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The Sidewalks of Bangkok
(Les trottoirs de Bangkok, 1984)

Jean Rollin


85 min, color, French (English subtitles)

Review © 2005 Branislav L. Slantchev

This is not the worst Rollin film (the horrendously unwatchable Bacchanales Sexuelles is, at least if only count non-porn fare), but it does make a credible bid for the privilege. Financially, however, it is one of his most successful. This film has a stupid "detective" story that any imbecile can follow (I hear it has something to do with classics of the genre or some such nonsense), but that's not why the audiences seem to have enjoyed this trashy offering. It is, I am sad to say, the off-putting totally gratuitous and inartistic sleaze that emanates non-stop from the very start.

How to get artsy camera angle Deathgram delivered, smiles free

"What?" I hear you say. "You object to beautiful women running around naked, totting submachine guns and butcher knives?" Of course not, I have not flipped out yet. I do, however, object to the utter anti-erotic stupidity that this sexploitation flick represents. There is nothing wrong with depicting all sorts of depravities, at least in my book. But I tend to find some of these acts off-putting. Combine this with gleeful amateurishness in directing, acting that would put an Ed Wood film light years ahead, and ill-conceived---but brilliantly executed---misogyny, and you have yourself a film that I would rather soon forget.

Yoko as the "innocent" night-club entertainer Full body massage (illegal outside Thailand)

The so-called story is preposterous, but I have seen worse, so I won't be dwelling much on that. Basically, a French Secret Service agent by the name of Rick (Gerard Landry, who should have known better and who died soon after making this film, I believe of unrelated causes) is shot by Jean Rollin in a cameo. His buddy Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou) retrieves his "last film" from the camera on the body (which, incidentally, is more of a morte-vivante than dead, seeing that it's blinking and all). On this film (hooray for stock footage of Bangkok), there are desultory shots of the beautiful Eva (traditional Thai name) played by Yoko (who is, in fact, Japanese but speaks passable French).

Shady deals in shadowy clubs Not Uhura's dance

Naturally, the FSS concludes that Eva has what Rick was killed for, a vial of some deadly substance that would kill an entire city if released. (I am not aware that any such substance can exist even in theory, but let's run with the cliche.) Just when they finalize their plans to fly to Bangkok and locate Eva, who conveniently for this sleazefest works in a brothel, a brunette and a freckled red-hair storm into the FSS apartment (?), shoot some nameless dude and retrieve the film canister, glossing over the many logical problems with the sequences including, but not limited to, actually knowing exactly where the film is and timing their entrance precisely when nobody else is around. So now the evil syndicate, which is run by the nearly-mummified Brigitte De Borghese (who also graced the other howler mentioned above), is also looking for Eva. Since the cash-strapped FSS cannot afford to take the first flight out of Paris, the syndicate ends up getting to Eva first.

Gratuitous shot of Yoko TSA training video

They do concoct some pretty elaborate and totally useless plot to derail the FSS so that Claudine (Francoise Blanchard, who also should have known better, at least enough to insist on having her hairdo restyled) can arrange for Eva to get whisked away on board of a cargo ship and smuggled into France. It is not at all clear why they need all of this scheming when the owner of Eva's brothel seems to be willing to do pretty much everything for $100 and a knife to his throat. Anyway, Claudine has some nameless schmuck murdered and then pretends to be his wife when Roger, the FSS agent, arrives. She takes him to the night-club where they pretend that Eva is nowhere to be found. (She is, in fact, in the opium den, but that's another story.)

Paying the trip fare This is where the script was seen last

It is during this visit that the film comes out of the closet and reveals itself for exactly what it is: a sexploitation flick of such self-indulgence that I heard Jess Franco optioned it several times but was ashamed to make it. First, we are exposed to a nearly interminable "dance" by a topless Eva. I put the word dance in quotes for a reason: Yoko is about as graceful as a wounded elephant. She slides across the floor, writhes, makes funny faces, but all of this cannot conceal the fact that she has spades for legs and is as balanced as a drunk sailor. It does not matter how much red light Rollin bathes the scene in, it still sucks. Worse, it's boring.

