Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gunhed / Blazing Lazers

There was a manga called Gunhed. There was a live-action movie called Gunhed. There was a game for the PC-Engine called Gunhed (aka: Blazing Lazers in the USA for TG16). There was also a Gunhed game for the ZX Spectrum in the UK All were somehow connected. This is about the movie.

Truth be told I have no idea of the real intricacies between all three. According to Wikipedia – which is a bastion for misinformation and outright lies – first came the manga by Kia Asamiya, which resulted in creation of the film, upon which the game was then based. I don’t believe this though, since apart from an identical title the game is an overrated vertical shmup with seemingly no similarities. Also, the film credits list Hudson, implying that the film either came after or was made concurrently with the game. If the film was indeed made after or alongside the same game, then it’s another early adaptation, perhaps akin to Cyber Ninja?

The film itself, meanwhile, is simultaneously the worst and most awesome film I have ever seen. It is celluloid kusoge in its most concentrated form. A cinematic trainwreck so epic in its failings you can’t help but rubberneck through its 94 minutes, stunned at how it managed to be made. People accuse me of complaining too much about things, so it may seem strange that I paid for trash and claim to enjoy it. I discovered Gunhed by accident on eBay, recognised the name, and bought it for £5. The key point is I went in without expectations and, watching it with friends, it provided endless material for mockery and jokes. What connection has it got to Gunhed/Blazing Lazers on the PCE/TG16? Probably nothing at all!

The plot is pure, incoherent bullshit. Maybe the manga made more sense, but I’ve never read it and, watching the film, the script appears to have been typed by an alcoholic Chihuahua, ambling back and forth over a typewriter. It’ll take several viewings to actually piece it together, such is the confusing nature of it, but to make things easy: There was a war against a giant AI called Kyron5, on an island, which controlled the world but then became evil and tried to kill humanity. Think Skynet from Terminator. Humanity wins.

Next it’s the future, 2030, and a new element called Texmexium (this should be your first clue as to the film’s quality) is discovered. Microchips are also really valuable. A bunch of thieves go to the island, 13 years after the war ended, to steal chips. All the thieves are killed off in the first 20 minutes, except the main guy and his woman, called Babe, and some geek with a bandana full of badges. Next they discover a woman from the Texas Airborn Rangers, she’s chasing a biodroid from a nuclear facility that killed people and stole some Texmexium. They team up with the Texas Ranger woman. Now it turns into Ridley Scott’s Alien meets Predator as the three run around what looks an underground carpark filled with scrap metal.

Short-sightedness is nothing to make fun of in the future. Throughout there are ridiculous props such as these.

“OK, which idiot in the props department replaced my knife with a sausage?”

Ahh, the token Asian babe, a staple of generic action movies. She soon dies.

Sunglasses dude. He doesn’t even get any lines, and is the first to die.

A fridge full of guns.

Like many films from the 1980s it features pointless shots of computer screens which look fancy but tell you nothing.

Product placement anyone? Try new Robo Cola Pepsi!

It’s just a flesh wound, I can still make it!

Token big bald dude with gun-chains draped across him. The film is full of pointless posing shots like this, where the actors try to look cool.

His name is Bancho. Hilariously, the entire film appears to have been dubbed from the original, which is weird given the mix of Japanese and western actors. The director and most staff appear to be Japanese in the credits, and maybe the entire thing was made in Japan, but why dub the Western actors too? Lip-syncing is out for most of them and the voices don’t really match up. The black dude appears to have been voiced by Cam Clarke for example (he did Kaneda in Akira, and Liquid Snake in MGS).

The lead guy carries around a cigarette box with carrot sticks which he keeps putting in his mouth, but never actually seems to eat. After this they’re attacked by something unknown in an elevator and both the black dude and bearded dude die. No shots since they were too dark to photo.

This spray is meant to emphasise it’s the future. The Texas Ranger has just been impaled on a metal spike, but a quick spray of yellow fixes it up.

It’s not just a ludicrous story and hammy acting, there are technically problems like this wide shot which loses the characters completely. Even if the film had been converted to VHS 4:3 from an original widescreen cinema reel, whoever was in charge should have re-entered the shot to avoid this. Sloppy, just sloppy.

Doesn’t it look just like Alien/Predator? Too bad it’s not as good. The geek with badges dies around this point. And then there were 3.

This bit is ridiculous. the group encounter an audio mine – which goes off based on sound. Why would anyone manufacture such a pointless security device? Surely a visual mine would make more sense - one that can see enemies. Not that it matters, the main guy recognises the device and realises it’s past its use-by-date and so doesn’t work. Except it does still work. Except he doesn’t die when it goes off.

