On February 28, 2016, George’s Miller’s beleaguered, long-gestating fourth film in the Mad Max-franchise swept the 88th Academy Awards with ten Oscar nominations and, deservingly, won six for its technical prowess. Mad Max: Fury Road not only surpassed all other nominated films for the evening; it broke the record for the most wins for an Australian film, previously held by The Piano (1993), which won three Oscars.
Mainstream critics across the wasteland praised the film—with movie goers giving it an 8.0 on the IMDb, 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 90% on Metacritic. As you can tell by those scores, there’s a segment, the hardcore post-apocalyptic fan segment—the ones raised on the ‘80s fucked-up futures of Sergio Martino and Enzo G. Castellari—that slogged the film as a “poor remake,” a “poor sequel,” and “don’t believe the hype.”
Yep, it’s the ‘ol “you say ‘tomayto’, I say ‘tomahto’” adage. While you, the mainstream swimmers who dare not dip so much as a toe into the toxic video-fringe waters, say “modern classic,” we, the apoc-rats of the ‘80s post-nuc generation, say “mundane crap.” Then we wash away the Hollywood hysterics with entertaining waste-barrel scrapes from the masters of the genre: the Philippines’ Willy Milan and Cirio H. Santiago.
So, yes. I’m on the side of the 489 IMDb reviewers who rated the film between 1 to 5 Stars out of 10 (248 gave it a “1”); where 1 to 5 Stars serves as a barometer, that translates to about 2, to 2 1/2 Stars. Now, if I was a studio executive, I’d be enraged. That’s not the feedback my studio was paying for with that $150 million price tag.
Flush the bombers. Get the subs in launch mode, General Jack Beringer. We have a few contaminated bones to pick.
Def-Con 5: The Pursuit Special, the baddest-badass car of the apocalypse, stolen and driven by others? We came to see Max tear up the radioactive roads—not have the car repainted, driven by others . . . and destroyed.
Def-Con 4: Tina Turner draped in chainmail lording over the Thunderdome—in place of The Humungous and Wez—bitching about the “Raggity-Man” and pop-crooning about heroes? Thank god Willy Milan and Cirio H. Santiago came to wash that Def-Fuck from our minds.
Def-Con 3: We didn’t come for some high-art, exploding vehicle POV-CGI shot tomfoolery threading us through the spokes of a tumbling steering wheel. We didn’t come for flame-throwing guitars, just so Conan O’ Brien could annoy us with an unfunny apoc-parody and piss us off.
Def-Con 2: Regardless of who fitted into Max Rockatansky’s leathers: We came for Max: not a “Mad Maxine.” When we are in the mood for an apoc-babe, we’ll pop in our copy of Phoenix the Warrior and cheer on Kathleen Kinmont. Your feminist bait-and-switch, which strung-up Max as a blood-bag hood ornament grunting through a face-cage for half of the film pissed us apoc-rats off.
Def-Con 1: No Mel Gibson. That’d be like John Carpenter doing his Escape from New York remake, I mean, reboot, I mean, sequel, Escape from L.A, without Kurt Russell. We came for Kurt. Kurt is Snake . . . and Mel Gibson is Max. Period.
Boom! You screwed us, McKittrick.
What we apoc-rats really want is a flat-out, crazy-ass, bigger-budgeted homages to Cirio H. Santiago’s Philippine-apocalypse series: Dune Warrior, Equalizer 2000, Raiders of the Sun, The Sisterhood, Stryker, and Wheels of Fire. We want Willy Milan’s Mad Warrior and W is War. Why? Because when it comes to the apocalypse: You stay the hell out of America, Canada, and South America. You go straight to the wasteland sands of the Philippines, then Italy, then Australia, and then New Zealand, in that order.
So while the cinematic, western Imperialism of Hollywood shoves down one bloated Armageddon and Geostorm conniption after another on the East, China said: no. And Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t receive a major release in China. Then China’s film industry made their own.
Mad Shelia is not a faded Xerox of an Asylum mockbuster. It’s not a blatant and cheap, direct-to-video SyFy channel pukebuster that justifies it’s awfulness with an “it’s a parody,” excuse. This fun film is not a copyright infringement. It’s homage to the Pacific-rim knockoffs, of the Italian rip-offs, of the English-language-made originals that birthed Snake Plissken and Max Rockatansky.
