This one deserves a place here because it is routinely identified as a Science Fiction film in most Western sources.
It is also more or less impossible to find even the simplest plot summary of the film, or any sort of details.
However, it would take an incredible stretch to identify this one as science fiction. Yes, we know, for good or ill, psychic powers of all sorts have been vaguely lumped together as science fiction. And yes, there are a few references in the film to other realities, which could be interpreted as some sort of multiverse, and it is even suggested that the powerful amulets at the center of the story were the creation of aliens or an ancient lost civilization.
But that’s all just suggestions, hints, old legends — and not much more.
Instead this is a bizarre combination of things you normally don’t expect from a Russian film, not even one made in the final year of the USSR’s dissolution. A young man, Gera, who loves Karate but is not as skilled as he thinks he is, nearly dies when he tries to defend his girlfriend, Elya, against a gang of thugs. He awakes afterwards in absurdly good health, despite being shot. He also has a mysterious amulet around his neck which wasn’t there before — and which he cannot remove.
He’s also seeing things no one else can, in particular a horrible dwarf who is always trying to bring out the worst side of Gera’s personality. He’s befriended by a mysterious doctor who can also see the dwarf, who leads him through the hospital room’s door into a castle in the Middle Ages.
The stranger teaches Gera how to fight, a skill he’s forced to use again and again as the agents of the mysterious sorcerer only known as The Chinese keep trying to kill him.
So before long, we’re jumping from time to time and place to place, as Gera tries to survive each new encounter, but usually just wakes up back in his own time when he gets killed.
Along the way, he meets the mysterious Stepchuk, who explains that a critical time is coming when the two halves of the amulet can be put together and remake the world — and that it is up to Gera to do this.
Only Gera really doesn’t want to.
This summary, of course, makes more sense than watching the film. We get weird visions, strange parallel events which may or may not be real, colorful blasts of special effects, characters die and return, magical ceremonies and incantations (including the sacrifice of a naked girl), extravagant powers, white and black wizards, an introduction featuring characters and situations which never show up again, and lots and lots of martial arts.
And I do mean lots of them. Like this is a Russian attempt at making a Wu Xia Hong Kong Martial Arts film.
Only it’s rather stranger than that. We even get an odd scene where Gera and his girlfriend flee that castle in the Middle Ages only to find a car hidden outside the walls and get in a car chase in the modern world, complete with machine guns.
And you will probably miss one of the other clear references here unless I point out that not only are those wearing the amulets immune from harm, it can only be taken from the wearer by heating it red hot…
Or by cutting off his head. Which happens to several of those wearing the thing.
There can be only one, right?
However, as bizarre and strange as all this is, with a lot of wild and amusing things thrown willy-nilly at the screen, I’ll confess I found the tone a bit grim, largely because of all the torture and the threats to Elya and her daughter. It also takes itself far too seriously, something that Hong Kong films rarely do.
Now I’ll admit that I watched this one on Youtube with auto-translated Auto-subs, and probably missed a lot of the fine details. But I don’t suppose it matters that much as the events are so weird they more or less speak for themselves most of the time.
This is a thoroughly strange effort, which seems to be trying to find more and more ways to surprise the audience. It definitely isn’t any sort of classic, and even Russian audiences and critics don’t seem to have thought that much of it, but you’ve got to love anything this incomprehensibly convoluted, anything this defiantly odd, which can be absurd with such confidence, generate a bit of suspense now and then — and yes, which has a touch of something grim to keep it from being utterly silly.
This isn’t a film for everyone (although I have to wonder how it would have done had it been dubbed and shown in the U.S. at the time), but it is remarkably entertaining — in its own peculiar way.
So check it out, if you dare.
But I’ll warn you, you might just end up liking it…