V-cinema icon Hitoshi Ozawa, who has been a regular fixture in the films of Takashi Miike, plays grizzled detective Torada who has just been released from prison in order to head an investigation into a corrupt businessman turned politician, Gojo. With his small team, Torada cracks down on Gojo and the Korean gang executing the violent take over of Kaiko City. Directed by Japanese stuntman Kensuke Sonomura, Bad City is a love letter to gritty V-cinema that places reckless cops against both the gangs and a dishonorable politician.
Bad City, predominantly feels like a platform for actor Hitoshi Ozawa to celebrate his career and the persona he has developed over his extensive career as an actor playing overtly masculine roles. It is certainly a celebration as Ozawa steals every scene he is in and embodies that signature ‘cool’ portrayal that has made him such a notable actor in genre cinema. The rest of the cast is well-rounded and fans of Japanese cinema will see some recognizable faces that have also carved out their own niche in cult cinema.
Beyond the strong performances, Kensuke Sonomura leans into his experience as a stuntman to craft electrifying action sequences. There is a slightly sloppy approach to these fights, yet it works to give them a realistic tone. This is particularly true of lead Hitoshi Ozawa, who takes the demeanor of a hardened boxer with brutish grappling skills to give him a notable advantage in combat despite the age difference of the hordes he faces. The action is also used sparingly and comes in spurts instead of a constant barrage, making sure that each moment of brutality has meaning.
However, the script in Bad City is a bit hit and miss. On the positive, it balances political intrigue, drama, and action in equal measure to keep the story absorbing, and the focus on celebrating Hitoshi Ozawa. It excels at tapping into that fan nostalgia for v-cinema. Yet, there are multiple aspects of the story that are contrived and done to death—we even get a “we’re not so different, you and I” moment. As a result, the film production feels stilted (by the numbers) and there is nothing here that will catch the audience off-guard—it is a very predictable film. Bad City‘s biggest downfall is how it aims to be ‘safe’, unwilling to take chances or offer up anything challenging or unique.
This sentiment of toeing the line can also be stretched to the production’s overall presentation, it truly lacks visual flair beyond the well-choreographed fight sequences. The score is practically non-existent, presenting a huge missed opportunity to help further drive the intensity of some of the scenes. As this is Kensuke Sonomura’s second feature film, it does showcase his experience in the world of stunts and acting, as opposed to that of a well-rounded filmmaker.
Bad City is an enjoyable outing, from the action sequences to the story, there is never a dull moment. Yet, Kensuke Sonomura is unable to do anything to elevate the production into the realm of cult cinema that the film draws obvious influence from. It is simplistic and generic. So is Bad City worth your time? Certainly, if you are looking for a popcorn action flick, or if you are a fan of Hitoshi Ozawa, it is worth checking out, just don’t expect much beyond a surface level of action entertainment.
We Watched Bad City as Part of the Fantastic Fest 2022 Line-up
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