I must admit to being extremely frustrated with director Christophe Gans’ French version of the popular manga comic book. My frustration is part annoyance and part sadness. The annoyance comes from the fact that the movie is almost a scene-by-scene copy of the Crying Freeman anime (the Japanese cartoon); and except for a few scenes added for story clarity, this could be dismissed as a live-action version of that popular anime. The sadness part comes from the sheer exasperation in Gans’ style — the man has a very good eye for camera angles, for stylish technical details, and yet, and yet, the movie is very restrained, very subdued, and as a result, it doesn’t fully become what it could have become. Instead, director Gans and his French compatriots have fashioned a so-so action movie with a few inspired scenes, but nothing too exhilarating or too jaw-dropping.
The story is a simple one. Dacascos plays the lead role, a sensitive artist (a potter, actually (re: he makes pots)), who one day witnesses a brutal murder. The killers, realizing that Dacascos is a witness, abduct him and instead of killing him, turns him into their killing machine, The Crying Freeman. After much brainwashing and acupuncture, Dacascos becomes a master assassin, unable to break the mental hold his masters have on him, and must kill whenever he’s ordered to kill. Because he’s the sensitive type, Freeman cries each time he kills; the single tear is meant for his victims as well as for himself.
The bulk of the plot revolves around the Freeman’s attempt to break his masters’ hold and go live happily ever after with Julie Condra’s Emu, a painter who witnessed one of Freeman’s hits. As luck would have it, because Freeman wasn’t ordered to kill Emu, he doesn’t kill her. But that changes when his masters realize he left a witness around; worst, the cops are after her to talk. So the Freeman is ordered to kill Emu, only he can’t do it, because after that fateful day, he’s fallen in love with her, and vice versa.
Yes, the story is that bad. It’s not the best story in the world. It’s really rather, well, stupid. Love at first sight? Okay, whatever. But when the guy you fall in love with at first sight has just assassinated three perfect strangers, what does that say about you? Well, it says Emu, as played by Julie Condra, is either very desperate, or she really, really likes bad boys. Either way, the two eventually gets together, and with Emu’s love, Freeman is able to break his masters’ hold. How? I don’t know, don’t ask. One day he just decides to be his own man, and viola, he’s his own man.
Acting, as you can imagine, is sub par. Except for an inspired performance by the always engaging Tch’ky Karyo as a crooked cop after the Freeman, there’s not a lot of range going around in this movie. Gans seems preoccupied with the visuals, and as well he should, since that’s where his talents lie. To be kind to Gans, he probably didn’t have a lot of muscle to do everything he wanted with this movie, since this was only his second feature full-length movie, and had the added pressure of being based on a best-selling manga (Japanese comic book) as well as a best selling anime series.
There are some truly wonderful visuals in this movie, and some excellent action choreography, but like the two main actors, everything seems to be slowed down too much, and there’s a lack of emotion or resonance to everything. Had the actors not sleepwalk through their roles, and the action had some more zing or pop to them, this would have been an excellent action movie.
And that is where my frustration lies. This movie had tremendous potential to be above par, but as it stands, it comes in at just slightly over average.
Christophe Gans (director) / Kazuo Koike, Ryoichi Ikegami (comic)
CAST: Mark Dacascos … Yo Hinomura / Freeman
Julie Condra … Emu O’Hara
Rae Dawn Chong … Det. Forge
Byron Mann … Koh
Masaya Kato … Ryuji Hanada
Yôko Shimada … Lady Hanada
Mako … Shido Shimazaki