One of the most fascinating ways to compare the differences in the way American movies approach their storytelling when put alongside their global counterparts is to see what happens when they try and adapt the same kind of material – take the small clutch of low budget Anime adaptations of the 90’s, for example. A strangely random choice I’m sure you’d agree, but a rewarding one, nonetheless. During their short reign, filmmakers (usually with some foreign funding) struggled to cram the exaggerated worlds seen in these animated movies into a live action setting, cutting corners on visual effects and sets in order to make the budget stretch as much as possible. This would usually leave the finished product as somewhat of a weak shadow of its orginal version with the reduced visuals and Americanized storytelling muting everything special about the project that brought you to it in tbe first place. But how did other countries approach bring Anime to the real world? Well, if you’re from Hong Kong, apparently you’re not going to let a little thing like money stand in your way…
Before the handover, Hong Kong is plagued by an underground conflict between humans and otherworldly, demonic creatures known as Rapters, who can take human form and have infiltrated all levels of our society. Built to combat them is a special branch of secret agents called the Anti-Rapter Special Police and one of their best is Taki, a man tormented by his secret relationship with a beautiful Rapter named Windy who once saved his life during a mission and wants to live in peace with the humans.
Taki and his partner, the half-Rapter Ken, are looking into a Rapter drug called “Happiness” that’s finding it’s way into human consumption (because we humans will fucking try anything once) and find a conspiracy building in the upper echelons of Rapter hierarchy. Daishu, a powerful, Rapter mob boss with immaculate facial hair, wants to live in harmony with us normal folk while his son Shudo (think Sonny Corleone if he could turn into a rubbery man-squid) wants to strike out on his own and their feud brings Windy back into Taki’s life as an informant.
However, while events rapidly go from strange to completely fucking batshit, Ken finds that his half-Rapter heritage puts him at odds with his distrusting colleagues at the ARSP while Shudo’s henchmen set out to remove all in his path.
Taki finds himself once again falling in love with Windy, but can he actually trust her? Can Ken finally prove his worth despite the black, inhuman blood running through his veins and coulf this movie managed to have crammed in any more mind melting visuals if it tried?
All the spider-limbed prostitutes, lightsaber fingernails, day-glo tentacles and killer elevators suggest: no.
Stylish to the point of being utterly incoherent, The Wicked City may not accurately invoke the slick, spy shenanigans of the 1987 anime, but what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in sheer gonzo insanity. Remember earlier when I said that 90’s anime adaptations from the US saw their low budgets as a weakness? That’s something that doesn’t seem to phase the legendary producer/director Tsui Hark, whose eye popping fantasy movie Zu Warriors Of The Magic Mountain, seems to have influenced director Peter Mak in giving The Wicked City a similar, frenzied style (in fact Mak claims that Hark stepped in and shot quite a few sequences himself).
Drenched in enough soft blue light to give Michael Mann a disfused light based orgasm, The Wicked City looks gorgeous and even though a lot of the monster effects look primitive in this current era of CGI slickness, you have to give the filmmakers credit for their determined attempts to realise massively epic shit they blatantly don’t have the budget for. If an American production realised they didn’t have the money to create a fight scene where a creature surfs a jumbo jet through a city, they’d just cut it – not here though. They just shoot the fucker with models and let the audience simply deal with it, as if to say “Oh what, you didn’t want a monster hanging ten on a commercial airplane?”.
Some will find the experience simply too ridiculous to stomach and in some respects, they’re not wrong – the version I watched had some insanely bad dubbing which hacked up hilarious dialogue like “You humans are destroyed by this emotion called love!” which adds the hysteria levels of a Mexican soap opera to a movie that already has the pace of a hyperactive hummingbird.
Whatever language you watch it in, the movie is all over the place. The fact they’re fight their feelings for each other means that Taki and Wendy are constantly trying to kill each other (not exactly great couple’s goals) and at one point the movie seems to lose track with who the main character actually is and chooses to follow Ken for a long period of time before realising that oh shit,Taki’s the hero.
While it’s delirious pace means every major plot point an character arc are screamed out while someone’s sprouting tentacles or flying through the air, the sheer energy and utter lack of logic of the thing ends up being incredibly watchable and much like other hyper exaggerated movies like The Story Of Ricky or Versus, you find yourself just going along with the insanity just to see what the hell is going to happen next.
Combing the raw effects of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetuso: The Iron Man (check out the human motorcycle) with the erotic body horror of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (it’s not every day you see a guy play/fuck a living pinball machine) and then flinging in the Lovecraftian terrors of John Carpenter’s The Thing for good measure (the Spider-Whore from the opening scene), The Wicked City is a turbo charged blast of monster mania that gives multiple nods to it’s source material while still making it’s own path.
Sure, occasionally it’ll buck you off like a wailing, half-human motorcycle when the randomness gets just too much to swallow (halfway through the movie the good guys just suddenly reveal they all have group telekinesis), but the best thing about The Wicked City is precisely that it crams all this weird shit down your throat and just casually expects you to deal with it as to reel from the latest dollop of crazy.
Gung-ho and utterly unrestrained from anything remotely resembling realism or common sense, while American anime adaptations wrung their hands over their lack of resources, The Wicked City embraced them giving us a garish blast of Lovecraftian death metal that really deserves a bigger cult following.
That’s a Rapter.