Which guy hasn’t fantasised about his girlfriend jumping into a pool of green jello? The gang has a shoot out with the biodroid in a chamber with green goo. He dives in and swims away. Then this character, who seems to be called Babe, falls in. After this she is either transformed into a biodroid herself, by the green stuff, or she ends up linked with the biodroid that swam away. Because from this point every time we see the boidroid she appears in its visor and seems to partially control it. Is she in another dimension? If not, and she is the droid, whatever happened to the first droid? Are there two droids? Nothing in this film makes sense. After this it’s just the main guy and the Texas woman, Nim. Having shot the biodroid they also now have the Texmexium, which looks like a piece of graphite.

The best scene in the film is where the main guy rolls around in a pile of trash. Be-ba-pa-bada-boo, I said be-ba-pa-bada-boo! Jam to the beat, you jive turkey. After this the main guy and Nim find two children. Apparently survivors from the custodians who lived on the island before the robot war. They are aged 7 and 11, and are called #7 and #11. Turns out #11 is mute. But if the war ended 13 years ago, how can they be 7 and 11? After the war ended, and humans won, did the custodians stay on the island for a further two years, have kids, then later die so they had to grow up by themselves? Why weren’t they all evacuated? Why would the custodians stay on a ruined island? None of it makes sense.

More plot revelations. Turns out Kyron5 gave up the war 13 years ago because 20 years ago it psychically predicted that humanity would discover a new element, so it’s bided its time, and now there’s a countdown, and the biodroid which stole the Texmexium will re-activate Kyron5 and give it the Texmexium and it will TAKE OVER THE WORLD after using a special activation word which it doesn’t know. Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on either.

This is the biodroid, which looks like a kind of mechanical fly.

This is Babe, trapped in the machine, or in another dimension linked to the machine. Look, stop asking questions, I’m having enough trouble trying to coherently type this up without nitpickers demanding an adherence to some kind of narrative logic.

The only hope is for the main guy, along with #7, to rebuild a Gunhed robot left over from the war. Cue several lengthy sequences of them tinkering with garbage.

Meanwhile Nim the ranger and mute #11 start climbing the 300 floors of this tower on the island in order to reach the Kyron5 control room in order to... do something, something... Why they couldn’t hang with the main guy and help fix the robot I don’t know. Anyway, there is this awesome sequence where the droid uses a magical laser grappling hook device, which can bend around corners, to shoot all the way up the building and grab the Texmexium right out of Nim’s pocket. Seriously, that’s the plot twist right there. He uses magical lasers to take it without a fight. Doh!

Eventually Gunhed gets rebuilt and can talk to them and they go off to reach the Kyron5 control room several hundreds floors above the ground. The Gunhead unit is a tank though, and it’s never quite explained how it’s going to get up there. Turns out it can drive on walls – no, seriously, the thing just shoots a grappling hook and then rocket boosts up the side of a 300 story building. But before that it has to drive through a canal of oil. Presumably engine oil? This oil has been sitting there for at least 13 years, and the Gunhed unit leaks, so the main guy gets coated in it. So what does he do? He pops out his fingers and starts brushing his teeth with the oil. For the love of God man, that stuff must be filthy and probably fatally toxic, what the hell are you doing?! I’m not even making this crap up.

There’s a confusing bit where he needs some coolant so he gets out the tank and runs around this carpark for a bit.

It might not be clear from the photo, but there’s a weird bit where there’s a radio message, presumably from Nim, who says they’ve been coming across stashes of food and water (where did it come from?!), they’ve marked safe stuff with the number 7, and bad stuff with the number 11. Apart from the logical problem of why not just get rid of the bad stuff, why leave rotting food in a cupboard but mark it with the number 11, there’s the added of problem of when did they find time to do this? All the action appears to take place over the course of one day. Do they really need access to snacks that badly? This cupboard was marked 7, meaning it’s not rotten, but I’m at a loss to work out when Nim got there, where the supplies came from, or indeed why they felt the need to mark stuff. Couldn’t they dispose of bad stuff and just leave good stuff, and if they did, would they need to point out: this is food?

Nothing like backlit shots of a toy model.

Up until this point #7 seemed to be travelling with the main guy, but then suddenly he abandons the Gunhed to stay on this level and drop bombs down below to distact the Kyron5 defence systems. After which it cuts to a totally random scene of him watering this garden. There’s no context, he just decides to go off and abandon his post, where he’s supposed to be activating bombs, to water some lettuce. Turns out Nim and #11 are on this level and, hearing a noise he starts firing a machinegun into the dark.

The next scene switches back to the Gunhed and the main guy. They’re running out of time and now the Gunhed is out of fuel. Ahh well, we’re all dead, right? Not so! The Gunhed unit explains he can run on anything, even whiskey. And yes, you guessed it, those barrels are whiskey barrels. At this point I had to pause the tape to laugh loudly for a good 2-3 minutes. That’s right folks, the entire film hinges around: A GIANT ROBOTO THAT RUNS ON WHISKEY! How did all those barrels of whiskey end up on an island housing an AI that controlled the world and started a robot/human war 13 years ago? Did it belong to the island’s custodians and scientists? Were they all a bunch of alcoholics and that’s why the AI went mad? Did #7 and #11’ parents die from alcoholism? Who cares, there’s A GIANT ROBOTO THAT RUNS ON WHISKEY!

