(No, I’m not talking about God here, though there could be elements of that as well.)
While we in ‘the West’ tend to avoid ascribing ideas like Fate and Karma to random events, I’ve read that folks in ‘the East’ see some of these otherworldly influences at play with great consistency. The spirits are always up to something, or the great god of the mountain is making it rain together. Life is vastly more mystical than a meaningless series of unrelated events between life and birth, and we’re touched and affected and influenced by life forces well beyond our own in daily pursuits. I don’t pretend to understand all of these cultural differences, nor would I consider myself an expert in any way on East/West differences; but I can say that – having seen a good deal of film from China, Korea, and Japan, it’s easy to identify how some storytellers incorporate spirituality into their scripts in ways U.S. films by comparison simply ignore.
Still, I didn’t expect to get even a small dose of such mysticism like I did in the weird cop/comedy The Blue Jean Monster (1991). Though one piece or two might seem small and/or inconsequential, they still show a cultural trait working its way into what would otherwise be a mundane moment or two; and this gives an otherwise forgettable feature a bit of extra flavor those watching closely might appreciate. Ultimately, that may not help make this Monster one for the history books – as it’s otherwise a bit too looney and predictable – but it still more than adequately shows that even zombies won’t enter the afterlife quietly without achieving one’s spiritual goals.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A cop gets buried under steel rebars while pursuing triad bank robbers through a construction site. He gets reanimated supernaturally and becomes invulnerable, but needs electricity to remain alive, and goes after the gang who killed him.”
Directed by Kai-Ming Lai (aka Ivan Lai), it’s an uneven procedural that tries to mix some downright silly antics at times with themes of the supernatural alongside a light buddy-cop story that dishes some theatrical violence in the last reel. According to IMDB.com, screenwriter Kam-Hung Ng doesn’t have a great deal of work to his name – with only four screen credits, this one appears to be his last and crowning achievement – so it’s equally hard to measure what other ideas could’ve been front-and-center of the creator’s mind to make sense of some deficiencies. The film never tries to hammer at any central messages; in fact, even the inclusion of its very low-brow humor might suggest a bit of laziness went into the whole affair.
It isn’t uncommon for film output around the world to be influenced by popular flicks of the day, and I’m left wondering if that isn’t the central problem with Monster: at times, it feels as if bits and pieces of influence were cobbled together by a screenwriter and director in order to make something that felt all too similar to another (vastly more successful) picture. Naturally, the hope would be to duplicate the box office success that some other creative team achieved; but without knowing more of what went into the making of the film I can only suspect that was the case here. Stranger things have happened.
Tsu Hsiang (played by popular Chinese actor Fui-On Shing) is a cop living his life and career to the fullest. He’s about to be blessed with the birth of his first child when Fate throws him a cruel twist: while in pursuit of a gang of bank robbers, he’s struck down in a horrific accident that leaves him buried under a small mountain of steel. But the life force of a stray cat – along with a strike of lightning – reanimates this force of justice, turning him into a modern-day Frankenstein who’ll stop at nothing to both witness the birth of his child and bringing the crooks who caused his ‘death’ to their own grisly ends.
So … one needn’t go to a great deal of work to see the rather obvious influences at work in that short parade of ideas.
Clearly, there’s a callback to the original Frankenstein, and one might even see the power of lightning as giving life or even twisting Fate as it was thematically used in Robert Zemeckis’ stellar Back To The Future trilogy. There’s even a cult(ish) cop comedy from the late 1980’s – Dead Heat – that deals specifically with an officer of the law brought back from the dead to see his mission completed. (In fact, the product packaging suggests the flick was conceived as a Hong Kong incarnation of that picture, an odd one to copy as I’m not sure how well-known it was around the world much less at the box office.) But Hollywood and beyond do love to seize on what’s been done before, to bend it, to reshape it, and deliver something derivative; and it’s fair to see the work and ideas of others trying to chart similar narrative paths here.
What resonates more strongly with Monster than other moments is the fact that Tsu over and over again insists he must survive to see the birth of his child. As much as he remains steadfast in his pursuit of those criminals who led to his demise, he’s equally insistent upon staying alive to experience the joy of his legacy. This decidedly human trait keeps this somewhat zombie cop within the realm of understanding for audiences, showing us that he’s still a man despite the need to be ‘recharged’ electrically several times over the course of the picture. No matter how monstrous he might appear with torn flesh, pale skin, or fleshy eyes, the heart of a true spirit beats (or doesn’t) within. Thankfully, the script does see the man achieving both goals – and, yes, they’re linked together in more ways than one in the climatic battle of the last reel – so let’s all be thankful for small miracles.
I’m long known amongst friends and colleagues for not being a fan of easy comedy. Slapstick and general goofiness – lunacy of characters or basic buffoonery – just don’t reach me the way it does others. I’ve always preferred a smart edge to comedy, be it physical or verbal, and I have a fondness for outright satire. Though I can be patient with such clowning, it really needs to have its proper place in the story; and that just doesn’t happen here. Tsu ends up occasionally being painted as fairly dumb in a few moments, and that flies in the face of logic with how he could be as good a detective as he’s supposed to be. The grimness of several scenes – along with the portrayal of some violence and thuggery – winds up feeling out-of-place when compared to the film’s overall sense of humor, and there’s just no means to balance all of this tonally in the final estimation.
The Blue Jean Monster (1991) was produced by Diagonal Pictures, Golden Harvest Company, and Paragon Films Ltd. DVD distribution (for this particular release) has been coordinated by the good folks at 88 Films. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights-and-sounds to this Blu-ray release were quite good; there’s no loss of audience and only a smattering of inferior quality transfers here and there. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? The disc boasts the original theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and an interview with the film’s assistant director Sam Leong. Additionally, the slipcase reportedly contains some new artwork produced for the release, and it also contains a double-sided fold-out poster. It’s a good collection – a bit light on content – for fans who like this kind of thing.
Tonally, The Blue Jean Monster is a bit of catastrophe. It gravitates between slapstick humor and some grim subject matter a bit too often for this viewer, making the result feel like some bizarre halfling – not unlike the Monster himself! – but all too unintentionally. There are some interesting ideas in here – one man’s unflinching commitment to the law and his personal legacy – but they don’t find the traction they deserve when paired up against some slapstick behavior that feels ridiculously out of place. Think of all of this as a Cantonese riff on the Frankenstein myth – with cops and robbers thrown in for good measure – and you’re still likely to have a bit of fun with it.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at 88 Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Blue Jean Monster (1991) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.