(UK/Japan - 2019)
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL--is FIRST LOVE, which is generally restrained, but kicks off with a comedic decapitation (complete with blinking eyes and an expression of outrage on the face of the severed head) and closes with a wild bloodbath to keep the superfans from losing their shit. The opening half hour has a significant amount of exposition to establish, but once all the pieces are in place and it gets going, FIRST LOVE is an entertaining "survive the night" scenario centering on Leo (Masataka Kubota from Miike's 13 ASSASSINS), an up-and-coming boxer who's just been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
A despondent Leo is wandering the Shinjuku streets aimlessly into the night after being given the bad news, and he ends up literally bumping into Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a troubled, drug-addicted young woman who's being held prisoner and pimped out by low-level drug courier Yasu (Takahiro Miura) as repayment for her deadbeat, sexually-abusive father's debts to just-paroled Yakuza boss Gondo (Seiyo Uchino). Meanwhile, Kase (Shota Sometani), an ambitious Gondo underling, is conspiring with corrupt narcotics cop Otomo (Nao Omori, best known for the title role in ICHI THE KILLER) to intercept a shipment of drugs in a foolishly-planned scheme that involves kidnapping Monica and gets dumber from there. She manages to get away--that's when she bumps into Leo, though she thinks she's being chased by the ghost of her father in a recurring hallucination--but the plot goes south when Kase kills Yasu and tries to blame it on the soldiers of Chinese Triad boss One-Armed Wang (Cheng-Kuo Yen), a longstanding rival of Gondo's who earned his nickname when Gondo hacked off his arm years ago. That sets off Julie (Japanese pop star Becky), Yasu's girlfriend and a Ken Takakura superfan who knows what Kase has done and vows revenge. As the night goes on, terminally ill Leo, already feeling like he's got nothing to lose, takes it upon himself to become Monica's protector. They're pursued by various parties, all of whom eventually converge at a huge department store, where Miike really cuts loose with some inspired mayhem, including some splattery shootouts, decapitations, amputations, and disembowelings, much of which is played for laughs.
Miike's films aren't getting the global exposure they once did, but FIRST LOVE is easily the most entertaining work of his I've seen since 2010's 13 ASSASSINS. There's quite a bit of Takeshi Kitano-esque sequences of pissed-off yakuza guys yelling at each other (and Kase's phony indignation when he's told that Yasu is dead is hilariously played by Sometani), Kubota's Leo is a hero you can get behind, and everyone takes a backseat to Becky, who delivers an impressively unhinged performance as the vengeance-obsessed Julie. FIRST LOVE has no shortage of blood-soaked insanity, but it's also one of Miike's most commercially accessible films, probably why it managed to get a little more worldwide play than a lot of his recent work. If you've lost touch a bit with Miike since 13 ASSASSINS, then FIRST LOVE is a good opportunity to get reacquainted. (Unrated, 108 mins)
DISTURBING THE PEACE
(US/UK - 2020)
None of Diablo's floridly verbose shit-talking ever amounts to anything significant--the big reveal about him is that his dad drank himself to death after the local factory closed and as a result, he hates Horse Cave. How the fuck does stealing the deposit of a casino that's not even in Horse Cave avenge his dead dad? Director York Alec Shackleton, last seen guiding Nicolas Cage through one of the funnier fake American suburbs on a Bulgarian backlot (prominently featuring a posh art gallery called Art Gallery) in the bank robbery standoff dud 211, at least manages a more realistic-looking town in DISTURBING THE PEACE, even though he keeps things mostly confined to one intersection (drink every time you see that "Main St/Guthrie St" sign) as Diablo and the gang follow their master plan of...standing in the street and waiting for the armored car. Pearce spends most of his screen time away from the action in a way that would make Bruce Willis proud, running around town setting booby-traps and bombs that never come into play since the bad guys never leave their comfort zone of Main & Guthrie, while periodically getting on the walkie to tell his deputy Matt (Michael Sirow) to stand down. Shackleton's 211 wasn't a good movie, but it was at least competent under the circumstances. Here, he can't direct an action scene to save his life, some shots don't even look correctly framed, and he even manages to botch the final showdown between Dillon and Diablo. This is the kind of movie where a reasonably in-shape sheriff from the neighboring county has set up a speedtrap on the outskirts of town and gets killed by the gang, then the biker who killed him--weighing around 350 and sporting a long ponytail and a madman beard down to his belly--manages to fit perfectly into his uniform, and the armored car guys on their usual route see him and don't seem to think that anything's wrong here. There has to be a story behind Pearce's involvement in this. It's got the production values of a regional faithsploitation movie, and the entire supporting cast from Sawa on down--the guy playing the mayor is visibly reading cue cards--isn't even up to the standards of a below-average community theater group. I'm trying to think of an apt comparison of leading men, but seeing Pearce in this is like watching a circa 1970 Al Adamson joint headlined by, say, James Garner. It just doesn't make sense. There's an incongruity here that defies description. He shouldn't be here. It's like a lost David Heavener movie. I expect to see current DTV regular Devon Sawa and perpetual D-list henchman Branscombe Richmond in something like this, but it's truly beyond comprehension that nearly 30 years into a generally well-managed career, Guy Pearce is starring in a grade-Z actioner as crudely janky as DISTURBING THE PEACE. (R, 91 mins)