The Madonna and the Dragon (1990, Sam Fuller)

One of three TV-movies Fuller made in ’90, a year after his final theatrical film Street of No Return (and I still don’t know where to find the other two).

Earnest photographer Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, Chabrol’s Dr. M) is in the Philippines in the mid ’80’s (soon before the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos) looking for shots of strife and poverty to bring global attention to the local slums. She meets up with her ex, opportunistic photographer Luc Merenda (a vet of 1970’s Italian cop movies who cameoed in Hostel II).

Highlight of the movie is this local kid they meet. He learned hardboiled American gangster-speak from the movies and follows our couple around calling her “doll” and him “frenchy” while keeping them out of trouble. Trouble comes when Frenchy snaps a pic of a military man shooting an old woman in the head for not giving up a rebel camp location. From then on, it’s a chase for that roll of film, with more screen time for Frenchy than Beals, even though she’s the “star”.

Christa Lang plays Mama, who runs a sorta casino-brothel. N. Vera says: “It’s got a good Filipino cast–Behn Cervantes is an old friend of Lino Brocka and a theatrical legend… Pilar Pilapil is (or was) one of the most sensual actresses in Philippine cinema.” Pilar plays a girl forced to “work” at Mama’s until boyfriend Behn can afford to buy her out. They seem sympathetic to our heroes’ cause until the end, when Behn is discovered to be a pro-Marcos spy and is machine-gunned in the middle of a rally by the kid – an event captured by both photographers, getting ’em well-paid cover shots for a happy ending.

Fuller no longer had the budget or prestige for a studio shoot, but B. Krohn calls Madonna and some other late works “great films, despite the loss of control from location shooting.” Functional cinematography except for a fun shootout at a movie house, the action on the screen echoing the firefight in the theater.

Music sounds like the percussion of the backing track to that “Oh Yeah” song from Ferris Bueller with some hideous keyboards over it. Fuller wrote the title song (movie’s alt title is Tinikling, named after a game played by street kids in the movie, like jumprope with bamboo poles). Nice lyrics actually, but there’s no adequate performance of it in the film – first the kid belts it out in a moving car, then this guy Samuel Euston puts too much heart and soul and lameness into it.

Oh I forgot to mention this guy Pavel, who’s sorta all over the place trying to cut deals, played by Patrick Bauchau (star of Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse 20 years earlier, also in The Rapture).

The doll:



Sam Fuller, nearly 80, wouldn’t direct again after ’90, but would stick around as an actor for a few more years in films by Gitai, Wenders and Kaurismäki.