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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Bruka, Queen of Evil (1975) review


Alex Lung Ji-Fei (Hon Ping), Rosemarie Gil (Manda), Etang Discher (Bruka), Sandra de Veyra (Louisa)

Directed by Albert Yu and Felix Villar (uncredited on this version)

The Short Version: The kung foolery continues in BRUKA, QUEEN OF EVIL, the infinitely entertaining, unjustly obscure HK-Filipino co-pro sequel to DEVIL WOMAN. Doubling up on the snakes and piling up as many demented ideas as its near 100 minutes will allow, BRUKA throws that film's serious tone right in the garbage. In its place is this tale of vengeful Ophidio-females that embraces pure nuttiness with its menagerie of majestically rock-bottom creatures including giant stone monsters; angry midgets; a walking killer tree you could've made in your backyard; and a bat man that looks like a stunt guy in thermal underwear with kites glued to his arms. Yes, staples of the best bad cinema has to offer are all present and accounted for. Fans of wacky Asian cinema will be riveted; all others--especially Ophidiophobics--will be repelled. Fangs for the good time, nonetheless.

Rescued from a fiery death by an old woman with a giant snake for a body, Manda learns this slithery hag is her grandmother Carol Pak, once a human being and now Bruka, a half-human, half-snake demon--who, out of anger, sold her soul to the Devil to doom her daughter for marrying Manda's father; leading to the child being cursed with a head full of snakes. Wishing to look like a normal woman, Bruka gives Manda a magical black stone that, so long as she keeps it in her mouth, will keep her scalp free of writhing, poisonous serpents. Meantime, Hon Ping, an impoverished man proficient in Kung Fu, struggles to raise his sister and care for his sick mother. He's given an offer he can't refuse to save Louisa, the daughter of a rich man. Unbeknownst to them, Manda has kidnapped her and other women to be sacrificed within Bruka's mountain hideout somewhere in the Valley of Death; and only a magical weapon from an old kung fu master can stop them.

Asian cinema is notorious for its extraordinary ability to successfully maintain viewer interest by substituting abject weirdness for a nonexistent plotline. BRUKA, QUEEN OF EVIL, another co-production between Hong Kong and the Philippines, is one such picture. Even more gonzo than DEVIL WOMAN (1974), Albert Yu's and Felix Villar's sequel surpasses it, wasting no time in upping the absurdity ante. Within the first ten minutes alone you're introduced to a giant snake with the head of an old white-haired woman; a motley clutch of angry midgets; around half a dozen stone monsters; and a lumbering, walking tree. 

On top of that, the script crams an entire backstory in there--revealing that the old lady snake-thing is Manda's grandmother; the Bruka of the film's title (referred to as Carol Pak in the subs on this fullscreen, mandarin language version).

Like its predecessor, BRUKA is loosely based on characters from the wildly popular 'Darna' comic book created by Marcial "Mars" Ravelo; characters of which were also inspiration to a number of other movies and television incarnations. Reportedly borrowing from the Gorgon legend to create Manda, Queen of Snakes (named Valentina in the comic book), Bruka would appear to have been influenced by the Naga's of Hindu mythology; serpentine monsters with human features. Called Kobra in the comics, the character would be altered over the years; even being re-interpreted as a male character.

Famous for playing guileful elders in many dramatic productions, Etang Discher's portrayal of the snake woman could be perceived as a literal representation of those more realistically human roles on her resume. Outside of a final duel with the hero and his magic stick, she's not given a great deal to do other than scowl menacingly while keeping tabs on victims via her magic crystal ball; and never leaving her mountain cave setting. 

BRUKA basically follows the same narrative as DEVIL WOMAN; but unlike the earlier movie, Manda figures into the overall story more than she did previously. Revenge is again her motive; apparently not killing enough people in the first picture. Looking far more attractive than before, Manda kills any man she comes across and even patronizes a local club where she, like a predator, lures sex-hungry men to their doom. Once she has her coils around her libidinous victim, the magical stone keeping her hair silky smooth comes out and the lengthy locks transform into a mop of coral snakes; so these lothario's--as per the Head and Shoulders slogan--never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Picking up right where the first movie ended, Rosemarie Gil returns as Manda, saved from a fiery death by her scaly grandmother. Despite the film's title, Manda dominates the first half of the movie--only to take a backseat during the second half when Hon Ping goes on his adventure to find Manda--encountering numerous bizarre characters including an eccentric priest and his leper hunchback assistant who, in the film's one instance of Christian symbolism, states all the terrible occurrences are from an absence of the Almighty.

