It's a video nasty. I'm not saying it's on a list of banned films, although I'd be slightly surprised if it wasn't, but that's simply the best way to describe its contents. By the way, it's Japanese.
The brilliantly disgusting idea is the same as in the original Red Room
, which I haven't seen yet. Four people have volunteered to play the King Game against each other, with the winner getting ten million yen. Technically I don't think there's any penalty for losing, but the nature of the contest means that you'll probably have three corpses by the end of the film. The rules are that every turn, everyone draws a card and hopes to draw the king, which lets them give orders to the others. These orders must be followed to the letter. If they're not, you're out of the game. You get a time limit, a cage that you're locked into and a plastic bin of random household objects that can be used.
There is no limit on the orders that can be issued. None at all. They can involve sexual humiliation, torture, death or anything else. You'll need a strong stomach to watch this film, with a chance of vomiting at the third challenge in particular. I kept it down, but I was in trouble for a minute there.
That said, it's also a good film.
It's not just torture porn. It's about its characters and it's using the extreme material as a way of exploring them. There's just as much emphasis on character interaction and psychological probing as there is on semen and gushing blood. The finale isn't just "the last one left alive!", but instead has characters making choices and confronting the reason for their existence. I was surprised. It's a proper film. You could do it as a pretty good stage play, except that you'd get closed after the first night. Obviously its chosen angle isn't what you'd call subtle, but it's still a perfectly respectable psychological study.
The actors are fine too. Only one of the cast has since had what you'd call a mainstream acting career (Salmon Sakeyama), but they're taking the material seriously. There are four of them. They're introduced in a scene where they explain to our unseen gamesmasters why they chose to participate. (The fact that they chose is important.) #1 is a middle-aged ex-cop who needs the money to pay his gambling debts to the yakuza. #2 is a religious nutter who's given herself entirely to her cult leader and wants to use the prize money to help her church. #3 basically doesn't care. #4 is a scary girl who's played the game three times already and calls herself a "pro". The fact that they've volunteered is important. These people chose to be here. The question of course is why.
All this leads to quite a lot of character interaction, but of course the point of the film is the cage scenes. These aren't as non-stop as I'd expected. Sometimes they're disturbing, but at other times the gore gets silly. The blood fountain at one point is basically an anime joke, i.e. getting a nosebleed when sexually aroused. As for one particular development with the religious nutter... sorry, guys, that was just funny. There's bad taste, and then there's this. If you like goofy gross-out gags, check out this film. Then there's the sexual content, which isn't going so far as to turn the film into porn but it's still mildly surprising when you realise they're not going to show genital penetration. It's in the film, obviously, but the last thing we needed here was a digital mosaic.
Incidentally the main difference between this and Red Room
, as far as I can tell, is that the original film took a while to work up to the sick stuff. No one gave its cast any hints. They started with "truth or dare" type challenges and only gradually got extreme. This film though begins with a montage of sleazy clips from the original, then throws a three-times winner into the cast to get us straight to the depravity.
It works. The film works. It's convincing in the details, for instance, so the draw for each round is done by one player shuffling and dealing the cards and then the others all choosing first. You can't complain that the deck's fixed. You can't get fancy with logical conundrums like "I order you to disobey every order you receive from now on" because orders only count inside the cage, within the given time interval. Then there's the wrinkle that you can't pick on anyone, since the King has to give his/her orders in terms of "Number One" and "Number Two", after which all the others show their own cards and we discover who's going to have to do it. There's a surprising role-reversal or two thanks to that. Then there's the fact that we're never quite sure exactly how the game's being run, so there's uncertainty when we see someone lose a challenge and the next scene has only three players cutting for the next round. Was the loser dragged off and butchered? Taken to hospital?
Then there's the "it could be you" factor. It's not unlike Battle Royale, now I come to think about it, although Red Room
came out first. The difference is that here no one's forced to do anything. They all chose to be there and they could always refuse to obey the other players' orders. They could walk out of the door at any time... but of course they don't, so almost nastier than the brutality in the cage is the sight of the two observers outside it. They want to win. This means they want to see someone fail, or else die. (In this context, those are near-synonyms.)
The ending is where it gets silly. I didn't mind it, but it's a bit of a genre shift and probably off-putting for the, um, highly focused audience. However the important thing is that it's part of a final act with a bit more depth than I'd expected. Overall, this is a more intelligent film than will probably ever be acknowledged. Its character development is well structured, as in for instance the way an inverted rape is mirrored with later intimacy. The gore can be goofy, but that's the light relief. It's a good film. I'll definitely be watching Red Room
, although not in company. I've also seen the same director's Muzan-E
recommended, albeit by people who like Red Room