We don’t mess much with anime / Manga stuff here, partly because I never really got into it as a teenager in the same way my friends did, but mostly because it’s a whole culture with its own symbols and background which can be a bit difficult to understand. Things which Western movie fans might subconsciously need aren’t there; but then Western movies have never created anything as genuinely, horrifically bizarre as “Urotsukidōji” (aka “Legend Of The Overfiend”), so there’s that too.
“Wicked City”, the animated version from 1987, is relatively “tame” compared to “Urotsukidōji”, but it’s very well regarded – a tale of “The Black Guard”, the group that protects the border between our world and that of the demons. The central team is the human Taki and the demon Makie, and together they fight a radical group of demons who are trying to jeopardise the signing of a new peace treaty between the two sides. There’s a disappointingly large amount of rape in it, but it’s got a lot of fans, and it was popular enough that famed Hong Kong director Tsui Hark chose to direct the live action adaptation, which is the one we’re covering.
Hark is a well-known name in Asian cinema circles (especially to Westerners), having given us “Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain”, the “Once Upon A Time In China” series, a couple of JCVD movies, and being the producer on most of the famous John Woo / Chow Yun Fat collaborations; so even though some of the stuff that happens is a little baffling to Western brains (seriously, how did the cops get the communal ability to generate a magnetic field?) it all kind of holds together. Ish.
This live action movie bears, at best, a mild resemblance to its animated forebear. There are demons, but they live happily on Earth, it would seem, although there’s a small group of rebels who want to take over the world with the use of “Happiness”, a drug which…I think…is just for demons (although it appears to be deadly to both humans and demons who take it). There’s a cop called Taki, who also has an unrelated day job for reasons which are never mentioned; his demon ex-girlfriend, Gaye; Taki’s half-demon partner Ken; friendly demon Daishu; unfriendly demon Shudo; plus a few other cops, and one rather amazing demon who prefers to transform herself into mechanical objects (including a pinball machine – if you’ve never seen a demon have sex with a pinball machine before, then I highly recommend this movie).
It’s almost all spectacle, with some amazing fight scenes, lots of practical special effects, and lots of very weirdly shot stuff. The storyline is absolutely incomprehensible, even to those people who’ve seen the anime – there’s a magnetic field of some sort which protects the entire world from demons, whose origin or location is never mentioned; there’s the way the cops can levitate things with their minds, equally unexplained; and the relationships between the characters, which seem fluid, to put it mildly. The scene where Daishu rides a motorbike made of one of the other demons is a masterpiece of a scene which will stay with me forever, though.
But what it is is a relentless, colourful, truly down-to-its-bones weird movie. I’ve got no idea why it was made, though – the anime told the story and was a lot of fun, then years later they sort of used the same basis to make a live action movie? It’s not as wild as the wildest anime or as exciting as the best live-action movies, but if you’re in a very generous mood towards Hong Kong cinema and the crazier end of things, you’ll probably enjoy this.
Rating: thumbs in the middle