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By Thomas Wheeler

Despite the fact that it wasn't regarded as a financial failure, it's probably fair to say that the second movie in the Indiana Jones series, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", is arguably the least popular of the four. With its elements of child slavery, a bizarre cult, and the viciousness of the lead villain pulling stunts like yanking a heart right out of somebody's body and then having it burn, along with a really nauseating if elegant dinner, the movie likely just pushed the envelope a bit too far, was regarded by some as too gruesome and grim, and was among those movies instrumental in the establishment of the "PG-13" rating.

Set in 1935, a year before Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as such technically a prequel to it, Indiana Jones narrowly escapes the clutches of a Shanghai crime boss. At the nearby Nang Tao airport, with his ten-year-old sidekick Short Round and nightclub singer Willie Scott in tow, Indiana escapes Shanghai. En route to India, their plane crashes in the mountains. After a dangerous ride down the Himalayan mountains and a raging river, the trio eventually come to a desolate village in India. The poor villagers enlist their help in retrieving a sacred Shiva lingam stone, as well as the community's kidnapped children from the evil forces of nearby Pankot Palace.

The residents at Pankot Palace are insulted by Indiana's questions about the villagers' claims. Later that night Indy is attacked in his room by a would-be assassin, which leads him, Willie and Short Round to discover an underground temple beneath Pankot.

They find a Kali Thuggee cult, child slavery, black magic, and human sacrifice. The Thuggee have enslaved the village children to dig for two last stones within the mines of the palace. Mola Ram, the cult's villainous high priest, hopes to use the power of five united stones to rule the world.

Indy, Willie, and Short Round are captured by the Thuggee and separated. Indy is forced to drink the "Blood of Kali", a mind-control potion which puts him into a trance called the "Black Sleep of Kali Ma," and begins to serve Mola Ram. Short Round is put in the mines alongside the village children as a slave laborer. Short Round frees himself and escapes back into the temple, where Willie is about to be sacrificed to Kali. He burns Indy with a torch, shocking him out of the trance.

In the fight to escape the palace, the three jump into a mine cart and are closely pursued by two Thuggee-filled carts.

The climax leads to Indy, Willie and Short Round on a narrow ledge of a canyon. They try to cross a rope bridge, but are surrounded by Mola Ram and the Thuggee on both ends. Indy prepares his friends to brace themselves. He uses a machete to cut the bridge in half. Many of the Thuggee are sent plummeting into the crocodile-infested river where they are eaten, but Mola Ram holds on. In a final battle for the stones, the evil priest declares that they belong to him. Unafraid, Indiana remembers an encryption that warned about betraying Shiva, and invokes it, which causes the stones to glow red hot. They burn a hole in his satchel and two of them fall into the river. The final stone burns Mola Ram's hand as he grabs it, causing him to fall in the river.

Indiana, Willie, and Short Round return to the village with their sacred stone and the missing children.

Most people regard the highlight of the movie as being the mine cart chase, which would probably make a heck of a roller-coaster ride at Disneyland if it didn't look to violate every safety precaution on the books. It was nevertheless a distinctly wild ride to watch, certainly.

The movie didn't even fare very well in the toy world. Kenner, who had produced a line of toys for the first movie, didn't pick up "Temple of Doom". Instead, it went to LJN, but given the rating and content of the movie, the toys, which were also distinctly larger in scale than was customary for the time, pretty well flopped. A planned Short Round figure was never released.

And it almost happened again. Hasbro has announced the retirement of the Indiana Jones toy line. This is terribly unfortunate, as I believe that had the line continued, there was a lot of potential for it. Four movies to work from, and if taken beyond that, they could have even incorporated some of the "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" along the way. I won't bother to speculate on the probable reasons for the cancellation of the toy line. I will say that I am pleased that it lasted as long as it did, and that is to say that it lasted long enough -- barely -- to offer a reasonable supply of figures representing characters from all FOUR movies, with the detail and articulation levels that Hasbro is certainly capable of, as best evidenced similarly in Star Wars.

Of course, their emphasis was on the newest movie, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", but we also saw figures from the first movie, as well as from "The Last Crusade", although these have been rather scarce.

The line's end came about pretty much around the same time as it was expected that the assortment based on "Temple of Doom" would emerge, and I'm sure I was one among many fans who wondered if this assortment would in fact even turn up, despite advertisements for it in a number of toy-based publications. Well, it did. Just not where I expected it to. I found the assortment in a grocery store.

