Here are two movies with a couple things in common:  related to the guerrilla movement in the Philippines during WW2 and really drab jungle scenery.

Once Before I Die (1966) is creepy in a “1960s sexuality, gee whiz” kind of way.  The jungle footage is rather drab and a bit too manicured, like it was filmed during the dry season at a nature park.  But Ursula Andress is pretty and there aren’t many films related to guerrilla operations in the Philippines against the Japanese, so this movie isn’t a total waste of time.

A Taste of Hell (1973) is less of a war movie and more of a freak monster flick in the vein of Eddie Romero’s Blood Island trilogy.  It’s only obliquely related to the guerrilla movement during WW2.  Like Once Before I Die, the jungle footage is uninspiring.  My favorite parts of the movie was when it showed the culture of the Filipino barrio, especially the fiesta scene.  Very festive.  Then the freak arrives and tries to have his way with a helpless village girl and there is blood squirting all over and they have to call off the fiesta.

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I love editing.  Fortunately that is the case, because “the homestretch” for finishing the Fire in the Jungle fantasy RPG supplement is taking longer than expected.  The best thing about editing is that the cutting and rewriting creates space for additional things in the book…which then necessitates another round of editing.

Here is a bit that I’ve cut from the “Rumors and Legends” section of the book:
“Between gorilla and dragon is everlasting fighting, for the dragon with his tail bindeth and spanneth the gorilla, and the gorilla with his arms and with his jaws throweth down the dragon, and the dragon bindeth and spanneth the gorilla’s legs, and maketh him fall, but the dragon buyeth it full sore: for while he slayeth the gorilla, the gorilla falleth upon him and slayeth him. Also the gorilla seeing the dragon upon a tree, busieth him to break the tree to smite the dragon, and the dragon leapeth upon the gorilla, and busieth him to bite him between the nostrils, and assaileth the gorilla’s eyes, and maketh him blind sometime, and leapeth upon him sometime behind, and biteth him and sucketh his blood. And at the last after long fighting the gorilla waxeth feeble for great blindness, in so much that he falleth upon the dragon, and slayeth in his dying the dragon that him slayeth. The cause why the dragon desireth his blood, is coldness of the gorilla’s blood, by the which the dragon desireth to cool himself.”

It gives a flavorful slice of the mythic history of the jungle.  I cut it because it’s rather wordy and long without saying much beyond “they fought”, and because it is so obviously a copy of a description of dragons and elephants by Bartholomaeus Anglicus from the 13th century.  Plus, there are other descriptions in the book that hint at the ancient rivalry between gorillas and dragons.


Humping in the Jungle

January 24, 2011

Three Vietnam War movies with a mix of humor and seriousness.

The Boys in Company C (1978).  This was filmed in the Philippines, but there isn’t really any jungle footage since it’s apparently set in the less densely vegetated regions of Vietnam, such as the Central Highlands.  Oh well, it’s still beautiful Philippines landscape.  This film also draws comparisons to Full Metal Jacket (boot camp with R. Lee Ermey) and MASH (bizarre sports match at the end), but the humor mostly fell flat for me.

The Odd Angry Shot (1979).  Unique in that it tells the story of Australian soldiers during the Vietnam conflict.  Filmed in Australia. Close shots, dim lighting, and dampness worked well in giving it a dismal jungle appearance much of the time, though sometimes it doesn’t look like jungle at all.  The Australian humor is entertaining, and I don’t think there’s a ten minute stretch that doesn’t show a can of Foster’s being consumed.

84 Charlie MoPic (1989).  This wasn’t exactly filmed in a jungle (southern California), but, like The Odd Angry Shot, effectively evoked the feel of jungle via its camerawork.  In fact, it was filmed as a fake documentary in the style of horror films such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Blair Witch Project (1999).  This doesn’t have the goofy comedy of the other two flicks, but the candid grunt humor provides brief reprieves from the horror the soldiers are enduring. One of the best ‘Nam movies of all time.

Here are two films about rogue soldiers during the Vietnam War. “Rogue” in the sense that they broke the chain of command, didn’t follow orders, or otherwise set out on their own mission. Not an unusual theme in Nam movies, but, surprise, one of these is from the Viet Cong point of view.

