Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Pirates of the 20th Century

Seems like I'm doing only these Overlooked meme posts nowadays... (And I keep forgetting the blogger's rule No. 1: don't complain about why you haven't posted and why the stuff you post is lame.) I'll try to remedy that, with posts coming on Michael Koryta's A Welcome Grave (I found it!) and James Reasoner's long-lost novel Diamondback. Okay, back to the meme.

Pirates of the 20th Century (1980) is possibly the only Soviet karate film ever made. And it is possibly the only full-blown action film ever made in the Soviet Union. There have been some actioneers along the way, starting from the early 1920's (and Civil War films like Red Imps that resemble American Westerns very much) and moving well to the 1980's. But Pirates of the 20th Century is something of an anomaly: there's no social or political message to be seen, there really are some karate and diving scenes, with some tough violence. All in all, the film resembles the James Bonds and at times even the Hong Kong karate flicks of the seventies. The Soviet public wanted this stuff so badly the film received over 100,000,000 viewers!

It's not a bad film. It's stagey at times and the characters are not much more than cardboard sketches. There are some scenes in which you can only wonder what the script writers were thinking, and the climax is way too easy. There's some heavy-duty violence against women (whipping with a bamboo stick on a bare back, for example), which is surprising. The music is mostly Italian-styled funkjazz. The only Soviet angle thing is probably that there are no lonely heroes: these guys act as a group in which there are no hierarchies. (Okay, the bad guys, the pirates of the title, are mercenaries who've worked in places like South Africa and Angola, which places them with the imperialist gang.) The film is entertaining throughout, though, and if there's a copy available I suggest you grab it: this is one of a kind. I believe the film is on out DVD. Below are the opening credits and the climax, without English subtitles, though. (More Overlooked films at Todd Mason's blog.)


Todd Mason said...

Proletarian punching, kommunist kicking, capitalist caning! A hero who vaguely resembles Elvis in a gi, at least from a distance! It seems unlikely it never played in the US...but I'm not sure where it might've landed (Young Communist League picnics, projected on a sheet?). Forward grindhouses of the world, unite!

Juri said...

Actually the hero resembles more John C. Reilly than Elvis...