feels like the 1970’s again, in a good way.
Strutting through the streets of Shimonoseki in a leather coat, slapping
about petty thugs like little girls, while some funky soul-jazz s chugs away in
the background, Gu Su-yeon’s latest film certainly follows in the tradition of
vintage 70’s era exploitation films.
Yet, Gu’s story of life amid the zainichi underworld is reportedly based
on real life experience. His alter-ego
namesake should definitely be considered an anti-hero throughout Gu’s Hard Romanticker (trailer here), which screens as
a co-presentation of the 2012 Japan Cuts and New York Asian film festivals.
Gu is a lone wolf freelancer, who treats the North Korean gangs with the
contempt they deserve. He enjoys the
limited protection of his childhood friend Shoji, who has risen up through the
ranks of the legit Yakuza. However, when
a couple of knuckleheads bludgeon to death the grandmother of an up-and-coming
NK delinquent (supposedly with Gu’s encouragement), it ignites a war among
street gangs that threatens to engulf the unaligned Gu. With a crooked cop dogging his trail and his
pal Shoji playing a dangerous game with the boss’s wife, Shoji is in for a
rocky patch. Of course, that does not
stop him from making enemies among mobbed-up lowlifes or putting the moves on
the ostensibly demur Naksuko Chieko.
Romanticker might be
intended as a cautionary confessional, but its pure testosterone and adrenaline
will key-up viewers to the point many will be ready to grab a length of rebar
and jump into the fray. If you want to
see some spectacularly violent street fights, than this is the movie for
you. Yet, despite the wardrobe,
attitude, and greasy soundtrack, Gu is no Shaft. Frankly, there is a decidedly mean-spirited
misogyny to the film that Gu the character explicitly contributes to.
electric presence, Shôta Matsuda is all kinds of intense as the hardnosed
Gu. Sei Ashina looks great in Chieko’s
sailor suit and she is quite affecting in her big dramatic scenes, almost
completely undercutting viewer sympathy for the ethically challenged protagonist,
as a result. While the large ensemble of
juvenile delinquents does not look particularly youthful, they are all pretty convincing
when either giving or receiving a massive beatdown.
Romanticker’s world, life is cheap and sex is cheaper. The action and attitude are highly cinematic,
but the nihilism becomes a tad exhausting over time. Recommended specifically for those who enjoy hardcore
blaxploitation or Yakuza films, Hard
Romanticker screens this Friday (7/13) at the Japan Society as a joint presentation
of the 2012 editions of Japan Cuts and the New York Asian Film Festival.
Labels: Japan Cuts '12, Japanese Cinema, NYAFF '12, Yakuza films