M-SPIFF Capsule Review: Smuggler
Director: Katsuhito Ishii
Screenplay: Katsuhito Ishii, Masatoshi Yamaguchi, Kensuke Yamamoto
Comic: Sheila Kohler
Producers: Rosalie Swedlin, Christine Vachon, Julie Payne, Andrew Lowe, Kwesi Dickson
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masatoshi Nagase, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Hikari Mitsushima
Country of Origin: Japan
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 114 min.
So right off the bat I screwed up my schedule at The Minneapolis Film Festival and was forced to see something I hadn’t intended on seeing. No fault of the festival or the scheduling – this was simply my tiredness and my inattention to the task at hand. So instead of seeing the director vignette, V/H/S/, I tried another late night screening in Katsuhito Ishii’s Smuggler
Smuggler is a sort of comedy-action mash-up in which a young, failed actor is forced to work as a smuggler of corpses and other contraband for a local crime lord in a world of whacky crime syndicates, Yakuza fashionistas and fearless, expert assassins. The premise sounds kind of cool. Alas, it is not.
I mostly found the humor to be of a way too childish and stereotypical, caricature nature. Nothing in this movie was remotely funny to me. Nothing. But the humor that is not of my taste isn’t what bothered me so much as the fact that it is saturated throughout a movie that is very serious in tone and subject matter otherwise. I can’t tell what the director was going for as an overall style or tone for this picture as it is all over the place. There’s some very serious (unironic), dramatic voice-over narration right next to some goofy thugs with big teeth acting like Laurel and Hardy followed by an explosive action sequence only to be followed by more “humor the foolish.”
There are moments however that make this watchable. There is a pretty intense torture sequence that while certainly could be construed as nothing more than torture-porn by some, is actually quite effective and really helps to bring about a full character arc. The martial arts sequences are pretty spectacular. Not only from a choreography standpoint, but because it’s all shot in a high frame rate and replayed in hyper-slow motion; most likely shot on the Phantom. An otherwise 35 second sequence is drawn out into about 2 minutes of face pummeling and teeth shattering.
These moments are few and far between however and mostly I just found the characters to be uninteresting at best and grating at worst. The humor fails miserably and the shifts in tone baffled me. Mostly I’d say avoid unless you know exactly what you’re getting into here.