Now, the assortment has been described as the most colorful and detailed yet. Colorful, yes, but I've never had reason to complain about the detail level anywhere along the line. The worst thing I've been able to say about the Indiana Jones figures is some of them have had somewhat sloppy paint, most especially around the eyes. That, thankfully, seems to have been dealt with.

The assortment consists of, among others, Willie Scott, a Temple Guard, a Chief Temple Guard, and Mola Ram. I can't say as I had any great interest in Willie Scott. I will agree that the Temple Guard and Chief Temple Guard were colorful figures, very ornately sculpted and painted, and well accessorized. As for Mola Ram -- one of his accessories was actually a burning heart. Not exactly my favorite scene in the movie. The figure seems to be in high demand, which is understandable since he was the major villain of the piece.

And then there's Short Round. He -- rounded out the assortment (sorry, I couldn't think of any other way to phrase it), and this little scene-stealer was one of the few saving graces of the movie, as far as I was concerned. And since his LJN incarnation never quite made it out, I was interested in adding him to my selection of Indy figures. Fortunately, I found him.

In the movie, Short Round, aka "Shorty", is a young taxicab driver in Shanghai, who helps Indiana escape from Lao Che. Despite being a child, he is able to stick by Indy through his adventures and is even able to drive (since he is short, he wears wooden block shoes when driving). He is essential in freeing Indiana and Pankot's young Maharajah from Mola Ram's psychic control. The novelization details Short Round was born Wan Li in 1924, and was orphaned when the Japanese bombed Shanghai in 1932. He immigrates to the United States with Jones following his adventure. In the film, Short Round is frequently heard speaking the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, as well as English.

Around 6000 actors auditioned worldwide for the part: Actor Jonathan Ke Quan was cast after his brother auditioned for the role. Spielberg liked his personality, so he and Ford improvised the scene where Short Round accuses Indiana of cheating during a card game. Quan had a martial arts instructor to help him on set.

The character cameoed in an issue of Marvel Comics' The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, rescuing Indiana from a pirate attack in the Caribbean, before he returns to boarding school. The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones, published in 2008, detailed Short Round became an archaeologist and tracked down the Peacock's Eye (the diamond from Doom's opening sequence) to Niihau.

He also appeared in the non-canonical crossover story in Star Wars Tales, where he and Indiana discover the remains of Han Solo in the crashed Millennium Falcon in the Pacific Northwest. First I've heard of THAT story. I need to find a comics shop and track that down. I love crossovers.

Short Round was supposed to be about 10-12 years old in the movie (since the movie stated his specific year of birth and the "1924" of the novelization may have been based on the actor's age), even though Quan was 12-13 during the filming. Quan's real-life story almost sounds like an Indiana Jones movie: Quan was born Ke Huy Quan in Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1971, and was forced to leave his country when the Army of the Republic of Vietnam was defeated during the Fall of Saigon. His family was selected for political asylum and emigrated to the United States.

His movie roles were fairly sparse after "Temple of Doom", although he did appear in "The Goonies", and with his proficiency in martial arts, was a stunt choreographer on "X-Men". He attended Alhambra High School in Alhambra, California. After high school, he graduated from the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. He is fluent in Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and English -- which is pretty impressive.

So -- how's the figure? Very nicely done. Short Round is about the same height as young Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars Episode I line. Nice to see some consistency like that, even if the comparison may be a bit of a stretch. Although Short Round is better articulated.

Short Round stands just under 3" in height. The figure is superbly well detailed. He is wearing a plaid shirt, which is open in the front, showing a white undershirt. For this, Hasbro used a construction method similar to what they've done for figures that have been wearing open jackets, like several Indy figures, or open robes, like a number of Jedi I could name: They molded the arms in the shirt color, and then gave the figure a "vest" representing the rest of the open shirt, while the upper body is molded in the color of the undershirt.

Sometimes this works and looks good, and sometimes it looks a little off and can hinder the figure's articulation. On Short Round, it works very well. The shirt has been imprinted with a grey plaid pattern of criss-crossed lines, very neatly, I might add, and looks very much like the character from the movie. Short Round is also wearing greyish-tan pants, and tan shoes. Distinctly, he doesn't have any socks.

