Beautiful Blood on Your
Successors to GWG
“Tell Me Something” (1999)
Yoon-Hyun Chang’s “Tell Me Something” begins
as a police procedural in which “Detective Cho” (Suk-kyu Han) heads the
investigation of a series of grisly murders in which mismatched body parts
have been dumped around the city in garbage bags. The male victims
are quickly identified as the former lovers of a reclusive and mild mannered
woman “Su-Yeon Chae” (Eun-ha Shim). She is being stalked, and police
attention naturally centers on the stalker. Darkly atmospheric, rain
soaked scenes invoke the conventions of noir and heighten the suspense
of plot twists that alternate perspectives while never revealing the killer’s
true identity until the very end.
A sense of helpless foreboding verging on paranoia
gradually grows as “Detective Cho” struggles to protect “Su-yeon,” but
seems powerless to prevent the grisly murder of his own partner “Detective
Oh” (Hang-Seon Jang). A cinematic gaze that includes surveillance
cameras placed by the stalker and videotapes made as trophies by the killer
contribute to an atmosphere of grim unreality in which “Cho’s” grasp on
the substance of the case seems increasingly slippery.
As the investigation flounders, the coolly impassive
“Su-Yeon” gradually reveals something of her past. To the evocative
rhythm of Enya’s ‘Boadicea’ – itself a subtle symbol of avenging wrath
– “Su-Yeon” calmly shows “Cho” her father’s art studio – allowing the viewer
flashbacks to the horrific abuse she endured there as a child.
Suspicion finally settles on “Su-Yeon’s” friend
“Sung-Min” – a medical student portrayed in another eerily cold performance
by Jung-ah Yum. However, in the first of two final plot twists, “Su-Yeon”
reveals the true extent of her ruthlessness and capacity for dissimulation
in a violent confrontation with her friend at a Tower Records store.
This provides a natural opportunity for effective use of music to establish
the scene. As “Su-Yeon’s” home offers up the final secret, she nevertheless
slips away and is glimpsed adopting a new persona in a suddenly chilling
betrayal of all that has gone before.
Shim delivers an understated performance as the
apparently traumatized and helpless “Su-Yeon” who ultimately deceives everyone
and surprises with her character’s core of stone. Solid acting, excellent
cinematography and effective musical score support a plot that repeatedly
misdirects attention toward false leads.
“Wild Criminal” (1999)
“Wild Criminal“ (aka “Awful Crime”), directed
by Hide, can be read as a yakuza variant of the Wachowskis’ “Bound” in
which a gang boss’s female partner betrays him by seducing a strong, capable
woman and drawing her into a plot to steal the gang’s money. “Bound”
has been critically analyzed as an instance of “neo-noir” – a film that
extends the classic film noir theme of male anxiety concerning domination
by female sexuality to a blatant triumph of self-defining, exclusively
female solidarity and sexuality. In “Wild Criminal,” Aya Nakamura
plays “Tomoyo,” the ex-girlfriend of a gang leader “Udo” (Riki Takeuchi
in a supporting role) who has fallen from power. She is kept alive
and given as a trophy to “Suwa,” a part played with chilling conviction
by Hitoshi Ozawa. While “Suwa” relentlessly physically and sexually
abuses “Tomoyo,” she secretly schemes his downfall while duplicitously
affirming his masculinity and power. After saving “Yuki” (Miho Nomoto)
who is discovered dumped in the trunk of an abandoned car at the scene
of a gang shooting, “Tomoyo” later encounters her working as a croupier
in “Suwa’s” casino.
Despite her physical attractiveness and the pathos
of her circumstances, “Tomoyo” has to work hard at winning “Yuki’s” confidence.