An actress of repute in her native Philippines, Gil has been in the business since the late 1950s. She married Eddie Mesa, the Filipino Elvis Presley, in 1961, but separated from 1970 to 1986; and have been together ever since that time. Prior to her two 'Snake Queen' pictures, Rosemarie Gil had a role in the 1972 US-Filipino co-pro NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN. Her daughter, Cheri Gil (who debuted in DEVIL WOMAN), is also a very successful actress in her own right.

The hero of BRUKA comes in the form of stone-faced Alex Lung Ji-Fei, star of DRAGON'S NEVER DIE (1974) and a handful of other Pascual movies in what amounted to a short, two-year film career. He looks good in the action scenes but nothing about him stands out from the countless other fist and kick performers of the day. Incidentally, BRUKA was Lung's last movie.

As Hon Ping, destitute and penniless with a starving mother and sister he's trying to care for, Hon is eventually offered a job to rescue a rich man's daughter and gets a bit more than he bargained for. Accepting on little more than a handshake, Hon ends up battling it out with stuntmen in monster suits; including a guy in a homemade bat costume and a walking tree that makes the schlock monsters in FROM HELL IT CAME (1957) and THE CREEPING TERROR (1964) look Stan Winston worthy.

Whereas DEVIL WOMAN was more of a kung fu flick, BRUKA has a sense of adventure about it; impoverished, with very little variance in settings, but an air of adventure just the same. Hon Ping must undertake a quest to find an old master who has the only weapon powerful enough to stop Bruka, Manda, and their army of cheapjack monsters. It's not a sword or another type of bladed implement, but an old dirty rope the elder was using to hold up his pants! But this isn't any ordinary string; this one--with the help of some expert editing--can be turned into a pole that virtually kills the monsters by simply touching it. This brings us to the fighting sequences...

The action choreo is less brutal than before, but handled by the same trio--Brandy Yuen, Corey Yuen, and Yuen Bun. The bulk of the fights are with fantasy characters so it's difficult to take anything seriously when a demonic tree is walking mere feet behind our hero and he doesn't seem to notice; it's like something out of a cartoon. During the last 40 freakshow minutes, the fighting is virtually non-stop. Mediocre at best, it's a step backward from the plain fist and kick combos of DEVIL WOMAN. The use of wirework is poorly rendered--even worse than late 60s pictures--long before the use of harnesses was perfected in mid 80s HK action pictures.

The action being less than stellar, it doesn't afford Alex Lung Ji-Fei many opportunities to showcase his only selling point. He should be given credit, though, for a scene near the end when he grapples with dozens of snakes (including some BIG ones) wrapping all around his body. It's perplexing why there's no actual choreo between Rosemarie Gil and Alex Lung; no double standing in for her or anything. Her exit from the picture is even more lazily constructed than DEVIL WOMAN. The Bruka battle is hilarious for the length of time it lasts, but could've done with a bit more creativity since the rest of the movie wasn't lacking it. 

Having played the leader of a vicious bandit gang in DEVIL WOMAN, Japanese martial artist and veteran bad guy of a few dozen Hong Kong Kung Fu pictures, Yukio Someno returns as a different character with no lines, no explanation, and seemingly only there for marquee value. Billed as a 'guest star', he's only in the movie for the one sequence joined by a bizarre horse-faced man, or alligator or dog-face; it's difficult to tell.

Fans of DEVIL WOMAN will be surprised at how preposterously over the top BRUKA is. Big on ideas but beggarly in budget, it makes up for zero production value with its rampaging, dancing midgets and menagerie of monsters. Sloppy subtitles only make things worse in an unintentionally funny way with expert elucidations like, "The men died after a few sentences"; died laughing, perhaps. Fans of HK and Filipino exploitation and midget tossing take note.

This review is representative of the Desert Island Films DVD. *The audio is out of sync for nearly the entire length of the movie* Running time: 01:36:49


Jack J said...

Good review, Brian. I've seen that quite a few bootleggers have released this film the past couple of years. They're all sourced from the same VHS that a cast member gave Andrew Leavold a few years ago, and which was then uploaded somewhere (CG probably). I guess every bootlegger downloaded it from there or copied somebody else's download - and this copy went out of sync somewhere along the line. Too bad.

Btw, I got a subtitled copy of DEVIL WOMAN from Andrew and I was surprised to learn that the old letterboxed, English dubbed VHS from Something Weird Video is cut! It's missing the last minute of the film. I wonder if Code Red's dvd/blu-ray is uncut (I don't have it).

Anyhoo, good write-up as always, buddy. xD

venoms5 said...

Hi, Jack. I had a DVD-R copy of the old VHS of DEVIL WOMAN; never watched it, and ended up tossing it out by mistake. The DVD and blu version end with her being engulfed in flames after falling back down into her cave. I don't know if you saw it, but the DEVIL WOMAN review I posted just prior to this one is from the CR blu.

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