Certain films I don’t even bother asking my fiancée if she wants to watch. Golgo 13 was obviously one of them. Sonny Chiba as an invincible hitman, bopping around the hip and neon 1970s Hong Kong… I figured she wouldn’t mind sitting it out. I think I might have known Golgo 13 started as a manga–certainly I did after I saw this film’s listing with Chiba’s name and did a minute of Googling–and I had played the old Nintendo game in the late 1980s. I was never particularly good at it (though I did remember the name “Duke Togo” when it came up in the film). I tend not to see–or even considering seeing–most kung fu movies. Sonny Chiba is an exception. He’s not much of an actor, but he doesn’t need to be, he just needs to kick ass. He kicks a lot of ass in Golgo 13.
While the film isn’t masterfully directed, the action scenes are excellent so those ass-kicking scenes are fun to watch. I know I commented in my Raiders post about how Spielberg’s taken credit for Bruckheimer’s short-shot editing, but Golgo 13 has them and has them in a style more consistent with their current use then Raiders does. I’m not sure Golgo is the film to start it, but I imagine the short-shots do come from this genre.
The film succeeds because it never fails to entertain the viewer. It runs ninety minutes or so and there’s a fight scene once every five or six minutes. There might be one stretch where there isn’t one, but then there’s a good chase scene or something. It works out. However, Chiba has to share the film with the police detective hunting him down (I’d love a monograph comparing it to Heat… or maybe just Golgo 13 dubbed with Heat’s dialogue… or vice versa–Golgo even ends at an airport) and the cop, played by the singularly named Callan (who appears to have no other credits), is bland. He’s not likable, so it’s good Chiba’s constantly outsmarting him. For a while, there’s a female detective who has some good fight scenes.
While the film is more matter-of-factly violent then any American film I’ve ever seen, it does owe a lot to American films of its period, particularly the blaxploitation film, seeing as how Mr. Big is a white guy. He also has an island fortress. He also has diplomatic immunity and there are a number of scenes mirroring Lethal Weapon 2 (except, you know, Sonny Chiba is actually tough). My only quibble with the film are the long cigarillos Chiba smokes throughout. I think they’ve got to be a reference to the comic book, since Chiba smokes them with visible effeteness.
Directed by Noda Yukio; screenplay by Matsumoto Takeshi and Nakajima Nobuaki, based on the manga by Saitô Takao; director of photography, Akatsuka Shigeru; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Ibe Harumi; produced by Leung Callan; released by Toei Company.
Starring Sonny Chiba (Duke Togo), Leung Callan (Detective Smith), Shihomi Etsuko (Ling Lam), Shindo Emi (Lin Yip), Elaine Sung (Laan Kong), Danna (Dut Lai), Nick Lam Wai Kei (Fung Chow Lui), Jerry Ito (Polanksi) and Lee Chi-Chung (Ming Wong Tak).