A disappointing and lackluster action film "loosely" based on "Crying Freeman"
Lam Ang Hang's low-budget action/thriller "Story of Freemen" has a good premise and idea unfortunately its confusing story, wooden cast and slow pacing make this a real disappointment especially for those wanting to see another variation of the "Crying Freeman" manga story.
"Crying Freem" was originally a multi-volume Japanese manga/comic series that ran in Shogakukan's Weekly Big Comic Spirits comic 1986 1988 and was the brainchild of the prolific writer Kazuo Koike (whose "Kozure Okami" is a comic classic) and famed illustrator Ikegami Ryoichi who has influenced numerous American and HK artists including the equally talented Ma Wing-shing). It told the tragic story of a gifted Japanese potter, Hinomura Ryo/Yo who is kidnapped by a powerful Chinese secret cabal known only as the "108 Dragons". While in their custody, he is hypnotized and trained to become one of their assassins. To drive the point that he is their's forever, he is branded/marked with an elaborately ornate full body dragon tattoo. He earns the codename "Crying Freeman" because he sheds tears whenever he kills a victim (a sign of his remorse/guilt at being forced to kill). During one of his assignments he is witnessed by a shy and reserved Japanese artist Hino Emu (a possible Japanese wordplay for Heroine). Yo is told he must kill Emu as she saw his face but Yo can not kill her and in fact eventually falls in love with the beautiful but withdrawn woman. She aids Yo in his adventures and eventually even becomes his wife as they takeover the organization that enslaved him.
With its intriguing and complex 70s inspired exploitation story, beautifully drawn illustrations and detailed graphic sex and bloody violence it was an instant hit among manga fans and inspired many others (Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita" shares many similarities in the story).
It was just a matter of time before a film adaption was made. While the graphic nature of the story makes a literal translation almost near impossible, various "loosely based" films did try to adapt the basic storyline (sans the sex) including Clarence Fok Yiu-leung "Dragon From Russia" (1990) and Phillip Ko's "Killer's Romance" (also in 1990). Perhaps the closest adaptations of the story were the Toei Anime OVA series "Crying Freeman" (1988) and Christophe Gans' Canadian/French co-production "Crying Freeman" (1995).
Which leads us to Lam Ang Hang's 2001 oddity "Story of Freeman", which doesn't credit itself as based on the Koike/Ikegami manga but for all-intense-and-purposes could be seen as a variation. Of course the story is heavily modified and in fact is an interesting and inventive role-reversal in characters.
Tae (played by Thai/Chinese singer and actor TAE AKA Sattawat Sethakorn) is an award winning photo journalist specializing in war conflict photos. He is a loner and seems content on living a somewhat hermit existence. During one of his assignments he witnesses the assassination of the "Sea Tiger" syndicates' boss. The assassin is a beautiful woman dressed all in white. Later that night, the assassin who calls herself "Dream" (the beautiful Joey Maan) comes to his apartment with the intention of killing him but can't and in fact falls in love with the photographer. We later find that Dream is the daughter of a powerful Yakuza boss (Nishikawa Takakazu) who leads the quasi-Chinese triad group called "Dragon Society" and is in a gang war with the Sea Tigers in Thailand. Dream is conflicted with her devotion to the group and her desire to lead a normal life. Along the way hot shot cop Loon (Siu-Wong Fan) is trying to catch Dream and prevent further escalation of bloodshed as the war between Dragon and Tiger takes more casualties.
What a missed opportunity for Lam Ang Hang as he could have really expanded upon and crafted an interesting variation of the "Crying Freeman" story. However, lazy film work, a confusing and jumbled storyline and formulaic and boring action scenes derail the film. I think most of the fault lies with stars Joey Maan and Tae. Joey Maan's disinterest in the character and wooden acting are very much apparent. Joey Maan is gorgeous but her looks are the only thing interesting about "Dream" and she does little to create any sympathy for her character. Of course it doesn't help that most of the interesting aspects of the "Crying Freeman" character are no where to be found in this film including the body tattoos or the "remorseful killer's tears". TAE is also just a pretty boy here and he brings nothing to his character other than being the love interest. Oddly, while the movie is supposed to be about Dream and Tae, Siu-Wong Fan's Loon character seems to get the lion's share of the screen time. Perhaps it's because he's the only one who can perform his own martial arts stunt work convincingly.
The film definitely shouts out low-budget as most of the action happens in either secluded locales in Thailand or dark closed sets. The film could easily have been cut down in run time if it weren't for all the needless scenes of Dream driving around in her black convertible or the numerous minute long "stare downs" between opponents.
"The Story of Freeman" does however have a unconventional ending but it does little to save a boring film that could have easily have been much better if only the actors were a bit more engaging or if the story had been more closer to the source.
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