Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Score (1995)

The be-mulleted Japanese American robber Chance (Hitoshi Ozawa) would like to retire from life on the wrong side of the law, but his boss, the "Colonel" (Takashi Ukaji), violently insists on him committing a last crime. Chance is to rob a jewellery store together with an all-star Japanese American gangster trio consisting of the dependable Tequila (Shu Ehara), the whiny Flight (or Right, in any case played by Ryushi Mizukami) and the dubious and untrustworthy Duck (Masahiro Yamashita). The Colonel makes it quite clear that Chance is the only one of the four who will survive the moment of payment for their work, leaving the robber with a bad taste in his mouth but not much to do about it.

Although everyone dons an awesome suit for the assault on the jewellery store, the whole thing doesn't go that well. The men get their loot, but Flight is shot in the shoulder and will from now on be even whinier than before. The wounded gangster has something of a hysterical fit during the drive to the abandoned factory where the group is planning to hole up and meet the Colonel and manages to attract the (yes, Japanese) serial killer couple of Doc Holiday fan TJ (Kazuyoshi Ozawa) and Sara (Miyuki Tanako), who cop to our "heroes" being in the possession of quite a bit of jewellery.

As if two serial killers and the coming betrayal by their boss wasn't enough, the gangsters decide to do a little backstabbing among themselves too.

One of the open secrets of Japanese direct to video/DVD action films of the 90s is that a lot of these films aren't any good and often do not contain as much action as the term "action film" would suggest.

In fact, many of them are just slow and boring and contain less action than the average love poem.

Fortunately, you can't complain about a lack of people hurting each other in interesting ways in the films of Atsushi Muroga, at least not those I have been able to see. Muroga's Score seems to be very typical for the director's output. The movie takes place in a somewhat silly pretend US nearly exclusively populated by people from Asia (apart from one gangster moll, one cop and one henchman), yet never feels a need to excuse or explain this or other of its implausibilities. Instead of making excuses, the film likes to rip off and/or nod in the direction of dozens of other films, starting with the obvious inspirations (City on Fire and Tarantino's re-imagining Reservoir Dogs for the gangster and action side of the film, Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers for the serial killer couple) and continuing to more obscure references hidden away in character names and (bad) one-liners.

The tone throughout is never completely serious but never crosses over into the realm of the merely ironic.

And who'd have time for being ironic or being too serious when he has to show people jumping, shooting, bleeding and jump-shooting again and again and again, everybody losing litres of blood, anyway? Happily, the film's characters (except for poor, whimpering Flight) all have the constitution of cartoon characters and usually need to be killed three or four times until it takes. That's five times the shoot-outs for the price of one! They shoot! They bleed! They mutter "there's only two kinds of people" variations, and I, for one, can't resist.

Other things Score doesn't have time for are: authentic human emotion, a memorable score, boredom, dialogue sequences that don't end in violence or at least wild screaming after about thirty seconds, the sad facts of human physiology, viewers who take this sort of film too seriously.

I can't help but compare Muroga's way of making a cheap, exciting movie to the Takashi Miike style of filmmaking. While I haven't seen anything by Muroga that is as bizarre or subtextually rich as Miike at his best, Muroga's films do seem to have a comparable ethos. They have the look and feel of films made by a director and actors just trying to have a bit of fun on camera while also trying to make their audience complicit in their fun without needing to be all clever all the time, yet also without being as stupid as they sometimes pretend to be. The difference between Muroga and Miike seems to be that the former is always willing to keep his films inside the framework of conventional genre film, while the latter very obviously doesn't care what he's supposed to do. There's something to be said for both ways of going about it.


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