The Shadow of the Wolf (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film is also known as Agaguk.

Agaguk is a film about the Inuits, or more precisely about the interface between the Inuits and  white Canadians in the 1930s. The tribal kingpin-slash-shaman is played by Toshiro Mifune, king Samurai himself, who started off the drama by claiming an unattached young woman (Jennifer Tilly!!) as his concubine, until his claim was overridden by his son's claim to take the woman as a bride. Father and son engaged in a power struggle, and the boy got the woman, but also got banished from the tribe by the ol' Samurai.


Jennifer Tilly exposed her breasts. There are very brief glances of her lower body.

Another Inuit woman was seen topless, briefly.

The son is played by Lou Diamond Phillips. You read that right. Jennifer Tilly, the Big Samurai, and Richie Valens are the three main Inuits. They actually filmed this movie in Inuit country, so right away you have to think that the casting director may have lost his reason from a mind-altering combination of too much blubber and firewater. Phillips plays Agaguk, which means "one-hit wonder". Tilly plays Igiyook, or "the chick with the silly voice and those great cans". Mifune plays Croomak, or "he who would be called Cromak except that all Inuit names have to include a double o sound". Those three, and all of the other Inuits in this film, seem to have learned their accents and syntax from watching old episodes of George of the Jungle.

Except that all the cartoon characters on George of the Jungle had more sensible voices than Jennifer Tilly.

Amazingly enough, although they did film in real Inuit camps, those camps were apparently designed by the Inuits after watching and re-watching their timeworn copy of Paint Your Wagon.

Back to our story ...

Richie, before his banishment, had single-handedly killed the largest polar bear ever seen, which led to a big misunderstanding. Richie gave the Big Samurai the impressive polar bear pelt, but Mifune traded the priceless pelt to some unscrupulous white guys for some pretty plastic beads and a bottle of cheap hootch. On his way out of the tribal camp, the freshly-banished son saw one of the white guys leaving with the hard-earned pelt. Unaware of his dad's canny trade for the rotgut, Richie thought the man was stealing the pelt, challenged him, and to make a long story short, killed him. It seems that the Canadian legal authorities didn't usually care back then what the Inuits did amongst themselves, but a dead white guy tended to increase the ante exponentially, so a police investigator showed up. The copper was played by Donald Sutherland,  with his hair dyed the same shade of red that Harvey Keitel used in The Last Temptation of Christ. I think Clairol even calls it Keitel Red.

At that point the film stopped pretending to be Dances With Wolves North and assumed its true identity as a regular old crime film with a backdrop of Inuit life. Unfortunately, it didn't have any merit as a crime story. There was no tension or mystery, for example, and the resolution of the story was entirely lame, taking the story out of the realm of the natural world and suddenly becoming magical realism. The Samurai Dad suddenly had a change of heart, developed a paternal instinct, and inexplicably "took the rap" for his son. When the authorities packed Mifune in a plane and flew him off to justice, he leapt from the plane, did a quick shape-shift to the form of a hawk, and flew to freedom. I didn't make that up. You can't make up shit that crazy. The movie ended there, but I suppose the Canadian authorities probably followed up by spending years in a fruitless attempt to put handcuffs on that birdie.

The plot details are laughable, but no worse than some of the dialogue. Richie said stuff to Tilly like, "a woman does not ask questions". No diggity. On the day when the language teacher covers the question mark, the girls are allowed to skip class and practice their baby seal clubbing. This undoubtedly explains why so few Inuit women work as talk show hosts on the Far North Network. Apparently there is no Inuit equivalent of Oprah or Barbara Walters. And a tip for you Inuit gals reading this - don't even think about making a living by translating the SATs into your language.

The whole "no chick questions" ethos is kind of a cool cultural phenomenon, though, when you think about it. I guess those ancient cultures really do have a wisdom white men do not possess. I mean women have to take out the garbage, fix the plumbing, and even repair the carburetor in their 1964 Chevy Impala. They can't ask men to do it, because "a woman does not ask questions".

Although I think they make an exception for rhetorical questions.

And also, women are allowed to ask "do these walrus-skin pants make my ass look fat?"

At one point in the story line, Richie traveled five days to the general trading post, hoping to trade his pelts for life's other necessities. This worked out pretty much like these things always do in the movies.

"OK, son, you have 15 sables and 8 polar bears ... for that I can give you ... (after complicated calculations) ... one stick of gum in a very shiny wrapper."

"No, it is not enough".

"Then take your pelts elsewhere, son. There is another trader to the West, oh, about 30 days ride by dog sled."

"Then I must sell, but I must have more."

"Kid, you're killin' me here. You're holding a spear on me. OK, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you the stick of gum. I'll give you the tinfoil wrapper around it. AND I'll throw in the original green Doublemint wrapper around the foil. But I'm doing this at a loss, just because I like you. This is below my cost. And don't you tell any of your friends."

Jennifer Tilly sings in this film and does so quite well, if we can believe it is really her own voice. Unfortunately, she is singing Inuit music, and their ditties make the Barney the Dinosaur song sound like Beethoven's Ninth. We can only hope that in the years between 1935 and now, they have discovered a second note.

DVD info from Amazon Canada

  • good transfer. It is a region 1 DVD, and offers both French and English sound tracks

  • no features

  • no widescreen

If you can ignore the plot and characters and acting, there are some worthwhile elements of this film. What's left? Well, it's interesting to see how the Inuits construct their shelters, and the photography of the frozen North is striking. Some of the nature action in this film is spectacular. There is a communal whale hunt captured on film, and it sure looks like the real thing, as do some of the scenes in which humans interacted with wolves and bears. If you remake this movie by taking out the actors and filming the real Inuits, you'd have an awesome IMAX film.

The director of this film couldn't convince anyone to let him to helm another one for nearly a decade, and when he did, he made one much worse! This is the same man who directed Vercingétorix, a movie starring Christopher Lambert wearing an 80s hair band wig! He looked like he was auditioning for Joe Dirt 2, but was actually playing Caesar's opponent in the Gallic Wars. Although Agaguk is rated a puny 4.8 at IMDb, Vercingetorix is rated an abysmal 2.7.

The Critics Vote ...

  • General panel consensus: below two stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 1.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed about a million dollars in the USA


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. This sort of film is not for everyone, and the story sucks, but the film is not without merit. I enjoyed the photography and the depictions of Inuit life. I couldn't rate it any higher because Richie Valens never sang La Bamba.

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