A Rumor of War (1980). Based on the best-selling memoirs of Philip Caputo, which I haven’t read. This movie was originally a two-part series on TV. I’ve only seen the 106 minute condensed version, but there is also a complete 195 minute version available. I’d be curious to learn the differences between the two. The jungle footage was filmed in Mexico and is decent. Brian Dennehy’s sergeant character is especially memorable, and an interesting juxtaposition to his sheriff in First Blood.

The Iron Triangle (1989). This film is unique because it focuses more on individual Viet Cong soldiers, though the narration is by a US soldier who was captured, escaped, and found a VC diary. The jungle footage is fantastic and was filmed in Sri Lanka. Bonus points for showing VC tunnels. One of the better Vietnam War movies I’ve seen, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it on other people’s lists of “Best ‘Nam flicks”.

Finally, three more Vietnam War movies filmed in the Philippines:

The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989) R. Lee Ermey. First half of this movie is great. Second half is boring.

Platoon (1986). Charlie Sheen. Ashen jungle. Somewhere out there is the beast and he’s hungry tonight.

Nam’s Angels (1970) Also known as The Losers. Hell’s Angels in Nam. One of the earlier Vietnam War movies made and highly entertaining.

The Lonely Gorilla

January 17, 2011

The Fire in the Jungle fantasy RPG supplement is nearing completion!  It will be a short compilation of tools to facilitate adventures in my jungle setting.  More info about the supplement in a later post, but I want to put the spotlight on the cover art at this time.

The Lonely Gorilla

Rommel Joson is the artist.  I commissioned him to create the piece and the result went beyond my expectations.  Rommel was easy to work with and a great communicator.  Best of all was that our visions for it were very much in sync.  I provided him only with a short paragraph description of what I had in mind, and Rommel artistically brought it to life without any additional art direction or reference images.

The gorilla and flames are important parts of the image, but perhaps my favorite part is the detailed jungle foliage in the foreground.  This was the artist’s idea and it really completes the scene and makes it scream “JUNGLE!”.  Salamat Rommel!  As you may have noticed, this is the part I’ve chosen as this blog’s header image.

Now, I only hope the contents of my book live up to the cover art!

The original inspiration for the description I provided Rommel was an Apocalypse Now poster.  As I mentioned before, I didn’t send him this or any other reference images because I wanted to see his own vision.  This is probably the first time Rommel has seen the poster:

Rommel didn’t name his art, as far as I know, so I am calling it “The Lonely Gorilla”.  The gorilla’s expression and solitude reminded me of the lyrics to Mona Lisa (made famous by Nat King Cole, but I’m a fan of the Willie Nelson version).

Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you
You’re so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only ’cause you’re lonely they have blamed you?
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?

Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?

For other examples of Rommel’s work, visit his deviantart gallery or his blog.  He also has a collection of Moleskine drawings on Tumblr.

I often associate post-apocalyptic themes with jungles.  There you’ll find ruins not only of ancient civilizations, but also evidence of recent destruction and the occasional “Wow, I didn’t expect to find that here.”  Here are two examples:

Pacific Wrecks.  A massive collection of information about various WW2 wrecks (ships, planes, tanks, etc.) that have been found or are waiting to be found, many in remote locations.  I wonder how many more wrecks are undiscovered and completely unknown.  The review section on that site is also a fantastic resource for info about books and movies related to the Pacific War.

The Exploded Bust of Ferdinand Marcos.  This link is to just a single page on a large site dedicated to ruins, mostly those from mid to late 20th Century in Japan.  Legend says Marcos came into possession of large amounts of gold left behind in the Philippines by the Japanese after WW2.  Treasure hunters are still searching for it and any other caches of WW2 gold.   They checked inside this statue.  Nope, not there.

Would you like a tissue?

Caves in the Jungle

January 11, 2011

National Geographic’s recent article and photoset of the Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam has been well publicized, but this blog would be incomplete without mention of it.  There are other jungle caves worth pointing out, too:

Wrapping up a week of posts about Japanese WW2 soldiers with quick notes about two movies.  Fighting Mad (the 1978 movie directed by Cirio Santiago, not the 1976 movie of the same name starring Peter Fonda) and The Last Warrior (the 1989 movie starring Gary Graham, not the 2000 movie of the same name starring Dolph Lundren.)   I lump these together because they both contain a Japanese soldier training an American to use a samurai sword.

