Review by Andrew Leavold
Wilson hits the Vietnam jungle running with a Mercenary squad under his command, a group of ugly Thai misfits with more than their share of chips on their shoulder. It's a treacherous trip up the figurative river, with the ever-present Viet Cong and their bamboo spiked traps executed in graphic, close-to-the-bone style, yet their most dangerous enemy, it's soon apparent amidst the spiralling paranoia, is themselves. After slashing and mutilating their way through a VC village they stumble on a pregnant Thai woman begging for their protection. With a cold, mean glare and a radio up her skirt, it seems she's leading them into an ambush, and succeeds with surprising ease in turning the men against each other. One private had riddled his wife and her lover with bullets, and thus wants to save the girl; another private, a relentless would-be-rapist, has his way with her - only to find his cock almost severed. Exit pregnant Thai in a hail of Wilson's pistol fire, and they carry off their mutilated buddy. Miraculously, he's cured twenty minutes later into the film, only to try the old "involuntary surprise sex" routine once more.
Wilson finally reaches his jungle contact, a glamorous commando named Choompah, but not before the rest of the squad are captured by Choompah's men, staked to the ground, and urinated on while her 2IC, an almost hairless, toothless and practically eyeless circus freak with a frotting fetish, rubs himself against one of his piss-stained victims. His disturbing bubble-head looked familiar; the actor turns out to be famous comedian Santhong Sisai - which translates to "ugly as sin"! - who was also a country singer and jailed in the Seventies for attempted murder. Which certainly didn't hurt his career, before his untimely death in a car accident around 1982. It's not the first pissing scene, either - but in a Thai film that throws in kung fu, cannibalism, outrageous gore and every conceivable 'Nam and post-'Nam cliches while making up a few of their own, a few bubble-headed toilet antics certainly aren't out of place.
Choompah fills in Wilson's remaining squad on their mission: to bring down a crazed VC Colonel (and it's at this moment when the Heart Of Darkness references tear though the grass roof) operating a drug empire - known as The Empire - out of a fortified camp guarded by flesh-eating aborigines - known as The Draculas! Once Wilson's men are captured, the film kicks into top gear and its previous scenes of graphic mutilation and dismemberment are washed away in a river of gore. There's maggot licking, eyeball squishing, a knife through skull followed by a regulation cannibal chow-down on its contents, and seemingly endless rounds of ammunition tearing through flesh and bone: It's the ending you secretly dreamed of for Apocalypse Now, delivered by the trailer-load, yet somehow redeemed by its main offender's daughter wrapping her arms around him and gushing, "I wuv you daddy!" Awwww....
In addition to the Thai original and export versions, there's a THIRD titled Jungle Killers, edited by Hong Kong producer-hack Thomas Tang with much of the gore trimmed, but with the added bonus of three Euro-Trash actors slashing their way though an entirely different jungle looking for treasure. Looking for the Temple of Doom, perhaps? Move on, assholes. Make no mistake, Tang's Mercenary is to be avoided like the Plague, in favour of its longer, infinitely more excessive version. And yet, at over 1 hour 40 minutes, Mercenary is a fat-free exercise in cinematic brutality - a simpleminded one but not without its own dumb, animalistic, bludgeon-carrying charms. Its camera flourishes and manic montage leave little time between grotesque set-pieces, thus allowing little time to contemplate just how primitive the soundtrack is. And I'm not just talking dialogue, with those regulation Hong Kong dubbing-booth Brits trying American accents and exaggerated Orientals (and Choompah's real voice replaced by Pam Ayres'). Even the foley and atmos tracks are poorly stitched, and the music a hodgepodge of library music and Goblin's Euro-score for Dawn Of The Dead (1978). No, we forgive its shortcomings because of the film's sheer onslaught of mind-bending imagery. The mud-daubed ghouls in denim, the Deer Hunter atrocities punted into Cannibal Holocaust (1978) territory, and above all, the blinking, puckering, rubbing form of Santhong Sisai frotting his way into our hearts and minds.