[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]
[Editor’s note: this is our original review of the film from the Los Angeles Film Festival. Alec’s blurb follows at the end.]
Karate-Robo Zaborgar is another entry in the fine, upstanding tradition of Japanese films that go absolutely balls out with weirdness. This is a film that features cyborg/human sex, dinosaur tits and ass (and not in the way you’d think), a massive female robot destroying Tokyo, and a man in a wheelchair lighting his farts to take flight.
Do I really need to tell you that this movie is awesome?
Secret Police member Yutaka Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) controls the greatest robotic achievement known to man: the robot warrior Zaborgar. Zaborgar battles evil with array of funky gadgets and can also turn into a motorcycle. Along with Daimon’s peerless karate skills, they fight the evil cyborg organization Sigma, who kidnaps Japanese leaders to use their DNA to create their giant killer robot. Fighting for Sigma is the mysterious Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki), who slowly realizes her strange feelings for Daimon. The film also features a group of ex-cops determined to save the world by smiling, appropriately named the League of Smiles, and a series of ridiculous evil robots and cyborgs. My favorite was the bug-like Acid-Spewing Diarrhea Robot.
If I had to describe this movie in two words? Batshit insane. There is an almost maniacal glee to every ridiculous, anime-inspired cut and shot. The protagonist makes bizarre karate poses while he effortlessly fights dozens of faceless henchmen (watch out to see that basically none of the punches look like they connect). Zaborgar has a whole slew of ridiculous attacks and poses, including a tiny car that comes out of his feet.
The bad guys get just as much fun stuff to work with. Each cyborg henchman has a different gimmick. One has a drill hand, another is dressed like an Apache Indian. My favorite, the uncomfortably-named King Africa, has what appears to be two ping pong balls on top of his eyes that emit a slow-moving ray that explodes your face. A female robot talks on her cellphone, which emits energy that makes everyone’s heads explode in a big cloud of dust. I’m relatively sure I wasn’t on acid while watching this. When the female football player showed up and dinosaur heads came out of her breasts, I was fully willing to admit that someone had spiked my drink
While the film relies fairly heavily on CGI in large parts, there is a real effort to use a lot of practical effects, harkening back to the film’s roots as a television show in the 1970s. And let me tell you, many of the practical effects are cheesy and poorly-done to the point of ludicrousness. I mentioned the guy with ping pong ball eyes, right? He’s not even the worst offender.
The film embraces the weird spirit of the original television show and doles out a surprisingly hilarious comedy. Much of the humor comes from the ridiculously over-the-top situations, dialogue, and character design, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the the comedic skills of the entire cast, without exception, are absolutely fantastic. There’s not a single character that doesn’t provide at least one good belly laugh. That’s rare to find in any comedy these days.
Sadly, the film isn’t perfect. The first hour speeds along like a crazy person carrying a handgun, but the film’s second part drags a great deal leading up to the final battles. The film jumps forward a certain amount of time, so the new status quo needs to be established. Necessary, yes, but it absolutely murders the pacing. It’s a shame, because the final battle between good and evil features one of the craziest set pieces I’ve seen in recent memory.
You may not be able to see Karate-Robo Zaborgar in theaters in the near future, but I have the feeling this film could make a wonderful addition to the time honored tradition of the midnight movie. It’s cheap looking, full of zeal, bugfuck insane, and easily some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.
Jenika Katz: From the title alone, you can tell that Karate-Robo Zaborgar is going to be interesting. A film about a karate master and his half-motorcycle robot companion who have to fight an evil corporation that live on top of a giant floating ball sack? Yes, please! This movie does not take itself seriously in the slightest, and the enemies and fight sequences were so over-the-top that I rarely stopped laughing. Seriously, one of the enemies is Acid-Spewing Diarrhea Robot. That’s his name. He does just what you think he does. The practical effects are pretty well-done considering the source material, and while CG is used often, it is just just as delightfully cheesy as the rest, and blends very smoothly. My only real criticism is that the movie drags a bit before the final major fight, but that’s a small price to pay for the rest of the experience. If this is showing in theaters near you, see it immediately and bring all your friends. 84 – Great
Alec Kubas-Meyer:Equal parts political satire, heartwarming story of familial redemption, and robot-karate-super-fest, Karate-Robo Zaborgar is the closest thing you will ever see to a live-action anime. It is easily the most ridiculous film I have ever seen, and it needs to be seen to be believed. I have only one complaint, though it is rather large, which is about the quality of the CGI. A surprising amount of the film is not CGI, and these are the moments where the film really shines, showing that some awesome effects can still be done without the use of computers. Unfortunately, the CGI shifts between terrible and well-done constantly, which proves to be hugely distracting when things get heated. Don’t let that deter you from seeing it, however, because Karate-Robo Zaborgar is an unforgettable experience. Highly recommended. 83 – Great