Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In honor of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon, we’re singling out some of our favorite feature directorial debuts by actors.
Violent Cop (1989)
As vicious as its title suggests, Violent Cop nonetheless boasts a wit typical of its director/star Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, a former stand-up comedian who laces his behind-the-camera debut—which he took the reins of after the initial director backed out—with a dry humor that enhances its bleak brutality. Boasting a classical sense of composition and camera movement, the film concerns Kitano’s rogue police officer—who almost never speaks or emotes, preferring to let his hands do the talking. Slapping criminals about with uninhibited malice, Kitano is a robotic Dirty Harry tolerated by his superiors only because they too recognize the cesspool in which they work. Filth and misery are all-encompassing, and as Kitano stalks the city’s streets, he comes across as a granite slab of quietly righteous fury, wielding his swinging fists and kicking feet to combat a rising tide of drug-fueled vice.
Such depravity also eventually consumes Kitano’s sister, a mentally handicapped innocent whose violation is the final straw for the violent cop. As a director, Kitano employs long takes to heighten his protagonist’s isolation. The tension reaches a fever pitch during a final confrontation in which the eponymous antihero finds even his own extreme measures ineffectual against the spread of degenerate corruption. A forlorn saga about the futility of fighting crime and sin, Violent Cop oozes with despondency. And yet despite this bleakness, there’s a deadpan quality to Kitano’s tragedy. That black comedy is felt not just in more straight-faced punchlines, but also in the action’s periodic blasts of bloodshed, none better than a prolonged chase sequence that ends with Kitano repeatedly running over a junkie perp with his car and then kicking him for good measure.