The Last Warrior has some excellent jungle footage.  It’s one of those movies that presents itself as a “normal” movie and it does have some polish, but then you are disappointed to learn it’s just a trashy flick.  But then you realize “This is a trash.  Awesome!”  I especially like the ending.

Fighting Mad (also known as Death Force) is enjoyable in a cheesy 70s movie kind of way. It only has a small amount of kinda maybe jungle footage but, more importantly, it is directed by Cirio Santiago, who made many “jungle movies” in the Philippines that I will post about in the future.  Long live Cirio!

Hiroo Onoda

January 8, 2011

The characters in Fires on the Plain and Harp of Burma may have made fateful interpretations of events and evidence, but Hiroo Onoda is the king of fateful interpretations.  No Surrender: My Thirty Year War is his book about continuing to fight WW2 on Lubang, a relatively small island in the Philippines, all the way into the 1970s because he thought the war was still going on.

It wasn’t as if Onoda didn’t have access to news about current events.  He had a radio to listen to news broadcasts and many newspapers that were left in the jungle for him to read.  But he determined they were fake…ploys of the Americans to lure him out for capture.  This belief further entrenched his dedication to duty, preparing for Japan’s triumphant return to the Philippines.

Onoda’s war finally ended in 1974 when a young Japanese tourist convinced him the war was over and a still-living commanding officer came to give him new orders.

Q: Would Hiroo Onoda have come down from the jungle mountains if Japan had sent Setsuko Hara to retrieve him? A: No. He would have decided she was an American spy.

Harp of Burma

January 5, 2011

Harp of Burma is a novel by Michio Takeyama, first published in 1946.  It was made into a movie in 1956, directed by Kon Ichikawa, who also directed Fires on the Plain.  The movie is also known as The Burmese Harp.  A color version and an animated version were made in the mid-80s, but I’ve yet to see them.

The temples and harp music of the movie are beautiful, but I read somewhere that a western harp was dubbed over the actual saung-gauk performances.  For the curious, traditional saung-gauk recordings can be found in many places on the internet.  The book provides a glimpse into traditional Burmese culture.  Quite interesting when you consider the current turmoil of the region, now called Myanmar.

The main difference that I saw between the book and the movie concern Mizushima’s experiences immediately after visiting the soldiers holding out on the mountain.  The movie’s version of those events is probably better crafted from an efficient storytelling point of view, because the book’s use of headhunters seems a little forced.  Nothing against headhunters though.  I love headhunters.

I mentioned in the Fires on the Plain post the importance of the character’s fateful interpretations of events and experiences.  This is also found in Harp of Burma.  The war is over and a company of Japanese soldiers has surrendered in Burma.   Awaiting to be sent back to Japan, they debate the fate of their harp-playing comrade Mizushima, thoroughly examining the meaning of events and signs to determine if he still lives or not.  Meanwhile, Mizushima also debates his future (with the help of a parrot) and interprets his discoveries as signs leading him to a new purpose in life.

Hey look, another reclining woman in the jungle.

Derriere in the Jungle?

January 5, 2011

Excerpts from the English translation of Fires on the Plain:

One low branch of the mountains extended to the left and formed a backdrop to the forest ahead of me, it was curved gently like the smooth back of a recumbent woman.


Then I realized that the palm trees which surrounded me were being transfigured.  Gradually they were turning into the various women whom I had known and loved in the past.

Seems to be reasonable psychological reactions of a starving and diseased man wandering through a jungle.

It just so happens that I was looking to add some interesting features to a jungle map in progress, so I sketched out some rolling hills to resemble a recumbent woman.  It looked nice so I really got my GIMP on and added six more.  Next day I looked at the map and it was a bit overdone, so I removed a couple of the figures.  Now they are only where mountain foothills should be and it isn’t blatantly obvious that there are five butts on the map.  My wife glanced at the map and said it looked nice, but didn’t say anything about the ladies.  I didn’t point them out to her.

A small portion of the jungle hex map.

Jungle natives refer to the hills as The Five Amazons.  Legend is that giant women once ruled the jungle, but they were put to sleep by dragons and have yet to awake.  Outsiders scoff at this myth, but they admire the shapely hills nonetheless.