Monday, 7 July 2008

Into the Sun (2005)

Seagal takes his dates to the nicest places

Into the Sun
is one of four 2005 films starring Steven Seagal. It does differentiate itself from the others however, thanks to a more interesting setting (Japan), a greater amount of action and a less confusing plot. The film boasts higher production values than most of Seagal's Direct-to-Video output (it actually got a theatrical release in Japan) and looks colourful and stylish. With the neon signs, pachinko parlours and elephants (the elephants aren't in Tokyo, though) it's nice to look at even when the middle of the movie begins to drag. Between this film and Belly of the Beast, I'm beginning to think that all Seagal films should be filmed in Asia. I'd take the colourful setting of Thailand or Tokyo over the usual depressingly drab Eastern European locations any day of the week.

The film opens with Jungle Action Seagal (tm) and his partner on a mission in Myanmar, spying on heroin smugglers. He breaks cover to stop a girl from being raped, shooting one of the thugs with a silenced rifle and then bafflingly picking up an AK-47 to shoot the other, alerting everyone to his presence. The two of them manage to escape, but Seagal's partner is fatally wounded as the helicopter lifts off. Seagal quits in disgust.

When a Japanese governor is assassinated by a gang of Yakuza punks, Homeland Security (with a vague reference to "terrorism") calls the CIA who calls the FBI who call Travis Archer, sword saleman and freelance CIA agent. Seagal has tackled characters with a wide variety of professions; ex-CIA chef, ex-CIA doctor, ex-CIA CIA agent, but ex-CIA sword salesman? There's a profession with a truly Seagalian potential for violence.

Soon after arriving Seagal runs into the Yakuza punks at a marketplace, where he puts a half dozen of them in the hospital. One of the group cuts off his little finger in an act of contrition, and Kuroda, the Yakuza boss, just tosses it in the bin and shoots him in the head. What a bastard! You see, these young turks have no regard for proud Yakuza traditions. They're even teaming up with the Tongs to try and consolidate their power. The old guard are very unhappy with these young upstarts, and pretty soon the young punks are assassinating the old Yakuza in an attempt to take over Tokyo.

During his investigations, Seagal has a few brief conversations with a waitress named Nayako. Now, I figured they were just friends. He says "I love you", but I figured it was some sort of father/daughter type relationship, since she's half his age, maybe younger. Boy was I surprised when all of the sudden he proposes to her in a park full of cherry blossoms. Then they queasily consummate their relationship is a rather chaste bedroom scene (there's some sideboob, but Seagal wears a baggy shirt). Anyway, in a Seagal film that's as good as painting a target on your forehead, and sure enough a Yakuza punk slices her open with a sword. He even steals the antique comb that Seagal gave her. Well, that's all the motivation Seagal needs to head to Kuroda's renovated temple and slice some fools.

Although Asian themes have always been a part of Seagal films, this is first time when swords have been so important to the plot. Usually Seagal just finds one hanging on the wall of the villain's house. There's even a reference to Yojimbo where Seagal kills three or four punks and then wrecks up the place. Although in Yojimbo he was trying to make it look like they were killed by a gang of assailants, here it doesn't make any sense. Despite the fact that the Yakuza punks laugh at the idea of anyone carrying a sword in this day and age, by the climax of the film it seems every young punk is packing a blade. Seagal probably carves up a dozen Yakuza, along with the help of former student Mei Ling (Pace Wu) and tattoo artist Kawamura (Daisuke Honda). It's pretty violent, and the paper screens, spurting blood and gruesome sound effects call to mind Kill Bill, if not the bloody chambara films that inspired it.

So, there's a higher amount of hand-to-hand combat than in a lot of Seagal's recent films. Seagal even gets kicked in the head and through a table, a rare case of Seagal actually being injured (not that it amounts to anything, he shrugs it off instantly). Seagal's climactic battle with Kuroda could probably be longer and makes copious use of stunt doubles, but it's pretty good. The rest of the film is Seagal going from place to place and chatting with various Japanese/Chinese contacts at fancy nightclubs. In one club there's a pretty lousy comedian on stage but there's also a couple of topless women swimming in a fish tank so it all evens out.

Seagal is also saddled with a rookie field agent named Mack. There's a bit of fish-out-of-water humour, but this isn't the buddy picture you might expect. During the fight at the marketplace, Mack gets nervous and there's an AD (Accidental Discharge). In any other action film it might have been laughed off, but here it's treated like the huge fuckup it is and Seagal gets really pissed off. So while Seagal fraternises with the locals he tells Mack to go do some covert surveillance at the fish market. Of course, Mack fucks up again, rooting around in a glass-fronted office that overlooks the entire fish market. Eventually he gets captured and murdered by the Yakuza and Seagal doesn't even know or care where he is for the rest of the film.

The cast is a mixture of Chinese and Japanese actors. The Tong leader Chen is played by Ken Lo, an actor with quite an impressive list of roles in Hong Kong film. I was really excited to see Chiaki Kuriyama (from Battle Royale and Kill Bill), but her appearance was just a ten second cameo. Seagal speaks Japanese sometimes, but other times the conversations will go back and forth with Seagal speaking English and the other person speaking Japanese. Julliete Marquis plays a lollipop-sucking CIA agent called Jewel who follows Seagal around for the entire film, only to show up at the end to spray the aftermath of Seagals battle with a blue goo that destroys DNA evidence.

Into the Sun is directed by a mink, and I must say he/she does very well for a ~1kg semi-aquatic mammal. Oh wait, no, it's the name of a music video director. Despite the unassuming lower case name, mink actually lends quite a nice look to the film. The camera work is energetic, but it never overwhelms the plot or the action, which is something I wish I could say about most music video turned film directors. This is by far the best Seagal film of 2005.

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