Artsploitation Films: Hard Romanticker (2011) - Reviewed

Gu wanders the streets of Shimonoseki, dragging behind him a rusty metal bat- his weapon of choice and a staple defense mechanism for the hardest of gangsters. He finds himself shifting from one pointless job to the next, trying to fill in the time between bashing brains in and making enemies of every two-bit punk in the city. The rain trickles down from the sky, night after night, in a cool kind of melancholy, washing away the sinful deeds of the day as Gu searches for his next target. But what he doesn't realize is that he's about to be caught square in the sights of a brutal revenge plot borne of the most diabolical of betrayals. 

So begins Hard Romanticker, a bloody and ultimately satisfyingly violent yakuza saga based on a semi-autobiographical novel from its director Gu Su-yeon. It channels within it the crazed energy of a Tarantino flick with the added bolstering of Asian flair that makes these Japanese crime stories so radically different from what we might get from the West. There's a moody jazz soundtrack that alters between melancholy nightcore and adrenaline-pumping dance motifs, in the kind of fashion you might expect every other Japanese Yakuza film of the modern age to follow. Naturally, a film with this kind of title wouldn't be complete without its own twisted kind of love story, and Gu shows to be no stranger to all types of love there is. The title itself seems off-putting at first to someone who may be expecting an all-out violent brawl among Japanese delinquents, but I can promise you that that's exactly what you're going to get here.

That's not to say that Hard Romanticker is without its own kind of stellar character development. It's not just all blood and guts here, there's a ton of fascinating relationships and alliances that form between these characters as they struggle in the insanely dangerous world of crime and trafficking. It's the kind of antsy antisocial revolutionary young adult story that I was expecting from Bullet Collector, but it doesn't try to revel in its art- instead it focuses on the mayhem and madness within its fanatical fight sequences that make the film everything that it's meant to become. It's so much more than a simple semi-autobiography: it's almost a Takers for the East, embedding itself firmly into the sleazy world of sex, drugs, and criminality that the Yakuza world is meant to represent in Japanese cinema.

Hard Romanticker is a ton of fun- so much better than the oddly chosen title would seem to betray. It's a tight and thrilling piece of action that is filled to the brim with bloody ultraviolence (Artsploitation's case description compares it to A Clockwork Orange- this is a stretch, however) and surprisingly well-rounded characters who you actually end up becoming much more invested in than you ever would have thought possible. Gu Su-yeon's claim that its story is of an autobiographical nature is probably a bit more questionable, but it no doubt lends to a greater enticement as to how this director actually lived out his younger years before turning into a film director. It does at least try to play off the authenticity of other Yakuza films like the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, and for that it's well worth the time and effort. 

-Wes Ball