Even rape has its limits Back when cell phones were cool

Rollin must not have been impressed with the dance number either, for he next spices it up by having another Asian girl dance nude. This time around, her moves at least resemble Thai dances but the nudity makes it all look weird. When I was beginning to wonder why we are looking at full minutes of that, I got the answer: same girl did a full-body massage of a white guy, who later turns out to be Captain Bruissu who will be smuggling Eva on his ship. Well, I guess that gives some sort of connection to the scene although there is very little that is more repulsive that seeing a beautiful young woman rub a middle-aged man with her body. (If they're gonna have sexploitation, I insist on good-looking men as well!)

NRA Holiday Special Europeans look so... HUGE

Whereas these scenes can be excused somewhat because of the characters being sort of connected to the story, the sequence with the women mud wrestlers is unadulterated gratuitous appeal to the prurient interests, although I have to say my prurient interests run in a decidedly more hygienic direction. Basically, we have to watch two women all covered in mud slug it out in a ring to the cheering shouts of predominantly male spectators. These two engage in a some-holds-barred but almost-all-flesh-bared contest, and when it is over, the film cuts back to resume the unrelated story. Yep, absolutely no reason for this entire thing to be in here expect to give someone an erection, and since it did not work for me, I felt cheated. Ah, but we're not done with the nudity just yet. Back in the club, we see a black woman dance full unclothed, and although there was actually some grace to her, she also does not appear later in the film. Ditto for the topless blonde who "danced" under the bored gaze of club patrons who included plenty of women.

Feminist fantasies Most convincing when not speaking

This basically wastes more than half of the film. Then Eva is smuggled out of Thailand (whose port has a distinctly French look), has to pay her fare the only way a money-less beautiful girl can, and is then forced to swim ashore, hide in a cargo train (where some French twit attempts to rape her but gets another airhole in his throat for his trouble), and finally run from a dog unleashed by the FSS. In all of this nobody seems to wonder just where on her small body tightly clad in a skin-clinging skirt without pockets Eva could have concealed the vial. I had begun to wonder when she undressed to pay for her trip. So it came as no surprise that when Claudine finally met up with her in France, the evil syndicate was left high and dry on account of Eva only having a photo of Rick, which does not seem to be as dangerous of a biological hazard as the chemical agent.

Not to be confused with porn Voyeuristic closeup of torture

Claudine then falls in love with Eva, at least that's what we're told later. She tries to help her but the syndicate gets them both. Eva is chained (naked, of course) in a basement, where the brunette (Florence) proceeds to whip her (what is it with Rollin and whipping chained women, as in Requiem for a Vampire and Rape of the Vampire). Before cracking the whip, however, Florence manages to fuck some guard while on duty, which almost results in Eva's escape. Unfortunately for Eva, Florence thwarts that attempt by getting up, pulling a gun, and then seductively rubbing its barrel while her freckled companion apprehends the almost-fugitive. Then the whipping begins, complete with close-ups of Eva moaning. As if this was not enough to get an S&M aficionado wet his/her underpants, the Madame gets herself worked up from watching it on a TV monitor and orders one of the underlings to lie over her. Meanwhile, a bunch of FSS agents who were left for surely about to die, do not surely die when they are supposed to although they do die a few minutes later. The whole subplot reveals that Eva has been the hapless victim of her affection for Rick, which is interesting considering that she also confesses to have fallen in love with Claudine. Unfortunately, that particular relationship never comes to fruition because Claudine is shot in the stomach, which makes hugging really messy.

Gratuitous ugly nakedness The way things ought to be

Absolutely no redeeming qualities for this film, I am afraid. The DVD is actually pretty good picture-wise although the presentation is full-frame. Film, however, seems to be open-matte so no apparent pan-and-scanning is in evidence. The mono French soundtrack is muffled but you're not missing much (even the music was awful), and the bright English subtitles manage to convey the entire lack of subtlety in the dialogue. A decent presentation that makes it clear just how bad the film is. This one should be avoided by Rollin fans. Those who don't like the director are welcome to feast their prejudices on this film which can validate them.

December 17, 2005