(Movie Review by Edward Lee) The world loves a good western. As a matter of fact, Europeans loved them so much that, when distribution problems of the early 1960s made these movies increasingly difficult to import, they started making their own. While starring actors of various nations, most of these films were financed by Italian companies and filmed in Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, the Canary Islands, and even Argentina. The final products were dubbed ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ by critics. The term, if you were wondering, was originally intended as an insult. Despite the critical jab, the films grew in popularity and, more importantly for the producers, profitability, paving the way for even more.
Between 1964 and 1975, it has been estimated that European film companies accounted for 600 westerns, including Sergio Leone’s high watermark, the legendary ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy, consisting of “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For A Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” These films were commonly characterized by excessive violence, a unique musical score, a largely amoral society, and the emergence of the gritty, unshaven, unkempt gunslinger that was also the first true silver screen ‘anti-hero’ of the 20th century. Over time and subsequent viewings, the moniker ‘Spaghetti Western’ changed from insult to admiration, and directors of today continue to pay their respects to this unique sub-genre.
Director Atsushi Muroga’s low budget, straight-to-video “Gun Crazy” (Volume 1: “A Woman From Nowhere”) is intended as homage to the Spaghetti Westerns, but instead of giving an affectionate nod to its influences, “Nowhere” goes nowhere fast. The film is weighted down by a lukewarm plot that is all too derivative from other cult feasts, uneven moments of tension that appears to also have been lifted from other, more notable films, and uninteresting stock characters already stale with overuse by the time Muroga thought to repeat the process with his own movie.
On a motorcycle with no name, leather-clad Saki (played by supermodel and television star Ryoko Yonekura) rides into Tsuson, a dreary but contemporary little hollow on the edge of an American military base. The town has been corrupted by Mr. Tojo (Shingo Tsurumi), a generic crimelord who suffers from delusions of grandeur as well as a ludicrous high price on his head for reasons never explained, explored, or expunged. A bounty hunter by trade, Saki takes on the local mob, as well as American soldiers that take their marching orders from Tojo in yet another plot-hole twist.
Throughout the film, Saki engages the enemy in a variety of shootouts and slugfests that bears more than a passing resemblance to the cinematic works of Dante Lam, Johnnie To, and John Woo. Of course, by the film’s climax and out of respect for the ‘Spaghetti’ genre that it purports to be honoring, Saki has endured more than a heroine’s fair share of torture at the hands of these culprits, leaving her just enough time to inevitably and predictably rise to the occasion — on her knees, no less, in what is a laughable twist for a surprise ending — and vanquishes her enemies with a handy rocket launcher.
“Gun Crazy” isn’t so much inspired by the Spaghetti Westerns as it is plagiarizing whole sections from Sam Raimi’s “The Quick and the Dead”. In an ironic twist, Raimi’s movie is itself an admitted homage to Sergio Leone’s films, one of which was “A Fistful of Dollars”, which in turn was inspired by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”. So what we have here is a Japanese director plagiarizing from an American filmmaker who was doing homage to an Italian director who was following in the footsteps of a Japanese director. The irony is delicious.
Outside of some great photography of star Ryoko Yonekura, who does look great in leather, “Gun Crazy” offers little more than 70-plus minutes of mindless escape from reality. And like most of the ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ of their day, “Gun Crazy” can be viewed as voyeuristic mind candy — guilt-free entertainment that plays with genre conventions as opposed to expanding upon them or enlightening the audience with any lasting impact. Here, vengeance isn’t so much a dish best served cold as it is served with hot smoking lead fired at 200 rounds a minute.
The story involves little to no emotional investment on the viewer’s part, and the action is tightly photographed but too reminiscent of scenes from other films. The acting is entirely one note. As such, the hero is a hero for the sake of being a hero, the town schmuck is the town schmuck, and the villain is the villain. There is little back-story required here other than Saki’s flashbacks. Also, a greater exploration of Mr. Tojo might have made his eventual grizzly comeuppance more satisfying. Even Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry,” an important step in the continued evolution of the cinematic anti-hero, made certain the bad guys had it coming before he pulled his Magnum.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the fact that “Gun Crazy” somehow managed to avoid plagiarism lawsuits is the fact that it’s only the first in a series titled “Girls With Guns.” But even that title would only work if Saki bothered to use her guns more often.
Atsushi Muroga (director) / Takeshi Hamazaki, Atsushi Muroga (screenplay)
CAST: Ryoko Yonekura …. Saki
Shingo Tsurumi …. Mr. Tojo