AKA The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak
Directed by Just Jaeckin
Starring Tawny Kitaen, Zabou Brightman, Brent Huff
"Haven't you ever been in love before?"
"Yeah, with every woman in the world, except for you."
Most boner-seekers over the age of 30 or so have probably seen this film in its truncated VHS form, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak. It would have had to possess some powerful mojo to get people to actually watch it with such a deplorable title, and it did: Tawny Kitaen. Tawny was the gorgeous face (and body) of glam-metal for a good portion of the 80's, due to a couple of high-profile rock n' roll romances. In the early 80's, she dated a former high school sweetheart, Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby (RIP). Indeed, it is Tawny's shapely legs on the cover of the first Ratt EP (1983). She's also crawling towards the light on the cover of their first album, Out of the Cellar (1984). It was around this time that she began acting in earnest, but it wasn't until her celebrated romance with Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale, and her subsequent appearance in several of their ridiculously popular music videos, that she really became a pop culture icon. Starting in 1987, she appeared as Coverdale's muse in five Whitesnake videos, including Here I Go Again (1987), the one you're thinking of, where she rolls around on the Jaguar. The 80's really were fucking ridiculous, weren't they?
Tawny's post-Whitesnake career was focused mostly on television, but she did appear in three pieces of seminal 80's trash before then: 1986's goofy Ouija-board spookfest Witchboard, Tom Hanks's only raunch-com Bachelor Party (1984), and this rather amazing piece of work. While it is wildly uneven and sometimes painful to wade through, it was shot at the perfect moment for Tawny-watchers. She was merely 22 years old at the time, in full bloom, and not yet wrecked by silicon, shoulder pads, and heavy metal excess. Her acting style was much different here, as well; after Gwendoline, her doe-eyed innocence was gone, in favor of standard sitcom clunk, but here she's natural and utterly adorable. The perfect actress for a perfect role in a seriously imperfect film.
Most people that have seen this in its "Yik Yak" form have complained about its incoherence. The DVD version (from Severin) attempts to rectify this with a longer, un-rated 'directors cut', which is the version we're reviewing here. And while this version is indeed much longer (105 minutes versus 87), and has a few more flashes of tits and ass, the story still makes precious little sense. It's best just to roll with it. The director, Just Jaeckin, was a very successful softcore peddler, having helmed both the original Emmanuelle (1974) and Lady Chatterly's Lover (1981), which is probably still playing on Cinemax or some such cable channel now, nearly 30 years later. He also wrote Gwendoline, based on the erotic, B&D-tinted 1940's comics by John Willie. In the original comic books, Sweet Gwendoline was always getting tied up and threatened by some nefarious type. Fairly fetishistic stuff, and Gwendoline-the-movie does spend an inordinate amount of time trussing up our heroine. In fact, the director's version is almost wall-to-wall bondage. Comparing the two, it's pretty amazing they were able to chop down the kink and mold the film into a woozy Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off.
And so, the story. Gwendoline (Kitaen) is the pure-as-snow daughter of an exotic (and currently missing) butterfly collector, who, along with her maid, Beth (Zabou Brightman) stows away in a box on a merchant sailing ship to find him. She gets caught in a Hong Kong port and is kidnapped by some evil Chinese drug lord. Luckily, she's saved by a rogue adventurer named Willard (Brent Huff), who, after a good amount of Kung Fu, kills the drug-pusher with a hook in the neck. Dude owed him money.
From the start, Willard's tries to distance himself from the two loony broads, but they're insistent. They follow him to the local bar and badger him for help. Initially, he tries foisting them off on the local police chief. You know it's a tough town when you explain your troubles to the chief of police, and he jams his hand up your frock and fuckin' laughs at you. After Gwen wins at roulette, Willard agrees to help her out. He takes her to see this opium-smoking creep who explains, while getting a blowjob, that he hasn't seen her father in awhile, but that he probably went to the Land of the Yik Yak to find that fuckin' butterfly. Not a good idea, seeing as no one ever makes it back.
And then they all get arrested. Steel bars are no match for the wily Willard, however, so he mashes on Gwen to make her scream (she sorta likes it, so he has to goose her extra-hard), which brings the guard around. Willard knocks that fucker out and steals his keys. They sneak out of jail and he attempts to put Gwen and her pal on the next boat out of town. It does not work.
Willard makes a deal to deliver some mysterious packages on a rickety junk, but said packages were delivered while he was sleeping, and Beth hid them. She won't tell him where they are until he takes them to Yik Yak. After tossing them into the river and killing a seriously rubbery alligator, he agrees. On the way, they are besieged by pirates, but Willard stabs them and burns down their boat.
