Friday, March 21

Some quick thoughts on Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom (1985)

A band of Thai mercenaries embark on one last mission to save a general after the Fall of Saigon. Posing as Chinese Red Guard, they infiltrate a compound and regain the general only to be given chase. Racing to the shore, while picking up several female soldiers, they escape on a fishing boat with their pursuers in toe. The jungle island both parties reach happens to be a leper colony, and while the horribly disfigured inhabitants are friendly, they become pawns in the ensuing battle. Now the mercs must dig in for their lives against a Red Guard commander who just doesn't relent.

Joseph Lai's International Finance Development Films & Arts is a Hong Kong production company known among trash aficionados for their streak of '80s kung fu, ninja, and action flicks. The studio's output was so cheaply made that scenes were often liberally "borrowed" between several films. To stretch their dollar, minimal new footage was then shot and built around this pre-existing material. Although sometimes different territories saw different versions of the same film tailored to their region. The studio likely assumed their generic pap screened in dime theaters all ran together. Who's going to notice that same throwing star fight repeated across three flicks anyway?    

Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom is one of their action productions which are always delightfully nonsensical and extra exploitative. Just to get this out of the way, the already shaky story falls apart after they reach the island and the characters essentially fall into either good or bad guys. Our lead, Sergeant Cobra (Sorapong Chatree), is only that due to being more well kept than the other good guys. Everyone being terribly dubbed also doesn't help performances.

The production feels larger in scope than other IFD flicks, with several impressive sequences, including protesters storming the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and hundreds of defectors trying to leave. To this end, writer Godfrey Ho tries to use what at least sounds factual to the period in history. Ho also infuses some political sentiment with a sour depiction of the nationalities involved, including Americans, except for the Thai mercs. In a surprising showing of gender equality, a pair of women soldiers are given the final showdown with the Red Guard commander instead our male hero. Cobra instead fights a trader within his troop, but I'm still unsure at which point the guy turned bad among the incoherence of the final reel.

Of course, most aren't going to give a shit about these aspects, and instead focus on how brutal Raiders frequently is. We get disturbing newsreel of Vietnam atrocities, bodies mowed down, jungle traps, decapitations, knife fights, and even an overlong and rather graphic scene of cunnilingus. Raw mayhem substituting for plot is something IFD specialized in. Almost as if the studio was trying to make up to viewers who tried to apply logic. Finally, as a callback to IFD's cost-cutting, when the droning score quiets, pieces stolen from First Blood (1982), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Tenebre (1982) are heard.

There's only a few VHS releases of the movie worldwide. Amazingly a U.S. VHS release is floating around, from "Atlantic Film & Video", but it's very scarce. The Danish, Finnish, Greek, and Japanese also saw English-language tapes, but the Finnish is severely edited. Both the Greek and Japanese releases are also in 1.85:1 widescreen. I have the North American and Greek (pictured below), both appear uncut, with the Japanese arriving shortly. I'll post my findings/impressions upon receiving it.

1 comment:

TEOS said...

Wow. Having had no idea what this was, I clicked on it thinking it was some random (and new) Indiana Jones rip-off, considering it's taken three key words from past I.J. titles. Turns out it was a total coincidence... you dare tread upon the staircase?

Basement of Ghoulish Decadence, Basement of Ghoulish Archive, and all original material Copyright © 2009-present by Jayson Kennedy. All rights reserved.