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Sunday, October 2, 2016
When I first heard of VIOLENT COP (1989), Japanese actor and comedian "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's debut as a film director, I expected something along the lines of Abel Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT with Harvey Keitel. However, Takeshi's character, police detective Azuma, isn't "bad" as in "unscrupulous" or "corrupt." He's actually an honest, conscientious cop. He's just tired of endlessly going through channels and doing things the proper way when a little well-placed violence can get straight to the heart of things.
Takeshi was already a well-known TV star in Japan for such shows as "Takeshi's Castle" (1986-1990), which became a comedy hit in the U.S. when redubbed as "MXC" or "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge" for Spike TV (most of us remember the catchphrase "Right you are, Ken!"), and had acted films for nine years.
With his familiar deadpan expression which seems to reveal more the longer the camera lingers upon it, Takeshi's violence-prone cop has elements of both his Sgt. Hara of MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983), dispassionately dishing out punishment as a matter of course, and his fed-up school teacher in the much-later BATTLE ROYALE (2000), whose disillusionment with the rules and due process of the system has turned him into an emotionally-warped creature of base impulse. (Still, Azuma is hardly the sadistic brute of 2010's underworld thriller OUTRAGE.)
Azuma is humanized by the fact that he tenderly cares for his simpleminded sister at home, but even here he kicks an amorous suitor down the apartment steps and sends him away aching and shaking. His later pairing with a nervous rookie named Kikuchi (Makoto Ashikawa) and their borderline-hilarious (but still thrilling) auto pursuit of a suspect on foot provides the film with its one slender vein of sardonic humor. (Partially because Azuma, who walks everywhere--apparently because he can barely drive--insists on taking over the wheel from the rookie and then is unable to turn off the windshield wipers.)
I had to laugh again later when Azuma's harried boss asked him if it was necessary to run over the guy twice in order to arrest him. He also seems to keep an ample supply of "apology" forms for Azuma to fill out after his more egregious acts in the interests of law enforcement.
For the most part, however, VIOLENT COP is a lean, mean cop thriller whose story kicks into gear when Azuma, conflicted by the discovery that an old friend on the force may be involved in drug trafficking, goes on the familiar one-man crusade against the underworld kingpin behind it all.
This shadowy businessman is supposedly untouchable behind his throne-like desk, with a ruthless, sadistic bodyguard-slash-assassin who loves to kill people (Shirô Sano racks up a decent body count as "Yoshinari"). The driving force of the film is Azuma's bloody war against them in which his disregard for his own personal well-being leads to several acts of sheer reckless abandon. Interrogations involve guns, knives, fists, and dangerous ploys; confrontations are bloody, savage, and intensely personal.
As in DIRTY HARRY or DEATH WISH, we know these bad guys are bad, so we want to see them get what they deserve even if its just a good, sound beatdown. Although here, Azuma is more akin to the dogged veteran cop in THE FRENCH CONNECTION or the renegade rule-basher of TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. Both of those, incidentally, are William Friedkin films, with the latter being a favorite of Takeshi and seemingly an inspiration not only to his Azuma character but also to VIOLENT COP's fatalistic ending and overall pessimistic aura.
As a first-time director, Takeshi--who says he's now embarrassed to watch this "learning process" of a film--displays a combination of lean, straightforward storytelling with a keen and sometimes slightly askew sense of style. City settings both sprawling and squalid are used to good advantage. A cool, languidly jazzy score by Daisaku Kume works its magic throughout.
The Blu-ray from Film Movement Classics is in 1.85:1 widescreen and stereo with a Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles. The bonus featurette "That Man is Dangerous: The Birth of Takeshi Kitano" is a compelling look at the man as an entertainer and filmmaker. Also included are trailers for this and several other Film Movement releases, and an attractive illustrated booklet containing an essay by author and Asian film expert Tom Vick.
The ending is tense, visceral, and bleak, with the potent aura of a brashly impudent Friedkin hovering over it, so don't expect this bloody misadventure to leave you with that "feelgood" smile. I did smile, though, because I'd just seen a movie called VIOLENT COP that had lived up to its intriguing and somewhat exploitation-tinged title quite nicely.
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