Thursday, May 9, 2013

Selma Ruins Warriors of Virtue

I just accidentally wrote *mumblemumble* words of analysis about an unsuccessful kids movie from the 90s featuring anthropomorphic martial arts kangaroos. WHAT IS MY LIFE.

"Huh, this snowglobe has really crappy animation."
So way back in ye olden days of 1997, a movie named Warriors of Virtue (not sure that link is cool by copyright, but I'm also not sure you can even get this on DVD) came out. It starred idk people you've never heard of, and the logline reads: "In a world beyond your wildest imagination, a battle for the universe has begun."

Er... no it hasn't.

Here's what actually goes down: This kid Ryan has some sort of leg disability. We don't ever find out why or what it is, which I like, because it's not important to the plot that we know. He apparently lives in the middle of the movie Rudy, so he idolizes the football players at his... middle school... high school...? and mostly gets used as the brunt of the joke as a waterboy. We get to sit through the end of a presumably better football movie during the opening. Ryan comes up with the winning play for the team, thus showing that he's smart and resourceful, but he also gets no credit for it because he's not able to make the play himself.

I'll say it right up front here: I think that Warriors of Virtue is one of the best treatments of disability in a movie that I've seen. Ever. Hey, PUT THOSE STONES DOWN. Here's the thing - the movie acknowledges that Ryan has a disability, he explicitly is shown to be frustrated or upset by it on two or three occasions... and the movie continues on. Ryan is not his disability. It's a part of his life, it makes everything more difficult for him, and that's just the way things are for him. How many movies feature characters with disabilities without turning the character into a walking personification of the disability? The movie doesn't even tell us why he has it, because it's not relevant to Ryan's story from this point onward. That's a pretty thoughtful, respectful touch. And I appreciate that. (Even if the rest of the movie is crap.)

Ryan hits on a football player's girlfriend after the game and she actually talks to him, which is weird because Ryan looks about 12 and the other kids are definitely at least 18. Anyhoo, football jock decides this means they're in a blood feud now and invites Ryan to go be an idiot in a sewer tunnel later tonight. Ryan agrees, because he's an idiot.

He drops by a Chinese restaurant to... hang out with the adult owner...?????... and talks to Unnamed Owner (a freaking NINJA who solves all his cooking problems through JUMP-KICKING THINGS like the kitchen sink and other waiters). The owner gives him this fortune cookie self-help talk and then shoves an ancient book in his face because...


... So Ryan gets an old book because of reasons! And the cocoon of a dead bug. Don't ask. (I get the feeling by the very limited dialogue in this scene that something was cut here - I think that originally maybe the owner knew what was going on and was connected to the land of Tao, but they chopped it. Who knows. It's unfortunate because the owner is extremely charismatic and fun despite the strange and stereotypical role he was given, and it would've been great if he had been a bigger part of the movie.)

Ryan crams the priceless, crumbling old manuscript into his backpack under the beaming gaze of the restaurant owner, and goes down a sewer with some bullies. This plan: Flawless.

There's this really dumb scene where the jock convinces the kid with the impaired leg to walk on a single pipe suspended over a whirlpool (part of every fine sewer). Surprise, the kid falls. The jock literally grabs his hair with both hands and goes, "OH NO!" and it is hilarious.

Would I lie to you?
Ryan wakes up in a set forest. He gets up and quickly realizes that his disability is gone. He runs around dodging and shouting plays and trying to run into a football movie, but all he manages to find are a few rent-a-soldiers that start chasing him because of reasons. "He doesn't look nearly as silly as the rest of us! He's not even wearing any tinfoil! AFTER HIM!"

Thanks to his new running ability, Ryan escapes, but he leaves the backpack with the plot device behind. Some random person finds him and takes him into the city! There he meets the beautiful and way too old for him Elysia, whose job seems to be pretending to be a princess, and also the ancient Master Chung whose job is pretending to be kung-fu Gandalf. Master Chung isn't just phoning it in, he's calling long-distance.

Ryan also meets the guardians of the city: five anthropomorphic kung-fu kangaroos.

I am not in any way joking. I cannot stress enough how deathly serious I am. The hook of this movie is KUNG-FU KANGAROOS. This is what happens when you base your plots off alliteration, guys.

The funny thing about this is that the kung-fu kangaroos, against all laws of God and man, actually kind of work. Other than Chinese Restaurant Owner, they're the best thing about the movie. Their costumes are weird but not off-putting, sort of like martial arts Muppets. They seem to communicate mainly in grunts and whines rather than speech (although they can talk), which is pretty effective in making them appear person-like enough to be relatable, and yet still "other". They identify themselves based on different virtues which are connected to the elements, which I find interesting - for instance, the Roo that exemplifies Wisdom is also the Roo of fire, and the most light-hearted and playful. That's cool! Their origins aren't explained, which makes them mysterious, and although they've guarded the people of this world for centuries, they're currently in disgrace due to the actions of one of their members, who's gone missing in his shame. The whole concept of these characters manages to use its own oddity to make it more compelling rather than less.

So, you know, good thing the Roos are only in it for about 15 minutes.

The Land of Tao is apparently like 5 square miles because this movie had no budget, and the eeeeeevil Lord Komodo is plundering its Lifespring for iwantitium. Lord Komodo is freaking hysterical. He comes from the IIIIIIIII'M AAAAAACCTTTTTIIIIINGGGG school of theater. I'm not entirely sure why nobody's overthrown him yet. Maybe in his kingdom, kingship is based on who can obtain the highest degree of foppishness, in which case, Komodo totally wins and this makes complete sense.

