Thursday, January 21, 2016

ATROCITIES OF THE ORIENT (1948)

This film, a post-war propaganda piece about the outrages committed by the Japanese in the Philippines, was apparently released under this title in 1959 as an "adult" exploitation movie, pieced together from two 1948 films, BEAST OF THE EAST and OUTRAGES OF THE ORIENT. I could not find authoritative proof about the mixing of the two movies, but that would help explain why this film's plot is hard to follow (in addition to the poor shape of the print). We begin on Luzon as peaceful Filipinos go about their lives, singing and engaging in community rituals. But the Japanese invade, launching brutal attacks on the ground and in the air against the native Filipino population. The movie follows two brothers, Carlos and Antonio, both soldiers in the resistance effort being carried out in the summer of 1944. Carlos hates his brother for marrying the woman he loved, but we have seen Antonio shoot her dead just as the Japanese break into her house so she won't have to undergo the rape and torture in which the Japanese soldiers indulge. Carlos's men are ordered by their superiors to surrender but they refuse, and Carlos sends three volunteers to clean out a Japanese sniper nest. They do, but they also die in the effort. Eventually, the Japanese force Carlos and his men to surrender. Meanwhile, Antonio's men meet up with another division, led by a woman, Colonel Eve. He has her doubts about Eve's leadership, but when he sees her kill a soldier whose careless behavior led to the deaths of other men, he not only respects her but falls in love with her. Eventually, Allied troops arrive and liberate the island.

The title promises one of those grindhouse exploitation movies with lots of gore and a little nudity. This one does feature rape, beheading, bayoneting, and massacres, but not in graphic fashion. One brief scene of bare-breasted women covering themselves with their arms as they run away from Japanese soldiers seems like it was spliced in from another source. And speaking of splices, this print is crazy with odd cuts and jolting edits, so this is certainly not the film that moviegoers would have seen in theaters. The dialogue, in English and spoken by Filipino actors, is occasionally hard to decipher. There is also some weird comic relief, provided mostly by a couple of bumbling soldiers. A scene in which a Japanese solider is disciplined by his commanding officer for trying to molest a Filipino nurse is out-and-out slapstick, and completely wrong tonally. But then, there isn't much right about this movie. One can see the germ of an interesting storyline—and the feminist twist involving Colonel Eve was quite unexpected—but both the scripting and the direction seem amateurish, with the acting only a slight notch above. Frankly this would have been more interesting with a little less restraint. Why go for the grindhouse if you've got the equivalent of a PG movie? [Streaming]

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