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Hong Kong 2007


Cheang Pou-Soi

Shawn Yue
Francis Ng
Pei Weiying
Annie Liu
Ryo Ishibashi
Dylan Kuo
Leung Siu-Lung
Terri Kwan
Takuya Suzuki

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Story: Ryo Narushima (Shawn Yue) is put into a juvenile prison after he murdered his parents in a very gruesome manner. In this institution the other inmates make life a living hell for him and the director of the prison just watches him getting mistreated, since he would like nothing more than to see him dead. That's because everyone knows that Ryo will soon be released from prison due to his tender age and despite the severity of his crime.
Kenji Kurokawa (Francis Ng), the Karate teacher of the prison, takes Ryo under his wings and shows him how to effectively defend himself. A few years later Ryo is released and makes ends meet by becoming a gigolo. He is searching for his sister Natsumi (Pei Weiying), who since he went into prison has disappeared and probably works as a prostitute. On his search he runs into Megumi (Annie Liu), who is also working as a prostitute, and who from that day on accompanies Ryo on his stony way. Ryo has made it his goal to never let anyone look down upon him again, and to accomplish this he does everything in his power to earn the right to fight the champion of Lethal Fights, Naoto Sugawara (Masato), and become a champion himself.

Review: "Dog Bite Dog" astonished quite a number of critics. Cheang Pou-Soi's uncompromising and brutal work, that took you into a truely nihilistic world, made many viewers hope that Hong Kong cinema isn't actually dead, yet, and still has a future. Accordingly, expectations very quite high concerning Cheang's newest work, which was said to wander the same dark and gritty path. So the patience of the fans was put to a test when the release of the film was delayed several times, a fact that should have arised some suspicion about the movie's quality. Sadly, our fears weren't without a reason, as "Shamo" is quite simply a big letdown, which is very frustrating mainly because of the confusing script and the lack of any character development. It's nice to see that Sameway Productions once again lays a yellowish and dirty filter on every picture, which makes life itself look incredibly hostile, but you'll never find the emotional impact or even just the level of repulsiveness of a "Dog bite Dog". Where "Dog bite Dog" was inventive, "Shamo" is simply without structure and lacking in what it wants to convey. What a shame...

The movie actually starts quite promising. Ryo gets into prison and is abused, yes, there is even a gang rape scene involved. Seemingly, he is hated by everyone, because killing your own parents will make you lose any chance to get the simpathy of even the lowest of scum. Still, even at the beginning the viewer has to ask himself if this shy and actually affably-looking boy is truely capable of commiting the crime he is supposed to have done. The director gives some hints about the true events way too early, so that when the resolving eventually strikes the screen we realize that we already guessed everything right from the beginning. This is a big problem, as we will see later.
Anyway, Ryo meets Kenji, once again fantastically, even though not really that three-dimensionally played by Francis Ng. Kenji is a Karata instructor and for whatever reasons teaches Ryo martial arts, so that when the boy is finally released he is already a fighting machine. We never get to know the reasons for Kenji's behavior, but that's the case with all the personalities anyway. Most of the time they simple act illogical and incoherently.

Ryo gets out of prison as a changed person. The violence, he had to experience there day in and day out made him someone else. In a way he has also become a despicable person. But there isn't any real character development brought to screen. The background for Ryo's actions are clearly neglected and therefore it's impossible to simpathize with him at any point. Nonetheless, Shawn Yue ("Dragon Tiger Gate", "Invisible Target") does a great job in taking off his clean model- and pop-image. Especially because of his flimsy stature and his physical efforts, as well as the brutality depicted by his character, he soon has won over the respect of former critics of his. However, it remains questionable if he is still that well received by women...
Fact is that the characters are all incredibly flat, though. Not a single one of them seems to bring the movie forward or improve it in any way. Anyhow, it actually remains a big question where "Shamo" wants to head in the first place. Seemingly, nowhere, as the incoherent sequencing of the different scenes is proof of.

If you wonder why the individuals in this Hong Kong movie all have Japanese names in the subtitles, then you might not know that "Shamo" is based on a Japanese manga from Izo Hashimoto. Furthermore, the producers of the film were Japanese, too. But where Cheang's work truely falters is in summarizing the manga. Apparently, it was the director's goal to bundle the whole manga series in one single movie. Sadly, the end product proves to be nothing more than a confusing mix of different scenes, which withhold from us why certain characters act in a certain way. Sometimes, there are also scenes that feel quite out of place. Sometimes? Well, actually most of the time. There is seldomly any relationship between the several scenes and the motives of the individual characters also fully remain in the dark. Moreover, the dialogues are an insult to the viewer's intellect.
When the movie tries to take a more emotional path, then this doesn't come as laughable as we may have expected, but it still doesn't work out the way it probably was supposed to.

It's interesting that despite the fighting theme the martial art insertions can't really excite us. The fights are choreographed too simple and they become repetitive, whereas they also don't serve any tension arc as a tool. We often ask ourselves what the hell this is all about, anyway. "Shamo" will alienate you for sure as we are thrown into an abstract comic world, in which nothing seems to make any sense. Adding to this are some wacky costumes and unusual supporting characters. The movie has some comic elements, which is the reason why you can never really take it serious. The film itself also doesn't seem to take itself too serious but standing in contrast to that is the dark and thanks to some nice optical manipulation very well done visiuals. However, in the end "Shamo" could have been edited completely different and it would still make as much - or as little, I should say - sense.
"Shamo" is quite unusual, that's out of question, and therefore the only thing that you can give the film some credit for may be its uniqueness. But that's all there is. With such a messed up script the only thing you can call this movie is trash. But then again, this may just be reason enough for some to check out Cheang's work...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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