Shamo is an interesting film. For one, a year-long post-production period is unusual for any Hong Kong film, and the movie’s inability to get anything besides perfunctory festival play isn’t a good sign either. A Hong Kong adaptation of a Japanese manga, financed largely with Japanese money, Shamo functions as a sort of hybrid of 70’s Japanese exploitation film with 80’s Hong Kong Cat III vibe, all filtered through a thoroughly current filter. It tells the story of Ryo Narushima, who is sent to prison at the age of sixteen for the brutal murders of his parents. While inside, he’s initially gang raped, but soon meets karate master Kurogawa, who molds him into an extraordinary fighter.
Upon release, he just wants to find his sister Natsumi, whom he fears has fallen into a life of vice, much as he has. He finds prostitute Megumi instead, and enters the world of mixed martial arts to try and raise his profile so that Natsumi can find him. Dog Bite Dog [review] astonished quite a number of critics. Cheang Pou-Soi’s uncompromising and brutal work that took you into a truely nihilistic world, made many viewers hope that Hong Kong cinema isn’t actually dead, yet, and still has a future. The expectations were quite high concerning Cheang’s newest work, which was said to wander the same dark and gritty path.
Shamo is incredibly strange, possessing a narrative structure faithful to the original manga. However, since they have to compress 10+ volumes of manga into 100 minutes, the filmmakers deliver everything quickly, efficiently, and in an illogical and sometimes disconnected manner. As soon as Ryo leaves prison the film essentially stops developing any of the characters in any significant way. The fight sequences are impressive enough, but they’re separated by long, painful stretches of nothing, and the later brawls often don’t live up to the intensity of the attacks in prison.
So why am I recommending this film? Simple. Guilty pleasure. Shamo is quite unusual, and therefore the only thing that you can give the film some credit for may be its uniqueness. Buying into Shamo’s excess can help the experience tremendously; if the audience can take that cue and let go of their need for quality, or logic, then Shamo can be an amusing little film. The filmmakers practically rub their extreme intentions in the audience’s face. I have to hand it to Hong Kong movies as of late though, their visual aesthetic is compelling and unique and they show an admirable willingness to lay it all on the line telling extreme stories. The least you could do is rent this film.