Saturday Night Fever

With its iconic suit and lapels that look like if they flapped hard enough they’d send a wearer skyward Saturday Night Fever comes with a lot of fashion baggage, that’s for sure.

However, what most people who haven’t seen it would not be aware of, this disco flick is more like Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting with corny ethnic strife gang violence and casual racism — there’s a helluva lot of carnage, fist-fighting, death.

Needless to say, this is a move that’s on the surface, a Bee Gees four-on-the-four platform booted dance-fest, and yet it’s dragged in all different directions and doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

At its centre, John Travolta as Tony Monera (and a brief appearance by Fran Drescher as his teen sister), a bridge-and-tunnel hardware store lunkhead. The reason for his existence is taming the dancefloor at 2001 Odyssey, a nondescript warehouse that looks more like a downmarket Hells Angels clubhouse.

He connects romantically with a college student, a more schooled dancer. Him and his moron buddies clown around atop the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge, and he realizes that despite having no ambition, smarts, or focus, he’s no longer the black sheep of the Monera clan as his brother’s left the priesthood.

A mystifying breakout hit that grossed 68X its budget, and even Pauline Kael gushed, “Nirvana is the dance; when the music stops, you return to being ordinary.”

However, the themes, at their core, resonate perhaps now more than ever: aspirational stardom (regardless of how relatively insignificant) to escape the hum-drum, pre-social media peacocking/preening, and misplaced youthful priorities/exuberance/drug taking.

*** (out of 5)

 

Mystery of Chessboxing

Forget Scream’s Ghost Face Killer. This is the movie that actually originated Ghostie, one of the all-time legendary kung fu antagonists (Mystery of Chessboxing also inspired Wu rapper’s Ghost Face Killah  moniker).

The plot couldn’t be any simpler: revenge. That’s the lighter fluid that fuels a thousand of these films.

Old, ruthless Ghost Face has killed Ah Pao’s father. And Ah Pao needs to go find the geezer with the monster eyebrows and the long wig that’s always threatening to come off his noggin. Problem is, Ah Pao doesn’t know kung fu and Ghost Face isn’t ready to be put out to retirement home pasture, as he’s kicked the ass of everyone else in this film. What to do? Find a kung fu school, of course!

Why? To pad running time with lengthy exercises, montages, and bits of feel the Qi jibber-jabber and everyone should be glad they did. At the first school, teachers and pupils alike torment poor AP, who is as low in the pecking order as you get without a janitor outfit and a mop. He has to bring them all bowls of rice, eventually, become such a proficient server that he’s the flare bartender of doling out rice, flipping plates over his head and behind his back and displaying such incredible dexterity that he’s…a star pupil shown everything the sensei knows?

Hardly.

Ah Pao is booted from the school, and ends up under the tutelage of a chess master, hence the film’s title. It’s there that he finally gets instruction necessary to beat the holy living tar out of the Ghost Faced Killer.

Their ultimate showdown is one for the ages, a throw-down of epic proportions.

Genre fans will get a kick out of (no pun intended) Siu Tin Yuen as a humble cook. He’s best known, of course, for his turns in Drunken Master and Story of Drunken Master.

[check out a full discussion of Mystery of Chessboxing on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]