Friday, January 8, 2010

REVIEW: Rainy Dog

極道黒社会 RAINY DOG (Gokudō kuroshakai)

Released: 1997

Takashi Miike

Shô Aikawa
Lianmei Chen
Ming-Jun Gao

Jianqin He
Tomorowo Taguchi

Running time: 95 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

Though the second part of Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy (1997's "Rainy Dog") has no connection to the previous film (1995's "Shinjuku Triad Society") - via character, story or even location - it shares a common thematic element: people being disconnected from society and feeling alone and abandoned. The three main characters in the story (a hitman, a prostitute and a mute boy) are each discarded similar to the soaked little puppy we meet at one point cowering in an alley.

It's not as ham-fisted as I make that sound though...The film opens with an introduction to Yuji who is a yakuza hitman currently in Taipei. He suddenly finds himself without a family to return to after receiving word of a change in leadership back home. While trying to figure out what to do and put up with the rainy season (he never goes outside in the rain due to his Grandma's warning that it is bad luck), he also suddenly finds himself in possession of a grade school boy named Ah Chen who cannot speak and, according to the woman who unceremoniously and rather heartlessly dumps him off in Yuji's apartment, is likely his son. The boy begins to follow him everywhere - including his next hit (he now works for a local Taipei gang leader). Though Yuji eventually allows the boy to come in out of the rain to his apartment, it's not like he's suddenly treated like a family member. Later, just as Yuji is about to make a second hit, thunder rumbles in the sky and he takes refuge with a prostitute for what seems like several days. During this entire time, Ah Chen is left alone, hungry and shivering in an alleyway.

In between their sexual exploits, Yuji and Lili talk about how they want to leave the city. Lili is beholden to no one and could simply pack up and leave the next day, but she wonders what will happen if the next place is exactly like the current one. When Yuji finds money on the person of his second target (he accomplishes the job after the rain stops), he brings it to Lili so that she can escape. One condition though - she has to bring Ah Chen with her. Meanwhile, the brother of the deceased is out for revenge and begins to track down all three of them. It starts to feel a bit like a road movie as the three outcasts try to stay ahead of their pursuers and they actually find a few small moments of joy. But given the film's dark, shadowy and dank environments all around them, you wonder if there's any hope for them.

If there's a problem with the film, it's that it doesn't quite build up the characters strongly enough in order for the viewer to get overly invested with them. Considering Yuji's actions towards Ah Chen, his strangely thin, reedy voice and his complete lack of a personality, it's hard to feel overly sympathetic towards him. The change in his feelings towards Ah Chen and Lili don't really feel "earned" when they occur and this hurts the film somewhat as the three begin to wonder if they might have a chance together after all. Miike isn't playing with form and technique as much as he does later in his career, but the movie does drip (and I mean drip) with an atmosphere that simply isn't very welcoming to any of these characters. It's effective in showing how they don't blend into the city (Lili doesn't even mix with the other prostitutes) and often seek shelter from it. You get the feeling that they aren't the only ones pushed to the outskirts of society.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.


Chris MaGee said...

This is one of my favorite Miike films.

Bob Turnbull said...

There's certainly a lot to like about it...I just wish there was a bit more emotional attachment to the characters and a more gradual change of heart. I suppose you can only do so much in 95 minutes though...B-)

Looking forward to watching "Ley Lines" today or tomorrow for this week's review.