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Cross Fire - Pyrokenesis (Kaneko Shusuke 2000)


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Cross Fire
[Pyrokinesis]

Genre: Fiery ESP Crime Thriller

review in one breath

Cross Fire (2000) is directed by Kaneko Shusuke whose other directorial work includes Gamera 1, 2 & 3 (1995, 1996, 1999), Gakkou no Kaidan 3 (1997) and Azumi 2: Death or Love (give me love, Azumi!). And if that list isn't diverse enough in terms of genre (ranging from large monsters to ghosts to sexy samurai), then add to that an ESP-fueled crime thriller under review here. Mixing ESP with crime drama is nothing new in Japanese film (see the bizarro Isola for evidence) but director Kaneko does bring to the scenario a satisfying degree of special effects and action. And by "special effects and action" I literally mean humans spontaneously bursting into immense balls of flame, screaming and flailing about in amazing duration until they are reduced to charred ash. Hell (no pun intended), this happens at least a dozen times in this film!


I've actually seen this film a couple times in various formats, first in an unsubtitled version which, I admit, left me a bit baffled, and more recently in a Region 0 DVD, apparently out of Hong Kong with simultaneous English and Chinese subtitles. (And here I just can't help but mention the fact that the DVD cover, obviously intended for a more thoroughly Chinese audience than I, consistently -- as in more than once -- spelled the English title as "Ross Fire" which conjures up only images of a less-than-successful Hollywood actor with a 1950's haircut.) ANYWAY, even with substitles I am struggling to get a satisfactory conceptual handle on this film. Half of me (the west half?) is poised, ready to rip this film apart amidst hearty guffaws and witty analysis, while the other half cannot but feel this was a rather decent, even ambitious film both visually and narratively. And after thinking (and drinking) over this for several days, I STILL cannot resolve this issue. So be it (though I've decided to keep drinking on it, just in case..)

On the positive side, (a) the plot here is sufficiently complex, (b) the cast and acting are decent, and (c) the special effects are fun if not impressive. On the negative side, well, just read on...

In terms of plot complexity Cross Fire throws in plenty of sub-plots such as:

  • the development of a burning passion (get it?) between the sullen, sensitive Tada and Junko, a girl here-to-fore plagued with an undesirable knack for, among other things, accidentally boiling her goldfish while asleep
  • Or the personal vendetta of a disgruntled cop whose dysfunction stems from the childhood memory of watching his demented little brother mysteriously and violently go up in a ball of flames at the hands of a little girl
  • Or the characteristically Japanese in-depth psycho-babble-laden exploration into the mysteries of ESP, spontaneous combustion, and pyrokenesis.
  • Or the on-going machinations of am elite group of crime fighters calling themselves the "Guardians", who are hiring recruits with psychic powers to rid the world of puny, disgusting common folk by casting them in lead roles in snuff films
  • Or the folklore of an ancient lineage of people who were so habitually pissed off at the world that their hatred turned into a burning art form.

I could go on, but I think you get my point.

Regarding the cast, a few appear in other films you may be familiar with. Ito Hideaki (who plays Tada Kazuki) , perhaps most notably stars as the wide-eyed and gullible flute-playing demon bait, (Minamoto no) Hiromasa in Onmyoji (2001) and Onmyoji 2 (2003). Tokuyama Hidenori (who plays spoiled brat Kogure) played the main role in Oshikiri as, well, Oshikiri. Cross Fire's main character (Aoki Junko) and leading lady is Yada Akiko who also played Mai, Ryuichi's hot-for-the-teacher student in the Japanese TV series versions of Ringu: Saishuu-sho (1999) and Rasen (1999). Other major players which do not show up in the types of films reviewed here but nevertheless hold this film together in terms of star power and main characters include Momoi Kaori (as detective Ishizu) and Nagashima Toshiyuki (as police chief Hasegawa).

