‘Samurai’ on a shoe-string

First-time helmer sees project through

Like every college film student, Loyola Marymount undergrad Lance Mungia wanted to carve out a place for himself in creative Hollywood — and he has done so in a unique way.

Traveling the fest circuit with his college thesis short film, Mungia carried along a trailer he had made for a yet-to-be-conceived film — “Six-String Samurai” — and, at Sundance, attracted some industry interest.

The film’s plot is thoroughly absurd: It takes place in an America that was devastated in 1957 after Russians dropped nuclear bombs and then took over. The last oasis of freedom became a place called Lost Vegas and famous survivor Elvis was made king. About 40 years later, Elvis has passed and Buddy, a mysterious Buddy Holly-inspired warrior, is battling through the desert to take over Elvis’ throne.

Mungia and his ingenious d.p. Kristian Bernier shot such a visually stunning teaser that they were signed on by William Morris and managed to raise $2 million to make the film.

Shot in Death Valley, the resulting film, which will be released Friday in L.A., is as delirious as its synopsis implies. It comes across as an amalgam of “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Mad Max,” and a Japanese animation film. It’s also arguably the most visually sweeping, picturesque low-budget U.S. indie in years.

Mungia praises Bernier and all involved for the aesthetic tour-de-force that was a struggle to complete.

“I was making my ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on a micro-budget,” he said. “But with all the headache.”

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