Eventually, they stop to visit a friend of Willard's named Tom (Andre Julien). Gwen faints when she sees him, as he's wearing her father's clothes. Turns out her dad was killed, and Tom discovered the body. At first glance, it looked as though he was sacrificed to the gods-of-whatever by the local cannibal tribe, but Tom noticed that he had a bullet wound. And none of the natives own guns.
By the way, unless I blinked, we never solve that particular mystery. In fact, I don't think it's even mentioned again. Maybe in the yet-to-be-released, super duper four hour director's cut. I'm sure there's one lying around somewhere.
Willard's had enough of all this jungle madness, but Gwen offers him $2000 to travel deep into the Yik Yak with her to complete her father's work, to find that elusive butterfly. Of course, she doesn't actually have $2000, so she sells Tom Willard's mysterious packages to get the money. She also buys a bitchin' safari suit and a butterfly net, and they hit the trail.
There's an entirely gratuitous scene when it starts to rain in the jungle and Willard forces Gwen and Beth to take their shirts off so he can gather drinking water in them. It's a reasonable excuse to pop the girls' puppies free for a good ten minutes. Shortly thereafter, they are kidnapped by a headhunting tribe called the Keof. The Kiaf? Something like that.
They get thrown into a bamboo cage, but Willard crafts a clever plan involving a thorn and a piece of bamboo, and they get the hell out of there. Then they wander around in the desert for awhile. Then there's a cave (where, besides a theme park, maybe, can you find caves, jungles, and a desert, all in walking distance of one another?) where they spot the butterfly. They chase after it, and end up in some weird concrete underworld inhabited by girls in black leather S&M-esque bikinis. Beth gets captured, so Gwen and Willard dress up in the outfits to blend in and rescue her. First, though, they have a lover's spat.
"You're not man enough to say what you're true feelings are!" Gwen complains.
"Feelings are for creeps," says Willard.
So they follow the glamazon chicks and figure out that it's an elaborate diamond mining operation. This scene really should crackle with more sexual electricity, but every time you get a good shot of Gwen's thong, Willard's is right next to it. When the women figure out he's a man, they pile on top of him in an orgy of desperate woman-need, but all the girls are wearing these odd bald-caps. Crazy Frenchmen. At least there's a lot of ass in the frame.
One of the leather-girls chases Gwen down and almost stabs her to death, but Willard thwarts her, and she ends up getting eaten alive by cannibals. That, I did not see coming.
Gwen finally finds Beth. She is trapped in some giant torture room. She's got an arrow aimed at her guts, and if she lets go of the tether in her mouth, it'll shoot her. Gwen saves her (90% of this movie is somebody saving someone else from some Batman villain-y trap), but is captured by the "The Queen" (Bernadette Lafont) and her fancy-mustachioed man-servant D'arcy (Jean Rougerie, RIP).
She puts Gwen and Beth in chains (opposite each other, for maximum kink-impact) and informs Willard that her girls will have a gladiator fight, and whoever wins gets to bone him. If he survives, he and his friends can go free. What he does not know is that he will not survive, as it is their practice to kill men after sex. Clearly, this whole movie is being improvised at this point. Anyway, Willard fights the women off, and then there's a girl-driven chariot race, but it's all for naught. They get caught again, and Gwendoline is forced to strap on the gladiator gear and fight the other women for Willard. There's an extended (some would say endless) girlfight that ends when Gwen knocks another chick over and she gets impaled, gorily, on spikes.
And so, the thrilling climax. Gwen and Willard are forced to fuck in front of everyone, and when it's over, she's supposed to chop off his head. But will she? Or will Gwendoline and Willard (and Beth) escape from the queen's clutches? And what about this fuckin' butterfly? And what was in those packages?
Well, at least one or two of those questions are answered by the time the end-credits roll.
Being a French production and all, there's a sub-titled version that makes an eensy bit more sense than the dubbed, but the dialogue matters so little that either one will do. What Gwendoline is really all about is Kitaen's breathless beauty. There are moments here where she looks so astoundingly attractive that you almost feel privileged for the opportunity to gaze at her. So there's that.
As far as the rest of the film goes, at times it looks seriously expensive - like Dino De Laurentiis, suitcase-full-of-coke expensive - and other time when it looks like an amateurish piece of low-budget junk. It may be one of the most dramatically uneven films I've ever seen, in that respect. It's also senseless, and sorta overlong.
If you are looking for a cohesive story, you're out of luck. However, it you're looking for a French adventure-comedy that you can masturbate to, bingo!
PS: Jaeckin retired (at age 45) immediately after making Gwendoline. Once you've directed a topless Tawny Kitaen, what else is there? He remains rich, rested, and happy. Tawny spent some time in rehab (and reality television), but is apparently on an upswing. We look forward to more Kitaen-induced boners in the future. The rest of the cast was French, so who knows. The French do not consult with us.
Availability: Gwendoline is available on DVD.
Clip: Gwendoline trailer!