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Hell Dogs - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Hell Dogs

Japan 2022

Action, Crime, Drama

Masato Harada

Junichi Okada
Kentaro Sakaguchi
Kazuki Kitamura
Mayu Matsuoka
Shinobu Otake
Satoshi Kanada
Mai Kiryu
Arisa Nakajima

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Hell Dogs

Hell Dogs - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Shogo Kanetaka (Junichi Okada) used to be a policeman, but after a woman and three girls got killed during a robbery, he swears to take revenge. He was meant to go on a date with one of the girls, and maybe he could have prevented the murders. Ten years go by before the man, who now just calls himself Tak, has completed his revenge campaign. Then he is caught by a special unit of the police that offers him a deal. He is supposed to infiltrate the yakuza as an undercover cop and work himself up the chain of command as far as possible, so that he could then destroy the organization from within at the right moment. Muro (Kentaro Sakaguchi) seems to be the best way for him to become part of the yakuza, and a year later, Tak has actually managed to earn the trust of his boss Toki (Kazuki Kitamura), who then assigns Tak and Muro to be bodyguards for his superior Toake (Miyavi). Tak has now reached the top of the organization, but because of the internal power struggle between the families Tak's job is not that easy. His contact at the police provides him with important intel and shows him the way, but in the meantime, Tak has started to feel comfortable in the organization and even built a serious friendship with Muro. Will he continue to work as an undercover cop and bust the yakuza from the inside or has he finally found his place in the world?

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Review: When you finally manage to find your bearings within the general framework of the story, "Hell Dogs" bombards you with thousands of names and relationships within the yakuza and their various families, so much so that you start to wonder whether they seriously expect you to take in all that information in such a short time and at this enormous pace. At the beginning, you definitely need to show some good will towards this action thriller, but it's worth it - for the most part. Fortunately, the fast pace never allows you to get bored, provided you don't just switch off your brain because things go too fast. But at least we have Tak who keeps us grounded in the story as the focus mainly stays on him. He somehow manages to hold the various subplots and disputes within the yakuza together, so that we are actually able to keep track of all the events. In addition, we also get some impressive action scenes.

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In terms of tone, you have to assume that director Masato Harada was (obviously) influenced by "The Godfather", but also by HK thrillers such as "Infernal Affairs". From the latter, in particular, he borrowed the fast pacing, even though we don't get that much suspense here, but rather non-stop developments. The events are tangled and complex, which should not come as a surprise, since "Hell Dogs" is based on a novel by Akio Fukamachi. Unfortunately, the movie tries to adapt too much of its material. If the director hadn't decided to focus on only one main storyline after some time, so that we would actually be able to keep up with the events, the movie could easily have fallen apart. With its 138 minutes, this action thriller also turned out quite long. Even though, this might as well have been a negative thing, the director actually managed to turn this into a strength, as it gives the movie epic dimensions.

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In "Hell Dogs" we find ourselves in some kind of parallel world in which undercover cops butcher their way through the yakuza without having to fear any punishment. However, Tak's moral compass is a fascinating aspect, as we learn a lot about him that makes him look like one of the good guys. At the same time, he has already given up on himself, so much so that he sees himself as a "Mad Dog". The big question is whether he is still a cop or he has already immersed himself too much into the world of the yakuza or maybe just always fit in there, in the first place. Which is not necessarily a new topic in movies about organized crime and undercover cops but lead actor Junichi Okada ("The Fable") manages to convey the needed charisma and is therefore able to carry the movie. I for one, was quite surprised by that, because I didn't think he would be able to pull it off. But his willingness to physically devote himself to a movie is something you should already have noticed in other works with him. The fights and gunfights demand a lot from him, but he masters his role with flying colors.

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"Hell Dogs" kind of feels familiar, but at the same time it is different from other genre works. In addition, everything is a bit over-the-top, and the character drawings might be a little on the nose, but not in a seriously negative way. We are rushed through the events so quickly that there is hardly any time to wonder why Muro suddenly drifts off into madness so quickly. He was actually given an interesting background story, including his time with a suicide sect as a child, and an old girlfriend from that time, who he meets again. If you're being fair, almost all of the other characters have something special about them too. Whether it's the yakuza, who likes to sing Italian arias, or the boss, whose subordinates wonder about his sexual orientation. The images and the story fly by so quickly that we don't have time to notice any details about them, if there even were any in the first place.

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Anyway, you have to admit, that the action in "Hell Dogs" is pretty well done, and thanks to some unusual locations, those scenes are also quite memorable. For example, there is the warehouse with its winding corridors, in which a shootout with shotguns takes place, or there is a female assassin causing a surprising action sequence. Above all, it is quite rare in today's action flicks that somebody actually makes an effort to choreograph gunfights with attention to detail. Director Masato Harada ("Killing for the Prosecution") deserves praise for paying attention to these details, despite the fact that the events come thick and fast, and also for creating a nice dynamic through his continuous camera work, without making the viewer dizzy. "Hell Dogs" may seem messy in some respects, the finale being good proof of that, but the movie has the charm of old HK classics of the genre, and a well-known story gets reissued in a pleasantly complex, even though sometimes too tangled, way. Fans of action thrillers can't do anything wrong here.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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