|Image courtesy of VHSWasteland.com|
Directed by: Teddy Page
Category: Cult Cinema
I'll be honest, I have only recently heard of this film. But in the world cult cinema, this thing is apparently really well known. I just can't believe I hadn't heard about it until now.
It seems that pretty much outta nowhere I've been reading reviews left and right on this thing in filmgeek blogs all over the world in the past few weeks. You can check out a review from my buddy Ty over at Comeuppance Reviews here and another great review over at Explosive Action here. So naturally, I had to get my hands on a copy and check it out. And let me tell you, it was not easy. For some reason, this has never been released on DVD and the only version available, at least from what I've found, is a Japanese VHS in English with Japanese subtitles. Not even an American VHS release as of this date, and we're talking 24 years later people. So if you ever get your hands on a copy, it'll most likely be from this Japanese VHS release, though it is in Widescreen which is an added bonus.
Phantom Soldiers pretty much defied all my expectations from the get go and despite some of the most atrocious acting I've seen in a movie in a long while, the structure, tone and most importantly the action sequences really make this film stand out from the crowd.
Almost every single review I read mainly talks about how incredible the opening sequence of this film is, and they are all right. The way that this opening sequence was shot and how brutal it is pretty much tells you that this is not your average shot-in-the-Philippines war movie, of which there are aplenty. It's stylish as hell, tense and with enough explosions to rival "any" Craig R. Baxley flick. I've never seen so many exploding huts in my life! But you know what? In all honesty, I found at least two other sequences in here that were just as good if not better as that opening sequence, most notably the attack of the Vietcong on the U.S. base in the middle of the film. Sure it didn't feature the Phantom Soldiers in it, but it was a really badass and well executed battle scene, as were a number of other ones throughout the film. I doubt 10 or 15 minutes went by without a fire fight, explosion of some sort or a full on battle sequence. It was just crazy how many there were in this film.
Texas Ranger Daniel Custer discovers that his brother Michael, a green beret, has gone missing after investigating a series of massacres at the hands of an elite group of soldiers known as the Phantom Soldiers. These Phantom Soldiers have been destroying entire villages with no apparent motive or reason and killing everybody in there path including women and children. These soldiers are sadistic in there carnage and once Custer discovers that his brother might have fallen victim to these mysterious Phantom Soldiers, he uses every means necessary to get to Vietnam to find out the truth and stop these mysterious soldiers.
Now I'm not trying to oversell this thing by implying that it's the best war movie ever made or anything like that, because it's not...far from it. But in the world of shot-in-the-Philippines low budget combat films, it kicks all kinds of serious ass!
But that's "if" you can get past the laughably horrible acting. With the exception of lead Max Thayer, the rest of the cast is so awful that I even wonder, especially in the case of the Russian cook, if some of it was horrible on purpose. I just cannot believe that that guy delivered those lines like that on purpose with a straight face. But that's just me. The movie's dubbed, but you can tell Thayer did his own dub work because nobody can do a southern Texas drawl like he can, but I honestly could not tell if they just got other actors to do the voices for the remaining cast or if they did there own dub because it's so gawd awful and hysterical.
Max Thayer was a complete badass though. Playing the lone Texas Ranger he just seems so out of place and a fish out of water in almost every scene, yet he can handle any situation thrown at him whether it's a bar fight in a strip club or single-handedly taking down an entire Vietcong army. The guy just rules. Especially when delivering philosophical words of wisdom like these two gems that immediately stand out more than any others:
Bad Guy: How come you always seem to find me wherever I go?
Custer: The same reason you stop for an empty gun.......you're stupid.
And my favorite!
Custer: You know what follows testicle in the dictionary son? It's testify!
This guy is classic!
Phantom Soldiers was directed by Teddy Page, who I'd never heard of before and who apparently goes by at least 7 different aliases when directing movies. His birth name is Teddy Chiu, but goes by Irvin Johnson, Teddy Page and Ted Hemingway for different projects to name a few. Not sure why though. It looks like he was pretty active in the 80's all the way through the mid 90's before he stopped directing altogether in '99. Most of it looks like a few other combat films and some martial arts stuff and most, if not all, shot in the Philippines. With this film though, you definitely see a raw talent. He rarely ever reverts to hand-held bullshit, and considering the fact that most of it is filmed in the hot jungle, it's pretty amazing. It's apparent right from the beginning that this guy digs dolly shots and god bless him for that. He takes his time, sets up a shot and whether it's of an entire village being decimated by the Phantom Soldiers or Custer infiltrating the enemies camp, it's all done really well in Anamorphic Widescreen and looks beautiful. The way he shot this thing, I could not imagine having had to watch it in Full Frame. That's not how he shot it and it would have cut at least half of the picture out.
I know there's a whole genre out there with these shot-in-the-Philippines combat films that I have yet to delve into and from what I've read so far, this one is pretty top of the line stuff compared to most. Competently directed with an incredible amount of action to distract you from the bad acting. And the design of it all is pretty sick too. Those Phantom Soldiers attacking villages in there body armor and gas masks is a truly terrifying scene to behold and coming up with this particular look for the soldiers was just pure genius. I mean, look at that cover! Badass!!
This film certainly peaked my interest in trying to further explore this whole genre. I've never really seen any before this one and I can only hope that some of them are at least half as decent as this one. I can't believe that this film came out 24 years ago, the same year Predator came out in theaters. It's almost unbelievable when I think about it. Something so damn good and nearly hidden for a quarter of a century from the film-going public, and filmgeeks especially. It's a true travesty and one that we all hope one day get's corrected. More people need to know about this film and it needs to become available in a proper DVD release, bad acting, dubbing and all.
If you ever get a chance to see this incredible little combat film, see it..........it's that good.