Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Exhausted after the troubled production of The Living Dead Girl, Jean Rollin was looking to return his freewheeling roots with his next picture, a nod to the serials of his childhood entitled Les Trottoirs de Bangkok (The Sidewalks of Bangkok). Delightfully daffy, deliberately disconnected and undeniably entertaining, The Sidewalks of Bangkok can be looked upon as the comic flipside to Rollin’s first feature The Rape of The Vampire from 15 years before. Shot on a shoestring budget and improvised, The Sidewalks of Bangkok is as far removed from Rollin’s fantastique works as possible and yet it is Rollin through and through.
Starring the stunning, mysterious and very talented Yoko, seen here in one of the only non-hardcore features of her sadly brief film career, and the brilliant Francoise Blanchard, fresh off her tour-de-force turn in The Living Dead Girl, The Sidewalks of Bangkok is 85 minutes of pure enjoyable nonsense. The whole film feels like Rollin deliberately taking a step back from the intense poetry of his last few works to delve into a colorful comic-book fantasy focusing on guns, girls and intrigue.
While The Sidewalks of Bangkok is admittedly a minor Rollin film it was never intended to be anything more. Rollin told Peter Blumenstock in the pages of Virgins and Vampire and Video Watchdog that, “the entire shoot was great fun”, and ‘fun’ is indeed the best way to describe The Sidewalks of Bangkok. It’s a mess, but a delightful one, and its devil may care attitude is a refreshing break after the deadly serious Living Dead Girl had taken such a toll on Rollin and his crew.
Working again with reliable cinematographer Claude Becognee with the ever present Lionel Wallman producing, Rollin recalled to Blumenstock that they, “filmed in secret in the Chinese Quarter around the Porte d’italie and on the docks where goods from Asia (were) unloaded.” Other stolen shots were found in an abandoned den near the Champs-Elyseees and on part of the French Railroad where Rollin remembered they managed to not, “get discovered by the security guards.” Along with the film's number of memorable locations, the catchy electronic score by composer Georges Lartigau also gives the film an extra push it otherwise wouldn't have had.
Feeling like he was, “20 years old again”, Rollin had a blast working on the set and greatly admired the fearless Yoko whom he recalled as being and actress who, “stopped at nothing and played her part instinctually, like a small hounded animal.” Yoko is indeed a real delight in the film and she keeps it more than watchable even when financial constraints make it feel even cheaper than most of the shoe-string budget pictures Rollin had shot previously. Rollin celebrated Yoko to Blumenstock and even went so far as to say he had, “never worked with an actor who was so open-minded and easy to direct.” Excited about the prospect of working with the beautiful young actress again he, “wrote a story for her and Brigitte Lahaie” but sadly this never became a film and Yoko had disappeared from the screens by the early nineties.
Nearly as memorable as Yoko in The Sidewalks of Bangkok is the mega-talented Francoise Blanchard who, sporting a new-wave inspired haircut, is seen clearly having a ball in Rollin’s tribute to film’s like 1932’s The Mask of Fu-Manchu. Most of the rest of the cast were either inexperienced or had more of a past in adult features, but Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Brigitte Borghese will be immediately recognizable to fans of Rollin’s oeuvre. Rollin himself makes another brief but memorable cameo as well and keep an eye out for pretty Antonina Laurent who is an actress who has the distinction of being someone who only worked with Rollin and fellow maverick Jess Franco, as her only other big-screen credit is 1987’s Faceless.
With its wacky plot, focusing on a missing secret agent and a chemical weapon he has supposedly given to a mysterious nightclub dancer, The Sidewalks of Bangkok is a film of little substance but damn it’s an entertaining little puzzle that never outstays its welcome in its slim running time. Rollin loves the film and celebrated it as, “truly a B-movie”, which was, “as crazy as it was incoherent”, and, “part parody and part adventure film.” Most importantly he noted that, unlike the more naïve Rape of the Vampire, the humor found in the madcap The Sidewalks of Bangkok was very much intended. This might be a totally ridiculous film, but the people behind it are extremely smart.
Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs have an excellent section on the making of The Sidewalks of Bangkok in their indispensable Immoral Tales where they noted that despite a set-up time of “fifteen days from scratch” the picture, “went on to be one of Rollin’s biggest successes”, more than a little ironic considering how Rollin is often labeled as just a maker of erotic vampire films.
The Sidewalks of Bangkok has sadly not been given the full-blown special edition treatment of some of Rollin’s other works. It is currently available from Redemption with the only extras being a photo gallery and trailer. I would love to see a full-blown deluxe edition eventually, preferably with the involvement of the unforgettable and currently missing in action Yoko.