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Last Life in the Universe

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/16/04 05:54:23

"The worst beautiful looking film in history."
1 stars (Total Crap)

I've always said that whenever Chris Doyle is behind the camera on a film, you can put me down for an opening night ticket no matter what the film is about. Hero, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American, the Psycho remake, In The Mood For Love, Chungking Express, Made - regardless of how good or bad the films, Doyle has always, to the point of predictability, left his impeccable cinematic footprint on the finished product. Last Life in the Universe proves this theory as fact, because it is quite possibly the most boring, sleep-inducing, pointless, redundant films I've seen in years.

Pass me a cocktail napkin and I'll write the entire dialogue of the film on the back. Pass me a matchbook and on it I'll give you a detailed synopsis: "Japanese neat-freak ponders life in Thailand while trying to kill himself."

That's it. No, seriously - that's it.

Those that think Last Life in the Universe is fantastic (both of them) are most definitely the same people who loved Gus Van Sant's Jerry. Both films have lengthy periods where nothing happens and nobody talks. Mood is king in both films, and in both films the mood is 'blah'.

And after both films, audiences will say, in unison, "Well, that was boring as all hell... looked pretty though."

So Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) is a Japanese librarian with a serious hard-on for neatness. Which probably makes a good suicide hard to complete because, let's face it, suicide is messy. Maybe that's why he never goes through wit it, and will leave his noose to answer the door. Me? If I'm looking to off myself and the Jehovah's Witnesses come a-knockin', I think I'll stick to my gameplan. But then again, I'm not the subject of an interminably boring film.

Kenji has a gangster brother (Yutaka Matsushige) who is nothing like him, and his new friend Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak) is also no carbon copy. Kenji and Noi meet when his brother and her sister are killed, and they cling to each other for... I dunno, tedium?

They both speak some English, so the dialogue drifts from stilted Thai to Japanese to stilted English, and the should is nowhere near good enough to pick up the changes easily. One second you're looking for a subtitle for what was just said, then you realize it was English, but not good English, so you've missed the statement altogether. I'm sure those who speak Thai has similar issues with the thing, but I can only speak for myself when I admit that I missed a large part of the conversation here because I couldn't hear it, or was trying to read it when I should have been listening for it.

The director, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, was the Thai sensation behind 6ixtynin9 (which I rather enjoyed) and the well-received Mon-Rak Transistor, but here he's decided he's an artiste and he does nothing to show it. According to rumor, he and cinematographer Doyle clashed on the set (well duh, Doyle is a well-documented madman), to the point where I'm told that Ratanaruang blames Doyle for the films shortcomings. If that's true (and the story may well be baseless), then the director couldn't be more wrong.

The cinematography in this film is the only thing that will keep an audience in the theater to the end. The story is tedious, the characters bland, the message depressing, the dialogue uninventive. In short, it's a festival film to the core, and one I wished I hadn't bothered watching, Miike Takeshi cameo or not.

Look, I'm all for slow and deliberate. I'm all about movies that test an audience's ability to hang in there. But hell, give me something - anything - to hang on to while I'm getting to the end. Don't play auteur and get yourself off the hook by claiming the shield of 'misunderstood art.' Last Life in the Universe is nothing more than directorial masturbation, and I feel dirty for having swallowed.

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