Then there's the matter of his cap. If you look at the photo still from the movie on the back of the package, which shows Short Round, you can see that his baseball cap clearly has the logo, albeit an old one, of the New York Yankees on it. While the Short Round figure is wearing a baseball cap in the correct color scheme for the character, the logo on the front of the cap is simply and ornate "N", rather than the intersected "N" and "Y".

I have the feeling here that to have used the actual logo, Hasbro would have needed permission from the New York Yankees baseball team and probably Major League Baseball itself. One can hardly blame them for taking an easier route than wrangling through all of those legal hurdles. And the cap still looks good.

The headsculpt is an excellent likeness of the character. The facial expression is a little hard to read. I can see elements ranging anywhere from nervousness to determination in it. Of course, if you're a kid hanging around someone like Indiana Jones, any of that is likely to be within the spectrum of emotions you're going to experience.

I am pleased to say that the figure is very neatly painted, including the eyes. If the Indiana Jones line has suffered from one significant problem during its unfortunately short run, it's been that the eyes, for whatever reason, have been the victim of a certain sloppiness on quite a few of the figures. All of the paintwork on the figure is nicely done, and the eyes, especially, are astoundingly neat. Take a look at these the next time you want to see what a toy company is capable of when it tries hard enough and pays attention.

Short Round is articulated at the head, arms, elbows, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Initially, I thought the ankles only swiveled. But in fact -- and I don't believe I've ever seen this before, and it's certainly taking advantage of the somewhat short trouser legs and the sockless, skinny ankles, Short Round's feet are actually on ball and socket joints. They swivel, but they also move back and forth. I initially thought it was somewhat tricky to get him to stand up on his own, but once I discovered the additional range of motion, it was quite easy. The elbows and knees also have swivels in them, as well as back and forth motion.

I think, however, that even with ball-and-socket ankles, it would be tricky to get Short Round to carry all of the accessories he comes with. The kid was on occasion the equivalent of Indy's pack mule, and he certainly comes with enough stuff, and it's all loaded on his back even in the package. You almost feel sorry for the action figure, especially when you realize that Indy's whip is coiled around Short Round's neck!

Actually, it's not that big of a load, it's just oddly placed as much as anything, but it still doesn't look terribly comfortable. Short Round comes with a sculpted accessory that looks like it includes a bedroll or sleeping bag, possibly an extra shirt or something, all bound up in Indy's whip which acts as a strap for the whole thing. The photo from the movie on the back does show him carrying this with the whip wrapped around him, but a little more agreeably and not right at the neck.

Other accessories include a small knife, which I recommend putting in a Ziploc bag and labeling it "Short Round", because at barely 3/4" of an inch in length, despite being neatly painted in silver with a black handle, it's asking to become the victim of a vacuum cleaner. Short Round also comes with a large flaming torch, of the same sort he used when he scorched Indy to bring him out from under Mola Ram's mind control.

All single-carded Indiana Jones figures come with an accessory in a small cardboard box that's been designed to look like a wooden crate. If you collect six of these and the stickers that are also in the box along with a small archaeological artifact from one of the movies, you can send away for a Crystal Skeleton and Throne set, at least until January 2009. I have done so, and it's quite an impressive set. The artifact that was with Short Round was fairly large (having a decent amount of room in the package given the small size of the figure), and was a nicely sculpted Statue of Anubis.

So what's my final word here? Well, it's a shame that the line isn't continuing. However, at least this last assortment, with whom I regard to be a very significant character in the overall concept, did make it out, albeit I suspect in limited quantities and not at the usual retailers. Short Round, in a poll conducted around the time of "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", was voted "Favorite Sidekick" among all of the Indiana Jones movies. If nothing else, the kid has deserved an action figure for some time, as such, and now he finally has one.

I'm not saying he's out there in great quantity, or that he'll be easy to find. But he DOES exist, and if you're any sort of Indiana Jones fan who's picked up even a few of the latest action figure series, which I would certainly regard as the best Indiana Jones figures ever turned out (admittedly, there haven't been a lot of them over the years), then you most certainly should make every effort to track down Short Round. He's a truly excellent figure, a vital addition to any Indiana Jones collection, and as such, the INDIANA JONES TEMPLE OF DOOM SHORT ROUND figure definitely has my highest recommendation!

As to figure assortments that didn't make it out, or the future of an Indy action figure line at all? Well -- if they can get a fifth movie while Harrison Ford is still in good shape... ;)