Jungle Heat/Last Breath (1984)

Directed by: Jobic Wong/Lee Ho
Written by: Dorian Tan
Producers: Dorian Tan, Chiu Chi-Hung & Wong Hing
Starring: Chin Han, Fan Mei-Sheng, Sam Jones, Christopher Doyle, Yuen Chueng-Fa, Tan Tao-Kung, Woo Wai, Ma Cheung & Chen Sing


Mostly known and seen as Jungle Heat, this gory war actioner out of Taiwan was also released as Last Breath in a distinctly different version prepared at the same time or close to at the same time (watch Chin Han's facial hair disappear and re-appear). Originally credited to Lee Ho and following a group of men enlisting to participate in the Vietnam war effort in the "safe" capacity of supply truck drivers, in Jungle Heat via footage starring Sam Jones and Christopher Doyle (not the Wong Kar-Wai cinematographer of the same name), the enlisting involves being trained by Jones' character Gordon (suitable since he starred in 1980's Flash Gordon) before heading into the gory horrors of war.

This is not a case of the footage being spliced in as the Asian cast is seen in these very scenes as well and while once past the training point the movies follow the same path and both in a flimsy way, it's interesting looking at the editing decisions for a few reels in order for the movie to sell internationally. War and gore are rightly so only ALMOST enough so the power of Jungle Heat and Last Breath comes from a collaborative effort to tackle a larger number of markets in one go. Wild and all over the place, it's a movie up for huge criticism but also one that pushes the buttons markets will sit up and notice. Sales may come via key scenes and this production will and should forever be remembered fondly for them, power-wise and technically.

Worth noting are some key differences in structure and how explicit each edit ultimately is with its key story elements, starting with the fact that Last Breath shows these various men enlisting in the army for a promised, huge payday while Chin Han in Jungle Heat simply gathers his crew for training before entering the hell they were not told about. We're not talking cinema by any stretch of the imagination and it's not particularly exciting or thrilling this relatively short sequence involving Sam Jones. A thoroughly likeable, relaxed presence however, his instructor plays less the aggressive, strict card and favours a human touch. Last Breath however gets much of its business done quickly, even via montage before sending out and killing a character or two here we never get to know, including Chen Sing.

Herein lies the problem and acceptance of Jungle Heat/Last Breath at the same time. We never get to know these characters and no actor can rely on a star presence to help us forget that (not even otherwise Taiwan romance lead Chin Han or famous kicker Dorian Tan who reportedly penned this script), With some undertones of the futile war effort, cynicism and most being in Vietnam all for financial gain, we're still not talking a foundation that works as a drive for even basic drama. Yet it all rocks, sporadically.

Because horrors of war are highly gory and sadistic at points, showcased the most in THE scene anyone will remember and what surely got distributors on board that wouldn't suffer at the hands of censors in their respective territories. Of course talking about the acid in the brain scene at the hands of Fan Mei-Sheng's character, here's where the technical excellence on only a fairly rough scale shines as this HORRIFIC scenario actually receives a surprising amount of on-screen execution done with finesse. Clearly lots was riding on the gore and it's simply stunning how affecting it is within a very harsh visual palette that war offers up. Grit, the war look and war gore comes together in stunning fashion. Even subsequence water torture, harsh uses of saws, fingers getting shot off jolts you perfectly which triggers a forgiving mode that will ultimately overall dominate your mind.

But also ultimately via both edits and their respective choices (re-arranging of scenes, alternate events... fairly minor stuff), we get very little sense of a coherent product. Less so in the Jungle Heat edit that ejects LARGE parts of Dorian Tan's romance with a bar girl and the tragedy hovering over that. A final reel tragedy in this edit therefore comes out of nowhere as little of Tan's footage is intact! Part of a cluelessness that resides in both versions of the film but thankfully, the effects crew had a clue and the sellers did as well! That's why Jungle Heat/Last Breath frustrates, thrills, disgusts and is to be admired. An example of market fascination for me personally.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson