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Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

Memories-of-Murder-dvd

1986 Gyunggi Province. The body of a young woman is found brutally raped and murdered. Two months later, a series of rapes and murders commences under similar circumstances. And in a country that had never known such crimes, the dark whispers about a serial murderer grow louder. A special task force is set up in the area, with two local detectives Park Doo-Man and Jo Young-Goo joined by a detective from Seoul who requested to be assigned to the case, Seo Tae-Yoon. Park personifies the policeman who goes with his instincts and his fists, bloodily challenging every small-time crook in the area to confess. In contrast, Seo pores over evidentiary documents related to the case and inevitably the clash of styles leads to tense rivalry. From the fact that not a single hair is ever found at the scene, Park takes off to search the area’s temples and public baths for men with pubic hair disease, while Seo finds a pattern in the evidence of women wearing red on a rainy day as the victim’s profile. On a rainy day, the detectives set up a trap in order to forestall another murder. The next day however, yet another woman is found murdered. The solution to the murders grows fainter and drives the detectives to ever greater despair.

I will go on record here to say this is probably the finest Korean movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece. Powerful, gutwrenching, even humorous at times with a taut script, this movie about South Korea’s first ever serial killer is one that nobody will ever forget after watching it. It’s also based on a true story in which 3000 suspects were questioned and 1.8 million cops were involved according to the prologue. Despite the police’s best efforts, the killer was never found and is still at large in South Korea. It seemed the killer was calculated, meticulous and always one step ahead of the police in everything he did. The story begins in 1986 with the discovery of a woman’s body with her hands tied in a drainage culvert, this sets off a chain of events in which more victims turn up. Each victim has been strangled by their own stockings. The two local detectives on the case including their chief are clearly seen to be completely out of their depth. They also don’t seem to have a clue as to how to keep a crime scene clean until the forensic team arrive with kids and even tractors trampling over vital evidence. Enter Detective Seo Tae-Yun from Seoul who provides a different approach to the case. Instead of using brutality to coerce a confession out of suspects, he uses a more rational way of trying to find the killer. It’s inevitable that he and the local detectives clash. But even with Seo Tae-Yun on board with some clues being found, it becomes apparent that the police force is becoming desperate to nail this sadistic killer. Pinning their hopes on a man with smooth hands after a confession from a female victim who wasn’t killed and the fact that he sent a request for a song ‘Sad Letter’ to be played on the radio on every night a woman is killed, the 3 detectives begin to investigate him. With some evidence sent to the US for verification because South Korea didn’t have DNA testing at the time, they hope that it will prove without a shadow of a doubt that this is their man.

memories-of-murder screenshot

The story is so engrossing and compelling. It sucks you right into the investigation and you definitely feel the frustration of the detectives building up as more bodies turn up. It might not have the Hollywood theatrics of Se7en or The Silence Of The Lambs but don’t believe for a second that this movie is inferior to them in any way shape or form. The movie also gives a good history lesson about the state of South Korea during the mid 80’s when it was still under a military dictatorship with martial law being declared at night with an air-raid siren going off, social unrest happening on the streets and schools participating in an emergency rehearsal in case of an attack by the North. Director Bong Joon-ho has crafted a fantastic suspensful thriller with beautiful haunting cinematography and an amazing soundtrackwhich keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the 2 hours or so running time. If I had to pick out highlights from the movie it would come down to the fantastic chase scene during the night and a brilliant free-for-all brawl at a restaurant as tensions boil over from one of the detectives who has been suspended due to overuse of violence on a suspect. Don’t expect to find a happy ending to the story though there is an intriguing final scene at the location of the first murder.

The acting from Song Kang-ho, Kim Roe-ha and Kim Sang-kyung as the detectives on the case is excellent and it’s sad to see them fail in their task to being the killer to task despite giving their all to the case day after day. It’s interesting to see how the relationship between the 2 country detectives and the city detective develop as the story progresses. Initially there is a rivalry between them due to their differing styles of investigating – the country pair are either lazy or plain stupid as they blatantly frame suspects and play the good cop/bad cop routine in order to get a confession but all three men become bound together by frustration as each clue they find brings them no closer to catching the real suspect.

