|Index||5 reviews in total|
Although offering one of the best action sequences I ever saw
,,Smuggler''quickly looses its fascination at the other half of the film ,crossing the viewer's line of pain tolerance thanks to the unnecessary torture scenes. Having watched ,, Ichi the Killer '' that would not be of a problem if there only wasn't the unsatisfying other half of the plot, ending abruptly and disappointedly mundane. Added the too superficial ,,new'' characters , especially the one played by Hikari the film looses its initial potential. Long story short: Smuggler is a entertaining film ,but you can miss it . The strong first half promises something outstanding , enhancing the viewer's disappointment of the other half. 2 hours lenght , some more character depth ,less torture and this would surely be a ,,9''. Overall I can advice you ; better watch Ishii's Shark Skin Man if you want to see something really outstanding or if you can tolerate extreme violence and disturbance ,,Ichi the Killer '', which has partially the same plot and similar characters.
Smuggler is definitely a movie that doesn't receive the accolades it
deserves. The humour is as black as the blackest pudding and the
storyline and violence is something that stays true to the crazy side
of Japanese Cinema.
Takashi Miike would be proud of this effort. The insanity of the whole situation is very reminiscent of films such as Ichi the Killer and Dead or Alive. I wouldn't be surprised if this director is a fan of Miike's, which will please fans of the legendary director.
If you are prepared to laugh at horrible situations, then you might just receive a massive surprise with Smuggler. I know I did!
"Please laugh if you're not sure whether it's disturbing or funny,"
says director Ishii Kazuhiro at TIFF.
"Smuggler" is based on a single-volume manga about a failed actor who becomes an underground mover to pay back $30,000 (non-inflated exchange rate) in fraudulent debt to a Chinese gang. This is the type of movies where the plot is driven by quirky dark humor rather than logic, as the protagonist Kinuta gets deeper and deeper into trouble in the most unlikely turn of events imaginable.
It was the two "legendary assassins" Vertebrae (Andou Masanobu) and Viscera (Teiryuushin) who stole the spotlight though. There's quite a bit of action scenes throughout the film by those two in the most wacky form of violence. Vertebrae in particular was among the coolest, baddest villain ever. "Smuggler" is in no way for the faint of heart though. The lengthy torture scenes reminded me of Ichi the Killer (2001). In fact, it would've been an even more gory nerve wracking film if it wasn't for the camera angle censoring out the torture.
Matsuyuki Yasuko (beautiful as ever) also delivers a strong performance, though Tsumabuki Satoshi as the protagonist was quite a miscast as he never seemed convincing in his role. Mitsushima Hikari who was decent in Shion Sono's "Love Exposure" (2008) was comically bad, almost reading the script the whole time.
Despite the shortcomings by part of the cast, "Smuggler" is an entertaining dark comedy / action as long as you don't think too much and just enjoy the ride. And of course, don't forget to have the "teehee, his face got smacked by nunchucks" type of mindset when watching this film.
Smuggler suffers from poor scriptwriting as it is hard to tell whose
story is being featured for the viewer. The failed actor Kinuta,
Vertebrae the assassin, the truck driver, or even the yakuza wife Ms.
Tanuma could each make a good protagonist. But not all four at the
expense of a coherent story line and finale.
Kinuta's intro is so brief that the advertised plot line "failed actor deep in debt" is hard to sense. A mobile phone ad campaign, not in the film at all, showing Kinuta going through failed casting calls sounds like the prelude that might have helped. Ishii has one or two brief flashbacks that make Kinuta appear like a failed singer instead of an actor (even the set looks like a night club); were it not for English subtitles that should not be needed at all to get this idea across.
The first yakuza scenes, supposedly scripted for comedy effects, elicited a few very short chuckles at the Hawaii International Film Festival showing I attended. After that the HIFF audience, who seemed mostly there anticipating the all star cast, sat in complete silence. They left as the credits were rolling.
The ramen meal breaks and the night truck driving scenes could have been the making of a well-rounded portrayal of Kinuta, but Ishii devotes as much time to these scenes as can be seen in the film trailer! And indeed these scenes are edited like TV commercial breaks in the middle of the feature story. He zips through them to make time for the very extended violence he is aiming for. The very final scene is set in an incongruous setting for ending the tale of a failed actor. Ishii is credited as Writer, Director, Editor, and Storyboarder of this film. I suppose that is why successful films have an expert in each.I have seen the cast in many other films and this one is near their collective bottom.
Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a down on his luck loser. An out of work
actor, he sits at a slot machine wasting away his final change in hopes
of hitting a jackpot. When Kinuta is offered a chance to win at a
'fixed machine', he jumps at the opportunity, only to have events
unfold that lave him with a large yakuza debt. Kinuta then seeks help
by a banker who offers him cash in turn for working with a tough guy,
Joe (Masatoshi Nagase) in transporting human cargo for good paying
In a story that will intersect with Joe and Kinuta, an assassin by the name of Vertebrae (think Ichi the Killer) has just killed a crime boss and is being hunted by a crime family determined to seek revenge. Vertebrae is a master at both kung-fu and in using his trademark numb chucks to pulverize his victims. But his killing of the crime boss might be his undoing and soon him and his partner are cornered by Joe who has been hired to transport Vertebrae to the yakuza bosses alive. Directed by Katsuhito Ishii, Smuggler is an uneven mix of comedy, drama and scenes of intense torture. Based on the comic book Sumagurâ by Shôhei Manabe and unfortunately the animated pages don't translate as well onto the big screen.
The acting and humour are present, but more in a dumb Three Stooges kind of pattern. Watching Joe and Kinuta's small dim-witted cohort might have read well in the book, but it is buffoonish on the screen and took us out of the film.
Smuggler then goes into full comic mode with the capture of Vertebrae. He jumps and runs like road runner and his scenes of capture and escape were something that belonged more in Kung Fu Hustle than they did in Smuggler.
So before you jump on us for 'not getting it', let me inject that we appreciated the comedic elements and the action sequences (which were really good). But when the film became a torture movie after Kinuta is asked to impersonate the escaped Vertebrae, it went to a place that didn't feel right with the rest of the film. Kinuta is subjected to intense torture involving a table of pain inflicting devices and these scenes didn't seem to fit into a film that had a character running faster than the wind just one chapter prior.
That leaves Smuggler as an uneven, but interesting experiment. We cannot discount the coolness of the Vertebrae character (spinoff please!) and the action sequences make us thankful the film was not in 4D. However, the sum of the films overall parts just didn't gel enough to make a coherent and enjoyable movie and for that reason, we cannot recommend it.
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