Vikingdom Trembles With Great Dumb Joy
Say it out loud, and the title Vikingdom, that slapdash portmanteau, reveals its hidden promise: Viking Dumb. That's a fair summation of the glory and ridiculousness of what director Yusry Abd Halim and his cohorts at KRU Productions have pulled off in this B-movie gone amok. They only could have improved on its accuracy if they'd just gone ahead and called it exactly what it is: The First and Best-Ever Malaysian Viking Flick with All-English Dialogue.
Imagine an old Hollywood mead-and-beard epic like The Long Ships (based on Frans G. Bengtsson's thrilling, hilarious novel, recently reprinted by NYRB Classics) directed by an acolyte of young Peter Jackson—rococo violence! that restless camera! charming, cheap-o monsters!—who is determined, budget be damned, to stuff the movie with the pomp and grandeur of mid-career Jackson—snowy vistas! besieged castles! a portentous prologue! a reluctant king on the eve of battle, subjecting his outmatched army to his shaky poetry!
And then imagine that every 10 minutes or so, like any good Malaysian action movie, town-destroying fights break out, all sharply choreographed, full of brawling stuntwork, medieval weaponry, and a refreshing mixture of battle styles—you've got your pug-ugly WWE-looking lugs and bruisers hacking gamely at their foes, plus a couple lithe wire-fu ringers twirling their spears and bending space and time to go into slow-mo whenever it would look the most awesome. Can I call it "axe-socky"?
Finally, if you have imagination left to spare, please try this: Imagine that the whole goofy, bloody shebang somehow works. Vikingdom trembles with great dumb joy even before we meet the apparently handcrafted hell-dragon that looks like a set of windup chattering teeth combined with a homecoming float. Not long after that, in a truly eerie sequence set in Viking Hell, the hero Eirick (Dominic Purcell) has to climb into a mountain of golden women. The ladies, who have none of the look of CGI about them, moan and writhe—in the long shots, when we can see the whole living mound of them, their limbs flow about like the tentacles of a sea anemone. Outside of a foreign B-movie, this grand vision of paint and flesh and extras could pass for high art, something that might wow 'em at the opera. It's dazzling, onscreen, but it's also something of a wake-up call: Hollywood's lock on adventure spectacle is now as long-gone as the one it once held on bang-bang crime films. The first Hobbit picture's digital armies have a higher pixel rate, but Vikingdom packs in twice as much fun and thrice as much incident in much less running time. And if its greased-up giant of a villain—Thor, played by the perfectly named Conan Stevens—looks like he's wearing a garish red wig modeled after the little girl from the Wendy's sign, at least he's actually there, a physical presence, unlike the prancing cartoon goblin king faced by Bilbo and company. (Another point over The Hobbit: None of this movie's heroes ever stops the expedition to mope about a missing hankie.)
Here, towering Norsemen in their dingy togs row off in their longboat to kill the god Thor in a Mortal Kombat encounter held in the circle at Stonehenge during some cosmic event called—yikes—the Blood Eclipse. Along the way, we meet a sassy hottie (Natassia Malthe) who wears only a leather sports bra no matter how hard it snows, and is quick to gut an enemy or make wondrous fantasy love to Eirick while he looks into a mirror and imagines she is instead the dead immortal elf-maiden (or whatever) to whom he has pledged himself.
That dead immortal elf maiden's identical male twin, resplendent in a lemon-sugar prom dress you can see his nipples through, acts out a scene of solemn quest-giving that sounds like it was written by a Dungeon Master. Brave companions and much stabbing follow, plus that trip to hell, some unconvincing scenes of longship-rowing, and, over the opening and closing credits, the finest global hair-rock silliness. During the couple dull patches, you can always relish the terrible wigs.
Director Halim has long been a pop star in Malaysia; after striking it big in the 1990s with West-aping songs like "The Way We Jam," "I'll Make You Famous," and "Do My Thang (Upside Down)," he and his band, KRU, have expanded into movies, scoring several hits in Malaysia, and now aspiring to international success—to create hits that other countries imitate.
Vikingdom is far from the polished, Hollywood-like blockbuster the KRU crew hopes to make—it's stranger, funnier, more inventive, in that way of filmmakers who have to figure out how to realize their vision rather than just sending millions to an effects house and waiting to have that vision delivered. The way it jams should start, in American geek circles, to make Halim famous enough to do his thang again. Let's hope he goes for space monsters next—but that he never uses less-hilarious wigs.
Speaking of wigs, that hair rock comes courtesy of the band Mojo, signed to KRU's record label—synergy! Disappointingly, the lyrics do not include the phrase "blood eclipse."
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