This culminates in a well-filmed pivotal scene, characteristically set
at the water’s edge on a deserted beach. Sitting in “Yuki’s” two-seater,
“Tomoyo” alternately pleads and pouts as she presents her plan to fleece
“Suwa.” “Yuki’s” indifference – portrayed throughout by Nomoto’s
deadpan, slightly mocking facial expression and eyes hard as marbles –
is finally softened when “Tomoyo” shyly reveals the flaw in her plan to
kill “Suwa” and escape with his casino takings by herself. She may
be independent enough to plan out the crime, but hasn’t yet learned how
to drive! “Yuki’s” all-too independent character initially laughs
in contempt at “Tomoyo’s” self-admitted weakness, but this is softened
by sudden appreciation of the momentary irony. This scene is among
the better-acted moments of these films, with some striking facial close-up
cinematography. “Yuki” problematizes “Tomoyo’s” dependence with her
simple invitation to drive the car. This is a turning point in their
emerging relationship, and “Tomoyo’s” naïve admission, “I don’t have
a driver’s license” invites an ideological reading of everyday disempowerment.
The emotional thaw of ironic laughter elides into
affection as “Yuki” finally responds to “Tomoyo’s” overture. This
is filmed with warmth, unlike the exploitation scenes so frequently associated
with the Japanese GWG genre. Yet, at other points, this film presents
disturbing imagery of “Tomoyo” being beaten, assaulted or tortured, and
“Yuki” knocked down and sexually assaulted by her own erstwhile gang partners.
Despite significant continuity errors, these scenes are quite grim and
relentless in their import, and effectively establish a common bond of
strength in suffering between the two principal female characters.
Nomoto is glimpsed nude in the shower but this is presented as an act of
personal purification as she leans on the shower wall, strong and immobile.
Montage is used to good effect to present “Yuki’s” strength. Dark
scenes of assault are progressively edited with brightly lit shots of the
water cascading over Nomoto’s body – clearly connoting displacement of
pollution by cleansing.
“Yuki’s” response – .357 magnum in hand – would
do justice to her namesake in “Shurayukihime.” One assailant is shot
down immediately, the other repeatedly kneed in the groin, then allowed
to prostrate himself while begging to be spared. During his futile
pleas for a non-existent mercy the camera is positioned from his viewpoint,
forcing the viewer to look up at “Yuki’s” power and imminent vengeance
as she coldly utters “Sayonara” and blows him (and the viewer) away.
This might be Miho Nomoto’s best cinematic moment to date. There
are few other current female performers whose facial expression can be
so deadpan, so devoid of compassion, whose mocking hint of cruelty leaves
no concession to hope at all.
Once the play is set in motion, “Tomoyo” must
endure another round of abuse from “Suwa,” this time with “Yuki” hiding
underneath the bed. After “Suwa” drinks himself into an alcoholic
rage, “Yuki” attacks him. Following a relatively well-choreographed
brawl, “Suwa” grabs Tomoyo as a human shield. “Yuki” shoots him anyway,
wounding “Tomoyo” in the process. She then binds him to a chair with
duct tape and beats him unconscious. When finally confronted with
the cash, the two women experience another bout of mutual mistrust.
This is interrupted by a corrupt detective associate of “Suwa,” played
by Shun Sugata, who shoots “Yuki” and strangles “Suwa.” “Yuki” is
saved in the nick of time by “Udo,” with whom she has cut a deal on the
side. She then stages a mock execution of “Tomoyo” to seemingly erase
the surviving witness. However, one final narrative twist remains.
All is revealed as having been part of the women’s elaborate plot.
Avoiding a last double-cross by “Udo,” the two women are faster on the
draw and, in a slow motion hail of gunfire, send his body staggering back
into the same car trunk in which “Yuki” had been dumped.
A physical transformation of Aya Nakamura’s character
“Tomoyo” – from seductive yet victimized to strikingly powerful – is accomplished
in this final brief scene. As she unexpectedly floats into the scene
from behind Miho Nomoto, her clothing, hair, body posture, movements and
facial expression have all changed. Nakamura now flaunts much of
“Yuki’s” hard self-possession that verges on arrogance. When the
pistols come out, the affirmation of personal power is compellingly evident.