Memories Of Murder is an unmissable movie. It’s an exceptional movie in all aspects and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Hard Romanticker

Gu is a hard-nosed Korean-Japanese hoodlum living in Shimonoseki, Japan. When friends “accidentally” kill the grandmother of a ruthless North Korean-Japanese thug, a whirlwind of violence and revenge is set to explode. In the process, Gu, having no fear, pisses off a string of other criminal gang members and Korean-Japanese thugs who all want him dead. There’s also Detective Fujita lingering in the shadows looking for Gu, but where is he? To escape from it all Gu lucks his way into a managerial job in another city for a hostess club, run by a suave man named Takagi. Instincts tells Gu that Takagi is more than he seems. In fact, Takagi works for a rival gang and may be involved with drugs. Gu’s grandmother drops by to inform him that his best friend has been killed. This persuades Gu to return to Shimonoseki to settle the score. All hell is about to break loose.

This movie takes a very violent look at the criminal underworld involving the Zainichi (Korean-Japanese). Those who enjoyed the “Crows Zero” movies which involved a lot of male testosterone gang violence will want to take a look at this movie though unlike those movies this one doesn’t have any sympathetic characters (apart from Gu’s grandmother) portrayed in it at all. The story is based on the experiences of the director Gu Su Yeon when he was younger. It is set in Shimonoseki, a city where there is a high percentage of ethnic Koreans live in Japan. Koreans living in Japan aren’t looked at favourably by the Japanese people and to say that life isn’t easy for them is quite an understatement. The plot focuses on a cocky and charismatic young man who’s quite an unpleasant and vicious character (same goes for the majority of characters in this movie). He goes around upsetting nearly everybody with his devil may care attitude which naturally makes him a lot of enemies. He’s not averse to even beating up his superiors with a motorcycle helmet when two of them attempt to rape a young woman in their apartment. That might make him seen like a champion of women of sort to some viewers but later we see again just what a nasty piece of work he really is. Gu is seen trying to date a high school girl named Mieko Nakamura who catches his eye but when he finds out that she has been having sex with his friend his payback is brutally raping her in a park. The treatment of women in this movie is rather appalling and they are seen as merely sex objects to be treated badly by the men. It’s only a matter of time before Gu is going to be subjected to his own brand of medicine so when he picks on North Korean gang leader Park and his 3 cronies in a cafe with a metal bar who he thinks has murdered his close friend, the beating Gu receives is more than deserved. If it’s spectacular street violence you want and see, it’s got it in droves here with a lot of people being beaten up, murdered and even stabbed. The fights are choreographed well and even looks real. Even with all the violence going on in this movie there is some dark humour peppered throughout and a cool funky jazz soundtrack. Movie fans who are familiar with Japanese 70’s crime movies such as the Battles Without Honor series will see that this one has got that feel to it. I’m not sure if this was the director’s own way of paying tribute to those kind of movies?

Hard Romanticker screenshot

Shota Matsuda who is best known in the past couple of years from the drama Liar Game gives a terrific performance as the badboy Gu. He plays a character so different from Akiyama here. Matsuda has some Korean blood from his late father’s side who was half-Korean and acted in some violent movies during the 70’s so I’m sure he watched a couple of his father’s work to draw inspiration for his own role. The character of Gu is quite amusing in the way he swaggers around town like he owns the place, slapping some of the other thugs across the head and just doing whatever he wants whenever he wants regardless of the consequences he might face in the future.

Due to the violence on display and the harsh treatment the women receive, Hard Romanticker certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you like these kind of fast paced rough and tumble movies you should find it very enjoyable.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Fly With The Gold (2012)

fly with the gold new

Koda is a supplier for radical extremists and criminals who’s approached by an old university friend Kitagawa with a plan to steal 1.5 billion yen in gold bars from a vault under the main branch of Sumida Bank. Kitagawa puts together a team which consists of a banking system engineer named Noda, a North Korean spy Momo who is posing as an engineering exchange student, Kitagawa’s younger brother Haruki and a former elevator technician called Jiichan. After some careful planning, the six men carry out their audacious task but will they able to pull it off?

