Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Before gawking at the bone-snapping mayhem of The Raid 2, get your adrenaline fix with some ultraviolent action movies.
Dead Or Alive (1999)
A naked woman falls from a balcony, her body splattering on the sidewalk. A man in an electric blue sharkskin suit grabs a bag of cocaine from her limp hand. In a dingy restroom, two men are having sex; an assassin in a kimono and welding goggles comes up from behind and stabs one of them in the jugular, spraying a jet of hot blood into the other’s mouth. Thugs mow down the customers of a restaurant with gunfire, stopping halfway through to reload. One fleeing man is shot in the stomach with a shotgun, flinging bits of half-digested food at the camera. In a warehouse, a man triumphantly snorts a 50-foot line of cocaine. Strippers grind. People slurp noodles. On the soundtrack, speed metal squeals and squelches.
These are the first five minutes of Takashi Miike’s Dead Or Alive, an opening so cartoonishly tasteless and hyper-violent that the only way the movie can top it is by ending (SPOILER ALERT) with the destruction of the entire planet. Miike would go on to make two more Dead Or Alive movies, related to one another only by the presence of Shô Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi in the lead roles. The second, Dead Or Alive 2: Birds (2000), is one of his best films, but it’s distinguished more by its pathos and gonzo visual and narrative flourishes than by its violence. For pure unreal excess, the first Dead Or Alive is hard to beat.
Dead Or Alive’s beginning and ending constitute two of the most notorious sequences in a career full of them, and tend to overshadow the unhinged—though largely low-key—yakuza bloodbath drama they bookend. But, as in the case of Miike’s international breakthrough, the horror switcheroo Audition (made the same year), as well as his chambara hit 13 Assassins (2010), one side depends on the other. The opening provides the rest of the movie an atmosphere of anything-goes craziness. The dramatic portions, in turn, provide context for the wacky climax.
Not to say that the bulk of the movie is all backroom gangster talk and smoky stare downs. There are close quarters gun battles (a Miike speciality), knife-wielding clowns on stripper poles, a woman being drowned in a kiddie pool full of liquid feces, and more blood than the human body can conceivably hold. But there are also lectures on political history, darkly comic long takes, middle-class family scenes, and poker-faced monologues. All of these seem to belong in the movie as much as the orgiastic violence does. Miike’s talent as a director lies in making movies where nothing—no matter how cartoonish or how realistic—would feel out of place.
Availability: Not to be confused with the video-game adaptation DOA: Dead Or Alive, Miike’s Dead Or Alive is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix.