• American Rickshaw (Cauldron Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Cauldron Films
    Released on: June 23rd, 2020.
    Director: Sergio Martino
    Cast: Mitchell Gaylord, Daniel Greene, Victoria Prouty, Donald Pleasence, Michi Kobi
    Year: 1989
    Purchase From Diabolik DVD

    American Rickshaw – Movie Review:

    Also known as American Tiger (not to be confused with the Cynthia Rothrock vehicle American Tigers), Sergio Martino’s 1989 film American Rickshaw stars Olympic Gold Medalist Mitch Gaylord as Scott Edwards, a man who makes a living in coconut Grove, Florida as a rickshaw runner while he tries to put himself through college. He lives with his roommate, Daniel (Glenn Maska), who is also a rickshaw runner and likes to talk on the phone and drink Busch Beer. Scott also keeps a giant nutcracker on his dresser, presumably all year round. Me? I worked at the media center when I went to college, signing out projectors and the like to professors and students alike (the guy who replaced me when I left got high on coke, through a projector at a professor and then tried to piss on the cops that were called to get him, but that’s a different story for a different time), so Scott’s legs were probably in way better shape than mine were back then, but hey, it’s a living. And
    Busch Beer fucking sucks.

    Anyway, Scott was also born in the Chinese ‘Year Of The Tiger’ which doesn’t quite add up if you look at the math, and he also wears a pretty cool tank top more often than not. One night, Scott gives a lift to an aged Chinese mystic named Madame Moon (Michi Kobi), who uses ancient Chinese black magic rituals – and a cat and a snake - to look after dreamy Scott. She writes him a letter, but then some rats eat it. When Scott fills in for Daniel one day, he gets tricked into making a sex tape with a perky redheaded stripper named Joanna Simpson (Victoria Prouty) who puzzlingly takes a cab to his rickshaw stand and then hops in his rickshaw. This is where the rickshaw aspect of the story ends, but this also results in his beating up the cameraman and grabbing the tape – except he grabs the wrong tape and is unwittingly pulled into a conspiracy where he winds up framed for the murder of the cameraman who just so happens to be one Jason Mortom (Gregg Todd Davis), the son of Reverend Mortom (Donald Pleasence), a wildly popular and prominent televangelist with a thing for weird statues.

    Joanna is coerced into publicly naming Scott as the killer, but she knows the truth, and when he pulls a gun on her and kidnaps her, she can’t help but fall in love with him, because that’s how these things go and men who shower in their jeans always get the hot redhead. The cops start to close in on our hero, and a hitman named Francis (Daniel Greene) as well, but he’s got an ace up his sleeve in the form of crazy old Madame Moon and her magic cat!

    Martino, credited on screen as Martin Dolman, directs this ridiculously entertaining and reasonably bonkers genre mashup with a good amount of polish. The Florida locations look nice, tacky by modern standards but very much evidence of what the late eighties looked like in the Sunshine State and around the continent in terms of décor and dress. The plot, which was (penned by Martino with help from Roberto Leoni, Maria Perrone Capano and Sauro Scavolini) is nuttier than a fruit cake but hot damn if this isn’t one entertaining picture. The original VHS release from Academy made the picture look like a pretty standard eighties action thriller, but the fact is that this movie is psychotronic cult film gold. It mixes up a moderate amount of sex and sleaze with the requisite action movie/thriller tropes but throws in elements that could have easily been lifted from a Shaw Brothers horror picture and works the weird televangelist angle into the story as well. The tone is all over the place and the movie is more than a little erratic, but that’s half the fun of a picture like this and to his credit, Martino knows well enough to keep things moving at a quick pace and to consistently deliver the goods.

    Gaylord isn’t the world’s most dramatic or engaging leading man but he handles himself fine here, even if he occasionally seems a little bit dazed by everything that’s going on. Victoria Prouty looks good naked and naked she gets. Cast for her looks rather than her acting abilities, she’s just fine opposite Gaylord. We don’t watch movies like this for amazing acting anyway. You could accuse Donald Pleasence of phoning this in and doing it for an easy paycheck, but he’s still Donald Pleasence and he still brings that quirky, Donald Pleasence-ian quality to his supporting role in this picture, and that counts for a lot. And a lot of what he gets up to in the last third of the film is pretty amazing. Michi Kobi is all kinds of awesome as the Chinese mystic and Daniel Greene is pretty great as the hitman.

    This one might not always make a whole lot of sense and it’s probably not something you should spend too much time thinking about, but in the right frame of mind it’s a movie that those who appreciate the heights that genre pictures could hit in the eighties should find very easy to love.

    American Rickshaw – Blu-ray Review:

    Cauldron Films brings American Rickshaw to Blu-ray taken from a new 2k restoration of the film’s original 35mm negative in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. Taking up a little over 29Gbs of space on the 50GB disc, the picture quality here is pretty strong. Colors look nice and natural, the dayglow hues of late eighties Florida popping quite nicely, while black levels are pretty strong throughout. The image is almost entirely free of print damage, you might spot a small white speck now and again but that’s it, while the picture retains the expected natural film grain. There are no problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement issues and compression issues aren’t every a problem. All in all, this looks quite nice!

    The English language LPCM 2.0 Mono track sounds good. The levels are balanced and the track is free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. The score sounds pretty decent here as well, no problems to report. Optional subtitles are offered in English only.

    Extra features kick off with an audio commentary with Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger that is focused less on the film itself than it is on the man who directed it (which isn’t entirely surprising given that Ellinger wrote a book on the man). As the talk progresses, they talk about Ellinger talks about how this film was one that inspired her to write her book, how he never tied himself to one genre, how many of his pictures are underseen and underappreciated, how his action pictures are sometimes regarded as cult classics, the quality of the presentation here compared to past releases, Martino's tendency to break convention in this and other pictures, the Italians' newfound experiences dealing with unions on this U.S. shoot, Sergio's connections to his brother Luciano and the benefits that afforded them both, why some of the cast members should look familiar to cult film fans, how Martino's giallo films are a lot more artistic than many people tend to give them credit for, some quirks and mistakes in the film (like a certain character's birth date), the screwy use of Asian cult mythology employed in the picture and more.

    The aptly titled On Camera Interviews With Director Sergio Martino And Production Designer Massimo Antonello Geleng featurette is just that, a nineteen-minute piece in Italian with English subtitles that starts with Martino talking about the Italian film industry of the day, working with his brother on pictures designed to have international appeal, how politics shaped Italian genre pictures, shooting car chases and stunts in certain pictures without permits, working on a low budget, casting the film, shooting in Miami, working with Pleasence, problems that arose on set due to the budget and tight schedule, using an Italian approach while shooting in the United States and more. Geleng talks about how he got hired on to work on the picture, working with Fellini and other Italian filmmakers, his appreciation of experimental theater and film, working with Martino on this and a host of other pictures and his thoughts on the director's work, the auteur theory, the director's abilities to genre hop and some of the sculpture that that he did for the movie (which we get to see in person). The soundtrack kicks all kinds of ass too!

    The sixty-five-minute The Projection Booth Podcast Discusses American Rickshaw sees the show’s regular host, team up with Cullen Gallagher and Ellinger again to talk about the film’s many surprising qualities. They start with a quick synopsis, before then attempting to ‘untangle’ the movie after sharing how each of them found the film in the first place. They go pretty in-depth here, digging into the film’s various nutty elements and genre-mashing qualities, curious plot holes, casting choices, the use of humor in the film, how this picture compares to some of Martino’s other action pictures and quite a bit more.

    Also worth checking out is a quick but enjoyable three-minute ‘Then And Now Location Footage’ featurette that matches up a few of the spots used for the Florida shoot with their modern day versions so that we can get a feel for what has changed and what has not over the years.

    A still gallery, menus and chapter selection finish off the extras on the disc, but special mention should be made of the packaging. Cauldron supplies a very nice embossed side-loading slipcover for this release, featuring artwork by Mattias Frisk, as well as some very nice reversible cover sleeve art. Included inside the clear Blu-ray case is a full color insert booklet that contains an enjoyable essay on the film written by David Zuzelo as well as some very cool VHS cover art and a few stills from the feature itself.

    American Rickshaw – The Final Word Review:

    American Rickshaw doesn’t always make sense but it does have a magic cat in it. It’s a seriously entertaining hour and a half of wildly enjoyable nonsense and wholly worthy of your attention, especially now that it exists in a nicely presented special edition Blu-ray from Cauldron Films. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized American Rickshaw Blu-ray screen caps!