I didn't like it, but it's very successful. It's based on a 2007 hit TV series by the well-known writer Kazuki Kaneshiro, which won awards for best Drama, Non-Genre Drama, Actor and Director. This is the first half of a two-part movie spin-off, which for all I know might be an adaptation, reboot or sequel. The Japanese movie industry likes two-part releases. They did it with Death Note
and Gantz, for instance. Anyway, this is the first of the two SP films and it seems to have done very well at the box office, with part 2 in cinemas right now and performing no less strongly.
SP in Japan stands for Security Police. They're high-level bodyguards, the people responsible for ensuring that nothing happens to domestic or foreign VIPs. In this film, they're run by a stony-faced Shin'ichi Tsutsumi and their impetuous young star is Junichi Okada, who has psychic powers. Both of those have appeared repeatedly in Sabu movies, incidentally, and have won awards for their acting even though Okada is also in a boy band.
Anyway, the film is split very obviously into three acts. Act One serves the function of a James Bond pre-credits sequence, except that it's about twenty minutes long. The SP are protecting some important dude or other, when Okada realises that someone in the crowd has a bomb. Unfortunately the guy doesn't come quietly. ACTION SEQUENCE! This is the kind of thing that would probably be a million kinds of awesome if you were comparing it with the original TV series, whereas just judging it as a movie it's okay and has some cool bits. Japan doesn't do that many action films, so I'm sure the domestic audience would have loved it. There's a bit of Hong Kong in there, people jumping off road bridges, a fight on a moving lorry and so on.
Unfortunately Act Two is where it all goes to pot. An improbable character turns out to be a traitor or something like that, for some reason that we're supposed to think is explained by black-and-white flashbacks of his father's death. Why did he take this job in the first place? More importantly, why should I care? Nothing really happens in this part. They could have made some meaty character drama out of this, but for me it never took wing. This was the section of the film during which I was watching other people's screens on the plane, pausing to give myself a break because I wasn't really interested and so on.
After all that, Act Three is another "on the job" action sequence again. However it's been spiced up by the Act Two revelations, while the action is also a step up from the first time around. Sometimes it's even cool. Not all of it, but in places, definitely. The bit where he gets the belt is great, as is what they do with explosives. The scene at the end where he tells the sniper to shoot is also strong, but this time dramatically, so about the final act I can't complain. If only the film hadn't lost me in Act Two, I'm sure I'd have been recommending it.
However it did and I'm not. Firstly, I don't care about the cast. I laughed at the cop who doesn't jump over the underground ticket barrier, but it turns out that this was the comic relief character and not even a particularly funny or sympathetic one at that. Yoko Maki keeps hitting him.
Secondly, it has Episode One syndrome. Paradoxically, despite not enjoying this first film, I'm tempted to watch the second. The trailer looks intriguing. You could take this story all kinds of places and it looks as if they do. There's set-up that I'm sure they'll be following up on, such as the replacement team with the really pretty girl. I'm sure the second movie works far better... but that doesn't change the fact that what I watched is only half of the story. It's set-up. Hollywood's been doing this a lot recently, releasing what they clearly hope will be the first film in a new franchise, only for the hoped-for springboard to flop because they'd been holding back too much of the good stuff for later. The only example I can think of offhand is Terminator: Salvation, but that's because we've already forgotten about the others.
Thirdly... hello, guns? Don't the SP carry them? The trailer for part 2 reveals that they do, but these guys here could have saved themselves a lot of headache with some early bullets.
Fourthly, there's such a thing as overdoing a cliche. Telling off your rebellious hero cop for going too far is a genre staple. However it strains credibility to be telling him off for catching the bomb-throwing terrorist.
I'm sure this would have worked better in a cinema. An aeroplane TV screen was obviously the worst way to experience it, short of having it read to me by three-year-olds. Nevertheless it didn't make me like it, instead having an anti-charm that could be faintly irritating, e.g. Yoko Maki or the fat weird tea lady. It throws murky moralities and unclear allegiances at us, then doesn't do enough with them. I like Tsutsumi, but he only ever uses one facial expression. You might like it if you enjoy movies about people in power being untrustworthy and/or evil, though. "Ideals are best kept hidden."
I still might watch part 2, mind you.