Jungle Heat (1985)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 8, 2010  | 
Moonstone | All Regions, PAL | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 Mono | 86 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jobic Wong
Starring: Sam Jones, Christopher Doyle, Bobby Ming, Craig Scott Galper, Chin Fang
Screenplay: Bobby Ming, Jobic Wong
Country: Hong Kong
External Links
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I'm by no means the world's biggest fan of Vietnam War themed movies, or returned vet goes crazy-eight bonkers and gets up to mischief with his M-60 films. To me in the 80s that simply was cheap character motivation and lazy cinematic shorthand. Missing In Action, First Blood and the like – silly fun at best, but nothing to get all excited about. Then of course, the exploitation industry started getting involved, and the movies started becoming more and grimier, sleazier (hello, Combat Shock), more gratuitous, sillier, more over-the-top, or more generally ludicrous, and it worked in their favour. Damn logic and the gritty social realism of films like The Deer Hunter – full speed ahead! And on that note, welcome to Jungle Heat.

Right from the get-go, you just know this film is going to be very, very silly. We're at the end of the Vietnam War (the dodgily inserted stock footage told me so), the Americans are about to pull out and two amazingly overacting US soldiers, one of whom is played by Sam Jones (that's right kids, Flash Gordon himself – and he's playing a character here also named Gordon – talk about type-casting…) are sending some troops on what they know from the start is a suicide mission. The acting is sub-soap opera, every speech a declamation, accompanied by arms flailing like windmills and the kind of delivery you'd get in an amateur dramatics presentation of Hamlet. Anyway, Gordon's got reservations about sending his buddy Nguyen on such a mission, but our loyal Vietnamese friend is following orders and gathers a whole bunch of civilians together and takes them off to be trained to be soldiers in a ridiculously short period of time.

Ahh, but give our boy Gordon three weeks and he's turned our cookie-dough civvies into slightly less cookie-dough soldiers. I do wonder if three weeks is how long the US wait before dishing out hand grenades and bazookas to recruits, but I digress. An extended montage (that staple of the action film) later, and it seems that training climaxes with a bit of a rally with jeeps, accompanied by a score more than vaguely reminiscent of The A-Team. At this point, nearly a quarter of the way through the running time of the film, I was kinda watching with mild interest only, the initial guffaws at the dreadful acting of the Captain had calmed to mild titters at the predictable capers and weak attempts at goofball humour. Where's the action, I kept asking myself. After having stalled badly at about the 20 minute mark, interest started to wane somewhat. More hi-jinks ensue, there's a brief run-in with a Vietcong farmer who looked about as much of a threat as Kermit the Frog, an interlude in a girly-bar, and Nguyen, who has enormous 70s disco hair, and whose moustache seems to appear and disappear with a frightening regularity, is told that his men lack discipline (another action film staple – this film does tick off most of those boxes before it's over, let me tell you). This of course is underscored by our fellas getting into a good old-fashioned barroom brawl in said girly-bar. Watch the lip-synching at this point, it's outrageously bad.

Now the fall-out from the brawl isn't as straight-forward as you might think, and this would the moment where my interest snapped straight back in. Up until this point, this was just another action film, and not a particularly well-made one. Nothing much to recommend it, bar the presence of a washed up actor (schadenfreude has a lot to answer for) – but when some of our guys are kidnapped and bushwhacked by some real arseholes – then things get a little more nasty, and a whole lot more bizarre. Dragged into a barn, tied up and doused with oil in a pit, the arseholes set a rat on fire and let it loose in the pit. If you bet on whoever doesn't get burned alive before the rat dies, you're the winner. Folks who have problems with animal cruelty be warned – it's a real rat.

Eventually our heroes get to go on the mission for which they've been trained for, which as far as I can see involves just driving trucks on dirt roads through VC territory – we don't know what they're carrying, and we're never told why they're driving there. But it isn't as easy as all that. The convoy is ambushed by the Vietcong, and badness is about to feature in the immediate future of our heroes (and despite the presence of Jones, and the images on the front cover of the DVD box, it ain't the white guys, let me assure you, it's the Vietnamese). And what badness – read this and tell me you don't want to see this film immediately and have hot and sweaty sex with it: our boys are taken prisoner by the VC, and are forced to watch as the leader of the bad guys (who looks kinda like a fat Vietnamese Lemmy) has a traitor buried in sand up to the neck, uses a scalpel to slice from the front of the guy's forehead to the base of his skull, pours acid into the wound, which makes the dude literally jump out of his fucking skin! Okay, so the director lost me with his slow pacing earlier on, but man, did he get my attention back immediately with that one directorial masterstroke. Holy shit! Even thinking about it makes me want to applaud. Just on that pacing issue, can I just say that from the point where the guys get on the trucks, the film seems different somehow – the pacing picks up sharply, there seems to be less padding and the tone shifts suddenly, too. Oh, it's still more or less an action/comedy with some grisly bits, but it seems like the director was waiting to get to this bit to really jump-start his film. A shame he had to wait over half an hour to do so.

But it must be said in this film's defence, from this moment on, it does not let up. Our boys escape, due to Nguyen's willingness to split his hands open following being crucified (kind of), and return to Saigon to find that the Americans, minus Gordon, are fucking off, seeing that the war is soon to be over. They're pissed off at having been used by the Yanks as a diversion, but boy, do they want revenge against the VC, especially after they get bushwhacked again in the middle of VC territory (you'd think they'd learn) and one of their number has been captured. It's now not just a matter of survival; these guys want some payback as their raggedy-arsed crew start getting picked off one-by-one. The action aspect of the film has really picked up by this point, which is where the synopsis leaves you, amidst a welter of explosions, gunfire, awful dubbing, more trips back to the girly bar and plenty more war movie clichés. And in the totally outrageous last twenty minutes expect deaths by all kinds of means dealt out in all kinds of low budget ways. It's a veritable kitchen sink film by that point, and all the better for it. Enjoy!
This looks terrible, which is a shame, because it's probably the best picture for Jungle Heat that you're likely to get. When viewed on a 4:3 display it seems to have been compressed from a widescreen presentation, kind of like if you grabbed the sides of the screen and tried to push them together. The problem here isn't so much pan'n'scan, just not changing the focus point of the camera, so that characters who are talking are left out of shot, characters get killed beyond the frame; basically, we get a whole bunch of stuff left out of the picture. I'm no video snob, but it ain't good. Further, the picture looks quite washed out as well. If people are going to release what are obviously films with a cult appeal, they could at least give them a polish, you'd think, so that the target audience would actually buy them. Cutting down on the speckle and grain would also have been appreciated. So would removal of the more than occasional lines crossing the screen, and at one point towards the end of the film, the dirty great big hair at the bottom of the picture.
Terrible. Harsh, shrill, tinny and poorly EQed to begin with, it's either deafeningly loud or incoherently mumbled.
Extra Features
There's the original trailer (all four spoilertastic minutes of it), which oddly has a totally different English dub track (the dialogue and voices are different), and even more oddly appears to be in the OAR, which the film itself on this disc is very obviously not. And that's all you get.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The first half an hour or so I thought was pretty ordinary, then it kinda sorta picked up in the next half an hour, but by the last twenty-five minutes or so, I was loving it. A low budget film that doesn't know what it wants to be until the blood starts flowing and people literally leap out of their skins, Jungle Heat is no-one's idea of a lost classic, but it is definitely my idea of a highly entertaining piece of trash cinema. Violent deaths, big explosions, atrociously bad dialogue and weapons-grade dubbing - it all adds up to a whale of a time.

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