Violent Cop (1990)
By: Michael McQueen on July 13, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced.) Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 98 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Maiko Kawakami, Hakuryu, Makoto Ashikawa, Shiro Sano, Sei Hiraizumi, Ittoku Kishibe
Screenplay: Hisashi Nozawa
Music: Daiskau Kume, Eric Satie
Country: Japan
Violent Cop is the directorial debut from Takeshi Kitano and one of the many Japanese films enjoying DVD release in Australia thanks to Eastern Eye Entertainment. As a fan of Asian cinema, I was looking forward to this movie: the blurb promised a Japanese take on a Dirty Harry-style cop drama. Much like the Hong Kong action movies from the same era, like Ringo Lam's City On Fire or John Woo's A Better Tomorrow, Violent Cop prefers to stick with well established genre formulas, and offers little in the way of narrative originality, but demands attention from the violent thrills it delivers.

Violent Cop opens with homage to A Clockwork Orange: a homeless man is beaten up by a gang of juvenile delinquents. The youths think they've gotten away with it, but didn't count on Azuma, Japan's equivalent of Dirty Harry (played by Kitano). Azuma cheerfully lets himself into the boy's home and slaps him around like rag doll, forcing a confession. As an opener, this scene introduces everything you might expect from Azuma: he's violent, predictably unpredictable and just a little sadistically inclined. But as the film unfolds, Azuma's somewhat clichéd character psyche begins to unravel and a more surprising, cold-blooded protagonist reveals himself.

The plot of Violent Cop is already familiar from mid-70s American cop dramas. Azuma is assigned a rookie partner, Kikuchi (Makoto Ashikawa), and the pair investigate the murder of a drug dealer. Naturally, there's a new chief of police who's less than impressed with Azuma's controversial policing techniques; apprehending suspects by running them over apparently isn't 'by the book' law enforcement procedure, but Azuma is a hard-arse through and through, and the chief's protests fall on indifferent ears. Azuma's cocksure swagger doesn't last long though; his investigation is turning up a lot of dead bodies and there's little doubt of Yakuza involvement. After a lengthy suspect interrogation, Azuma learns that his friend Iwaki (Sei Hiraizumi) is 'on the take', selling dope on the streets for high-rolling Yakuza boss, Nito (Ittoku Kishibe). Before he can confront him, Azuma finds Iwaki dangling from a bridge by his neck. Naturally, Azuma refuses to believe his friend's death is a suicide and sets about hunting down proof of Nito's culpability.

Things aren't going well for the Yakuza either; gangsters are dropping like flies at the hands of Nito's hitman, Kiyohiro (Hakuryu), who rivals Azuma's sadistic tendencies and body count. Convinced that Kiyohiro is responsible for Iwaki's death, Azuma brings him in for 'questioning', but gets busted stuffing the barrel of his gun into his mouth. Azuma is struck off the force, but is as determined as ever to get his man after his sister is kidnapped, drugged and raped by Kiyohiro's henchmen.

The plot of Violent Cop is really a secondary element; its Azuma's psychological degradation and his violent punctuations that drive the narrative forward. As Azuma's mental state gradually unwinds, the violence becomes more brutal and graphic: the Kiyohiro interrogation scene is tense and menacing: a glowering Azuma points a gun directly into the camera, whilst his bloodied and bruised suspect stares malevolently back at him. The film's inevitable face-off is dark and cold-blooded, a brutal climax with echoes of Chinatown and Taxi Driver. Rather than relying on high-speed editing to polish the visuals, the use of longer than average takes heightens the tension of the scene. There's also some much-welcome grittiness and spontaneity that comes from Kitano's immaturity as a director; for instance, the scene in which Azuma guns down his drug-addicted sister is rendered all the more cold and disturbing when Kitano refuses to cut away. There's a total lack of stylisation throughout most of the movie, and nearly all of the action is shot in real time using extended takes; it's not easy on the stomach, but it's an effective tool that distinguishes Violent Cop as a more hard-boiled proposition. There is a lot of creative camera work on display here as well, which shows Kitano working innovatively and enthusiastically with meagre resources.

Violent Cop is an impressive debut for Kitano, who had no prior directing experience and reportedly only landed the job after the original director fell ill. His inexperience is somewhat obvious in the film's less original sequences and over-long takes, however these telling factors actually distinguish Violent Cop from its more stylised and better-funded Western precursors. Violent Cop is not a superior film, but Kitano carries it with a peculiar style and nuance which redeems its unoriginal narrative and cross-cultural revisionism. Films like this always manage to find an appreciative audience, and the ice-cold violence certainly makes this an attractive proposition for fans of Scorsese, Tarantino et al.
Presented in 1:85:1 aspect ratio with a 16:9 enhancement, the DVD transfer is high-quality with no outstanding faults or glitches. The lighting is poor in some sequences of the film, but these instances are infrequent.
The only option available is Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 with English subtitles. I always prefer the original Japanese track anyway, but if you dislike subtitles I'm afraid it's tough titties for you.
Extra Features
Then only extra for Violent Cop is its Theatrical Trailer, which is not a legitimate extra. Elsewhere there are promotional trailers for other Eastern Eye releases.
The Verdict
Violent Cop is an example of what an innovative director can accomplish within the boundaries of much-recycled generic convention. Kitano delivers a classy and unpretentious cop drama that, despite being derivative in some places, frequently displays bursts of creativity and enthusiasm; a worthy addition to the genre.
Movie Score
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