Dead Mine (2012)
Well, here we go with the first original feature produced by HBO Asia and making its cinema debut this September. In different circumstances, this might have been a reasonably good film. From this, you will understand it was never going to be great as conceived, but it could have made a not unentertaining contribution to the horror/SF fusion canon of B-movies. As it actually appears on screen, however, it’s a disaster and, while not quite the worst film I’ve paid to see so far this year, it clearly wins the WTF Award of the Year for the decision on where to end it.
Let’s start with the good, such as it is. This is directed by Steven Sheil who shares the screenwriting credits with Ziad Semaan. The script has moments when you know someone with intelligence has been involved. There are references in the dialogue to the kind of well-known adventure and horror forerunners that the characters in this film might know. There are also some quite nice set pieces where the characters actually take a moment to say relevant and illuminating things about themselves and their situation. Unfortunately, the rest of the script is filled with clichés and, frankly, embarrassingly bad dialogue. That said, the production values are good and some of the effects are quite pleasing. In the fight sequences, there are some terrible instances of choppy cutting and poor continuity. I assume this is partially the result of a desire to avoid the highest audience rating. There’s a reasonable amount of gore, but there are cut-aways whenever we might get to watch anything too explicit. More significantly, we seem to suffer the missing body syndrome as some fights end without it being clear what happened to the bodies of anyone killed or seriously injured.
Now to the intractable problems. The terminally stupid leader of this expedition into the depths of Sulawesi, Indonesia, is Price (Les Loveday). He’s the rich offspring out to find Yamashita’s treasure, a cache of gold supposed to be in the Philipines but, thanks to the discovery of some messages decoded by Rie (Miki Muzuno), they have narrowed the search down to this island. He’s accompanied by Stanley (Sam Hazeldine) who’s supposed to be a mining engineer. Until recently, he was actually a British soldier but, having given up the fighting game, he’s become the number one go-to guy if you have an abandoned mine to explore. Needless to say, he comes into this without any proper equipment other than a torch he probably bought in Woolworth’s. He doesn’t have a hard hat let alone a geologist’s hammer so he could take samples or just hit a rock if he needs to take out his frustrations. Worse, as an ex-soldier, he’s unarmed apart from a knife. This leaves the armed guard duty to Tino Prawa (Ario Bayu), Papa Ular (Bang Tigor) and a couple of grunts who die quite quickly.
When they get to the titular mine (actually converted into a major underground facility by the Japanese during WWII), there’s a firefight outside. We have no idea who’s shooting at them. All we can say is an enormous volume of bullets are exchanged and no-one dies. Our heroes are, however, trapped inside with one wounded. Now here’s the thing. My experience in mines confirms that there’s solid, wall-to-wall darkness. Obviously, this is not good for the cinematography, so the entrance areas are lit by the magic lichen growing on the walls. Once inside, however, someone switches on all the lights. Yes, this mine may be seventy years old, but these Japanese engineers built to last. No problem about fuel for the generators and all the light bulbs still flare into life. Even the PA system churns out tracks from the Japanese Army’s Greatest Hits. What a welcome! Later we have to go back to the magic lichen as we investigate tunnels and caves underneath the bunker system but, by then, our eyes have adapted to the dark.
Then all becomes clear. These Japanese were conducting a large scale series of medical experiments on POWs and it turns out the Australians, stubborn bastards to a man, were particularly hard to kill. Many of these POWs have survived in the tunnels under the laboratories, becoming mutants as a result of exposure to gas and drugs in the early stage of testing. They wear muzzles that make it impossible to eat. Despite this, they have survived, presumably eating animals caught in the nearby jungle (sic). Food walking into the mine is a godsend for them and they do manage to chomp away at bits of those they catch (cunningly taking their muzzles off when we’re not looking or something). As our explorers look around this facility, there’s no sign of any food yet, in due course, they meet the inevitable Japanese soldier who’s refused to believe the war has ended. At least he’s good for explaining about the experiments even if we have no idea how he could have survived for seventy years without any obvious source of food or water to drink. Nor does Rie think to ask him why he turned on the lights and offered inspirational music when they came into the mine.
At this point, everything gets really silly (no, really, it wasn’t silly up to now). Yes, those medical researchers made the key breakthrough that has eluded modern scientists and produced the serum to manufacture supersoldiers. Tino Prawa and Papa Ular trigger the mousetrap. Squadrons of samurai warriors lurch into life and leave the mine. Except, just when the silliness ended and we were about to get into the meat of the action, the film stopped dead in its tracks. This is now a military emergency on Sulawesi. The Japanese troops would begin slaughtering everyone they come across. When the military and civil authorities deal with this and trace everything back to the mine, they will find all the written descriptions of the experiments and samples of the formula. What will they do with this information? I could go on but the screenwriters should have had a field day pursuing the logic of their set-up. There were wonderful opportunities for fighting in the jungle, planes dropping high-explosive bombs, firing rockets, and so on. Followed by knowledge explosions as the mine gives up its secrets. What would the world’s largest Islamic nation do with a formula to make supersoldiers?
Expecting people to pay to see content of this calibre is an insult. On HBO, viewers might have enjoyed the performances of Ario Bayu and Bang Tigor as the more effective soldiers, while Miki Muzuno shines as the only one with any intelligence (although quite what her real motives are for being there is not explained). Sam Hazeldine gives a reasonable performance. Everyone else is wooden and unconvincing. So Dead Mine is dead on arrival and should have gone straight to video.