Volume 3, Number 11
Imagine a world where the Russians dropped the bomb and conquered America in 1957, and Las Vegas became the last stronghold of freedom where Elvis was crowned the King of Rock and Roll. Forty years later, the former US is a wasteland, and Elvis has finally died, leaving no heir to his throne. The call has gone out for a new king of rock 'n' roll, and guitarists from all over (including Death himself) are heading for Vegas to step into the king's blue suede shoes. One such warrior musician is Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon), who with his katana and '57 six-string is headed for Vegas. In the opening sequence he saves the life of a young orphan (Justin McGuire), who immediately adopts him, in spite of Buddy's cold attitude. And so begins their trek to Vegas, with Death (Stephane Gauger) dogging their every step and the remnants of American society looming up out of the sand to challenge them. This is Six-String Samurai.
Lance Mungia, the director and co-screenwriter of Six-String Samurai, pulls terrific performances out of his actors, especially Jeffrey Falcon, who is also co-screenwriter, action director, and production designer. Falcon's film experience from overseas brings a wonderful flavor to his acting, and his ability to show how his character feels with a minimum of dialog is amazing. More importantly, he is able to persuade the audience that Buddy really does care about his diminutive sidekick, in spite of his protestations to the contrary. McGuire, as the nameless Kid, does a good job, although Kid's habit of whining rather than speaking grates on one's nerves after a while. His dogged persistence in following Buddy develops into an sort of courage as the film progresses, however, and by the end he's as much a person to us as Buddy is. The other characters are brilliantly weird, and range from a cameo by The Red Elvises (who did most of the film's music) to a cannibalistic Cleaver family.
The cinematography is practically a separate character in the film, and pays homage to everything from The Wizard of Oz to action comic books (a comic book based on the film comes out at the end of the month). Several different styles are blended together, and the resulting combination of hand-held cameras, landscape shots, and strobe effects keeps you on the edge of your seat. The fight scenes are filmed so tight in to the action that it is often difficult to appreciate Falcon's martial arts expertise (he has won several gold medals representing the US on the Kung-Fu Championship team), but otherwise the camera work is wonderful. The bleak look of the film drives home the desolation of this post-apocalyptic world and lends believability to Buddy's amazing skills (they say he can kill 200 men single-handedly, and play a mean six-string at the same time).
As one would expect of a rock 'n' roll epic, the music is almost entirely rock, and is absolutely fantastic. It includes a rock-epic score composed by Brian Tyler (who's done music for several feature films) and the above-mentioned Red Elvises. The self-described Siberian surfabilly rock band are fantastic, and their bizarre mixture of Russian melodic styles with classic Elvis-tinted surf rock adds the glue to hold this amazing film together.
So what.s the bottom line? If you liked Mad Max, enjoy watching samurai movies or Hong Kong action flicks, and love rock 'n' roll, this is the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer folk music to rock, hate violence, and can't stand wonderfully strange indie flicks, go see something else.