Amongst all the violence between rival Japanese and North Korean gangs in Shimonoseki is a young thug named Gu. Swearing no allegiance to anyone other than himself and a few close friends, Gu carries with him a dangerously reckless attitude as he chooses to do only what he wishes. After pissing off more than a few people and one of his friends murdering the grandmother of a gang's boss, Gu is now on the run from not only every gang member in town but the police too.
Out of all the movies in Artsploitation's library I was looking forward to seeing "Hard Romanticker" the most. Partially because I am a big fan of Asian cinema, but also because it reminded me of "Blue Spring" since they seemed similar in theme. Also because the movie apparently has some truth to its story. How much truth? I'm not sure. The movie is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Gu Su-yeon, who also happens to be the films director.
"Hard Romanticker" is about a young thug named Gu living in Shimonoseki. A great deal of tension exists in the city between the Japanese civilians and the North Korean immigrants. Gu, being Korean-Japanese descent, manages to piss off both groups and every gang that there is. If that wasn't enough to contend with, Gu also has a local detective breathing down his neck after one of Gu's friends accidentally kills the grandmother of one of the thugs running the gangs.
Gu Su-yeon's movie ended up having more in common with the film "Blue Spring" than I had initially expected. While "Hard Romanticker" has some of its roots buried in the real-life past of its director and is often noted for the ultra-violence it portrays, the movie has a comedy streak to it. Granted the movie's subject matter does deal with teenagers who openly embrace a life of crime and violence and ideals of becoming a Yakuza or part of whatever large gang that resides in the area. However, with the character Gu, a kid who doesn't have a problem getting into a fist fight or violently beating somebody with an object of some kind -- usually a metal bat or a pipe -- the violence stems from his reckless behavior.
The actions of the various characters doesn't exist as a social commentary piece on a wayward generation or social tension between the Japanese and North Koreans. Instead it's merely the thing that exists in the world of these wannabes and the result of bad decisions and walking through life with reckless abandon. So often the violence comes in the form of comedy beats: whether it's Gu running for his life on the rooftops in his underwear in the middle of the night or having a showdown of 1 against 100. "Hard Romanticker" never dissolves into something unbelievable or fantastical, like say "Crows Zero", but rather th dark comedic tone the movie carries never allows the attitudes, actions and violence of these characters to have too much weight. Even at the more emotional moments of the movie.
With that aside, "Hard Romanticker" was still a good, albeit typical, Yakuza movie. The performances are good, the characters are interesting, the pacing is pitch-perfect but the story seemed rather mundane to my own expectations. Again, that doesn't make it bad, but simply the movie's story revolves around Gu, a typical thug, and what his daily life consists of when he goes from being a loner to working as a personal assistant for a lieutenant of another gang in a city. There is some Peckinpah-tension built into the movie as Gu gets into altercations and manages to piss everyone off that he's near -- you know it's all going to come to a boil at some point. And the movie does eventually come to both a violent and emotional resolve of characters but perhaps in a way that a viewer might be surprised by. Imagine a coming-of-age movie but without the actual coming-of-age part.
What "Hard Romanticker" felt more like it was a day-in-the-life-of type of a movie as opposed to a violent gangster movie. Certainly the movie does deserve credit as it never shies away from the violence or the sex and isn't afraid of the brutally real moments of what happens to those who are willing to live a life such as Gu and his peers. However, it doesn't focus on the "reality" of their existence and is willing to play moments for laughs -- occasionally dark laughs -- and is willing to be cinematic as opposed to realism. In the end, it's good but it did feel rather typical in world of Yakuza-based movies.