In the wake of “Mortal Kombat,” the stylish, action-packed, nihilistic “Crying Freeman” should whet the appetite of action audiences internationally. Based on the Japanese comic book (which also inspired several earlier animated efforts), the slick, violent outing marks an impressive first feature for former French critic Christophe Gans. It looks to click as a genre hit domestically and overseas and has upbeat prospects in ancillaries.
A satisfying mix of Asian chopsocky and smooth Western tech wizardry, “Freeman” is the tale of Yo (Mark Dacascos), the seemingly invincible assassin of a Chinese sect. The twist is that he is the reluctant inheritor of the Freeman mantle — the name given the tong’s enforcer — and does the job out of obligation, not desire. Hence, the titular tears of regret for the myriad victims he dispatches.
It’s happenstance that leads to Yo’s encounter with Emu O’Hara (Julie Condra Douglas), a reclusive painter orphaned when her father, a crusading judge, was assassinated by gangsters. Emu sees Yo dispatch three yakuza while working on a landscape on a remote California scarp. Though they never speak, there’s a knowing bond between the two, with the woman instinctively sensing he will eventually have to eliminate her as an eyewitness.
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After the police conduct a fruitless investigation, Emu returns to Vancouver. Yo is not far behind, with orders to eliminate a yakuza chief who’s relocated to Canada, as well as the woman.
The narrative, which combines standard thriller elements and a romance that threatens the Freeman
code, is relatively standard fare. It’s a gang war with the prime enforcer looking for an exit route.
What elevates the film are its fight sequences, stylish direction and a couple of quirky novelties such as Yo’s gun, which is programmed to explode after he’s completed a sanction. While it racks up a high body count, “Crying Freeman” is literally bloodless. Pic is a stunning ballet of pyrotechnic explosions, flying bodies and ritual murder that out-cartoons its inspiration. Gans has managed to mesh the worlds of John Woo and Melville’s “Le Samouri” in this vivid concoction.
Dacascos and Condra Douglas are winning, charismatic leads, though the latter’s voiceover narration is provided by Deborah Unger. Lending an added edge is Tcheky Karyo as an Interpol officer playing both sides of the fence, and Yoko Shimada as the woman behind the new yakuza chief, Lady Macbeth-fashion.
One of the few of the recent batch of comic-book adaptations that works, “Crying Freeman” has the potential to ring up the type of big numbers that would warrant a franchise. It’s hoped that those involved with the first will still be aboard.