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String Fling

[whitespace] Six-String Samurai Have Guitar, Will Travel: Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon) romps the Elvis-besotted future of 'Six-String Samurai.'

The irony drips, but the action zips in ultra-low-budget 'Six-String Samurai'

By Michelle Goldberg

LANCE MUNGIA'S debut film, Six-String Samurai, begs for high-concept hyperbole--Mad Max as directed by Jim Jarmusch! El Mariachi meets Ingmar Bergman! George Romero's remake of Kolya with a rockabilly soundtrack! Six-String Samurai takes decades of film geek fetishes and hipster obsessions and compacts them into a comic, campy postapocalyptic rock & roll kung-fu fairy tale filmed against the shimming, surreal desertscape of Death Valley.

The film is set in a parallel universe in which WWIII happened in 1957 and the Russians won. The only outpost of Americanism left is Las Vegas, where the recently deceased Elvis ruled as king for 40 years. As the action begins, rock & roll warriors from across the battered country are making pilgrimages through the desert to try to take his place.

Among the contenders is our hero, Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon)--a laconic, finger-popping samurai swordsman and Buddy Holly lookalike with a six-string guitar and a ratty tuxedo. A mute little urchin (Justin McGuire) attaches himself to Buddy after Buddy saves his life. Together, they face the Red Army ("I'd skin you alive for a six-pack, Americanski!"), a cannibalistic (post)nuclear family, a trio of bald, bowling-shirt-clad troglodyte assassins and various other Thunderdome-style thugs--not to mention death itself, Bergman's grim reaper re-imagined as the frontman of an '80s hair band with a Darth Vader voice. Through it all, the Red Elvises, a Russian-born surf band, provide the psycho soundtrack (and make a cameo, rocking out with hammers and sickles on their guitars).

Clearly intended for those who like massive doses of irony with their action, Six-String Samurai skimps on dialogue and character in favor of intricately choreographed action scenes and smart-ass humor. Mungia doesn't seem to expect you to care about the ways in which the kid melts Buddy's icy heart. Buddy has about 10 lines total, and the kid does little more than emit ear-splitting screeches.

This is a cult film just waiting for art-school acolytes, a meta-B-movie that requires a certain amount of distance in its audience. But if Six-String Samurai often seems like a prolonged joke, at least the joke is a good one. The ridiculous red-baiting is particularly funny. There's something inherently hilarious about the solemn detritus of Soviet socialism, and it's liberating to see filmmakers mock the stereotype of Russian villainy. The grim reaper's henchmen even call their master "comrade death."

The action sequences are amazingly well done for such a microbudget project, filled with a combination of acrobatic grace and "hiyah!" kung-fu madness. The credit surely goes to Falcon, who studied martial arts in Asia and has appeared in 17 Hong Kong action films and a 40-part Chinese TV series.

As far as fight scenes go, Six-String Samurai is a more satisfying tribute to Cantonese cinema than American-directed Hollywood fare like The Replacement Killers. Still, as much as the mythic plot and virtuoso action, it's the layers of pastiche and the postmodern game of spot-the-reference that make Six-String Samurai much more entertaining than most of its straight-to-video brethren.

Six-String Samurai (91 minutes; PG-13), directed by Lance Mungia, written by Mungia and Jeffrey Falcon, photographed by Kristian Bernier and starring Jeffrey Falcon and Justin McGuire.

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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