January 24, 2013
Gu Seyeon - 2011
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD
Hard Romanticker begins with the logo of the Japanese studio, Toei. Even without reading the supplemental booklet that comes with the DVD, I was associating this new film with the kind of work Toei was known for forty years ago. I was able to see a couple of yakuza movies, now considered genre classics, through a presentation Paul Schrader made at the Museum of Modern Art, coinciding with the imminent release of the film he co-wrote, The Yakuza. And while the supplemental notes stress a connection between Gu Suyeon's film, and the work of Kinji Fukasaku or Tai Kato, I contend that Hard Romanticker also has a connection with Toei concurrent series of films about juvenile delinquents. But to totally look at Hard Romanticker as a genre film, with the expectations that entails, is a mistake.
An interview at AsianWiki provides some explanation regarding the title, as well as the autobiographical elements. Having a main character with the same name as the filmmaker is cause for speculation. Gu Suyeon frequently employs distance as a means of minimizing the kind of emotional involvement one might have in a traditional genre film. This distance provides a kind of objective stance making the character of Gu, a small time yakuza thug, totally unheroic.
It may not be intentional, but Gu sets off a chain of events that not only exasperates existing gang rivalries, but also causes several gangs to be in pursuit of Gu. It doesn't help that Gu is suppose to be the member of one gang, while serving as a nightclub manager for another gangster, and sees no problem in that situation. While Gu seems to hide in plain sight from the young motorbike riding gang members, his grandmother has no problem finding him. Gu also allows himself to be deluded in his infatuation with a high school girl, encouraging her in her studies, until he discovers she is not the virgin he has imagined. Already an outsider in Japanese society as a Japanese of Korean descent, Gu becomes totally disconnected with what remains of his biological and social families.
While Hard Romanticker is a film about the yakuza, it is not a "yakuza movie" in the way that violence is portrayed. Unlike those films that may depict violent situations as emotionally involving or cathartic, the violence seen here is often simply brutal. Frequently, Gu Suyeon chooses not to show the violence but the after effects, such as the close up of a young woman's face after being beaten by one young gangster, or Mieko, Gu's would-be girl friend, with her clothes torn, and body bruised following rape by Gu. The guys fare marginally better with two of Gu's rivals, also with peroxide blond hair, seen with a bandaged eye and bandaged nose respectively.
Gu Suyeon's visual style is usually of action taking place within an immobile camera frame, usually long or medium shots. One of the few times the film employs more traditional filmmaking technique is in a somewhat comic scene of Gu, revealed to interrupted while receiving a blow job, forced into a rooftop chase by a pursuing gang, wearing nothing but his underpants. For most of the film, as in the life of the characters, life is hard, and hardly romantic.
Posted by peter at January 24, 2013 08:22 AM