Ichi The Killer (2001) * Hidden Gem *

That about sum up the type of movie this is right perfect
To sum up the type of movie this is... that's right perfect

Genre: Action Comedy Crime Drama Thriller (Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea)

Starring: Tadanobu Asano (Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman; Taboo), Nao Omori

Directed By: Takashi Miike (Audition; "Masters of Horror": Imprint)

Overview: When a Yakuza boss goes missing, his sadomasochistic right hand man Kakihara (above) takes his investigative techniques to the extreme, causing strife between the families. As the search continues, the Yakuza find themselves the target of a reign of mass murders from an unknown assailant.

Ichi The Killer is one of those films that will most likely shine brightest in obscurity. Films that sport this degree of graphic violence never tend to get too much praise, but those who like it love it lots.

As Avant-Garde film, it doesn't fit the depth of the art-house bill. Though there are quite a few moments of visual artistry, they fall mostly under the cinematographic realm of a hip Fight Club / Requiem For A Dream style - those mild CGI special effects and filters that are used to bump the mood up a notch. As a Thriller, it's too revealing too early. There are mysteries and questions galore in the beginning, but the answers come at a pace uncommon for the genre. As a Comedy, it's too serious, too gory. It's funny the way Kung Fu Hustle was funny - extreme surprises and odd situations that put you in that 'curiously droll' zone. As a Drama, Ichi the Killer is too fantastical. It's a film that sits in no true genre other than the Crime Gangster family, but that's what makes it so unique, it originality.

As a cinephile, I'm not concerned about pegging films with genres... till the review portion at least. Most of us don't go around yelling at the DVD case "This was Asian Drama Week! What's your PROBLEM!", but just in case you, dear reader, need your comedy gut-busting sitcom, you won't find it here. This is funny the way Very Bad Things was funny, it appeals to the dark illness in you that should be kept at bay.

What you will find in Ichi is a story about an ultra-stylish sadomasochist who heads the search for his yakuza boss. On a tip, Kakihara captures a rival hood and strings him up like a tribal piñata in preparation for the interrogation. As the man in question hangs from a dozen flesh-hooks, Kakihara makes shrimp tempura on a nearby stove. With the sound of sizzling shrimp, our anti-hero begins asking his questions with predictable consequences of hot oil massage. I genuinely mourned the man's red dragon full back tattoo.

Kakihara's preferred weapons of information extraction are long, sharp knitting-sized needles which he uses frequently, though the great threat of this film is not in the man whose self-mutilation includes a mouth sliced open nearly ear-to-ear, but in the mild mannered Ichi, a killer whose sadism is brought to full force while the Yakuza families are at odds with one another. Both men fulfil their sexual desires with violence, and both men teach us their lessons as they hunt their prey to meet their ultimate goals.

Ichi The Killer, though not full of moral lessons, is an enlightening gaze into extreme characters and intense situations that are normally unseen, and if you're into twisted film, you should get a genuine kick out of it.

As for me, I see it as another example of the strides South Korea is making in World Cinema by pushing the limits just a little further and shining with original ideas.

This is the ONLY gory moment... I SWEAR
This is the ONLY gory moment... I SWEAR

Overall Rating: 88% (To Ichi His Own)

Deserving of Caution Film status, Ichi is the violent film that the faint of heart shouldn't see, but it's not a visual display of senseless violence. Very few films have ever gone this deep into the psychology of sadomasochism, vengeance, love and violence the way Ichi The Killer does. It has reason, and for as much as the copious gore rivals that of weird cult comic Hidden Phlegm pieces as Ricky-Oh: The Story of Ricky, the blood frames a mindset of fear and attraction that is explained as it pertains to the lives of our diametric characters. Without it, Ichi could have been a good exploration, but with it, the atmosphere is proper, as we're made to look deep in the maw of the beast that these people live in.

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