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Chimera Entertainment presents
City of Lost Souls (2000)

"My Mario. You're a man's man."
- Kei (Michele Reis)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 17, 2003

Stars: Teoh, Michele Reis
Director: Takashi Miike

MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, language, sex and drug content
Run Time: 01h:42m:52s
Release Date: December 31, 2002
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

You know, when you spend a disproportionate amount of your time watching and writing about movies, you come to pride yourself on having a pretty good working knowledge of what's going on in a film, and of being able to follow the story without consulting outside aids. But I will readily make this admission: with great frequency, as I watched City of Lost Souls, I found myself asking: What the hell is going on in this movie?

It's a great big shoot-'em-up, and that's fine—director Takashi Miike's style owes a great debt to the Hong Kong pictures of John Woo (The Killer and Hard Boiled especially), and to the Quentin Tarantino school of badass filmmaking—there are obvious riffs on things in Natural Born Killers and True Romance, for instance. (And all of these movies have as their great forebear the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone.) Lots of the action scenes here have a terrific kinetic energy—and they need it, because the loose connective tissue holding them together feels like it could crumble at any moment.

Our dangerous, brooding hero is Mario, who is half Asian, and half Brazilian, and his woman is Kei, an apprentice hairdresser. Kei is being deported from Japan back to China, and Mario intends to do something about it—like engineering a S.W.A.T.-team style attack taking his lady love away. Soon—what a shock!—Mario lands on the bad side of both the Yakuza (the Japanese mob) and the Triad (the Chinese mob), principally over that old standby, a suitcase full of cocaine. (Don't worry, the suitcase is one of those steel jobs that announce to the audience that a drug deal is about to go bad.) At times the movie is like a multi-culti Bonnie and Clyde—the tale is even described as "a love story of a lunatic Brazilian and a gorgeous Chinese girl"—but basically Mario is all about blowing away as many people he can over the running time of the picture.

There's actually a hooker with a heart of gold, and she's looking after an orphaned blind girl—it is frequently difficult to take much of this seriously, and I doubt that the filmmakers did. The film also features a strange use of computer graphics—if you're looking for an especially bloody animatronic cockfight, then I bring you happy news. The action sequences themselves are reasonably cool, but frequently feel only like so much footage—the promise, for instance, of death by ping pong is never followed through on, and cinema history is that much the poorer.

A lot more would be forgiven if the lead was incredibly charismatic, but Teoh, the one-named actor playing Mario, is no Chow Yun-Fat. There's lots and lots of gunfire and the old ultraviolence, and of brooding Asian mafiosi in smoky rooms and natty suits, but really, the film works better as R-rated visual wallpaper than as a successful bit of storytelling.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A good sharp transfer, with vivid colors and a complex palette. Some of the scenes look a little gauzy and/or hazy, which no doubt was a directorial choice, but can sometimes make it appear as if you're watching the movie in the smoking section. Black levels are solid, and there's little debris or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A pretty clean transfer, and much use is made of the rear speakers for the frequent scenes of gunfire. The dynamics can seem a little skewed—sometimes the actors speak so softly that they're barely discernible, a problem only if you're trying to follow along without the aid of subtitles, and at peak moments of action, the volume of the mayhem can make the viewer an unintended casualty.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Audition, Mansion of the Black Rose, Blackmail Is My Life, The Happiness of the Katakuris
4 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Escape from Tokyo game
Extras Review: A brief making-of featurette (05m:38s) is pretty much just a random collection of clips shot on the set, which demonstrate that the hardest-working member of the crew was the Steadicam operator. It also features the director insisting, unsurprisingly, "We should use more blood around here."

A brief bio and filmography are provided for director Takashe Miike; the disc kicks off with a trailer for Audition, and there's a second one in the extras package as well.

Finally there's Escape From Tokyo, a profane multiple-choice game posing questions marginally related to the feature—e.g., how many liters of blood in the human body? Get the questions right and you're rewarded with tiny little action clips from the film—I thought that perhaps an easter egg would be waiting on the other side, but no such luck.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A stylish but nearly nonsensical movie, if you're looking for a story, emphasize the "lost" in City of Lost Souls. But if you're content with some rather stylish action sequences and shootouts, you'll find a pretty good dollop of both here.


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