A similar slow-motion bodily transformation into a lethally powerful figure
is also made by Nakamura at the end of “Score 2.” But perhaps the
most provocative moment of “Wild Criminal” is when “Tomoyo” recalls finding
“Yuki” in the car trunk, a smear of blood at the corner of her mouth.
Much later, in “Yuki’s” rundown apartment, Nakamura playfully smears lipstick
on the edge of Nomoto’s mouth while speaking the line “I really wanted
to save you. Because I thought it was beautiful . . . the blood .
. . on your lip.” It captures the transgressive essence of this film.
“Fulltime Killer” (2001)
Johnnie To’s film takes the familiar narrative
elements of the romantic triangle and male rivalry, only to subject the
viewer to a sudden glissade toward alternative constructions of personal
reality. “O” (Takashi Sorimachi) is as unassuming and discreet as
“Tok” (Andy Lau) is arrogant and demonstrative. Yet it is “O” who
will kill his childhood friend and who maintains an ambiguously intense
interest in his female housekeepers. Both “Tok” and “O” are successful
contract assassins based in Hong Kong. When “Tok” seeks to challenge
“O,” he develops a relationship with his maid “Chin” (Kelly Lin) who appears
naïve. However, the ambiguous nature of character and relationships
is frequently suggested by references to playing roles from films as well
as the literal wearing of a mask. Although “O” picked “Chin’s” notice
advertising cleaning services from a bulletin board, he is using her as
an elaborate cover while it eventually emerges that she has actually sought
out him – and perhaps “Tok” as well. Earlier notions of the nature
of motives and corresponding relations become progressively destabilized.
Although “O” has recruited Chin to clean his official
address, her mild, self-effacing manner is ultimately revealed as a disguise
for an intense fascination with “O’s” activity as an assassin. By
cleaning his apartment, she is essentially performing for him. When
“O” is too shy to respond to her, she turns to “Tok.” A crisis develops
when “O” is targeted himself, and a group of killers come to his residence
only to find the maid. After “O” rescues “Chin,” he sends her to
his safe house in an adjacent building where she discovers his duplicity
and voyeurism. He has been observing her every moment from this vantage
point. However, it is soon “O’s” turn to be surprised when, instead
of surrendering or fleeing during a police raid, “Chin” grabs an automatic
rifle and joins him on the balcony outside.
What follows is a classic slow-motion Hong Kong
cinematic shoot-out, involving the symmetry of the assassin (Sorimachi)
and his new female partner (Lin) against the pursuing police investigator
(Simon Yam) and his female partner (Cherrie Ying). On the run, “O”
and “Chin” pause in a field far from the city. “Chin” confronts “O”
about the fate of her friend “Nancy,” his previous maid. As “O” professes
his attraction for “Chin” he seems to realize it may all be too late as
she pushes him away and demands to be heard. Although brief, this
scene is pivotal. “O” talks about wanting to seek out a peaceful
life, and “Chin” then assumes control. As she explains her fascination
with his activities, it becomes evident that she arranged to work for him
as a means of meeting.
The narrative focus then abruptly switches to
Simon Yam’s “Inspector Lee” who, following the death of his partner “Gigi”
(Ying) and the failure of his investigation, appears to experience a nervous
breakdown and becomes obsessed with writing a book about the story of “Tok”
and “O.” Tormented by the lack of an ending, he is one day presented
with an account by “Chin.” Although her account does not seem to
match reality, “Lee” realizes it’s just a story, and for a moment achieves
a measure of personal peace.
The film features excellent acting performance
by all cast members, creative cinematography, exceptional editing, and
a memorable theme and score by Guy Zerafa. Kelly Lin delivers a subtle
portrayal of the ambiguous figure of “Chin.” Far from being “just
an ordinary girl,” as she disarmingly describes herself, her character’s
unusual interests and emerging influence supply the narrative resolution.
At the end, she quite literally supplies the script.