Takeshi Maruyama’s latest is one with an unusual feel. An ensemble piece made up of interrelated tales, the most likely outcome for Spaghetti Code Love would have been a confusing mess of a film. Somehow, despite risking a drop in pace in the middle, the exact opposite happens here and you’re rewarded for sticking with a daunting initial task.
Why daunting? Well, I lost count of how many stories there were. There was a woman at a pachinko arcade, a struggling photographer, an angry model, a nervous busker, a clingy wife, an emotionally distant young couple, two school kids planning their deaths, an even young student planning his entire life, a woman wasting money on a psychic and her neighbour who is addicted to Skippy peanut butter. I certainly missed a few!
Somehow, the film manages to keep you abreast of all of these varied stories, all of which play out in a beautifully shot Tokyo. Not only that, but they build to a crescendo and are somehow tied together in a neatly positive conclusion across the board.
I’m glad I was fairly focused and in the mood to be challenged, but I’m worried that if I’d been cloudy of mind I may have struggled to keep up. For international audiences, the sheer volume of stories might make the film a little inaccessible.
The standout plot thread for me involved the brilliant Tôko Miura (who recently starred in the Oscar-nominated Drive My Car) as a musician grappling with her own self-confidence. In an ensemble cast full of talent, I found her woes hugely relatable and her delivery was highly memorable.
Certainly worth watching.
Note: I watched this as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme at Broadway in Nottingham, an annual festival that offers British cinema goers a first look at the latest cinematic releases from Japan.
Two decades before Jackie Chan broke into Hollywood with box office smash Rush Hour, he was making another significant breakthrough in his career. Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master were both released in 1978 by Seasonal Film Corporation. They marked Chan’s first mainstream success as a lead actor and showed him to be a realistic option to fill the gap in the market left by Bruce Lee following his unexpected death in 1973.
Chan had worked as a stuntman on two of Lee’s biggest films: Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon. But it took the two action comedy films in 1978 for him to rise to prominence and make the world pay attention to just how entertaining he is on screen.
Drunken Master, which has recently been remastered and issued in HD on Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label, tells the story of Wong Fei-hung (Chan), a young martial arts trainee with more confidence than ability. A couple of incidents in his local town lead him to be disowned by his father – a martial arts master – and he is forced to train with the great but harsh Beggar So (Yuen Siu-tien). Beggar So is a master of the secret martial arts techniques of the Eight Drunken Immortals, and Wong must train with him to master the techniques to defeat the notorious killer Yim Tit-sam (Hwang Jang Lee).
Once Chan appears on screen for the first time, his charisma and charm are there in plain sight. He commands the screen and plays everything for laughs. It feels entirely effortless and he inevitably carries the entire film.
The plot and delivery border on the ridiculous. There are comedic sound effects added to every single move in every fight, which may take some getting used to for newcomers to the genre, although why they would start here is beyond me.
The martial arts on display is exemplary, with Chan clearly an expert in his art to the point of making his character look completely believable as a poor student. Also notable are Hwang Jang Lee’s Taekwondo displays, which are utilised to great effect.
Inevitably, if you’re seeking out this film you’re probably doing so to see the origins of Jackie Chan’s career. On that level, you won’t be disappointed as it shows a young actor having fun finding his feet in a lead role. An underrated gem.