"Tarantino haters take note: Asian cinema is now ripping-off your whipping boy."
City of Lost Souls (2000)
AKA: The City of Strangers; Hazard City; Hyoryu Gai
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Seishu Hase (novel), Ichiro Ryu
Cast: Teah, Michelle Reis, Patricia Manterola, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Koji Kikkawa, Ren Osugi, Akaji Maro, Anatoli Krasnov, Sebastian DeVicente, Terence Yin, Atsushi Okuno, Akira Emoto, Eugene Nomura, Marcio Rosario, Ryushi Mizukami
Running Time: 99 min.
Plot: Two lovers, a Japanese-Brazilian Mario (Teah) and a Chinese hairdresser Kei (Michele Reis), unknowingly begin a decent into hell, when they find out that Kei is about to be deported. In a daring rescue, Mario saves Kei from immigration authorities, and hides her away in Tokyo's Brazilian quarter. Mario plans to get passports and stow away on a ship headed for a foreign country, but to do so, they'll need money. With his girlfriend help, he tries to steal money from the mafia, but instead receives a large bundle of cocaine. When he sells it off, it grabs the attention of Yakuza. Kei isthen captured by them and now Mario must save her.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
LOONIEWEED'S REVIEW: City of Lost Souls was my first venture into the crazy and fucked up mind of Takashi Miike. After hearing so much about the guy for such a long time, I was eagerly excited to check out one of his films; although, IMO, I was somewhat let down with the film, but I knew there would be a lot more to see from Miike. Granted, nothing beats the midget overdosing on the bench, the odd POV shot inside of a toilet, jumping out of a helicopter and surviving, and of course, two guys hanging out and falling in love. Awww, isn't that sweet? While the film was entertaining, I was expecting more after hearing about Ichi, Audition, and of course, the DOA trilogy. It's not to say anybody else will hate CoLS, just make sure you don't watch it thinking you'll experience something along the lines of Ichi The Killer. Just think of CoLS as True Romance Lite, minus Elvis fucking and Gary Oldman.
LOONIEWEED'S RATING: 6/10
JOE909'S RATING: Tarantino haters take note: Asian cinema is now ripping-off your whipping boy. QT is always scorned for "lifting" scenes, images, and plots from Asian action movies; now that same scorn can be directed back at the East. Of course, the QT bashers will never do this; in their hypocrisy they'll just say that Tarantino's getting what he deserves, or they'll go to absurd lengths to explain away any and all similarities between these movies and his.
I present to you City of Lost Souls, aka Hazard City, which not only plot-wise is a direct lift of QT's superior "True Romance," but also is nearly a scene-by-scene reconstruction of the film. However, whereas the two leads in "True Romance" are likeable, down-and-outers who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the male and female leads in Hazard City (Teah as Mario, and Michelle Reis looking fantastic as Kei) are too cool for words, and willingly put themselves in dangerous positions.
Like "True Romance," these two share a wild and crazy love, and will go to great lengths for each other. There's also the requisite goons and gangsters whom they interact with, and the old steal-a-bag-that-turns-out-to-contain-a-shitload-of-cocaine gag. Just like Clarence and Alabama, Mario and Kei decide to sell the coke and make off to a better life. As in both films, things don't go as planned.
The most obvious filmic theft in City of Lost Souls occurs during a standoff between a pair of yakuza thugs and a group of Chinese triads. The triad boss relates a story about how the Chinese tried to educate an "island of monkeys in the East" in the ways of the Chinese, but the "monkeys," (aka the Japanese) just couldn't get it. This story causes both parties to laugh crazily, before guns are drawn. A bullseye rip-off of the infamous scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in "True Romance." It's just not as good here, or as effective.
But beyond all the nit-picking, City of Lost Souls isn't so bad a movie. It has a modern-day fairy tale quality (jumping safely out of helicopters without parachutes, magical tattoos), just like "True Romance" did (woops, there's another comparison); but TR got it right by living up to that fairy tale aspect and giving us a happy ending (in the film, at least, but also bear in mind that in QT's script, Alabama survived). City of Lost Souls goes the downer route, which is just becoming tired and outdated these days. I don't know why so many screenwriters think it's "shocking" and "unique" to kill off main characters in the last act. I guess they think it will make them seem like original filmmakers. It doesn't.
That being said, there are some cool moments in this movie. The CGI cockfight is so stupid it's great, and the many action scenes are slick and well-made. Unfortunately, they just don't last very long, and the actor playing Mario doesn't look comfortable holding a gun. He's got the look and the attitude, but he just can't carry it off. Michelle Reis, however, is pure badass, and the part where she lights some poor sap on fire is probably the film's highlight.
