New York Premiere
108 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Directed by: Gu Su-Yeon
Starring: Shota Matsuda, Kento Nagayama, Shido Nakamura
Friday, July 13 @ 6:30pm (buy tickets)
We thought we knew what hard meant. And then we watched HARD ROMANTICKER, which pretty much redefines the whole spectrum of hard-ass, hard-boiled, and hardcore in one mean, punch-packing machine of a movie. Writer-director Gu Su-Yeon’s new movie unfolds in a concrete jungle where, in Philip Larkin’s words, man hands on misery to manl. Drawing on Gu’s own autobiographical account of his experiences growing up as a delinquent zainichi Korean (Japanese born, but of Korean ancestry) the film brings into focus the squalid, gang-infested Korean ghetto, a congested, working-class hellhole brimming over with enough sex and fury to remind the viewer of a bad day in mid-90s Bosnia.
The picture arcs back directly to the days when production company Toei was punching its massive weight left and right in Japanese cinema, regularly sending out shock waves with its youth gang films. This upgrade of the theme of the tough, nihilistic loner pummeling his way into and against the world features a stunning lead performance by Shota Matsuda as the cocky, incorrigible rebel who lives on the edge and on the run, never one to shirk from a little bit of the old ultra-violence.
Shota, sporting the same name and peroxide-blond hairstyle as the director, was born to play the fictional Gu: an old-style leading man with spit, snap and vim (like his legendary father, Yusaku, who was half-Korean). He hides all traces of tenderness behind the cool, marble mask of his lean-and-mean, bad-boy good looks and holds the whole film tightly together, while real-life Gu helms the flick with fizzy glee and the constant sense that something is about to explode, underscored with Kaoru Wada’s blithe jazz score.
Day after day, (fictional) Gu earns fresh foes and makes all the local hoodlums want to kick his ass. Working multiple dead-end part-time jobs, he cruises around town on his scooter, with such frictionless ease that you wind up grinning at the sight of him, wondering what kind of gangland trouble his next move will land him in: leaping across rooftops with irate hordes of punks in hot pursuit, running off with a fetching belle in a sailor suit, rescuing a schoolgirl from being gang-raped at a glue-sniffing orgy… in short, this is one machine-tooled slab of pure first-class pulp.