Some films have that special something, and some films seem like they stepped in something. Allow me to help you know the difference, and maybe find you something good to watch.
This film takes elements of samurai films and yakuza films, and drops it in a blender with two scoops of bat-poop craziness and a dollop of film-making zeal. The film is called WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? and it is a blood-splattered love-letter to cinema. The film makes me think of the EVIL DEADs when Sam Raimi was starting out, and it makes me think of RESERVOIR DOGS way back in Tarantino’s freshman year. This is a bloody, over-the-top, irreverent new film from director Sion Sono (SUICIDE CLUB 2001), and you should watch this to know what I’m talking about.
Yes, it’s in Japanese (with English sub-titles), and yes, you probably aren’t going to recognize any faces, but this film is worth it. Definitely.
There are three major elements going on in WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (WDYPiH?) It is firstly about a group of film-geeks who want to make a film of greatness, a film that they will be remembered for. Secondly, it is about a long-standing yakuza (Japanese organized crime) gang war. And thirdly it is about the beautiful but crazy daughter of one of the yakuza bosses, and what an absolute bad-ass she is (though still, in a way, looking for love, of course).
WDYPiH? is certainly funny throughout, the action is really well done, and the characters are quirky and memorable. But what really makes this film great is how the whole story is woven together. There are a lot of threads, and some large jumps in time, and it all comes together so beautifully.
I think of Stephen Chow’s amazingly perfect KUNG FU HUSTLE when I see this. Or more recently Robert Rodriguez’s under-appreciated MACHETE KILLS. These films have an ability to balance action and comedy without undercutting each other.
Listen, I know I’m throwing a lot of movies at you, but that’s because this film really does have other films on the brain. One of the characters spends the whole time wearing that same iconic yellow tracksuit that Bruce Lee wore in his final film GAME OF DEATH. Of course Uma Thurman wore something similar much later in KILL BILL, which I also needed to mention because it’s all relevant. There are characters that literally pray to the God of Film! Literally. God I love it.
The action is gory, but so over-the-top that you can’t help but smirk. There are sword-fights and gun-fights, and some crazy sadistic shenanigans too.
If you needed further convincing, here. Check out this sweet, brutal, hand-drawn segment of a larger poster that American artist James Callahan made for the U.S. release of the film:
This is bloody. This is awesome. This is new.
So why the hell don’t you want to play?