Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bodyguard Kiba (1993)

Bodyguard Kiba (Takashi Miike, 1993)
Japanese Title: Bodigaado Kiba

Takashi Miike is probably Japan's busiest director. He makes around three to four films per year, and while most of them are cheap direct-to-video thrills, it can arguably be said that Miike's films are always entertaining. Miike started as an assistant director for Japanese TV and was trained to make numerous shows in very little time, with controlled budget. He only made his first feature film that was to be shown in theaters in 1995, with Shinjuku Triad Society, and ever since then, he's been getting recognition for his blunt depiction of violence and sex with the primary goal of mere entertainment. Bodyguard Kiba is one of Miike's earlier films, which inevitably was only released in video in Japan. Interestingly, the film is quite well-made, and despite its formulaic structure, is almost always interesting.

Junpei is an ex-boxer who got into trouble with the Okinawa yakuza when he decided to steal 500 million yen. He gets imprisoned for trying to kill his boss, and five years after, he is freed, wants to go back to Okinawa to claim the money he hid, look for his girlfriend, and live the good life he always dreamed of. But of course, the yakuza will be after him, and immediately right after he was freed from prison, a group comes driving by, kidnaps him, and tortures him to reveal the location of the loot. His hired bodyguard, Kiba, is late, but eventually rescues him from the clutches of his ex-colleagues and guards him from Tokyo, to Okinawa.

It's not much of an interesting premise, but Miike and his screenwriters keeps on adding surprising touches to this film that keeps it from being repetitive and boring. Right after Junpei and Kiba lands in Okinawa, Kiba gets a handful of challenges from different karate dojos in Okinawa. The result is a quick yet exciting mini-competition where Kiba's master defeats each and every Okinawa karate master (most of which would use different kinds of weapons) with embarrassing ease. Of course, despite not having to defend his dojo from the Okinawa challengers, Kiba gets a huge piece of the action. Loads of fight scenes depict Kiba in his top form, coolly and breezefully pummeling opponents right and left. One might criticize the titular character for being invincible, but that's the point of it. The character's pretty much underwritten, and he is portrayed as uninteresting, stoic, and with girly facial features for such a savage fighter. He is in the truest form, just a bodyguard and therefore, not much drama is expected from him. The drama comes from Junpei who despite being a boxer, is quite a sissy in the arena. If Kiba gets most of the action, Junpei gets most of the beating, both physically and emotionally. He reveals the most about himself, while Kiba is the silent listener. In the end, the two guys' chemistry becomes very watchable. Kiba's non-personality and Junpei's vulnerability delivers a partnership that is interestingly near-perfect.

Miike directs the film quite well. His visuals here would reflect his future bluntness. Although there's not much outrageous bloodshed here and the use of guns and other weaponry is quite limited, Miike still gratuitously provides for entertaining violence, and sex scenes that are filmed primarily for titillation. Flashbacks are frequently used, yet that doesn't hinder the easy flow of the plot elements. The film rolls by in clockwork fashion, and despite its emptyheaded goal of mere entertainment, Miike adequately provides for thrills that keep me from yawning in violent disagreement.

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