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  Gymkata Parmistan Cheese
Year: 1985
Director: Robert Clouse
Stars: Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton, Edward Bell, John Barrett, Conan Lee, Bob Schott, Buck Kartalian, Eric Lawson, Sonny Barnes, Tadashi Yamashita, Sharan Lea
Genre: Action, Martial Arts, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the tiny yet strategically important country of Parmistan, a long running game has been held for as far back as anyone can remember, a game in which the winner escapes with his life and one wish. The previous American agent to be sent there has been killed trying to cross a chasm on a rope, so someone with excellent gymnastic skills must be found to take his place. How about a real gymnast? The U.S. authorities find one in the shape of Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas), a champion in the sport and after he agrees to assist, soon he is undergoing intensive training in a new martial arts skill known as Gymkata. As part of his training, he meets with the princess of Parmistan (Tetchie Agbayani), and they quickly feel a mutual attraction, even though she doesn't speak and tries to demonstrate her assassin's abilities on him. But now it's time for more important, life or death matters...

Ever since Gymkata was released, its reputation as something... different from the usual eighties action movie has been growing. It is usually hailed as a classic of unintentional camp, but it's really more silly than funny, and as it draws on pretty weird as well. Thomas would have been a genuine Olympic champion had the U.S.A. not boycotted the games in 1980, but he won medals elsewhere and you can see from this that he had real skill, mainly because the martial arts he displays involves a lot of needless prancing about to show off this skill before he gets down to the business of a good old fashioned boot to the head. Never one to let fly with a punch when he can tumble in mid air at the same time, his character looks designed to make gymnastics appear butch, an attempt I'm not sure entirely succeeds.

Once Jonathan reaches the Caspian Sea, and Parmistan (presumably named when scriptwriter Charles Robert Carner was garnishing his spaghetti bolognese one night), he is plunged into an alien world. Alien in that about every five minutes, sometimes less, a character will get killed: there Jonathan will be, innocently minding his own business, when the agent he is talking to will collapse with an arrow in his chest. Yes, this country is a dangerous place, and this is mainly down to the king's right hand man, Zamir (Richard Norton), who plans to take over by fair means or foul, and the Game is his chosen method. Not that he will be playing it himself, no, he'll be chasing the other saps who take part all the while dreaming of his wedding to the Princess, who has started talking, incidentally, and looks positively nothing like her father, not even the same race.

Now, our hero is having none of this, so aims to win the game, bring democracy to Parmistan, and get the girl into the bargain, making the nation safe for America's "Star Wars" program to be implemented there. The contest is a variation on that old warhorse The Most Dangerous Game, where the combatants do their best to avoid being killed by the ninjas (what ninjas are doing in Eastern Europe is anyone's guess) as they race across the landscape. Jonathan doesn't get off to an especially good start, but as the runners are picked off one by one - spears in the back, falling down that chasm (that dummy was put to good use) - he makes up for it admirably. He ends up in a village that appears to be entirely populated with insane people, one of whom cuts off his own hand with a scythe for no apparent reason, and another who wear half a robe to moon the camera when he turns around. This is filmed in increasing amounts of slow motion, presumably to make the movie longer, and the big fight between Zamir and Jonathan must last, ooh, at least a minute. I suppose director Robert Clouse's Enter the Dragon didn't have plot that was any less daft, but Gymkata goes the extra mile in terms of absurdity. Music by Alfi Kabiljo.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Robert Clouse  (1928 - 1997)

American director who, after directing Darker Than Amber, settled into a string of martial arts thrillers starting with the Bruce Lee favourite Enter the Dragon. His other films include Golden Needles, Black Belt Jones, The Ultimate Warrior, Game of Death, The London Connection, The Big Brawl, camp classic Gymkata, China O'Brien and its first sequel.

 
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