When I first read the plot summary for this movie I was expecting to see an Ocean’s 11 type of caper but what I saw was nothing of the sort. This is a gripping heist movie set in Osaka which has some exciting action sequences and a suspensful climax as the bank job naturally goes wrong. The first half of the movie sets about introducing us to the characters with a lot of the focus on Momo, the deadly North Korean spy who when he is not posing as a student is working at a food stall. Kitagawa has been keeping tabs on his apartment by spying on him through binoculars. He suspects that he is not all that he seems to be. Kitagawa’s hunches come true when one night after Momo has returned to his apartment, his enemies armed with guns come looking for him. Kitagawa along with Koda rush headlong to help Momo out and the three manage to escape but the consequences of helping the young North Korean out will come back to haunt Kitagawa later in the movie. Once the team has been assembled they set about carefully poring through the floor plans to the bank they’ve managed to get hold of and how they think they’re going to successfully steal the gold bars. There’s a major problem before they even manage to set the ball rolling as Momo’s enemies track him down. Even Kitagawa’s family isn’t spared by them as his pregnant wife and child are victims of a hit and run incident in a busy shopping street. It doesn’t distract Kitagawa to cancel the heist though. Tensions start to emerge between the team as Noda starts to become nervous. The plan is for Kitagawa, Koda and Jiichan to pose as elevator technicians and say to the bank security guards there’s a problem with one of the elevators whilst a series of explosions underground in another part of the city which will simultaneously go off with a bomb below the bank will distract the police long enough for the criminals to get inside the bank vault, steal the gold, make their way to the roof of the bank, haul the gold down by rope to the waiting getaway van below driven by Noda before they themselves use the rope to clamber down the side of the building and drive away. The best laid plans usually never come off smoothly and this is what happens for the gang.

Fly with the gold screenshot

There’s a strong cast for the movie which includes the main role for Tadanobu Asano along with Satoshi Tsumabaki. Normally young female Japanese adults wouldn’t give a second look at this type of movie but with the addition of Korean idol Changmin from the duo TVXQ as Momo and another young hearthrob in Junpei Mizobata I saw quite a few women in the audience in the cinema the day I went to Shibuya to see it. It’s more of a movie for men than anybody else but the moviemakers saw some sense and perhaps knew that if they added some young attractive men it would appeal to the ladies and bolster the takings for the movie as well.

I enjoyed the movie even though it does take some time for it to get going. It’s probably only around half way through the movie that the main plot of planning the bank job gets under way. I also think a good 30 mins should have been cut to quicken the pace of the plot. It’s a solid enough movie with enough thrills and spills to keep your interest and whilst it doesn’t contain the fun element that made the Oceans trilogy so popular it’s a worthy watch for Asian movie fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Into The White Night (2011)

A pawn shop owner in Osaka is murdered, but due to a lack of conclusive evidence the police lists the man’s death as a suicide. Detective Sasagaki, who investigated the case, can’t forget the dark eyes of the main suspect’s daughter Yukiho and the pawn shop owner’s son Ryouji. As time goes by, more mysterious deaths surround Yukiho & Ryouji. Detective Sasagaki still unable to let go of the pawn shop owner case discovers startling details about Yukiho and Ryouji …

This is a slow-burning mystery which centres on the death of a pawn shop owner back in the 80’s and how one police detective will not let go of the case even for nearly 20 years until he has solved it even after his retirement from the force. The story must be popular as 3 adaptations have been made in the last 6 years. First as a drama in 2006 then as a 2009 Korean movie before this one came along. It’s a detective story with a difference and quite a hard-hitting emotional journey into the darkest recess of humanity in which 2 people have to live with an event that happened whilst they were kids and the repercussions that follow. The movie takes it’s time to unravel itself and whilst 2 and a half hours for some people is rather long I never found the story boring and each new clue to the murder keeps your attention. Some of the subject matter of the movie is disturbing and involves child sex abuse. Considering the UK has been shocked in the past 2 months by the allegations that a popular dead TV celebrity regularly abused children for nearly 40 years, some scenes may prove hard to watch for some British viewers. I know I found them difficult and it makes you wonder how some adults can do such things to children. The final third of the movie brings all the loose ends we have been introduced over the course of the movie together and neatly ties them up to give a satisfying conclusion.

The two leads in the movie are excellent. Maki Horikita is usually associated with roles that cast her with a pure image but in this one she plays Yukiko Karasawa – an intimidating, scheming and manipulative character who will trample over anybody to get what she wants. She uses her charm and beauty to her advantage. It was great to see her in something like this and which shows a different side to her acting. Equally as good is Kengo Nora as the brooding Ryouji Kirihara. We get to learn how these 2 lost souls with a lot of pain inside them found comfort with each other when they were children at school and whose lives are bound together by a murder. The story follows them through to adulthood where they are still living with the trauma of what happened all that time ago. Plunged into the centre of this story is Detective Sasagaki who has been keeping tabs on the two since the murder took place but needs proof of who committed the crime. He sort of knows who did it but without conclusive evidence he can’t prove anything. Sasagaki is played with a dogged determination by Eiichiro Funakoshi.

