Bloody Hell: Fights, Camera, Action

Sion Sono’s Love Exposure (2011) popped into my subconscious as I was watching his latest Why Don’t You Play In Hell? The difference here is, this is two hours of outlandish movie-making rather four hours. I’m not complaining, far from it. The plot here is compact enough, but far from straight forward. And I am not complaining about that either. This is a movie that compels us with its synonymous Japanese bonkers and energetic style – that’s a compliment. Plus, this is not really a movie you would complain about – at worst you would shake your head and question what the fuck is going on, and carry on watching.

It revolves around (and I use that word pretty literally) crime gangs getting in each other’s business, while the involvement of an amateur film-making foursome add to the rather colorful mix. It blends some cartoon violence (insert Tarantino comparisons here or not), genuinely funny moments, and also attempting to make you feel for the characters and their plights from time to time. Even the ludicrous story of a bunch of movie nuts controlling the action of two enemy clans trying to kill each other is a plus point for the movie. We don’t have to worry about historical accuracy or moan about it being pretentious here. This is a different kind of painting, one that is still two hours well spent I might add. I mean, you might like Renoir, but you might also have a lot of time for Picasso.

In fact at times, many times, you wonder what the director is trying to do to us or tell us, without giving yourself a headache. The comedy is often natural and consequential, but also seems intentionally over the top or improvised, and often lingers. The action sequences are choreographed and executed at the smack-bang right level of cool and drool (there is a cocaine-fuelled but significantly vivid moment of our heroine slicing up her enemies and their blood-spay becomes a rainbow of colors). And it’s pacing switches between the arcs of narrative and tone, before bringing it all together in a tremendous climax of quick-fire sword-play and articulating red spray. You almost wish there was more of this particular action scene energy in the earlier chunk of the movie. Again, I am not complaining.

We are not just being entertained by, for instance, a Bruce Lee wannabe dressed in Kill Bill yellow, a catchy toothpaste ad jingle jumping in and out, or an actual mass sword fight being halted because the set lights temporarily failing. There are pointers towards love, believe it or not, in some of its dialogue exchanges between characters that have not had a real kiss, or the even toughest of bad guys with the sweetest of motives to make a movie. And that is what the film might really be about. An oddball love-letter to action movies of sorts, but more directly about the making of movies – in particular a kind of homage to the 35mm format. The yell of “cut” at the very end to cease the narrative does perfectly exemplify this tribute to film-making, while keeping in sync with Sono’s surreal aesthetics, and kaleidoscope vision.

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