Friday, August 4, 2023

The Thin Line Between Evil and Just: Bad City (2023) Review

Director: Kensuke Sonomura

Notable Cast: Hitoshi Ozawa, Mitsu Dan, Akane Sakanoue, Katsuya, Masanori Mimoto, Taro Suwa, Kentaro Shimazu, Koji Kiryu, Akira Hamada, Arisa Matsunaga, Huh Soo-cheol, Akihiko Kuwata, Hideo Nakano, Kenji Fukuda, Kazuyoshi Ozawa, Daisuke Nagakura, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Kazuki Namioka, Tak Sakaguchi, Tomokazu, Lily Franky, Rino Katase


With the recent boom of boutique labels releasing forgotten classics and foreign films, it is fantastic that auteur directors like Kinji Fukasaku are being discovered or rediscovered by legions of new fans. Although his style and influence could be felt throughout the decades in Japanese cinema, particularly around his work in the yakuza genre, it feels as though there is growing stronger—or, at least, Westerners like myself are more aware of seeing it in modern films. 


Yet, watching Bad City, it becomes fairly obvious that director Kensuke Sonomura has also been to the school of Fukasaku. In its tale of political and police corruption, poisoned by a brewing war between a yakuza outfit and a South Korean one, Sonomura delivers on the seething socio-political ideas that powered classic films like Cops Vs Thugs or Yakuza Graveyard. He then gives it the empowered V-Cinema DIY nature version of that while still polishing it with some impressive action combat reminiscent of The Roundup (The Outlaws) films. 


To say that Bad City is thoroughly enjoyable is an understatement. Bad City is one of the best action flicks of the year, energized by its screen-eating cast and brutal street-level beatdowns. Bad City is a good time. 


With the cult hit of Hydra earning some fair praise but perhaps hindered by its budgetary restraints, Sonomura is taking his action filmmaking to the next level with Bad City. Its narrative is not nearly as complex as it portrays itself in shifting alliances between two rival organized crime outfits and the police sent to bust it, but it's one where the characters matter much more than the plot. 


Its relatively large cast settles into the gritty world of gray morals incredibly well. When a series of brutal murders allows a yakuza big bad to go free and announce his mayoral run for Kaiko City, the police put together a task force to take down his corrupt thugs and killers. In a fantastic move by Sonomura, this basic plot allows him to litter this film with brilliant action and genre cinema character actors. If you’re a fan of Japanese genre cinema, it’s a cinematic stew of familiar faces and incredibly fun performances throughout. Masanori Mimoto and Tak Sakaguchi stand out from the pack, but there is something for all action fans here; every actor delivers some stand-out material. 


Yet, there is one performance that truly shines in Bad City. An incredible performance from V-Cinema legend Hitoshi Ozawa, who plays an imprisoned ex-police captain who operates through abrasive force and with a strange amount of charisma in his rogue cop/criminal demeanor, seals the deal in making this film soar. At 61 years old and sporting a blazing white hair color, Ozawa comes into this film and bulldozes his way through the film like heavy machinery. Not only can he just devour scenes whole, but he comes in and expertly executes the action sequences with incredible flair. It’s a sight to behold.


To add to the street-level brutality of the film, not only does Bad City have some brutal gun battles (as is expected in the yakuza crime flick), but it also features some incredible martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. Taking the impressive work from Hydra and punching it up, Sonomura holds nothing back. 


At one point, it’s blatantly stated to Ozawa’s character Torada that he’s not getting a gun. Well, that’s not a problem because in the next scene, he essentially takes out an entire gang of baseball bat-slinging baddies with his fists, some shouting, and a megaphone that accentuates both the punching and the shouting. The fight work is impressively complex and expertly executed. Bad City explodes with energetic action when the finale hits its boiling point and the heroes have to take on Tak Sakaguchi and an entire yakuza clan. Tom Cruise might be jumping off cliffs this year at 61, but he’s not pulling off The Raid level martial arts set pieces like Ozawa. It’s jaw-dropping. 


The low budget and restraints of Hydra made me set my sights too low, but Bad City rips through all expectations. The action is effective in its grit and impact, and the characters in the Bad City world exemplify the best of what classic crime cinema can accomplish. Sure, the plot tends to be a tad convoluted and baseline in its setup, but the city built on its grid is pretty fuckin’ impressive. 


Here’s to hoping this film finds its audience as soon as possible. I am willing to follow Ozawa’s Torada into any future crime-busting missions that come his way. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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