Thanks to films such as ROMPER STOMPER and ONCE WERE WARRIORS, Aussie and New Zealand cinema is renowned for hard-edged portraits of gang life. If those films drew critical acclaim for thorough examinations of skinhead and Maori experience, AUSSIE PARK BOYZ is unashamedly a B-movie. Hiding beneath a thin veil of sociological significance, it is a cracking little beat-em-up laced with enough gruelling nastiness to appeal to horror fans.
In a small Australian town, Cam Juan Franco (Le Bianco) and Pepe Siciliano (Joe Murabito) stand prominent in a gang of Italian toughs. Led by Cam’s older brother Vinny, they make a living fighting against rival groups for small money in fights given needle by prejudice and racism. At the beginning of the film Cam – the best fighter – ruthlessly takes apart an opponent in an empty backyard, amid onlookers from both sides. Despite winning the $50, his bloodied foe pulls a knife. Disarming his man, Cam issues his credo “A slap for a slap, a punch for a punch, and a knife for a knife” before gutting the offender.
After a fight with a local Irish gang is cut short when a gun is pulled, Cam is offered a job for local crime boss Jimmy. Thanks to his reputation as a good fighter, he and Pepe gain work as heavies, but despite being promised an easy first errand, the two are thrown in at the deep end. Meeting some rival criminals on a deserted stretch of road for a bag swap, the pair run into trouble when a gun is pulled. His street fighting ways getting the better of him, Cam takes the weapon away and “accidentally” beats the man to death, resulting in he and Pepe’s prompt arrest.
Sent to jail, Cam and Pepe are initiated into their brutal environment. Forced into a number of fights against progressively tougher opponents, Cam eventually faces a huge Maori, The Sandman. After a protracted brawl, they earn one another’s respect, enabling the two Italians to get by without any bother. Eight months of good behaviour earns them early parole and release. Back with his old gang, Cam finds life on the streets tougher than in jail. Spotted by the brother of the man he murdered some two years later, he is framed for the brutal rape of a Maori girl.
Incurring the wrath of the Maori gang, the most fearsome in the city, they are forced to vacate their squalid premises, and since their train tickets have been stolen are trapped in town. Bolting through the city in the early hours of the morning, they are forced to fend off a range of groups scrambling for their blood. The most taxing proves to be a shocking attack by hateful skinheads, which depletes their resources for the final showdown in a football field with the heavyweight Maoris…
Although Cam’s mumbling voice over promises an authentic view of gang life in Australia, it’s not difficult to construe the director’s main concerns. From the very first frames of the film, when the camera surveys Pepe’s lean, muscled body and watches him tap the fist of his right hand into the left palm to the tune of a pounding soundtrack, La Bianca is attempting to agitate the viewer and pump him up in anticipation of the film’s many fight scenes. Hands and fists comprise a major part of the film’s imagery early going, and the two bruisers are contrasted with the more delicate, open hands of gamblers in a den.
Given that AUSSIE PARK BOYZ is a racially charged film told from the perspective of one ethnic group, the film would perhaps stand risk of coming across as racist itself. Although the Italians are constantly referred to as “wogs”, “dings” and such, the protagonists are keen to initiate proceedings with their own racial obscenities. In an inspired touch, however, the Italians are not presented as being totally without fault themselves. When one of Vinny’s gang dismisses an opponent as an “Irish bastard”, he is in fact wearing a Celtic Rangers football shirt, and replies “I’m Scottish, not Irish you bastard”.
In the light of what appears to be an inexperienced cast, director-star La Bianca wisely keeps characterization to a minimum, sometimes absurdly so. Music, combined with the dance-like movements of the lithe cast carry the story along as much as dialogue, giving the film a fluid rhythm that carries the film from one set piece to the next. That in itself is the main purpose, and when the fights come they truly deliver the goods, but it’s worth mentioning that the film in places has a wonderfully authentic documentary quality.
Back streets, gambling dens and seemingly deserted townships are at times beautifully rendered, and the camera is keen to simply sit back and catalogue details at times. During the many combat scenes, however, La Bianca imposes an excellent visual style whereby the edgy, restless camera gets highly involved in the action, and the rapid editing emphasises every hook, uppercut and spin kick that scorches across the screen. Fighting in the film is harsh and brutal, to the point that some of the imagery wouldn’t look out of place in a straight horror film.
The penultimate fight with the skinheads is a gruelling piece of cinema featuring some nasty assaults, such as a torn out throat, a man dropped from a flyover, ear biting and several killings that are truly venomous. This frenetic mood is aided by the sound within the frame (diegetic), including the roars and screams of onlookers baying for blood and who are all too eager to join in, and the entire sequence is permeated with aggression. La Bianca the actor does a fine job here, literally fuming and spitting amid the finely tuned kill-strokes, as he enacts revenge on the men who cut his brother’s throat.
Crossover appeal, then, could be one of the film’s greatest strengths. Like Jim Van Bebber’s classic DEADBEAT AT DAWN, the film is an acquired taste that should appeal to open-minded viewers who can accept unpredictable shifts of tone and detours of genre, including a nasty rape involving a mallet handle that is thankfully implied. Even if it features a few too many fight scenes, and threatens on occasion to turn into a heavy metal video when the choice of sound goes pear shaped, at its best AUSSIE PARK BOYZ is an intriguing, agitating and thrilling piece about the hermetic world of masculine codes.
Directed by Nuncio D G La Bianca
English language / Australia / 103 minutes
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Screen Entertainment DVD Release
Region 0 Pal / Widescreen anamorphic / Dolby Digital 2.0
AUSSIE PARK BOYZ