The fact that Brotherhood of the Wolf was such a huge success overseas and has an enormous cult following in the US (and did receive a surprisingly large push from Universal for a foreign film) has renewed interest in Christophe Gans’ first film, the adaptation of the anime/comic book of Crying Freeman. The film never got a release in the US, despite it being in English, and has had some very poor DVD releases all over the world. Considering that it is an attempt at a John Woo style action film, complete with frenetic gunfights and minimal conversation, this is a bit of a surprise. Star Mark Dacascos is a tremendous athlete which is evident in some of the stunt work (of which he did much himself) as well as in another neglected B-classic, only available uncut in the UK, Drive.
That’s not to say that Crying Freeman is any sort of classic. It has that low budget lighting and film stock identical with the soft and grainy USA (the cable station) movie of the week look. In fact it’s amazing that each and every shot is so noticeably unattractive (despite the ample $8 million budget). It really resembles one of those Emmanuelle knock offs you might see late night on Showtime, where everyone’s skin is too flushed, as if all of the actors were blushing simultaneously.
But Gans redeems the film with striking visuals and well choreographed and precise action, such as the scene where Dacascos finds himself strapped to a statue as he is being whispered instructions by something that looks like it was stolen from the villain from Big Trouble in Little China, or the terrific assassination scenes in an Italian restaurant.
The movie would like to distinguish itself, but despite its pedigree, it remains a very standard, assassin falls in love with beautiful victim, inspiring him to leave the profession with her, movie, filled with clichés. Added to that, we are supplied with endless platitudes about honor and mixing that with threats from the various gangs trying to retain Dacascos and his new lover/former target. She is played Julie Condra who looks like a stunned doll, especially as she stands in her red kimono twirling an umbrella. She performs her dialogue and voiceover in a similar coma.
In fact, all of the dialogue is stiffly performed. This is not helped by the fact that most of it is looped, when it isn’t dubbed. In fact, one of the main villains of the story is played by Tcheky Karyo, always hired for big US productions when they need an anonymous but sleazily charming Eurovillain. Here, he is dubbed into English, from English. This is quite jarring once you first notice it (especially when you realize it’s Ron Perlman doing the dubbing), as well as to a fan like me, who enjoys the way he uses his voice in his performances.
This is not to say that anything that is said should or will linger in your mind, unless it’s to groan. Sample dialogue heard during a car chase from cop Rae Dawn Chong to Karyo:
RDC: “You’re way out of your league. Why not just sit back and enjoy the ride?”
TK: “Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy the ride, cause it’s gonna be your last one!”
The movie lurches along with way too much backstory and set up, with about twenty minutes of screen time dedicated to the history of the Freeman, just as the movie is building momentum as the couple go on the run. But then Gans will forget the bogus mythology and give us slow motion gunfights and Wooish poses. Tuck and roll, spin and dive.
Since this is a French disc, the occasional Japanese or Chinese dialogue is only translated into French, but since it would most likely be wooden, simplistic and laughable (as they tried to make this as universal as possible so they could sell it to a huge number of markets) understanding it is not a requirement to follow the story.
If it sounds like I am tearing the movie apart, it’s true. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. The key is that the film takes itself so seriously, which somehow counterbalances the fact that it’s never very good or creative. It is entertaining because it is a constant mediocrity which believes in itself completely, a guilty pleasure as non-entity.
Comparing this French R2 2-disc release to the Region Free DTS version I have is literally night and day. The Region Free version is plagued by the fact that in the first 45 minutes, the colors change in virtually every shot, as no color correction was done. This is not the case with the French 2 disc, which is sparkling in comparison, with deeper, richer colors, and a sharpness missing from all other discs. From the ugly cinematography it had to work with, this is a pretty good anamorphic transfer. French subs are provided for both the film and the Gans commentary on disc 1.
The separation in the English 5.1 track is quite good, especially with regards to ambient noise. It is specifically effective during an action scene that takes place seemingly in a sewer and the water drops are evident in the back two speakers. There is also a French 5.1 track.
For the sort of film this is, really, an ambitious cable movie, it is a shock that so much effort was put into this DVD release. The first disc has a commentary by Gans in French only, with French subs. There is also a hidden trailer for Brotherhood of the Wolf.
Disc 2 is broken up into three sections, pre-production, production and post production.
Pre-production is almost entirely in French only, has an interview with Gans (a minute, no subs), text (all in French), storyboard interview (three minutes), storyboards with a scene from the film to compare it to, as the boards cycle through and a scroll through of a very extensive storyboards section with some cursory black and white drawings for several scenes.
Tournage, meaning, during production, has on-set interviews with Gans (who says that Le Circle Rouge and Le Samourai were big influences on the film) and footage of the shoot. There are no English subs, but Dacascos and the other actors speak in English with or without French subs. Karyo speaks a lot, in French about how energetic Gans is. This runs five and half minutes. There is a journal by Gans, in French only. There is a standard EPK which is so awful it needs to be seen, though the footage they show from the movie has Karyo speaking in English for himself and Condra is listed as Julie Douglas. Chong says the movie is as visionary as Blade Runner because of the planned camera setups. This runs about eight hilarious minutes.
There are interviews with Gans and the producer show that there was a deliberate effort to adapt the comic book which is why the direct to video feel of the movie is rather disappointing, it is never visionary.
Condra, apparently off her meds that day, says the movie is an original because, “Never before have I seen a love story through the eyes of a woman.” This is fairly in depth and a lot of things that the actors discuss never really came across in the film, especially the epic feel. It runs twenty minutes.
A section called B-roll- is simply on set footage via a hi-8 camera of the Italian restaurant assassination among other scenes, showing the set-up of sword and gun fights, etc. It runs an exhaustive and dull thirty-six minutes, and does show us one thing. You have to give the DVD producers credit for really giving us everything available.
The Post Production section covers editing, specifically it shows how much pre-thought went into the restaurant scene, and probably why it’s the best scene in the movie, and plays differently than the rest of it, especially with the opera juxtaposition. It’s no wonder the film is so similar to a Woo piece, as they had John Woo’s editor working on Crying Freeman. This is the most interesting of any of the extras and runs nine minutes.
There are some deleted scenes with text description in French by Gans that have unfinished sound, including a sex scene which is an extension of Karyo’s in the film, which took place in the closet, and is particularly silly.
Finally, there are some storyboards for the opening credits, which includes actual footage of the different shots that make up the credits, and 2 trailers, one of which uses the same exact music from every action movie of the last 15 years, Cliffhanger, Die Hard, you name it.
Look, this is not a good film, but it is ambitious and undeniably stylish. Sure, the dialogue is mostly drivel but the action scenes are gracefully done and not as unwatchably choppy as is the case with many an American action movie. The video and audio are the best I have seen for this particular film and the extras are beyond exhaustive.