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Leo is a young boxer, successful but unable to show emotion. He has a fight scheduled and is sure that he will win. Instead, his opponent knocks him out. This triggers a chain of unpleasant events involving drugs, corrupt cops, the Yakuza, a female assassin - and Monica, an escort that he must rescue. It's one hell of a night for Leo.Written by
If this isn't one of Miike's major triumphs, with his graphic sense of a graphic-novel there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-top-to-go-over Yakuza-set crime movies, First Love is still a welcome return to the form of what fondly got me to watch a few dozen of his work over the years (not exaggerating, and I'm sure I'm missing so many more to see).
The last twenty minutes is where it gets into that sweet spot of a wildly and cartoonishly violent series of fights and kills, set and shot brilliantly in a department store, but before that there is a mix of super-dark comedy with a kill-happy guy, played with such glee by Shota Sometami (he's even surprised at himself how many he kills over the course of one night, including an old lady), and a (for Miike) 'sweet' kind of meet-cute where a boxer - who has just been told he has a terminal tumor in his brain - and a young street woman - who keeps seeing her dead abusive father in hallucinations form (possibly from early withdrawal as the kept woman of another Yakima and his lady, and don't get me started on her and her crazy ass - run into each other on a street at night and have to flee... Till they get caught. But what then?
It's almost sort of, hmm how shall I say, quaint in that 90's era of Tarantino rip-offs way that this largely takes place over one night and while it involves some warring gang elements and outrageous side characters (oh hey master swordsman with one arm), mostly in the plot, it's more concerned with the .. Idiosyncrasies of the characters (or, perhaps, like Miike's Into the Night(?) All of the details are Miike's though, and if I feel like I've seen it before it's only because I've seen too many damn movies in the course of my life - had this been one of my first times seeing his work, I'm sure id be like "Whoa, where have YOU been all my life??"
First Love is a work by a confident master of his craft about to enter his fourth decade of filmmaking, but it has the energy and take-chance spirit of a young director who wants to impress us. My heart wants to give it an even higher rating, especially because it is so much fun in that department store finale and for loving Miike as one of world cinema's few remaining Great Wild-men Who Happen to Be Able to Do It All. But if I take a step back I know the story is a bit repetitive, and the main couple of Leo the Boxer and Monica the Hallucinating Addict, are passive characters.
All the same, this gave me what I wanted and is a good Yakuza thriller. And 20 seconds of psychedelic animation can go a long way.
(REEDIT - yeah... I bumped it up to 4 stars. It's closer to 3 1/2, but in a world where Ang Lee is making soulless stuff like Gemini Man, Ill take this any day)
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