Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Executioner (1974)

The Action Mutant…
charges by the head!

The Executioner (1974)

review by Joe Burrows

You know, despite that the fanboys would most likely disagree with this statement, I have to say that I probably wouldn’t want to meet Quentin Tarantino. Think about it; it’s like when Al Stump met Ty Cobb to write his memoirs and the latter turned out to be a spiteful, racist, sexist, murdering prick. Though Tarantino hasn’t murdered anyone (that I know of), I’d be wary of meeting someone of his likeness because he seems like the “biggest head in the room” (and no, that’s not joking about his oddly shaped cranium). For example, I probably could not be able to tell you what type of film stock the Shaw Bros. used during their glory days or what type of colorization technique brings out the luster of John Wayne’s boots in one of his epics with John Ford. Quentin could…and you either gravitate towards those types of people or are weirded out by them for knowing so goddamn much. One thing’s for certain, though…we certainly have our taste in films.

The Plot, as it was:
Sonny Chiba, Makato Sato and Eiji Go star as three men hired by an ex-police commissioner (Ryo Ikebe) and his adorable niece Emi (Doris Nakajima) to take out a New York drug runner doing business in Japan. Koga (Chiba) is a disciple of a respected ninja clan who will only do the job if he can keep the drug money being smuggled in. Hayabusa (Sato) is a disgraced police officer-turned contract killer that always finishes the job he starts (even if it takes some unexpected turns). Sakura (Go) is a prisoner that Koga breaks out of the can for the job and repays them by being the unending “comic relief”. The question is not whether the three will be able to pull off the job but how many people will die in the process (the answer: a lot!)?

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
It’s easy to see why QT has called this one of his favorite Sonny Chiba vehicles. It even resembles a Tarantino film, in the sense that there are real “cool customer” type characters that engage in snappy dialogue and end up in their fair share of violent situations. Oddly enough, the film is directed by Teruo Ishii, the man that is usually credited with keeping the Street Fighter trilogy from being completely worthwhile by mucking up The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (Five words: “My name’s Chiba…Sonny Chiba!”). With his supposed contempt towards films of this ilk, you would think things would suffer. However, he seems to just sit back and let the fur fly here, with the result being the right balance of breezy comedy & violence comparable to the SF series. All three male leads show plenty of charisma in carrying the pic, though Chiba & Sato are given the lion’s share while Go is given the more comic, schemer role. The backstory for the heroes gives the story an added dimension that is very welcome to a genre that doesn’t exactly revel in those details (or originality; there’s at least one scene that’s VERY reminiscent of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly). There are a few downs, as the villains are no great shakes and the plot really doesn’t go past anything more than “Drug pushers are bad…therefore, they must die!” type or reasoning. However, it’s all about elements coming together in instances like this and they come together in a very fun way in The Executioner. Aside from Chiba’s most famous characterization, this film is arguably the best example of prime escapist Chiba fare.

Body Count/Violence: 36. As stated, the carnage here resembles the first two Street Fighter films, with the results being dialed down just a notch or two. Anyone that doubts that the violence is no where near as potent will probably be lulled quiet right after the moment where Koga reaches at a baddies’ chest, cracks a rib and pulls said rib out of the sucker’s bloody chest! The rest of the film consists of cracked skulls, gouged and popped out eyes, cracked ribs and sternums, broken necks, claw ripping, joint dislocation, ear ripping, car chases, stabbings, shootings and other blood spurting goodies.

Sexuality/Nudity: There are about four instances of female nudity, with most being of the breast and backside variety. The scene with the most sexual/fetishistic connotation has to be when the main villain Mario (Masahiko Tsugawa) orders his drug wench to strip to full nudity in front of a party with his sword. Be careful with that thing is all I have to say! And it is an actual sword, you sickos!

Language/Dialogue: There are spotty obscenities of the mild to strong variety.

How bad was it?:
Most Martial Arts critics hold this in favorable standing with Chiba’s strongest films, while more mainstream critics quibble with the exploitive elements that were rife within the decade this came out. A handful said it out and out sucked, which is telling me they have a hard time sitting back because of the stick up their ass.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Released by Toei Tokyo in Japan on 8/10/74 (about three months before an already completed The Street Fighter would be), The Executioner does not have any budget/box office figures at its apparent disposal. It can be found on DVD or on FliX from time to time.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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