Director Yoshihiro Fukagawa manages to weave a very dark, depressing and compelling storyline which is complemented nicely by the brilliant acting of Maki Horikita, Kengo Nora and Eiichiri Funakoshi. Well worth watching if you can stand the long running time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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It’s the year leading up to the Tokyo Olympics and the yakuza gangs jostling for supremacy in Hiroshima who have been fighting amongst each other shows no sign of abating. The public though have had enough of the violence and bloodshed on their streets and pressure the police to crackdown on the yakuza gangs. The leader of the Hirono gang Shozo continues to harbour a grudge against his old boss Yamamori and he has bought in reinforcements in order to try and kill him once and for all. Other elder yakuza leaders wants a peaceful solution to end all the aggro but the younger members eager for a war on the streets makes the situation worse with tit-for-tat murders taking place. Eventually an all out war starts between the gangs but the police are ready and start arresting all the leaders. Will this lead to peace on the streets of Hiroshima?

The 4th in the Battles Without Honor and Humanity saga brings about a conclusion of sorts to the Hiroshima yakuza gangs story which the previous 3 movies have been chronicling during an 18 year period. There is an air of change in the plot for this movie. The police haven’t had much of a presence before, only glimpses of them have been shown. In this movie, they have more of a presence and thanks to massive pressure from the public who wants them to smash the yakuza rings they unleash the full force of the law as they begin to dismantle the gangs. Naturally the leaders in charge think they are above the law and send out their underlings to do their dirty deeds even if it means they’ll be arrested. As long as they remain in their comfortable position at the top of the chain it doesn’t matter. Shozo Hirono though is different from the rest and insists on carrying out his own business. His men though insist on taking care of his problems in order to protect him. Hirono probably seems to be the only boss who still tries to live by the old yakuza code of honour. The other leaders such as Yamamori are seen to be weak and whiny, avoiding decisions but are the first to take credit from others. As with the theme from the previous movies – short alliances are swiftly broken, double crossings happen and blood continues to be shed.

Director Kinji Fukusaku gives us a fast paced story with plenty of street fights with guns, knives and political maneouvering between the various gangs. He carries on with the style associated so far with the saga – freeze frames with the deaths of important gang members and a voice over explaining a situation that’s going on. As there’s so many characters in the storyline, some of the more interesting ones get lost in the shuffle and only get some brief screentime. There’s certainly more violence involved in this story and I’d say this is the bloodiest movie in the franchise. Examples of this include a man getting his nose cut off by a knife, a gang member stabbed in his hand and other nasty incidents such as a rifle being used as a bayonet to kill a man. As the violence escalates, the main protaganist Hirono is taken out of the equation and arrested by the police for a minor offence. By the time the movie comes to it’s conclusion, the days of the yakuza gangs running wild and free in Hiroshima has come to an end and the final voice over brings us the total number of deaths, wounded and arrests that have taken place over the years.

This is another worthy entry in the Battles Without Honor franchise and I’m eager to watch the last episode. Hirono and the other leaders maybe in jail by the climax of this movie but you can bet that their story isn’t over yet.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Chuji is a young Okinawan man who works behind the bar at a live lounge club but also deals in drugs for a gang. He is a gifted harmonica player but only plays in his own private time. One day Chuji helps an ambitious yakuza member named Kenji who’s being chased by some people and also bumps into a bubbly woman Tokiko who becomes his girlfriend. Chuji is encouraged by one of the owners of the bar who leads a band and his girlfriend to perform on stage. After just one performance with the band, Chuji is a big hit and soon a record producer is knocking on his door willing to sign him up. Meanwhile Kenji rewards Chuji for the help he had by giving him some money. They soon become friends despite their loyalties to opposite gangs but what Chuji doesn’t know is that Kenji has more than friendly feelings towards him. Chuji can’t believe his luck when Tokiko announces that she’s pregnant with his child. It seems his life is on the up and he can perhaps soon give up his drug dealing ways. But Kenji’s close friend in the yakuza who harbours feelings for him and is aware of Kenji’s love for Chuji strikes a deal with a rival gang that unwillingly puts Chuji right in the middle of a yakuza battle that goes way over his head with tragic results.

