Encapsulated Cinema: Like a Dragon, Clash, and Bedevilled

Sometimes it’s good just to kick back, relax, and watch some seriously blood-soaked cinema from overseas. This week’s offerings come from Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea, respectively, and each thoroughly satisfied my unquenchable thirst for cinematic blood-letting. In fact, these three films should be consumed in the way they’re presented here. Unless, of course, you just enjoy getting the brutal stuff out of the way first. If that’s the case, then, by all means, begin with “Bedevilled”. However, don’t blame me if you don’t feel up to watching anything else for a while. You’ve been warned.

Like a Dragon
Who better to handle the cinematic presentation of Sega’s 2005 fight-oriented Playstation 2 epic “Yakuza” than the very man who helped redefine the genre. Cult God Takashi Miike skillfully — and faithfully — captures the title’s cartoony violence and high-energy fight sequences with the 2007 actioner “Like a Dragon”. When compared to the director’s other yakuza-flavored efforts, this particular excursion may seem a bit tame, especially in terms of over-the-top bloodshed. To be fair, “Yakuza” wasn’t a gratuitously violent video game to begin with, giving our favorite maverick Japanese director no reason whatsoever to amp up the amount of on-screen carnage. Screenwriter Seiji Togawa, meanwhile, has done a remarkable job of condensing a 20-plus hour storyline — which involves a former yakuza’s return to his old stomping ground — into a frenzied 110 minute action flick that actually makes sense to those who haven’t played the game. Like any solid adaptation, Miike’s lively endeavor competently stands on its own two legs. It may not be as much fun as playing “Yakuza”, but it’s certainly worth every penny I spent on it.

Clash (aka Bay Rong)
Director Le Thanh Son’s action-packed crime caper “Clash” isn’t founded on original concepts or inspired ideas, but that doesn’t stop this well-executed outing from providing its audience with plenty of high-quality visceral thrills. The film — which reunites a large portion of the cast and crew from “The Rebel” — follows a sexy prostitute-turned-lethal assassin as she attempts to rescue her daughter from the clutches of her villainous employer. Although the final fight features a particularly jarring twist, “Clash” ultimately follows the extremely well-worth path constructed by countless filmmakers with like-minded ambitions. What saves the film from wallowing in the waters of formula and cliche are the several satisfying set pieces sprinkled throughout the picture. Not only is Thanh Van Ngo a very capable action hero, she’s also incredibly easy on the eyes, a fact which makes the wonkier moments seem oddly plausible. Is it as enjoyable and entertaining as “The Rebel”? Not quite, but that shouldn’t prevent interested parties for embarking on this gritty, fast-paced adventure. Expect an American remake any day now.

It’s tough to review a movie that’s as cruel and sadistic as “Bedevilled”. If I say that I enjoyed the picture, then someone is going to claim that I probably keep scores of scantily-clad women locked up in my basement. It’s a fair assessment, given the graphic nature of the story. However, truth be told, I can’t say that I really enjoyed “Bedevilled”. Is it well-written, superbly acted, and masterfully directed? Very much so. Director Jang Cheol-so has crafted one hell of a revenge flick, one that takes its time developing its slim selection of characters and delicately advancing its plot. That having been said, the unpleasant nature of the plot — a city girl pays a visit to her dysfunctional country cousin, a woman who is routinely abused by everyone around her — doesn’t exactly scream out of repeat viewings. The film is perpetually dark, bleak, and uncompromising, culminating in the sort of finale that’s both deeply satisfying yet uncomfortably brutal. Recommending the film is difficult, as I doubt many will have to patience to stick with it until the bitter end. Horror fans that require a little depth with their deviancy should have nothing to complain about.