Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl
"In short, if you are a fan of Hong Kong action movies, yakuza flicks, subversive cinema, comic-book style costumes, or Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino's films, then you must buy, beg, or steal a copy."
Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl (1998)
Director: Katsuhito Ishii
Producer: Kazuto Takida
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Ittoku Kishibe, Sie Kohinata, Kimie Shingyoji, Susumu Terajima, Shingo Tsurumi, Daigaku Sekine, Koh Takasugi, Shingoro Yamada, Hitoshi Kiyokawa, Yoji Tanaka, Keisuke Horibe, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Kanji Tsuda, Youhachi Shimada
Running Time: 108 min.
Plot: Samehada, a yakuza rebel, rips off the syndicate and runs with the money. He pairs up with an attractive hotel employee named Toshiko who's also on the run, from her abusive uncle. A colorful and dangerous group of villains come after them; mayhem ensues.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: Man, what happened? Japanese movies have suddenly gotten good. Instead of the plodding, overdone, overdramatic junk I've seen in the past, it seems that Japanese cinema has finally gotten an adrenalin boost and is churning out some great stuff. "Versus" was my first taste of this new wave, and as much as I enjoyed that movie, I have to say that I like Shark Skin Man even more.
The opening of the film, in which each actor/character is introduced, is one of the most original and exciting I've ever seen. It really gives you a hint of what you're in for. Most movies just have one or two unusual characters, but there are a ton of them in Shark Skin Man. The yakuza thugs are unlike any you've seen before; they're decked out in what the director calls "hyper fashion gear," which basically means that they dress like characters from a comic book. Just a few of them: a bleached blonde guy who wears a white leather jumpsuit and sunglasses, another guy who wears a hood that descends into a cape, and the leader, who almost looks like Darth Vader with his leather outfit. Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl themselves get a make-over later in the film, Samehada picking up the shark skin jacket that gives him his moniker, and Toshiko dropping the uniform and glasses she's worn throughout the movie, and decking herself out as what appears to be a prostitute. She's damn sexy, too.
Probably the biggest scene-stealer in the flick is Yamada, a uni-browed, kooky assassin hired by Peach Hip Girl's uncle to kill Samehada and bring back Toshiko. This guy is one piece of work. Dangerous, crazy, and loveable in a goofy sort of way, he's definitely one of the many highlights in the movie. Peach Hip Girl as well is an interesting character, though she only has a few lines in the whole piece. So is Samehada's old friend, Sawada, who's still a member of the yakuza, and is trying to find Samehada with the rest of them. Shark Skin himself is the rule-breaking bad-ass we all wish we could be.
Plot wise, you can see that this movie is a lift on Tarantino's "True Romance," much as Miike's later film "City of Lost Souls" was. However, Shark Skin Man is everything the Miike film wanted to be. It's a live-action anime (matter of fact, the movie is based on a manga, which unfortunately hasn't been translated into English) with great characters, moving moments, and some great dialog exchanges. Every character in the movie has his or her own agenda, as well as hobbies, and they feel free to talk about them, no matter what's currently going on with the plot. And unlike "City of Lost Souls," Shark Skin Man isn't a straight-up remake of "True Romance," it just takes the basic set-up (guy and gal on the run from gangsters) and goes in a different direction.
A criticism that's often leveled at Tarantino is that he "steals" elements from Hong Kong/Asian cinema. I don't think what he does is outright theft, as the same thing's done by countless other artists, taking something established and putting their own spin on it. In Tarantino's case, I find his versions superior to the original material; i.e., I think "Reservoir Dogs" is superior to "City on Fire." In other words, Tarantino generally improves on the source material. But in the case of Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl, this has been done to him; SSM&PHG is equal to all of Tarantino's films.
There aren't as many action scenes as I would've liked, but there's still an unrelenting pace to the film. Kind of like Guy Ritchie's movies, i.e. "Snatch": though there aren't many shoot-outs or other action setpieces in the film, it still carries more energy than your average Schwarzenegger flick. Shark Skin Man is the same. There are several shoot-outs, though, and the final one, in which Yamada tries to spring a trap on the yakuza thugs, is the best of them all. Even though I'm an action junkie, I have to say it isn't the action that carries SSM&PHG, anyway. Like Tarantino and Ritchie's films, it's the vibrant characters, humorous dialog, and memorable situations that make the movie so enjoyable.
Currently there are 2 DVDs available, both of them Region 2 discs. There's a German release, which seems to be the one HKFlix has in stock, and a superior Japanese Special Edition release. This is the one with the flames and "SM" on the cover. This is the version I have, and it comes with loads of supplemental material (all in Japanese, but still interesting), as well as great interactive menus.
In short, if you are a fan of Hong Kong action movies, yakuza flicks, subversive cinema, comic-book style costumes, or Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino's films, then you must buy, beg, or steal a copy.
JOE909'S RATING: 10/10