Smuggler ReviewJoe Shaffer
If there's one scene in the film Smuggler that assures you that the movie will rock, it's the appearance of the assassins Vertebrae and Viscera. After kicking down a door, the two sociopaths barge into an elicit business meeting, scope out the scene, and then lay waste to the opposition. Mostly, it was the light-haired, bug-eyed Vertebrae, who danced about the room in slow motion, breaking faces with hefty nunchanku blows. This is one of the few action sequences the movie boasts, but its rarity makes it a special moment in the film's nearly two hour running time. Although Smuggler has its share of violence and dark comedy, the former remains fairly restrained throughout the film, and more to the movie's advantage.
With less action and skull-crushing mayhem going on, such scenes become more meaningful. For instance, there's a torture scene near the end of the flick that is, in and of itself, pretty tame. What makes the scene work as well as it does, though, is that Smuggler is pretty low key when it comes to violence, which safeguards its audience against desensitization. That way the slowed down depictions of a whip lashing across the protagonist's face late in the film has a more lasting impact.
The spaces between bone-crunching brawls mostly consists of exposition, a few laughs, and some decent character development. We especially learn about the protagonist Kinuta, a young man who's caught in a bind after a gambling debacle, which leaves him in debt to professional criminals. To pay what he owes, Kinuta becomes a mover, transporting various bits of evidence (i.e. bodies) from one area to a dumping ground in the woods. Along the way, we eventually find out that Kinuta is not exactly the kind of guy who should be performing seedy work. Nonetheless, you might find yourself rooting for him, if only so he'll quit being a mopy, whining, naive mess.
Sadly, the film spends more time focusing on Kinuta and the assassins and less time giving us the skinny on some of the more important side characters like Joe, one of the Kinuta's cohorts. Although backstory isn't necessary for every character in a film, it still would have been nice to find out more about some of Smuggler's supporting cast, especially since some of them worked so hard to get into character.
...well, most of them. While you had Tatsuya Gashuin amusing performance as the spastic old man Jijii, Masanobu Ando's facially creepy portrayal of Vertebrae, and Masahiro Takashima enormous eyebrows, you had Hikari Mitsushima's dull, wooden character Chiharu Tanuma. Yeah, I get it, Tanuma was emotionally dead and didn't care anymore. She was also underdeveloped and poorly portrayed. The entire film, from setting to cinematography to acting, maintained a tight manga feel, with Mitsushima's role representing the one missed opportunity.
This slight hiccup aside, Smuggler is a fine film that carefully straddles the line between sober and silly. It doesn't barrage its audience with ludicrous action, but also doesn't take itself too seriously. What you'll find an almost-jarring, but ultimately well-balanced action-comedy fusion, with a pinch of crime drama.
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