Yellow Dragon's Village Film Review

The strength of the Japanese independent cinema has often rested on its ability to embrace absurdity and bring it together in a distinct yet cohesive manner. Consequently, the intuitive approach to micro-budgeted madness has launched such titles as Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus into international acclaim. Comparative to the breakout action flick, director Yugo Sakamoto embraces the same spirit and the DIY aesthetic of the cult classic with his tale of a religious cannibal cult in Yellow Dragon’s Village. A true crowd pleaser, the North American debut at Fantastic Fest (along with his film Baby Assassins) marks Sakamoto as a future name to watch out for.

Opening up under the guise of a horror film, where a group of unlucky 20-somethings fall into the trap of a cannibal cult, the production makes a sharp transition into action-revenge flick. Spoiler-lite, this switch is utter hilarity in the way a large group dies amongst a flurry of stupid panic – there is one death in particular that is hysterically inept. This leads to a perfect misdirect as the audience is left to wonder ‘who is left’ before a few side-note characters emerge as an elite squad of killers who have trained their whole life for this moment – sweet revenge for past victims of the backwoods religious sect.

The transition into martial arts film, though sudden, is not in the least bit jarring as the entire film rests in an absurd world that can only succeed in Japanese cinema. Notably, the fights are expertly choreographed for the miniscule budget that was available, it awes in the same way that Versus did on release. Furthermore, the film builds character from each fighting style and mannerism as locked into combat with cartoonish baddies – an easy way to interject personality, but an effective one nevertheless. As a result, it is easy to get drawn into each fight, especially when consistently punctuated by the odd silly finishing move.

Yellow Dragon’s Village may be bite-sized, just over an hour long, but this makes it an ideal film for revisiting time and time again. It may not reach the cult status of Kitamura’s Versus, given how more common these types of productions have become since the floodgates opened and brought Japanese cinema to the West, but resonates the same indie spirit – utterly endearing and ‘oh so much fun’. Undeniably, the lack of a greater narrative might dissuade the serious movie goer, but for those looking to just indulge and share some laughs with a crowd, you would be hard pressed to find a more riotous experience than what Yellow Dragon’s Village offers.

Yellow Dragon's Village Film Review

The production value here is undoubtedly rough, at times feeling like a film a friend shot on the fly during a long weekend. In addition, the cast is so large that they get lost within the film’s short existence  (I just watched it and could not tell you anything about anyone).  However, none of these shortcomings matter, as Yellow Dragon’s Village is a perfect blend of action, comedy and cannibalism. Check it out, and mark my word! In a few years time, Yugo Sakamoto will become an indie darling for fans of Japanese cinema, so get ahead of the curb and check this one out ASAP!

We Watched Yellow Dragon’s Village as part of Fantastic Fest 2021

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