Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I love monster movies. Ever since I was a lower case g, I spent many an afternoon watching Godzilla on television or even occasionally getting the rare opportunity to see the big beast on the grand silver screen, as I had the chance to do way back in 1976, I think, when I got to see ‘Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla’. Sweet. Nowadays monster movies are hit and miss. The Japanese continue to put out monster flicks at a regular pace to varying degrees of success, and we here in the colonies attempt to give it try every once in awhile with our version of ‘Godzilla’, arguably one of the most disappointing movies ever made, or more recently with the completely stellar ‘Cloverfield’. Imagine my joyful surprise to see that Taiwanese director Monthan Arayangkoon noticed a glaring hole in his country’s film dossier as there are no Taiwan based Kaiju style movies anywhere to be seen, which has led the ambitious director to write, produce and direct what he claims is the first Taiwanese monster movie, ‘Garuda’. Indeed, I wonder how well this little film turned out?

Our film starts with some dude narrating, droning on about some Taiwanese legend involving a time when benevolent monsters ruled the land, except for the troublesome Garuda who had to be buried away because of its penchant for murder, death and killing. Or something. Fast forward a few years to 1976 where a French archeologist has made a glorious discovery. I’m not quite sure what this discovery is, but it has something to do with the world’s largest fingernail. Or something. Next thing we know the cave this dude is kicking around explodes and the archeologist barely makes it out alive, but he does manage to save the super big fingernail he just found.

Fast forward to the present time where the daughter of this Archeologist, Dr. Leena (Sara Legge), is trying to convince some panel that they need to allow her to dig for something or another. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Dr. Leena is some kind of cute, she is half French and this panel apparently prefers racial homogeny for their

archeologist and turn her down flat. Needless to say, Leena is disappointed but in the shadows is a mysterious man who will be calling on her particular archeological skills very soon.

This mysterious man is tough but scarred soldier General Tan (Sornram Theppitak) who is in charge of what I think is some kind of supernatural soldier brigade who hunts mystical creatures. I think. It seems that while building the Bangkok subway system that they have somehow stumbled onto the resting place of the mythical Garuda, which required General Tan to tap the skills of Dr. Leena and her wimpy American assistant Tim (Dan Fraser) to do… hell… I don’t know why they were there. All you need to know is that the Garuda is awakened, starts killing everything and everybody, makes it way to the streets of Bangkok where it kills more people and leaves General Tan and Dr. Leena as the only ones who have a hope of stopping the silly looking winged creature with the oversized brain.

I gotta be honest with you and tell that ‘Garuda’ probably isn’t the best monster movie I’ve seen… and though it probably offers up more entertainment value than the American remake of ‘Godzilla’, it doesn’t do it by much. There are a number of issues, from the minor to major, which affect the quality of this movie, and let’s start with a fairly minor one in the godawful English voice dubbing. Usually when I watch a foreign film I turn on subtitles and listen to the native language to hear the actual actors voices as they wanted themselves to be heard, but being that ‘Garuda’ is just a monster movie and not exactly ‘Lust, Caution’ I figured the English dub should work just fine. My bad. It took all of five minutes to turn off the awful dub and revert back the original language, not that the original language elevated the sub-par performances from the majority actors, but the dub just made bad worse. Another more pressing issue is probably the Garuda itself which was done completely in CGI, as the rather informative DVD extras would tell us, but CGI or dude in rubber suit, he (or she) really wasn’t that impressive of a monster. The monsters movements were awkward which took a bit away from its realism, plus it lacked the oppressive size that we have come to expect from our monsters. The Garuda was plenty violent though and seemed to revel in killing up stuff, though I don’t know exactly to what end since I don’t think it was eating people. The CGI was hit and miss, depending on the environments they stuck the monster in. Dark environments… good. Bright environments…bad.

Probably the main issue however is Arayangkoon has created a movie that has absolutely no rhythm to add to its already suspect narrative. A lot of the movie is just dullness filled with talking heads sitting around doing a lot of nothing, punctuated with sudden bursts of action and violence only to go right back to boredom. Though you gotta love the whole soldier – monster knife fight. You don’t see that everyday. It would seem that Arayangkoon spent the majority of his directorial time making sure he lit his scenes properly and making sure his male characters always struck the coolest pose. A lot of great male preening and ‘how cool do I look now’ profile shots in this one.

By almost any measure, particularly for us lovers of the monster movie, Garuda was a disappointment. A nice looking disappointment, but as far as story, pacing, acting, and the monster goes, a disappointment none the less.

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