Takashi MiikeHisao MakiIkki KajiwaraTakanori Kikuchi
Bodyguard Kiba: Combat Apocalypse
Medium: film
Year: 1994
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Ikki Kajiwara, Hisao Maki, Ken Nakagusuku
Keywords: Bodyguard Kiba, yakuza, gangster
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Hisao Maki, Noriko Arai, Takanori Kikuchi, Megumi Sakita, Takeshi Yamato
Format: 64 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0303783/
Website category: Takashi Miike
Review date: 19 August 2013
It had to happen sooner or later. (Technically it's "sooner", since it's one of his early films.) It's a Takashi Miike stinker.
Bodyguard Kiba is the Ikki Kajiwara manga character who's been adapted into a few live-action films, one in 1973 with Sonny Chiba. Takashi Miike made an excellent one in 1993, which he then followed up with this bad sequel in 1994 and then another in 1995 that's apparently even worse. (I haven't seen it myself, but I'm going on the reviews.)
The story involves a girl (Noriko Arai) who walks into the Daito Karate dojo offering to pay the moon and all the stars for a week's worth of Bodyguard Kiba's services. Our heroes accept, since apparently their karate school has become so strong that there's no one in Japan who'll take them on and hence lately they've been short of work. I'm sure that's not how these things usually go.
What at first looked interesting was that Kiba (Takeshi Yamato) seems to dislike Noriko Arai right from the beginning. She walks into the room and a chill descends between them. Later we see that after almost no words have been exchanged, he's saying things like "I know you don't want to tell me what's going on". Do they have history? Are they estranged siblings? Did Kiba eat her last chocolate biscuit? That was potentially interesting, but in fact we later learn that it's simply that Yamato and Arai are bad actors and that no such meaning was intended. Arai's keeping secrets, yes, but she's just another client as far as Bodyguard Kiba's concerned. The best I can assume is that he has spider-sense or something.
The plot is sort of okay. It involves three-way enemies, a plan for revenge and a Chinese gangster who wants to take over Daito Karate because he sees it as an international business. (Clearly he didn't know about that earlier scene in which we learned that Daito is so successful and respected that it's got no money.) However the film's handicapped by the following:
(a) English. Miike likes using lots of different languages in his films. Here we have brief cutaways to Okinawa (Japanese) and Manila (Tagalog?), but most of the action takes place in Taiwan (Mandarin). Thus the Chinese and Japanese speakers have to use English to communicate with each other, which none of the actors understand. The audience thus has to suffer through scenes of phonetically memorised dialogue that's double-dutch to the actors speaking it. It's painful. Actually, I tell a lie. The characters we see in Manila seem to be reasonably competent English speakers, as you'd expect in the Philippines. However I'm not a big fan of being clubbed over the head with my mother tongue and for me it made entire scenes nearly unwatchable.
(b) The revenge plot. (Spoilers!) Twenty years ago, a martial arts master had a fight with Hisao Maki of Daito Karate, lost and couldn't bear the shame, so he committed suicide. Are we supposed to believe that anyone could care about this? Surely anyone with their head that far up their arse was going to suffocate to death anyway?
(c) Arai is part of this plot, but she tries to back out because (all together now) she's fallen in love with Kiba. This despite the fact that she and Yamato have barely spoken two words to each other and can't wait to leave each other's company as quickly as possible. Of all the implausible fallings-in-love in cinema, this has a fair claim to being the dumbest.
(d) Someone saying "it's show time!" (Die die die.) They then do nothing, because the film has gone to a different scene.
(e) Two characters having a karate duel do it near a cliff so that one of them can fall over the edge at a crucial juncture.
(f) Kiba gets shot in the leg and has to sit out most of the action at the end, with another karate hero character getting airlifted into the plot as a replacement. I can't pretend I cared much, but it's peculiar. I presume Yamato got injured during shooting.
(g) The plot's all about Daito Karate, but they're boring. Miike's first Bodyguard Kiba was great because Kiba was just a cool karate dude walking through someone else's story. There was a client, his girlfriend and some yakuza. This involved drama. Here though, the bad guys' plans involve striking at Daito Karate itself, about which it's hard to care. Firstly, we know they're not going to win. They're the bad guys and Daito Karate are the good guys. Secondly, our heroes have very little personality beyond liking karate and it would be an uphill task for even a strong film to try to make something dramatic out of a relationship involving Kiba.
(h) Because Arai is refusing to tell Kiba what's going on, we've no idea why thugs keep attacking them or what significance this might have for anyone. This isn't dramatic. It ensures that the empty fight scenes will never come across as anything except empty fight scenes.
For me, these problems capsized the film. It went down with all hands. Glug glug. However at the same time I accept that it's not an irredemable wreck and I can imagine action fans enjoying it. It's not exactly challenging, but it has karate, a busy plot and a ton of pace. Miike gets through a lot in 64 minutes. He gets through so much, in fact, that I wonder if this isn't the cut-down version of a longer, better film with more connecting tissue and character work. Maybe everything got thrown off by Yamato's (hypothesised) injury?
My favourite character was the disco-dancing Chinese elderly kung-fu master (Hung Liu), with beard. His nightclub also has topless dancing girls, which is a plus. There's a bizarre cameo character who crops up twice, shouting about his mother being a prostitute. No idea where he came from. That's just Miike being Miike, I suspect. I'd say the same about the sped-up silent comedy bit where martial arts thugs in hats are going "hai hai hai hai hai hai hai" on the stairs. You expect Harold Lloyd to show up. None of those moments really means anything, but they're an example of Miike's inventiveness finding ways to surprise and entertain you even when the film as a whole is a failure.
It's not a train wreck, despite my reaction to it, but it's clearly poor. It doesn't work. However it has a dramatic bit where Kiba does his bodyguarding duty even for someone who doesn't deserve it, while I'm convinced that they've sampled Darth Vader saying "yes, my master" for the theme song. It also has Hung Liu being a laugh and Ikki Kajiwara's brother Hisao Maki showing up again to write the screenplay and pose with his shirt off, despite being in his fifties. You could easily watch far worse than this, but I still wouldn't bother.