I tend to go through periods where I watch nothing but Asian cinema. This has been one of those weeks. Below you’ll find a trio of bite-sized ramblings surrounding three snazzy motion pictures, all of which I found to be more than enjoyable. Then again, I probably shouldn’t admit that I enjoyed something along the lines of “Cold Fish”, given the large amount of cinematic debauchery contained within. Because I liked it. A lot. And that’s okay. Right?
Anyway, here they are, in no particular order.
Let the Bullets Fly (2010)
Is writer/director Wen Jiang’s clever action/comedy a political film at heart? Honestly, I don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough about China’s storied history to draw that sort of intellectual conclusion. Sorry if that disappoints you, but there are much smarter reviewers out there if you’re looking for that sort of cinematic analysis. However, on the surface, “Let the Bullets Fly” is a witty and frequently hilarious western-tinged actioner that intricately weaves double-crosses and spur-of-the-moment plot twists with a fair amount of suitably over-the-top violence. Jiang Wen stars as Pocky Zhang, a resourceful bandit who, after derailing a train carrying an important government official, pretends to be the new governor of a strange little village called Goose Town. Still with me? It gets better. The only thing preventing Pocky from claiming the title is an eccentric gangster named Wang (Chow Yun Fat), a man who isn’t going to sit idly by while a total stranger effectively takes away his power. This sets the stage for a number of double-crosses, shoot-outs, and verbal interplay between Fat — who is clearly relishing his role as the villain and his empty-headed double — and Jiang Wen. Since most of the cultural references sailed over my head, the film feels a bit too long, though, to be fair, I wouldn’t change a thing. “Let the Bullets Fly” is top-notch in my book, regardless of whether or not I missed the political subtext. Welcome back, Chow Yun Fat.
Cold Fish (2010)
Director Shion Sono does a fine job of flipping the proverbial script at the worst possible moment for the characters in “Cold Fish”, resulting in a decidedly bloody and oddly perverse downward spiral that is both revolting and, at times, deeply and wrongly humorous. When the daughter of a fish shop owner gets busted for shoplifting, her misadventures through the Japanese legal system is interrupted by a kindly old fellow who also happens to own an exotic fish store on the other side of town. Ever the concerned citizen, the elderly chap offers to take the wayward young lady under his wing by providing her with a job at his shop. Our hero agrees, not realizing that this decision will set into motion a series of increasingly horrific events that will change his life forever. Sono and co-writer Yoshiki Takahashi aren’t in a rush to reveal the contents of their hand; you won’t know what, precisely, this meek and mild fish entrepreneur has gotten himself into until much later in the film. Although I hesitate to elaborate further, I will say this: By the time all is said and done, you’ll feel as though you’ve been put through the cinematic wringer, which is precisely what the makers of “Cold Fish” were attempting to accomplish. In short, it’s the tale of a man who gradually overcomes his own physical and emotional limitations, and while it isn’t necessarily a character study, it does rely heavily on a handful of unusual personalities to drive its story. If you like them strange and gruesome, “Cold Fish” is the best dish I’ve had from Japan in quite some time.
Detroit Metal City (2008)
To be perfectly honest, I had extremely low expectations going into Toshio Lee’s infectious 2008 rock & roll epic “Detroit Metal City” (aka “Detoroito Metaru Shiti”) despite strong critical praise from various sites not unlike the one you’re currently reading. Based on the manga by Kiminori Wakasugi, this light-hearted comedy chronicles the misadventures of whiny pop music aficionado Soichi Negishi (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) as he boldly attempts to make a name for himself on the savage streets of Tokyo. After graduating from college, Negishi reluctantly becomes the front man for an underground death metal band called Detroit Metal City (DMC), a job which constantly gets in the way of his budding relationship with a fashionably hip girl he befriends at the university. As our hero’s attempts to woo his conservative love interest spiral out of control, Negishi must contend with the increasing popularity of his alter ego, a self-proclaimed “demon” who sports Kiss-style makeup while declaring his love for rape, murder, and general anarchy. Lee has a genuine knack for madcap comedy, as does lead Matsuyama, who bounces wildly from violently maniacal frontman to girlishly effeminate bumpkin with surprising ease. The film is funnier than it has any right to be, due in part to Mika Omori’s impossibly sweet script and several memorable musical numbers. Detroit Metal City and its goofy pop-infused madness certainly isn’t for everyone, but fans of kinetic Japanese comedies will have plenty to sing about.