Next we switch to #11 who is her knees screaming, and Nim goes to hug her. It appears she was shot and now light is pouring out of her mouth. Is she a robot? Did the machinegun bullets create light in her stomach? Is #7 a robot too? WTF is going on here?! The next line is great as #7 says to his presumably dying sister, in a tone that can only imply major sociopathic tendencies: “Serves you right, you scared me.” After this #11 jumps up, shuts a gate locking Nim and #7 inside, and then climbs up to reach the green water room and place the Texmexium on a pedestal. I can’t remember how she ended up with it – I think they fought the biodroid at some point. Amazingly, once she reaches this section the wounds in #11 are totally healed and she’s back to normal. Was it nanomachines? Was she a droid? Were the bullets only set to stun? If you know the answer, please don’t bother telling me – I don’t care.

Then there’s a whole bunch of running around and badly lit action scenes with the Gunhed plus Nim shooting the biodroid. If you’re disappointed by the photos I’ve got, it’s because every action shot in the film was poorly lit and so close you couldn’t see anything. Obviously done to cut costs, since flashy edits of nothing happening can make it look like action.

This is exactly what it looks like.

During a showdown with the biodroid, Babe, who appears trapped in some kind of dimension of fuzzy TV static, pulls the pin out of a grenade on her belt and, back in the real world, the biodroid disappears in a flash of light. Nope, I have no ****ing idea what happened there either. The biodroid didn’t pull the pin, it was just her, in another world, somehow connected.

With all bad guys dead we finally get a kissing scene between Nim and the main guy. All two seconds of it.

“This means we’re going to have sex later, right?”

Does this mean you two are our new mommy and daddy?

The happy ending. I don’t know what young number 7 is seeing in this shot, but crikey the boy seems happy to be seeing it. My guess: is it boobs? Either that or the golden arches of McDonalds. It’s probably boobs.

And now for our ending bonus:
The Credits, which I uploaded to Youtube. The main theme sounds like something from Panzer Dragoon, with drums and eerie percussion, and then it suddenly switches to a J-Pop song. Come on everyone, sing along even if you don’t know the lyrics.


  1. another great post from sketcz...

  2. >first came the manga by Kia Asamiya, which resulted in creation of the film, upon which the game was then based.

    If I remember right, first came the script by a guy who came second place in a contest in 1986 by Toho to write the next Godzilla flick (The winning script was Godzilla vs Biolante). The folks at Toho liked the idea (G vs a giant robot), so they had some other guy re-write the script to make it an original IP. Apparently the writer wasn't really that proud of the work since the name "Alan Smithee" appears with a writers credit.

    If you didn't like the movie, I'd suggest you should hunt down the manga adaptation by Asamiya Kia. It makes much more sense and even has plot points that were deleted from the film. And best of all, no football crowd cheering.

    Heck, after a quick search, I found a place where you can read it:

  3. I got the german DVD some time ago. It's one of those movies that are so bad they're good^^
    Does anybody knows where to find infos about the Famicom game though?

  4. There was also a Gunhed RPG for the Famicom. My buddy ordered a copy thinking he was finding another version of the shooter and was disappointed. I'm not sure of its quality but text was all in Japanese.

  5. Thanks for the link to the manga and info on the Famicom game... Seems like this should be an official HG101 article, covering the far-reaching franchise...

  6. Visually, this looks amazing! Also "Gunhed" is an awesome name for an industrial band.

  7. What's interesting is that the Japanese Virtual Console and PSN rereleases have the American name instead (although the PSN description still refers to the ship as the Gunhed Star Fighter)

    Also, that movie looks awesomely bad.

  8. Just found a site with some pictures of the other Gunhed game for the Famicom that vysethebold mentioned up there. It's full name is Gunhed Aratanaru Tatakai. Apparently it's not an RPG, but a strategy game.

    A nice Gunhed retrospective:

  9. Funny that, a few day after reading this post, I have found the ADV Films dvd release for a cheap 5$ at a local video rental store. And I can confirm, at the back of the box, "Directed by Alan Smithee"(and James Bannon, but still).

    Can't wait to sit down and watch this thing now. :)

  10. Oddly enough, industrial band Front Line Assembly "borrowed" footage from Gunhed in their "Mindphaser" video, and it works in a fun, cheesy way.

  11. That looks amazingly colorful for a spectrum, how did they manage to do that?
    Why is this entry on these crappy products so incredibly awesome?

    My god, I finally understand the appeal behind B-movies.