Jul 012006

I had heard of this film for some time, and glimpsed a few stills here and there over the years, but I had never seen it. At long last I acquired a copy.

The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak is an awkward combination of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the art of the late, great John Willie, and the perfume-advertisement style of Just Jaeckin’s earlier soft-core porn epics, including Emmanuelle, Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Histoire d’O.

The plot is a loose rehash of H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. However, instead of Allan Quartermain, our protagonist is Tawny Kitaen, playing an allegedly virginal English convent girl with 80s hair, trekking into China (played by the Philippines and Morocco) in search of the rare butterfly sought by her late father. Her companions on this quest are her maid, Beth, and a loutish soldier-of-fortune named Willard.

Gwendoline may be softcore porn, but it retains the class/race/gender politics of its source material. Asian men are invariably vicious, stupid, grotesque or all three, and practically drool at the sight of a white woman. Asian women are prostitutes. Gwendoline’s French maid Beth is completely devoted to her mistress. Willard, the white man, is master of the primitive wilderness and the lesser human types who dwell there. (There is a bit of equal opportunity sleaze in that Willard spends a good portion of the film in just a thong.) Anne McClintock could have referenced this film in Imperial Leather.

The really kinky stuff doesn’t start until about the 50 minute mark. “The horror, the horror” that lies at this particular heart of darkness is the underground matriarchy of Yik Yak, populated by leather-thong-clad women and ruled over by a woman who acts like she’s auditioning for Cruella de Ville, plus her eunuch henchman. There’s inexplicable machines operated by bald women with topknots (implicitly this society’s slave caste), there’s weird torture devices (Beth is tied up in front of a giant crossbow with the safety device held in her mouth), there’s female gladiatorial combat (including a tag team match in which Beth is literally a human shield for Gwendoline, her hands and body tied to a metal shield) and what is probably the first and only ponygirl-drawn chariot chase scene ever filmed.

Maybe I’m blase’ after years of exposure to kink imagery, but this is all much less sexy than it sounds. Perhaps because the women aren’t remotely Amazonian, perhaps because Jaeckin knows how to make things look pretty but has no idea how to shoot action or give an idea of how things feel, perhaps because the acting, dubbing and editing are amateurish.

Frankly, Gwendoline isn’t a good film by just about any standard. It isn’t even in the same vein as soft-core porn films like Weather Woman or Zeta One, in which the sheer weirdness of the costumes, sets and action is so entertaining that the nudity and sexual content is redundant.

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