Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken (The Executioner) (1974) June 12, 2008Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1970s films , trackback
Director: Teruo Ishii Cast: Sonny Chiba; Makoto Satô; Eiji Go; Yutaka Nakajima Territory: Japan Production Company: Toei Production Ltd
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Sonny Chiba film on here. Although it seems like I’ve not been watching them, I have in fact been on a steady diet of Chiba since watching The Street Fighter way back on my first post for this blog. I’ve bought so many boxed sets of Chiba’s films that I now have no less than three copies of Killing Machine, two copies of Bullet Train, and two versions of Virus (which isn’t really a Sonny Chiba film but that doesn’t stop companies including it).
No, the reason I’ve not been writing about them is because so many of them (apart from the Street Fighter films) leave me completely cold. I think it’s something to do with the storylines and the scripts – something always feels a little “off” to me. Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken is no different – a disgraced police officer recruits a bunch of criminals to break up a drug ring – but at least it does have a certain flair.
Chiba is Ryuichi Koga, a trained ninja – although his “backstory” consists of a few short generic training sequences before we see him as a man, leaving his master. Along for the ride is a ruthless assassin (Makoto Satô), an overly horny murderer awaiting execution on death row (Eiji Go) and, to provide eye-candy, Street Fighter co-star Yutaka Nakajima.
The first indication that something’s slightly amiss is the introduction of Makoto’s character, which is borrowed almost directly from the introduction of Lee Van Cleef’s character in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Well, if you’re going to borrow, I suppose you borrow from the best. However, Ryuichi then springs Eiji Go out of prison with the exact same chewing-gum-in-a-lock gag from obscure Hong Kong movie Interpol 009, which I just happened to have watched a few weeks ago. Odd.
Although the characters are strange (the horny ex-prisoner is particularly annoying and I’m still not sure why Yutaka Nakajima was in the film other than for her considerable beauty) and the story a little dull, it is a cut above a lot of similar fare as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The comedy, although lowbrow, is actually pretty funny most of the time.
And then you’ve got the action sequences, which Chiba handles as well as you’d expect. They’re the highlight of the film, of course, and in that respect Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken is a winner, with fights breaking out on a regular basis. One pleasant surprise is the inclusion of Kurata Yasuaki, who will be instantly recognisable to every Hong Kong action film fan on the planet. Mr Kurata was the go-to guy for decades when Hong Kong filmmakers wanted a Japanese martial artist, and he even got to play non-villains once or twice. His place in Hong Kong cinematic history is secured with appearances in films such as Heroes of the East, Millionaire’s Express and Fist of Legend, and apparently he’s a really nice bloke too. I don’t know why, but I was actually surprised to see him in a Japanese film!
If you take away the fights, though, you can’t help but think this is all routine stuff. I know great scriptwriting isn’t the thing most people associate with action movies (especially from this part of the world) but it would have been nice to have something interesting to hang the fight sequences on other than some (admittedly funny) comic moments and quite a lot of gratuitous nudity.
This is definitely another example of a great film if you’re in a very undemanding mood. Just don’t expect cinematic gold. Oh, and by the way, does anyone want to buy a couple of copies of Killing Machine?