Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Battle Royale

(2000) ***
I remember reading criticism of The Hunger Games that it was just a Battle Royale ripoff, so I sorta knew what I was getting with this one.

It's the near future, and apparently kids in Japan have become rude and disrespectful, so the adults decide to teach them a lesson by randomly kidnapping a 9th grade class each year and forcing them to fight to the death on some remote island.

The great thing about this is the action and gore, which prompted some glowing comments from Tarantino on the dvd cover. There's lots of clever deaths (see the decapitated head with the grenade in the mouth below), particularly of the Tarantino kind where roomfuls of people are all blasting away with blood flying everywhere.
I also really dig this video announcer who explains the rules of the game. Maybe my favorite exposition device I've ever seen: one of those insanely cheery Asian game show announcers, treating this horror murder fest like it's going to be the silliest, most fun 3 days of their lives. She's awesome.
Another thing I like is that the military folks orchestrating the battle are all pretty low tech. Yeah, they've got fancy killer necklaces, and some (easily hacked!) big screen monitors, but HQ is literally a dusty abandoned classroom--they can't even be bothered to unstack some of the old desks in the corner. I like that aesthetic compared to the over-the-top glitz they go with in Hunger Games. The dude running the show here is more just fucking worn out by life. He's their old teacher, but he doesn't seem bitter or anything. It's just "This is what we're doing now. You all kill each other. I'm taking a nap now on this cheap tiny sofa."

However, I can't go beyond 3 stars because the story just didn't work for me. For instance, how is a death battle going to teach kids a lesson if the adults KEEP IT A SECRET? It's apparently been going on for a few years by the time the kids in the film get drafted, but they have no idea what's going on. So yeah, it's almost like the director is just saying: "Screw context. I'll give you a nod with this lazy story about juvenile delinquents, but I really just want to get right to the gore." I think I'd have preferred he just skip context altogether.

There's also the problem that the deaths come so fast that you never really know or care who's being wiped out--it's like the early days of Survivor! I think they start with 42 students, and within not much more than an hour, it's whittled down to 3, so yeah, blink and someone's gone.

A lot of the character development also gets tiresome as it plays on what I guess we could call "Asian-girl romance" themes. It seems like every girl's death somehow evokes wistful musings about one of the boys in the class. I know there's a whole genre of manga dedicated to these flirtations, and I think we see some bleed-in from that genre here. Sort of like Hunger Games in that as well, actually.

Anyway, some good gore and action, but kinda vacant overall so that my mind was wandering a lot.


Catfreeek said...

Wow, great breakdown of this film. Again I am so impressed with your picks this year.

DCD said...

Interesting. I hadn't heard about this in reference to the Hunger Games. Did you read those Landshark? I can't remember now.

Landshark said...

I did read the first 2, and am sorta in the middle of the 3rd now. Kinda lost interest a couple months ago, not sure I'll get back to it. The first 2 were pretty fun though.

Octopunk said...

If I were you I'd just trail off exactly where you are. The endgame in book 3 goes completely off the rails.

Good breakdown of this flick indeed! I think you nailed some of the features that always make J-horror potentially difficult to wrap one's head around, namely the ability to effortlessly graft features of other genres where you'd least expect them (crazy game show host, ill-placed unrequited romantic concerns).

This movie won me over when the chubby girl in her school uniform rips the room apart with an Uzi.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Landshark I'd like to take this moment to say - you're kicking ass this year! Another excellent review!

When I first watched Battle Royale I considered it completely insane. I had never or seen or imagined anything like it before. School kids forced to kill each other? Funny (or scary) how a few years go by and in 2012 The Hunger Games movie becomes a cultural phenomenon.

In my opinion The Hunger Games books were fun but each one got slightly lamer. I was disappointed in Mockingjay but I look forward to seeing how they deal with the climax on the big screen. The Hunger Games movie was decent but some potentially epic scenes were ruined by shaky cam and PG-13.

AC said...

fab review.

i liked the hunget games books in descending order as well, first one best. still haven't caught the movie.

50PageMcGee said...

yeah, pointless and sadistic solution to the problem. it's almost as if the teachers from The Wall (with their fat and psychopathic wives thrashing them within inches of their lives) got hopped up on crank and thought, "this will make me feel better."