‘Bad City’ Has What You’re Looking For: Blood, Sweat, and Bullets

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Bad City, dir. Kensuke Sonomura

Kensuke Sonomura has already made a name for himself with 2019’s Hydra, his action-heavy debut following an assassin who’s changed careers for the restaurant industry as a chef. Where that has a shorter runtime but a tendency to stretch its pacing, Bad City feels much roomier for Sonomura’s tendencies. Focusing on a Yakuza/Korean mafia feud with intricate political implications with law enforcement can’t always be squished into a palatable 90-minute film.

A new special investigations unit is created to take down a Yakuza lord who’s announced his bid for mayor of Kaiko City, a notorious crime-riddled hellhole. Parallels to The Wire will be drawn but by doing so it doesn’t detract from the focus. Much of the procedural attitude here resembles David Simon’s series but opts to keep a distant kinship almost as if it were a springboard. It of course can’t match Simon’s blistering condemnation of the infinite layers of the justice system, and doesn’t try to. It instead smudges the details in the rearview, a once-over gloss that few could fully absorb the first time. This appears to be in service of the film’s action focus demanded by Hitoshi Ozawa’s presence. Ozawa is Inspector Torada who has been serving time for the accused murder of a Korean mafia member. Torada is at all times the gruffest guy in the room. His sour attitude towards walking the bureaucratic tightrope is mirrored in the film’s skimming of procedure itself, something that in Simon’s hands would get plenty of clarification and repetition. But we’re here to skip to the good stuff and get rough. Bad City knows that.

Once the focus shifts to Torada and his crew, the thin nature of action widens quickly to encompass more and more of Bad City’s stakes. Claiming those stakes and the outcomes that follow is a toss-up between either repercussions for reckless endangerment or dismissal of legal procedure while you’re in it. It’s hard to split hairs when Tak Sakaguchi is coming at you lightning fast with a knife. But as Bad City finds its strength in the shallow focus of our character’s understanding it also allows a peek behind the curtain from time to time, expanding on the larger workings of the Yakuza and the Korean mafia until everything converges at the climax — a sweltering series of skirmishes, starting with a gigantic gang fight of hundreds vs. four. From here Bad City is pure martial arts action, and it’s more than earned its keep with untiring choreography fight after fight, yet exhausting to watch at the same time as it is fulfilling. In a direct-to-streaming climate it feels refreshing to see the craft of combat on display instead of editing standing in for the action we are meant to be absorbed by. Martial arts films need more of what Bad City has to offer. By the time it’s over you’re already wanting more, and maybe next time less of the procedural stuff.



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celluloid consommé

celluloid consommé

90s kid raised by cartoon movie wolves. Twitter: @demonidisco letterboxd.com/HamburgerHarry