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Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/06/17 05:14:47

"Second verse, better than the first."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I honestly retained very little of the first "The Mole Song" movie Takashi Miike did from when I saw it at the festival a couple years back, and the "previously" reel suggests my brain may have been overwhelmed more than it being a case of it not being memorable; a metric ton of stuff happened, and I have vague memories of musical numbers on top of that (my review suggests I liked it a fair amount even if it did wind up not making a lasting impression). "Hong Kong Capriccio" benefits from being relatively simple - undercover cop rising in the yakuza uncomfortably quickly must save the boss's daughter from human traffickers and try to take him (and the Chinese mafia) down.

That undercover cop is Reiji Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta), and the sequel starts the same way as the original, with him getting dragged through a crazy situation naked, this time in a cage suspended from a helicopter. He's only got a brief moment to check in with his handlers and his girlfriend Junna Wakagi (Riisa Naka) before being sent back out into the field - where, ironically, the zealous new head of the Organized Crime Task Force, Shinya Kabuto (Eita), is making it hard to operate, in part because boss Shudo Todoroki (Koichi Akawi) has promoted him and his partner Masaya Hiura (Shinichi Tsutumi), making Reiji a person of interest. Shudo has also told Reiji to watch over sexy 19-year-old daughter Karen (Tsubasa Honda) - the sort of girl who inevitably creates uncomfortable situations - even as both the cops and yakuza are trying to deal with a push from China's "Dragon Skulls", led by the mysterious "Papillon".

This plot is exactly the pile of yakuza movie cliches it sounds like, but not quite the one-thing-on-top-of-another marathon that the first was. It is, perhaps, the difference between playing these familiar elements for broad comedy and trying to turn them inside out to mock them, in addition to a sequel not necessarily having to go for every mob-movie joke they can because they might not get another chance; the filmmakers can tell a story simple enough to hang some jokes on without the audience having to struggle to keep up. That gives Miike and the writers a lot of room to do genuinely nutty things - pun fully intended, as the hero takes it in the crotch a lot, and there's a lot of slapstick and other obvious-but-effective comedy. It's got one of the craziest opening bits I've seen in a while, something which doesn't happen on film until the whole idea of giving Miike accrual money to adapt popular comics becomes an actual thing, and the tacky, ridiculous jokes continue through the end, a showdown in Hong Kong that doubles down on the villains being comic-book crazy and pumps the action up to downright ridiculous levels.

It takes a lot of work to get this sort of big, absurd slapstick comedy right, and when Miike and screenwriter Kankuro Kudo (once again working from the manga by Noboru Takahashi) are firing on all cylinders, they've got an uncanny ability to have their jokes work with split-second precision while also looking somewhat ragged. It's a weird, contradictory skill to figure out how to balance the absurdity of a character being menaced by a random tiger with not just the danger, but the fact that the CGI jungle cat is going to look at least a little fake. They can't always sustain the slightly-out-of-control feeling, so the audience may get a little fidgety when things need to be played straight for a few scenes, but they mostly can stay in the sweet spot.

That may in part be because Toma Ikuta gets to have the ground a little more solid underneath Reiji's feet this time around; though he's got a lot of opportunity to flail about like a madman at all the insanity the young undercover cop is put through, the taking it down a notch is enhanced by his getting some chances to show a little confidence (born of experience rather than stupidity) that quickly gets undermined. It's a shame that he still doesn't get a lot of chances to play of Riisa Naka, as Reiji & Junna tend to be very cute together and the half-accidental apparent compromising situations with Karen aren't necessarily the best jokes, although Tsubasa Honda handles the aloof mafia princess character well enough. Eita makes the most of his chances to ham it up as Shinya.

This decently-budgeted manga adaptation portion of Miike's career is strange to longtime fans, because in a lot of ways it has softened him, giving us fewer moments where the initial impulse is to recoil before saying something is kind of brilliant. But when he clicks with something, it brings the weirdness of a manga out like few others are able to do. "The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio" is a weird, silly movie, but wouldn't work any other way.

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