the better looking Tang edit for its base, splices in the missing footage from the PVC VHS (at times just single frames), and retains the original English dubbing and lighter story arc while preserving all of the copious nastiness. --also I can't believe I forgot to mention this when first publishing this entry, but like Tsui Hark's Don't Play with Fire (1980), much of the score is stolen straight from Romero's Dawn of the Dead!

If you're in the mood for some fine 'Namploitation gruel, Cannibal Mercenary goes down well, especially when paired with Jobic Wong's equally mean-spirited Jungle Heat (1985, review here). Or have a flashback triple feature if you can get your hands on the strange Get Victor Corpus: Rebel Solider (1987, review here). Unfortunately, being limited to only forty copies, this King of the Witches VHS of Cannibal Mercenary has already sold out. Although keep your eye on eBay, reasonably priced copies have already begun to appear...
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