Review of Harmony Korine’s Umshini Wam

Harmony Korine’s new short film Umshini Wam (or Bring Me my Machine Gun) exists in the same desolate world of Trash Humpers insofar as that two wheelchair-conveyed lowlifes wheel their way around what appears to be the same rural Nashville streets the Humpers reaked such ugly havoc on.   The immediate aesthetic difference is that while TH was presumed to have been shot on grainy VHS, this is crystal clear HD.  Also, instead of Korine, his young wife and other friends in realistic monster masks, this film enlists Ninja and Yo Landi (aka Die Antwoord) the foremost “futuristic rap-rave crew” from Cape Town, South Africa and outfits them in onesy pajamas.

Yo Landi’s pixyish voice combined with THean murder rhymes such as “I’m old enough to breed.  I’m old enough to bleed.  I’m old enough to crack a brick in your teeth while you sleep” are both surreal and creepy to the extreme, like all of Korine’s best work.

The 15-minute film could be perceived almost as a parody of rap videos if Korine’s films were possible to define so easily:  the two go around firing machine guns, rapping in strange accents and they eventually murder a wheelchair salesmen so they can upgrade their wheelchairs, then murder another retailer to upgrade their wheelchair rims.  This is the only way Yo Landi sees them getting the respect they deserve on the streets.  Not to mention cartoonish elements like the baseball-bat sized joints they smoke.  But just as one wants to throw this in the easy category of all-style/no-substance slapstick maximalism, there’s a moving bit of dialogue as Ninja and Yo Landi try to sleep under the stars during which Yo Landi wonders if God will forgive them—for the murders, for some past deeds, in general?  We’re left to wonder.

The whole thing has the vague feel of those “I’m the cash-man” gold-buyer ads.  There are some delightfully tacky effects (A glow-in-the-dark marijuana decal on a wheelchair wheel, a giant alien head shooting lasers from its skull that looks like it could effectively promote a monster truck rally) and is stylistically reminiscent of the bouncing balls adorned with the characters’ faces from Mr. Lonely (a strange little anomaly in that film.)

Speaking of that lone misstep in Korine’s career, in some indefinable way this short is kind of the perfect hybrid of the provocation of Trash Humpers with the sentimentality of Mr. Lonely. Many saw Lonely, despite its strangeness, as a permanent departure into linear narratives and austere cinematography for Korine, a misconception he’s blown out of the water with the brilliant and uncategorizable Trash Humpers, and now this insanity.

Korine is an independent filmmaker in the truest sense of the world, in that these films can’t cost much money and there are art-lovers all over the world willing to finance him, and most importantly, he does whatever the hell he wants.  It’s becoming clear there is a whole lot more genius in store from Korine, who is currently filming a hotly-anticipated film called Rebel with James Franco.