Everyone is looking for the book Ryan lost because of reasons. (Seriously, there is basically no explanation for this. Supposedly the book holds secrets of power, but there is no real reason that anyone needs it, since they already have powers of their own.) He basically just hangs out and only once mentions in passing that he kind of misses home. Which is super interesting as a concept for a younger kid, especially one whose disability has been healed and who is teased at home, so of course the movie doesn't bother to dwell on it. He talks to Elysia who reveals that the missing Roo (who has the virtue of Benevolence) was shamed because he accidentally killed during a battle.

What follows is one of my favorite parts of the movie, but I find this particular concept extremely interesting too. Most martial arts/fantasy movies for kids have this gloss where they never acknowledge death, or if they do it's extremely rare. This movie takes that and runs with it - says that yes, this is a fantasy world where killing in battle is so rare as to almost never happen. Interesting!

After Elysia reveals the information about the lost Roo, Ryan says, "Yeah, so? It's war, people die." And Elysia YELLS BACK, "It was a life!" Then they kind of sit there awkwardly, move on, and Ryan gets kidnapped.

I really love that moment between them. It's very "out of the mouth of babes" - on both sides. Because Ryan is at once naive and the voice of reason, while Elysia is at once experienced and also naive. Both of them are right, and the movie doesn't try to argue with either of them. They are both allowed to have their opposing viewpoints. How often does that happen in a movie?

The next part is your bog standard fantasy adventure stuff; Ryan gets kidnapped (of course) by Komodo, Elysia turns out to be evil, the Roos try to infiltrate the castle and get sewer'd. (Seriously, what is up with this movie and its love affair with sewers?)

Komodo wants Ryan to read the book because you have to be pure of heart to read it. In yet another awesome twist, Ryan can't read it either. He flips through the blank pages and says: "Shit happens." Then all the characters repeat it after him before Komodo realizes Ryan can't read it.

D'awww look at the widdle face

I love that Ryan isn't pure of heart. Because he isn't! He's not a bad kid, but he's not a saint, either. It's consistent with his character, which is decent enough but essentially selfish - like a lot of kids.

Secondly: I'm sort of torn on "Shit happens". It's pretty bizarre for a kids movie to have everyone repeating it, but on the other hand it DOES seem like something Ryan would come out with. He's a kid that's had a lot of pretty crappy stuff happen to him, and while he's not totally beaten down and bitter, he's not exactly a raving optimist either. And it implies that Ryan thinks, at least in his mind, that this is the ultimate wisdom. That's... surprisingly wise, for a kid movie about kung-fu kangaroos.

I also love that Ryan sticks to his guns. To me, this is really the climax of the movie, because this is where Ryan accepts both himself and the motivations of the people around him. He resolves to help the Roos because Komodo is batshit, and later we see that he's accepted his disability, too. Because: shit happens, and a kid like this knows it. His acceptance that sometimes life just sucks is the hurdle that he passes through to become a better character. That's pretty great. Definitely unique.

The rest of the movie almost isn't worth talking about (actually it's totally not worth talking about, but I started this thing, so I have to finish it. Pity me). Komodo kills Elysia... somehow...? No, seriously, it looks like she throws a piece of her dress at him and then just falls over dead. And he's upset about it, too, so he doesn't seem to have done it on purpose? Idk man.

The eyepatch really pulls the outfit together. That and
Then the Roos escape the sewer, Komodo battles and kills Master Chung because Master Chung do not give a crap, and then he battles the Roos. Ryan can finally read from the book (see what I mean about the actual climax of the movie?) long enough to tell them to combine their forces and rip off Power Rangers! They do, there is a truly silly battle, Ryan almost-dies... somehow...? and they send him home. He arrives back at home conveniently not in the sewer whirlpool, tells the jock to get stuffed, and all's swell that ends swell.

Warriors of Virtue is an example of a movie with great ideas that has no idea how to execute them. It has some really interesting concepts in it, but a movie with a premise this ridiculous would be much better suited to a book. Indeed, the movie seems to zoom through its action scenes on autopilot in order to get to the far more interesting character development, but unfortunately the character development time is limited due to a need to get through their nonsensical story in an hour and a half.

Its greatest flaw is its ludicrous, shambling plot, which is why this movie bombed both critically and financially. With a plot this bad, it's difficult to even see the glint of the good stuff buried in there. But I would argue that in some ways, this is one of the most interesting kids movies that ever came out of that whole "boy in a fantastical world" scenario. It's certainly one of the most unique. Watch it if you're in the mood for seeking out glimmers of gold in an otherwise hilarious but dark forest.



    CURSE YOU. now I have to watch this shit...


  2. Oh man, THIS movie. I sort of love Warriors of Virtue, if only because the actor playing Komodo looked at the script and said, "This is never going anywhere. If I'm gonna go down, I'm gonna go down in flames." Then he proceeded to chew the scenery. And the costumes. And the backstage crew. I think he chewed on the other actors, too. Komodo is so delightfully, ridiculously over the top that it's hard not to love him.

    I couldn't tell you anything about the rest of the movie, except that it was so bad, I watched most of it on fast-forward. Just skip the bits with everyone else in them, and watch Komodo.