The city of Shimonoseki in Gu Su-yeon’s Hard Romanticker is filled with yakuza, cops and juvenile delinquents. Bleached-blonde loner Gu is about to cross paths with all of them. Gu is a cigarette smoking, attitude copping thug whose everyday routine consists of random acts of violence that would make any Droog stand down. Based on Su-yeon’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, Hard Romanticker starts with our anti-hero Gu tossing a naked girl aside as he makes a quick escape from a window to avoid a gang of attackers. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop as Kaoru Wada’s score kicks into a jazz frenzy, Gu narrowly escapes the bloodthirsty gang. We are then treated to the first of many brutal acts of violence as Masaru and Tatsu, two of Gu’s acquaintances, mistakenly murder the grandmother of a local gangster. As the blame is placed on Gu he finds himself wanted by not only the cops, but every criminal in the city.
After a run-in with a detective, Gu tries to find Masaru to find out what really happened and why his name is involved. Along the way he makes even more enemies by giving a gangster’s little brother a beating in an alleyway. This is the first of many scenes that rely on natural lighting, allowing the shadows to partially mask the on-screen violence, making it no less potent. Gu also starts a strange sort-of romance with a young girl named Mieko. After leaving town for a bit to work at a yakuza-run club in a nearby city, Gu finds out that Mieko isn’t what he thought she was and the results are brutal to say the least. All the while the manhunt for Gu is building and when he finally shows his face in town again, it all comes to a head. We’re introduced to a variety of characters and subplots along the way, all of which involve Gu gaining more enemies and getting into more confrontations, each more violent than the last.
We’re not talking choreographed Hollywood-style violence either. Every fight and attack in this film feels real. It’s not precise or stylized, it’s messy and ugly. There is a scene involving a stabbing that midway through, the person wielding the knife loses their grip due to the amount of blood on the handle. The blade also gets stuck in the body, forcing them to actually work to get it out. This is no quick in-and-out slasher flick stabbing here. It is this harsh realism, coupled with Su-yeon’s ability to weave multiple subplots together without losing scope, that make Hard Romanticker a truly exciting watch. Shota Matsuda as Gu delivers a performance that is as cool as anyone from James Dean to Gosling’s Driver and as balls-out crazy as McDowell’s beloved Droog Alex. Nobody has dragged a lead pipe through the street with this much cool. From the opening rooftop chase to the knockout, drag-out insanity of the finale, Hard Romanticker doesn’t stop until everyone is beaten and bloodied. This is a must watch for any fan of not only yakuza or violent youth films, but of challenging cinema in general. Highly recommended.
Hard Romanticker scores 4.5 out of 5 Screaming Jamies
Hard Romanticker hits streets tomorrow, January 22nd from Artsploitation Films, but lucky for you, dear reader, we have a copy of the DVD to give away to one of you. All you have to do is email email@example.com with your name and mailing address. Just put Hard Romanticker in the subject line. That’s it. One winner will be chosen on Friday the 26th. Due to postage costs this contest is only open to readers in the US and Canada.