Bleeding Hearts: Only in the Final Act Does First Love, Screening at Alamo Drafthouse Park North, Shoot to Thrill 

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  • Well Go USA Entertainment

Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike’s latest film First Love doesn’t stray far from the hyper-violence and dark humor that have made him a favorite for fans of eccentric Asian cinema. From his 1999 Japanese horror movie Audition, with its infamous vomit-eating scene, to 2001 manga-inspired action flick Ichi the Killer, which was banned in a handful of countries for its sadomasochistic themes, Miike has never met a controversy he hasn’t embraced.

His fascination with hardcore brutality continues — although not at the level of his most disturbing work — in First Love, a sometimes thrilling but largely convoluted story that doesn’t kick into high gear until a chaotic gun battle in the final act. By then, however, the script is so knotted up, viewers are bound to wonder who’s shooting who.

Set during one night in Tokyo, First Love follows Leo (Masataka Kubota), an up-and-coming boxer who learns he has an inoperable brain tumor. Knowing he’ll soon die, Leo takes the advice of a fortune teller who urged him to fight for someone other than himself. Moments after, he meets “Monica” (Sakurako Konishi), a drug-dependent young woman working as a prostitute, whom he plucks from the streets.

As one character says much later in the film, “Everything’s fucked!” Everything most certainly is, even before the blunt declaration is shared with the audience. See, not only has Monica been selling her body to pay off her dead father’s debts to the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, she gets caught up in a drug deal gone bad and is being trailed by a corrupt cop (Nao Ohmori), a bitter gangster (Shota Sometani) and a female assassin (Rebecca Eri Rabone).

There’s a twist that arrives late in the game, which helps liven up First Love and catapult it into an extreme third act. But by that point, the overcomplicated screenplay has already caused the film more damage than a samurai sword to the throat. Reminiscent of a recent movies like 2016’s Free Fire, Miike’s First Love finally finds its footing when it becomes a savage bloodbath, but when you’ve seen one ridiculous decapitation, you’ve basically seen them all.

First Love opens exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North October 25.

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