There are several gunfights (one of which ends with an unexpected game of ping-pong), old-fashioned beatdowns aplenty, and a few one-liners. There's also a cool bit of caprioera, as several Brazilians try to take out Mario, but director Miike cops out by not letting us see the fight itself. I wouldn't consider City of Lost Souls to be a straight-up action film, though. It's more of a post-modern "offbeat gangster" sort of flick, with a mishmash of languages and the occasional, grotesque image. This is of course required, this being a Japanese film; I think it's written somewhere that all Japanese movies must have at least one gross-out factor. In the case of City of Lost Souls, it's a few pieces of shit floating in a toilet as some guy gets his head dunked in. Scatology for the sake of scatology, it's totally unnecessary.
A last word: the Hong Kong dvd release is one of those "Side A" and "Side B" deals. This means that once you get halfway through the movie, you have to flip the disc over and continue watching. It's like regressing back to the days of laserdiscs, and it annoys the hell out of me.
JOE909'S RATING: 7.5/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: There's a scene in "City of Lost Souls" where someone turns to Michelle Reis' character and says, "You're the world's coolest woman"...
Just for the expression that shows up on her face after the vodka incident with the Russian guy, I have to strongly agree; she IS the world's coolest woman - both on and off-screen. The Vodka expression alone justifies her coolness on-screen, but there's a lot of reasons why she's cool in real-life as well. For a woman that has the same qualities as an exotic rose, it tickles my head that she actually agreed to appear in an a Takashi Miike film to begin with. Sure, there's been tons of hot babes appearing in his films, but folks...this is Michelle Reis we're talkin' about here. What separates her from the rest? Well, why should I even bother to think, she's Michelle Reis, period. Her eyes, her legs, her nose hairs...
In case you haven't guessed it yet, I really dig her.
Enough about the woman who could be the girl of my dreams. With her aside, "City of Lost Souls" still has more than enough to offer, especially if you're in for something different; and even if you've been turned off by Miike's ultra-morbid films like "Audition" and "Ichi The Killer", it would be a mistake to stay away from this one. Let's face it - extreme gore, chicks-with-dicks, S&M activity and constant physical abuse isn't for everyone. That's not to say that "City of Lost Souls" doesn't have any violence, it surely does - but compared to the films mentioned, it's more of a straight-forward action/adventure with a few Miike trademarks thrown in. Think of it as Quentin Tarantino's "True Romance" meets R-rated live-action Anime. Top that off with a punk rock soundtrack, surreal visuals, and a multi-race cast that makes you wonder if you're really watching an Asian flick to begin with.
The plot revolves around a hard-ass Japanese/Brazilian thug named Mario (Played by Teah - who thinks he's too cool to have a last name) and his beautiful Chinese girlfriend Kei (Michelle Reis). Their relationship is instantly justified during one of the film's first key action scenes which has Mario rescuing Kei from deportation, with the use of a helicopter, a few guns and many bullets. Mario is the film's good guy, yet he still manages to pop some caps and kill a few pigs in the process. It doesn't even phase Kei to see some innocent people, who were just doing their job, get killed in cold blood by her lover. This pretty much tells the audience that this is no ordinary couple and they're not to be fucked with. The rescue scene is followed by a silly bit that has Teah and Kei leaping out of the helicopter which sends them landing hundreds of feet down without a single parachute. Like I said, silly but cool.
Teah's rescuing of his girlfriend causes a media frenzy and the two become popular fugitives. Meanwhile, a psycho Chinese Triad boss (ironically played by Japanese pop-artist Mitsuhiro Oikawa) becomes obsessed with Kei and tends to do everything and anything he can to get her. He's backed by a string of hitmen that includes another familiar face from Hong Kong, Terence Yin.
All the fun really starts when Mario and Kei need some extra money to resume their happy journey. They decide to steal money from the local Yakuza. Mistakenly, they end up getting away with a briefcase full of cocaine from a live deal between the Chinese Triads (whose leader is obsessed with Kei to begin with) and and the Japanese Yakuza (headed by Koji Kikkawa - yet another Japanese pop-artist). So now, Mario and Kei are on the run from the law, Triads and the Yakuza. As you can see, this is turning into a "True Romance" on acid.
Of course, there are many subplots. One involves Teah's ex-lover (played by Patricia Manterola, a rising Mexican actress and singer) and a blind child. Also on the side is a little about Koji Kikkawa's ruthless character and how he takes over the Yakuza gang he works for. His depiction of a hard-ass, no-nonsense gangster lies somewhere between the roughest Takeshi Kitano ("Violent Cop") and the most intense moments of Toru Nakamura ("Gen-X Cops"). In other words, the guy rocks the house.
The visuals of "City of Lost Souls" are creative, surreal and at the same time hokey as hell (like that helicopter leap). It's cock-fighting scenes look like they were choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping with their cheezy Matrix-style effects and their cyber-punk battle cages. We also got a gang of people doing things with cocaine that would make someone like Tony Montana cringe. There's also some kind of romantic symbol between Teah and Kei that's shown with the use of insects that morph onto their bodies and become tattoos.
The bottom line is "City of Lost Souls" (also known as "Hazard City", a title I think is more suitable) is solid fun. It's no cinematic achievement or event, but it's one of the most interesting Asian films I've seen in the last few years. Highly recommended, Takashi Miike fan or not.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 8.5/10