It doesn’t matter how many movies I see from Takashi Miike, all of them apart from Ninja Kids which I didn’t like have been so enjoyable and Blues Harp isn’t any different. It’s an amazing movie. The story is about a man trying to move on from his troubled youth as he didn’t have much of a life growing up on Okinawa. His mother was a prostitute so he was left out on the streets for most of the time. Years later and working in Tokyo behind a bar, he expresses himself through music in playing the harmonica. He may be a part-time drug dealer but he’s always hoping that one day he can stop doing that. Even though you wouldn’t normally associate blues music with Japan or it’s culture, this uniqueness to the storyline only adds to the greatness of the movie. The other half of the story involves a yakuza man who hatches a plan to be the top man in his group by killing his boss. Chuji and Kenji’s fateful first encounter when Chuji discovers Kenji lying on the floor outside his bar in an alley as he’s being chased by a rival gang sets up a chain of events that ends in tragedy for the two men. This could have been a gritty yakuza movie but it’s not and instead we have a compelling character driven storyline with an emotional depth to it which is perfectly paced by Miike. He adds a sweet and simple love story to the proceedings and in the character of Tokiko who’s an overtly bubbly sort of person, she’s provides a great foil to Chuji. They are completely opposite in personalities to each other but somehow they have a connection and their relationship works. The movie has 2 memorable leading characters with the actors in their roles giving it everything. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi stands out more as Chuji and he’s a character you grow to care for. When you see Chuji take to the stage in the bar and wow the audience with his harmonica it’s enough to get you tapping your toes. The movie is peppered with a couple of scenes that shows off some great blues numbers and they’re a treat to listen to. Although not as outrageous and shocking as some of Miike’s other movies, it still has some flashes of gore and violence to jolt you.

Blues Harp is an excellent movie with two plotlines that link together and combine seamlessly to make for an unforgettable experience. Another winner for me from the maverick director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Togawa is a man sprung from jail 2 years earlier than expected by a man called Ito. Ito along with a yakuza boss has paid big money to have Togawa released from prison (he was serving a sentence for killing a trucker who had crippled his young sister). Ito wants Togawa to lead a team of 4 men to rob an armoured car which is carrying 120 million yen in money earnings from the Japanese Derby horse race. Togawa has been chosen for his reputation and skills. Even with the big pay off Ito is offering him he hesitates but he soon accepts when he finds out his trusted friend Shirai is a part of the team. The other 2 members is a boxer who was going to be a champion until he took a bung for a fight and a greedy gambler. The plan for the heist looks to be foolproof on paper and it all has to be done in 7 mins. But of course the best laid plans never go according to what they should be………..

This is a hard edged heist movie with all the standard elements in place here from a criminal asked to do one last job, the audacious plan to commit the perfect crime against a difficult target, the heist which goes wrong, the subsequent falling out between the team and the moral at the end that crime doesn’t pay. It’s a taut and thrilling movie thanks to a good plot, fast pace and the leading character played by chipmunk faced Jo Shishido. He plays Togawa with his usual aura of looking cool, some grittiness and machismo. The draw of the movie isn’t about the heist itself but of how it’ll inevitably go wrong. You can sympathise with Togawa in why he’s taking part in the heist. He might want to go straight but he feels responsible for the accident that hospitalised his sister. The money from the heist would go a long way to pay for an operation that could make her walk again. When Togawa explains the plan to his fellow cohorts, the viewer is shown what should happen in real time and it’s obvious that there are unforeseen circumstances that could easily derail the plan. In the duration of 7 short minutes the criminals have to divert the armoured truck down an alternative route, block that route so that other traffic doesn’t follow, shoot the motorcycle police escorts dead, hope the guards inside the truck come out so that they get killed as well as the truck’s glass is bullet proof and then finally load the truck onto a bigger truck before it is disposed of in a quiet location with all the bodies inside. Even when the heist doesn’t go according to plan, Togawa never expects to be betrayed by his employers and two of his team members who become greedy. Togawa is a man who believes in the futile notion of honor among thieves so this betrayal is very unexpected. It then becomes a battle of survival as he and his friend Shirai get involved in a number of gunfight skirmishes and try to escape with the money. It ends in something that could almost be described as a Greek tragedy.

This is an excellent example of a Japanese noir movie with brilliant acting by Jo Shishido and loads of exciting violent action. It’s directed well, the story is interesting and it looks great.

Cruel Gun Story might not be a classic movie in the Japanese noir genre but it has plenty of thrills and spills to keep any viewer entertained. Well worth seeing.

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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