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Film Review: Robotrix (1991)

Robotrix-1991-movie--Jamie-Luk-posterSYNOPSIS:

At an expo showcasing the latest android models from around the world, a fight erupts between the stoic German cyborg and the aggressive American model. Things quickly get out of control, but the situation is defused by the Hong Kong android Eve R27. A visiting oil sheik is very impressed, and invites Eve’s crew to join his team, which is developing a “robot legion”. A crazed Japanese scientist kidnaps the sheik’s son, however, in a last-ditch attempt to force the sheik to work with him on the robot legion. His risky technique combines human thoughts with computer programming, and he creates an unstoppable killing machine that embarks on a merciless rampage of rape and mutilation. It is up to the makers of Eve to design a new and improved model that can go toe-to-toe with the sinister cyborg.

REVIEW:

Robotrix is a slam-bang mash-up of genres and influences, all worn proudly on its sleeve. An action/comedy/sci-fi movie with lashings of sleaze and gore, it dives all over the place tonally yet retains the kind of charm that’s hard to shake. It might be 1991, but like many films of the era the production is tarred with the previous decade’s brush; it is an age when all computer monitors displayed a black screen with glowing green text, and couples couldn’t have tender, loving sex without turning it into a montage backed by a gag-inducing schmaltzy tune. And the Cantonese electro pop that bookends the film would probably make Giorgio Moroder skewer his own ears with a pair of chopsticks.

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But this daffy low-budget hijacking of classic Hollywood action (most obviously in the form of The Terminator and Robocop), filtered through a low-brow sexed-up sensibility that recalls the likes of Russ Meyer, makes for a somewhat laid-back diversion among the more reality-based gorefests that typified Category III output at the time.

For a film that seems to want to hang with the big boys of action and sci-fi, the budgetary constraints actually add to the fun. The light touch and fast pace keep things entertaining, despite the fact that the film contains scenes of sexual violence that might feel like a slap to the face – kind of like the director has, without warning, forced you to smell his finger after an offscreen fingerbang. The violence extends to several nasty kills, including a hit-and-run sandwich-style crush and a blade in the mouth, all perpetrated by the intimidating evil cyborg, played by Canadian/Hong Kong actor and former kickboxing champion Billy Chow.

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The unpleasant aspects of the film are firmly intertwined with the comedy – plenty of which is intentional, but is also aided by moments where five bucks was spent on something for which a Hollywood production would have budgeted thousands. The sound effects are drawn from a hilariously limited palette, where body blows are deflected with the thump of a bass drum and fast limb movements sound like the flap of a sail in a strong wind. The wires used for stunts are similarly overenthusiastic; characters tend to levitate instead of leap, and bodies are thrown great distances – showing how much more badass a robot can be when it knows kung fu.

The casting and dubbing, always an amusing fixture of a vintage Hong Kong production, is culturally reductive to the nth degree – the actor playing the Arabian sheik looks more Eastern European than Middle Eastern (perhaps the casting director thought they got it half right), and all actors, including the Japanese and Caucasian ones, are dubbed in fluent Cantonese.

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Nevertheless, the action is far more important than the accents, and the action sequences in Robotrix are bursting with energy. The imposing figure of Chow as he raises hell and assaults various women with his roboc**k is suitably menacing. But the real stars of the film are the women, enhanced in more ways than one: the well-endowed tag team of sex siren Amy Yip and Japanese actress Chikako Aoyama, as a couple of androids on the trail of Chow’s pelvic pulverizer, are very easy on the eye and pull off their physical duties (and I’m referring to the action sequences here) admirably.

Yip in particular brings an adorable naiveté to her role as a virginal robot who is curious about sex. When the cops prepare a sting operation, for which they need one of the women to pose as a prostitute in order to lure out the killer, she immediately volunteers for the job. She dresses up in the kind of outfit that epitomizes both supreme confidence and self-loathing, with the heart-melting line, “I must taste the life of a whore”. It’s enough to make both Robocop and the Terminator shoot a synthetic load in their metal shorts.

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