So put on your Cirio H. Santiago rose-colored glasses and enjoy the ‘80s apoc-throwback ride that travels the familiar radiated sands of our VHS upbringing with souped-up battle cars, jousting motorcycles, and steampunk-adorned vagabonds. We’re off on the road warrior adventures of Xi Liya who, with the assistance of her father, wonders the desert disguised as a man. For in this wasteland, the hordes aren’t after food, water, or the all-precious petrol—this Earth needs women, which are in short supply, and virginity is the gold they seek. After discovering Shelia’s sex, the warrior hoards want her. They murder her father.
That’s it. Shelia downshifts to “Def-Con 1” and rescuers a group of virgins on the auction block. Then she just starts kicking ass with aplomb from one end of the China Wall to the other.
I’m in love.
Yeah, I hear you, mainstream apoc-naysayer. This is the cleanest bunch of contaminated wastelanders since Barry Pepper’s pristine, post-apoc snowy whites lit up our soiled, post-WW III screens in Vinnie Barbarino’s Battlefield: Earth.
“So what?” I say to you.
In my tribute to Italian apocalypse cinema on Medium, I discussed the 20 “go to” spices and herbs added to the pasta pots of the apoc-world. And Mad Shelia boils it’s dumpling-apocalypse exactly the way it is supposed to. For in the post-apocalypse:
—Women always seem to not only find cosmetics, but the make-up stays on in the hottest and dirtiest, war-ravaged environments.
—Even in the absence of dental hygiene products . . . everyone has perfect teeth and gums.
—After running through sewers, deserts, and rubble, etc., men and women hop into the first burnt-out car or rat-infested hovel to have sex—body odors be damned. Where the deodorants stick stash is, is anyone’s guess.
—When it comes to body maintenance, there’s always a stash of finger and toe nail clippers to maintain hands and feet. Where’s the nail polish come from?
—There are no ugly women suffering from nuclear fallout hair loss in the apocalypse. Only well-endowed women with perfectly coifed hair survive.
Yeah, you can call me an apoc-chauvinist, but pretty girls with guns kicking wasteland ass is welcomed in my celluloid wheelhouse.
So, where can you see Mad Shelia, you ask?
Sadly, in the domestic marketplace, all we have are the two official trailers and the film’s numerous promotional stills/screen caps on the web to enjoy. Since the film was made exclusively for video streaming websites in China, there’s no Region-specific, dubbed or subtitled, physical releases—no Blu-rays or DVDs on this one.
The film is available on TenCent Video’s (Chinese Mandarin) streaming site. Sadly, even with an online language translator, the site is difficult for non-native speakers to navigate. As of March 2019, the site’s VOD traffic spiked to 900 million mobile users and 89 million subscribers, content which TenCent also distributes through China’s largest television maker, TCL. The film’s success also spawned two equally successful (and equally cool) streaming-sequels: Mad Shelia: Virgin Road (2016) and Mad Shelia: Revenge of the Road (2017).
So take that, George Miller.
Director Lu Lei is China’s prolific “Alfonso Brescia.” Brescia, or, as we VHS video hounds know him under his Americanized director-nom de plume, Al Bradley, was Italy’s Star Wars knockoff king. While George Lucas was still piddling around with the production of the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)—Brescia was already on his fourth out of five not-Star Wars romps. (You can read about my affection for Alfonso Brescia’s oeuvre in detail on Medium).
Bottom line: Director Lu Lei’s films are awesome. He knows what his audience wants, he knows how to work a budget, and he delivers the goods—and brings the studio great returns on their investment. He’s a director’s director and, we hope, Lei takes a dilapidated page from the Cirio H. Santiago ancient wasteland playbook and bestows us nostalgic video fringers with more desert sands dust-ups and war and action films.
Here’s to hoping that, one day, possibly a retro-Digital imprint, like Arrow Video, will make Mad Shelia—a well-shot, fun film—easily available outside of China. It deserves it.
And be sure to check out review for another ignored blockbuster from China: 2019’s The Wandering Earth.