And finally, in terms of special effects, there is a convincing overlay of CG effects and actual fire to thoroughly convey the impression of untimely and unnatural conflagration accompanied by heat-induced skull-popping. While the narrative alone is basically an ESP-infused crime thriller, these special effects elevate Cross Fire into an above-average experience.

story

Poor Aoki Junko sure has some skeletons in her closet, starting with the guy she literally toasted when he came at her with a hammer when she was only a very young child. You see, Junko comes from a long line of "gifted" people who, through their perpetually intense hatred of everyone else became endowed with superhuman pyrotechnic abilities. And for those of you who don't know what pyrokinesis is, relax, because this film will go to great lengths to make sure you know all the evidence and history of the phenomenon.

Junko's rather powerful ability to generate fire sometimes accidentally escapes her control (perhaps after spicy food?) causing various heat-induced catastrophies which though embarrassing are generally harmless, except to the now well-cooked fish in the fish tank. Most of her co-workers consider her rather dark and gloomy, except that is for Tada, a cute young man who blushes at the mere sight of her (or was that sun burn?). With the help of Tada's love-deprived sister Yukie, who's love for Junko seems to outdo her brother's there seems to be an ideal scenario for future love and family.

UNTIL (!!) little Yukie is captured by a video-wielding gang of youth who are by now notorious for capturing a series of young girls and filming their torture and death (!). When Tada and Junko visit the funeral home and look down upon the cold corpse of Yukie, Tada is seething with rage and Junko's fiery cork is about to pop. It is then that Junko tells her secret to Tada, and they conspire to mete out their own fiery brand of justice.

Meanwhile, a blue-collar duo of detectives investigating the string of snuff-video murders inevitably stumble across Junko, who Hasaba, the younger detective recognizes as the little girl who burnt his psychopathic little brother to a crisp decades ago. Long has Hasaba subdued his seething hatred for little Junko and at last (!) he has found her! But little does he anticipate what will happen when you point a loaded gun at a girl who emits fire from (all?) her orifices...

AND THEN Junko is confronted by Kido who himself wields bizarre psychic powers (of which he boasts, "we have extra sensory powers, like Jesus and Mohammed") from whom Junko learns of the "Guardians", an underground team of crime-fighters hell-bent on ridding the world of bad people (and everyone else...). Through Kido, Junko is offered an opportunity to join this wannabe Justice League by toasting to a crisp the band of Yukie's killers -- an offer which Junko readily agrees to and carries out with a rather amazing ferocity.

But the Guardians soon prove to have far more sinister and darker goals than world peace and happiness, and soon both Tada and Junko's lives are threatened by her association with the group.

Will Junko's flaming personality be enough to save both her and Tada from the diabolical schemes of the mastermind behind the ESP-infused Guardians?

verdict

Well, no doubt from this review you get a taste for what I thought of this film. It is simultaneously entertaining and completely implausible. But as a whole I think it works, not as a great and memorable film (certainly not), but as one which accomplishes what is likely set out to be: A weepy love story between a man who experiences the tragic loss of his little sister and a woman whose haunted past contains a wildly kick-ass ability to exact flaming revenge against the amazingly well-organized and really bad gang of ruthless killers being investigated by an odd-couple of detectives who gradually learn to love Junko's whoop-ass ways.

If you can get your hands on a rental of this film, it would certainly be worth the few pesos to see it. If you liked films such as Senrigan, Isola, Tokyo Dragon, or Dragon Head, you'll probably be more inclined to enjoy this film, as they all share a similar balance of interesting sci-fi narrative and special effects. (Ie, narratives whose success for the most part relies on their decent special effects.)

Version reviewed: Region 0 DVD (includes English/Chinese subtitles)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
I've thought long and hard and couldn't find a shred of anything cultural. Death by fire. Death by barbeque. Death by popping like a sausage in the microwave. Death by turning into an eye-popping, liplessly grinning ball of flailing flame. Etc. We never do find out what happens to Junko during the throes of passion... Youch! Adequately implausible and ESP-ridden, though not quite achieving the revered status of camp.

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