The Blue Jean Monster is new on Blu-ray from 88 Films.
A thought that never even occurred to me as being possible was watching a film and thinking to myself ‘Gee, this kind of reminds me of Dead Heat. But sure enough, the packaging for Ivan Lai’s Blue Jean Monster, as well as an interview with the assistant director do in fact confirm that the existence of their film was indeed inspired by the viewing of a film that, let’s not mince words here, isn’t even popular enough to rate cult status.
For those who aren’t aware of Dead Heat, here’s a trailer.
(I cannot believe after nearly 40 years, this is the first time I’m realizing the title was a pun on the recently released Red Heat. A genuinely humiliating moment for yours truly…)
There’s something kind of beautiful about this, honestly… I don’t know that there has ever been a surer piece of evidence that creative inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere.
The film itself concerns the misadventures of Inspector Joe, who is killed in the line of duty, murdered while trying to take down a vicious gang of jewel thieves. Through a method that is either culturally specific or just regular old needlessly baffling, he is temporarily revived, a walking corpse on a countdown to zero. Joe accepts his fate, but makes two vows: the first is that he will survive long enough to see the birth of his child; and the second, which one might think is in a bit of conflict with the first, is to take down the criminals who ended him in the first place.
Sounds like the setup to an intense, driving barn burner, doesn’t it? A revenge picture with a savage supernatural twist, right?
Not so fast.
I came to Blue Jean Monster with an interest accrued from a memory of it being downright disreputable, in the best Hong Kong way; a clearing house for sicko sight gags. So the first surprise ultimately turned out to be how… non-offensive it was.
To be clear, there’s a sliding scale at play here: there’s a homophobic runner where Joe’s massively pregnant wife (Pauline Wong; not sure if she actually gets a name in the film proper, and if she does it’s not like it matters) becomes convinced that her husband and their obnoxious houseguest Power Steering (Wai-Kit Tse) are secretly hooking up, reacting with era-appropriate horror and AIDS rhetoric, to say nothing of and how loose they are with ableist slurs and the dropping of the ‘r’ word… but if we’re being honest, very little of the humor here would have raised an eyebrow at the time in the states; sad to say with the benefit of hindsight, but… we were just kind of like this back then.
Which, perhaps, brings us to the larger point: this is far more of a comedy than it is an action film. But no, even that’s not quite the full picture: one legendarily outrageous gag involving a cameo by Amy Yip aside (this, more than anything, being the source of the films infamy), it’s far more of a sitcom than an action film. The majority of the film is given over not to the chase of the villains but to Joe’s attempts to hide his condition from his wife and his constant need to recharge his ailing body by way of electrocution. To that end, there’s a bit of a precursor to Crank on top of the Dead Heat of it all. But suffering from blunt force trauma brought on by a solid thrashing with the goofus stick.
All this would be more of an issue than it turns out to be, I suspect, if not for the choice to cast the inimitable Shing Fui-On in the only leading role he ever played. There’s a certain novelty to Fui-On, with his distinctive face perfectly carved out of stone to play intimidating henchmen, acting the henpecked husband. To be sure, his singular presence had been used to both comic and sinister effect before, and he was a welcome presence every time he popped up, but to hold the center of a full-length movie is, it goes without saying, another matter entirely. And he does… fine. He’s not the most dynamic lead, but his commitment to the bit and the curiosity factor of it all never gets old. To say nothing of the absolutely tubular Fido Dido board shorts Fui-On rocks for a significant portion of the film, which is a nostalgia rush all its own.
Gucci, as can happen with a first draft screenplay, is coincidentally a key figure in the robbery that cost Joe his life, tying her back to what one would assume to be the main plot, though that often feels more in theory than practice; indeed there is an extent to which the bad guys themselves feel like an afterthought: to the point where the main bad guy (Jun Kunimura, projecting a lot of menace with very little help from the script) doesn’t even get a name either.
I mean, the wife is one thing, but come on now…
That there are two credits for action director– or rather, one credit for Action Director (Wong Kwan) and one credit for Second Action Director (Philip Kwok) as well as credits for bot car and motorbike stunts (credited to Bruce Law Stunts Unlimited and Bruce Law respectively)– would seem to indicate that the action was the focus. But it seems to be more a function of the chaotic way the film itself came together. The action, when it arrives, is quite good, especially the wildly over-the-top finale. But those looking for a truly hardcore experience might want to temper their expectations. Whatever else it might be, it’s absolutely a Hong Kong movie of its era… with everything that entails.
- Interview with assistant director Sam Leong
A brief yet fun and enlightening interview, Leong remembers the messy production with even-handed fondness fondness and, delightfully, throws a little bit of shade in Sammo Hung’s direction
- Stills gallery
- A very cool poster
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The Blue Jean Monster – 88 Films Blu-ray