DIRECTOR: James Hong & William â€œBillâ€ RiceÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
SCREENPLAY: James Marlowe & Douglas Kondo
STARRING: James Hong, Michael Wong, Sherri Ball, Karen Witter, Cheryl Lawson
CERTIFICATE: 18Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
RUN TIME: About 90 Mins too longÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
STYLING: AVANTI, from C&A
Reviewed by Guy Adams
When I was younger, I lived three doors down from a corner shop. Thatâ€™s the sort of planning you make when youâ€™ve just left theatre school and plan on spending the next couple of years being poor, subsisting off biscuits and cheap vodka.
It was run by a brilliant young Turkish guy who was desperate to please. He talked so much, buying your cigarette papers and Happy Shopper sliced white was the job of an hour. He had also picked up the singular English trait of conveying luxury on things that didn’t deserve it. This is something I can often be accused of when it comes to films, but he would apply it to everything. Stroking the label of a budget can of beans, in awe of the day they took the culinary leap forward of shoving hot dogs in them.
Not being terribly successful as an actor, I would often have friends round to watch movies and get drunk. What did I care about getting up in the morning? My palate was never blessed by my wallet. Thankfully, my budget vintner knew how rich I was and was only too happy to try and make the best of things.
“This is very nice,” he would say, picking up the cheapest wine by far. Only available in litre bottles with a plain label offering nothing more than two words of text. “Vin Rouge,” he read, nodding and looking into space as if consulting his inner catalogue of vintages, “I think it’s a French wine.”
I’d usually buy two bottles, because, like all barely tolerable alcohol, you needed to drink the first in order to enjoy the second.
THE VINEYARD, however, never quite loses its acidic quality. Clearly something of a vanity project for actor James Hong (most famous at this point for playing the villain in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA but an actor with a career far exceeding that jolly slice of John Carpenter hokum). He stars and co-directs. He also dances, but letâ€™s not go into that.
As regular readers know I tend to avoid discussions of plot. Just as well as it would be something of a challenge in this case. it concerns Hong’s efforts to combine science and mysticism to create a wine that confers immortal life. I’d happily champion such a noble cause but it’s hard to focus what with all the Rampant Awfulness cluttering up the place. We have zombies (no idea why); ancient Gods; impromptu Kung Fu; acupuncture; a male lead that I could spend all day punching and never grow tired; a predatory German in makeup; Prominent Iguanas; the sort of prosthetics my old corner shop chum would have sold on a rack for Halloween; a cavalier attitude to longbow stringing (they find great success with the pull-cord from a light); gleeful castration; a dead python and a cast so uniformly awful Iâ€™m agog at the effort undertaken to gather them all in one movie.
Interestingly, Hong now spends a great deal of time working as an acting coach. Which is fine (in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king and he comes out of this looking like Olivier). If he sets up a film-making school though we should take steps.
The whole thing is just about salvageable as an exercise in awfulness — I canâ€™t be the only one that watches films this terrible with a happy heart, feeling I have achieved something momentous by surviving until the (neon green, naturally) end credits — but I would be a liar if I tried to convince you it was anything more than rancid plonk.
Arrow present it with gleeful honesty as part of their budget ArrowDrome label. No extras, naturally, though a silent making of with the cast simply staring at the camera and shrugging would have been a nice addition.
THE VINEYARD is the sort of movie homeless reviewers carry around with them in a brown paper bag. If you have the endurance to enjoy it as such, by all means pop its cork.