Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Mad Cowgirl (2006)
Mad Cowgirl is a daring and experimental film from Gary Hatanka that challenges perspectives on religion, sex, Mad Cow Disease, red meat and even kung fu.
Therese (Sarah Lassez) is a health inspector that inspects slaughterhouses and meat packing plants for tainted and spoiled meat. She’s had a messy divorce from her ex-husband Charlie (Vic Chao) and is just trying to get on with her life. She enjoys bloody cuts of beef that she heartily eats on a daily basis, almost with orgasmic pleasure, and a kung fu show called “Girl With the Thunderbolt Kick.” She becomes entangled with older and wrinkly televangelist Pastor Dylan (Walter Koenig, of Star Trek fame), but Therese quickly turns obsessive when he won’t see her anymore. It turns out her health is in question and her doctor thinks she may have a brain tumor.
Meanwhile, Therese is also carrying on an incestuous relationship with her brother, Thierry (James Duval). He works in a packing plant and has become dangerously lax on meat guidelines while Therese looks the other way. Mad Cow Disease has come down hard on the industry, though, and Therese begs him to be more careful and dispose of spoiled meat. Thierry tells Therese that he probably gave her some diseased meat and she slowly starts to descend into madness.
Therese has casual sex with a great number of men, but she still is obsessed with Pastor Dylan. She begins going to confession at church, but is terrified to enter the booth which she likens to an executioner’s chamber. Therese begins hearing voices and having hallucinations as the disease attacks her brain.
Finally, she receives a message to kill the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung! She begins working out and training to be just like the Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick so she can kill the bad guys. One by one, she begins killing the Ten Tigers, who have clever little codenames that are subtitled in English and Chinese at the bottom of the screen. Eye-gougings, stabbings, a flying guillotine, and a buzz saw are just some of the tools of the trade Therese uses to kill her opponents. Is Therese really killing people or has she slipped completely into madness?
Man, what a strange but powerful film this is! Images of slobbering cows, rancid meat, cows bloody and sick from the disease, religious iconography, kung fu, slobbering men, bloody murder and the like held me rapt and enthralled through the film. Mad Cowgirl has very strong and unique visuals that are equal parts exploitation, grindhouse, kung fu and horror. Its tone is very socially aware, but writer and director Gregory Hatanaka leaves it wide open for interpretation. The mood ranges from funny to horrifying to repulsive to erotic, many times within the same scene.
There are quirky little bits all throughout this film that add to the surreal and weird atmosphere. For example, many characters speak in different languages but Therese understands them and answers back in English, which in turn they understand. Her doctor appears to be Indian, but speaks to her in a completely different language. Also, her mother is Vietnamese (which Therese obviously isn’t) but speaks French! The music and score throughout the film are a multi-cultural mish-mash of styles as well. In one scene there might be hip hop, in another there might be a big Bollywood musical number, in still another there is mariachi music, and on and on. These little oddities of Therese’s everyday experiences all point to her fragmented psyche…or not. Perhaps Hatanaka was trying to say something else or nothing at all and only wanted the strangeness of these encounters to stand out and to keep the viewer always on their toes.
The actors all do a fine job in the film, especially lead Sarah Lassez who encompasses grace and madness simultaneously. Walter Koenig is wonderfully sleazy as the sinful Pastor Dylan and James Duval as Thierry manages to be both attractive and repulsive at the same time. Come to think of it, most of the characters in the film seem to have dual and conflicting personas. One, they have the persona that they present in public (Pastor Dylan is a pious preacher who tries to help people, for example). Second, they have their private personas that smash or otherwise ignore taboos (Pastor Dylan sins by sleeping with Therese, Thierry has an incestuous relationship with his sister). Conflict, whether within the characters themselves or in their actions, plays a large part in the film, which all the actors portray effortlessly.
Hatanaka has created a very daring and original film with Mad Cowgirl, fusing it all together with an eclectic visual style. Most people will other love or hate it, but it is definitely a film that will get you thinking. Come to think of it, Mad Cowgirl is kinda like your first time…you’re a little nervous beforehand and don’t quite know what to do during, but by the end you’re ready for another ride!
Available on Amazon!