Saturday, September 24, 2016

Crying Freeman

   As I was messaging my friend, telling them I was watching Crying Freeman their first response was "Huh? What's that?" so I explained that it's a 90's action-thriller starring Mark Dacascos. "Who?" Sigh. Mark Dacascos is a national treasure that too many people don't know exist. He never got the fame of Jean Claude Van Damme, or even Dolph Lundgren, but to the action junkies like me, he's a reliable ass-kicker with charisma and good looks. When he lands a leading role, like this one in Crying Freeman... I pay attention.

   In The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, a well-received TV series re-imagining the cult favorite movie starring Brandon Lee, Dacascos played the iconic title role. He also starred in Drive, a crazy, fast, and wild late-90's actioner directed by Steve Wang (same guy behind Guyver 2: Dark Hero, which is a pretty awesome flick). Dacascos also starred in The Brotherhood of the Wolf, an under-seen genre-bending gem in which Mark kicked so much ass. My belabored point being is that whenever he's in something, it's usually (but not always) awesome. Crying Freeman was no exception. It's a perfect leading-man vehicle for Dacascos, from the director of The Brotherhood of the Wolf, oozing with style, and crackling with action scenes.

   The movie itself isn't 'great', but it's great entertainment nevertheless. It's story is a bit tangled, but is really rather simple. A legendary hitman rebels against the law and tradition of his clan and spares the life of a beautiful woman who custom dictates he must kill. This one act of mercy sends his life into a tailspin and kicks off a chain of events with far reaching implications. Suddenly, the hunter has become the hunted! There much be hundreds of movies that fit a description nearly identical to this. But what Crying Freeman lacks it fundamental originality it makes up for with charisma, style, and it's own twist on things.

   The movie is an adaptation of the anime, or a manga, both of the same name. In all truthfulness, I've neither seen nor read either one, so it's not too important to me personally which it's adapting. Having said that, I've looked around online and fan reception to the movie is generally positive. They all seem to agree that while it's not the best thing in the world, it's really fun and pretty good. That's pretty much my own stance on it too. The pivotal romance plot at the heart of the movie is... well, kinda dumb. Words which are hardly my own, but I couldn't find a better way to say it. Dacascos' hitman named Yo, takes one look at this woman and it changes his life I guess.

   In a crime thriller about the Yakuza, gang wars, dirty cops, murder, politics, and assassins... love at first sight seems woefully out of place. It's bearable though, due in no small part to the movie's storybook-esque approach to the material. The action scenes are almost always in slow motion, and instead of being accompanied by a pulse pounding techno soundtrack, the score is somber and emotional. Characters frequently narrate flashbacks, elaborating on events to the audience with impassioned voices. This might sound a bit hokey, but it's not. Not really. The movie's low key tone and introspective nature lend itself more to a theatrical melodrama as opposed to a high-octane action movie. So, it works.

   It also brings to mind a lot of the 'heroic bloodshed' flicks in Hong Kong cinema. The stuff John Woo built his career on. Crying Freeman is kind of a comic book version of The Killer by way of a moody stage play. With that comparison in hand, energetic and stylish action scenes seem comfortably familiar even in this contemplative setting. Yo is a morally and ethically conflicted killer, but he's also a damn good killer. The movie infrequently explodes into meticulously crafted action scenes that seem to rain bullets and blood down on the audience with enthusiastic glee half-hidden behind its straight-faced facade.

   For every longing stare, love scene, and shot of Mark's bare ass, there's an equal amount of inventive violence and sizzling gunplay. If you can stand the oddly muddled story, the general melodrama and the underdeveloped romance, you might be surprised by how refreshing Crying Freeman is. For all it's bloodshed and slow motion, the serene and thoughtful approach to the material occasionally has the movie approaching something resembling... beautiful. But, what do I know? I'm here for the backflips, blood spray, shootouts and sword fights. This movie has plenty of that stuff. Maybe not in excessive doses like a John Woo flick, but enough to keep an action junkie like me smiling throughout.

   At the end of the day, Crying Freeman is a perfectly adequate style over substance hitman thriller that boasts a decent performance from Mark Dacascos, and a high enough 'cool' factor, that it could've been a big hit. I've no idea why this movie languishes in relative obscurity. If you have the opportunity to watch it, by all means, it's a fun time just waiting to be had.

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