Miike trying to put the lid on his gonzo, ultraviolent side
That director Takashi Miike is known in the west mostly for his ultraviolent shockfests and cartoonish yakuza flicks says more about western audiences (or distributors as the case may be) than the director. For every ICHI THE KILLER in his ouevre there is a BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA and GUYS OF PARADISE is closer to the latter than the first. Neatly sandwiched between the comic-book absurdity of CITY OF LOST SOULS and the summer-afternoon nostalgia of DEAD OR ALIVE 2: BIRDS, the movie walks the proverbial tightrope between the absurd and the dramatic, mostly leaning towards the latter, with hearty doses of black comedy thrown in for good measure.
Following the misadventures of a timid Japanese business man in the Phillipines, arrested and thrown in prison for smuggling heroin where he starts dealing drugs for another inmate in cahoots with the prison warden, the movie stacks a series of tragicomic episodes of the appalling conditions of prison life, weaving together the lives of six Japanese inmates (the titular Guys from Paradise) as they bide their time in the hot, damp purgatory of Manila, dealing drugs, squabbling with each other and dodging the occasional hired assassin.
The tone is a bit inconsistent, as though Miike wants to make a poignant dramedy but in the same time can't help himself indulging his crazier side. Between a woman hiding jewelry in her nether parts, a yakuza boss merrily imbibing his bodily fluids, a man getting shot full of holes and still able to walk around for a couple of minutes and say "I love you" in broken English, the movie threatens to turn into FUDOH any moment.
Miike mostly succeeds in keeping a lid on all-out madness, while still managing to squeeze a handful of beautiful moments out of his material. Exchanging the frenetic editing of his yakuza flicks for a sombre approach and a slow-burn pace, Miike uses quirky editing tricks mixed with long static shots to mirror the two-pronged seriocomic nature of the movie, which is filmed in drab, washed-out tones but makes great use of the vivid Phillipinese locations. All in all, this is not quite the Miike casual viewers might expect, but longtime fans will appreciate this other, more contemplative side.
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