Wasabi review

:. Director: Gérard Krawczyk
:. Starring: Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue
:. Running Time: 1:34
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: France


Luc Besson and Jean Reno are icons in the Empire of the Rising Sun. Just ask young Japanese to mention a French director and Luc Besson's name will be the first to roll off the tongue and then Jean Reno will be the first actor that comes to mind.

The roots of this new movie written and produced by Luc Besson and featuring Jean Reno are motivated by marketing: to please the French and Japanese audience at the same time. This is also the very reason for the presence of Japanese TV and pop star Hirosue Ryoko.

Hubert Fiorentini (Jean Reno), a tough cop whose "punchy" methods are not quite appreciated by his chief, has been saddened by the loss of the love of his life who mysteriously vanished 19 years ago. At the time, Hubert was working in Japan for the secret service. Back in France, he is now leading a lonely life that even the beautiful Carole Bouquet cannot brighten.

One day the phone rings and he finds out he has a daughter in Japan. Stunned, Hubert rushes to Tokyo but several surprises await him. His former pal Momo (Michel Muller) is still working for the secret service (and still can't speak Japanese. Since we see he is about 35, it means he was around 16 when he was working with Hubert: a very precocious child indeed) and he is the father of an exuberant girl (Hirosue Ryoko)!

This is probably not a screenplay Mr. Besson worked on for years (at least I hope so) since just as in the latest Yamakasi, the story is incredibly poor and demagogic with implausible turns and utterly conventional development. At least this time he didn't drift into gratuitous violence like the mediocre Kiss of the Dragon.

To make up for such a dull screenplay, one would think the action scenes would be at least polished, what saved Taxi from sinking. But here: no chase, no explosion, no remarkable fight, and the few gunshots are poorly shot.

No need for instance to look for an interesting idea regarding the psychology of the characters. There is no such thing. They are as sophisticated as a Roadrunner/Wyle E. Coyote animation. Don't expect to learn more about the relationship between a father and his daughter or about Japanese society either.

As for the suspense, it is definitively killed off in the very first minutes, because everybody knows that Jean Reno is going kick some ass and set things straight. The real solution would have been to rewrite the screenplay, to develop the relationships between characters, and above all, to add new roles.

Even the direction stumbles, as in the scene of the meeting at the golf practice that ends up in a pitiful explosion.

However, the Michel Muller/Jean Reno duo works pretty well, with a certain complicity and is the only asset of a movie which lures the French audience by giving Jean Reno a too rare red-blooded role. Mr. Besson knows this very well. The audience went to see Kiss of the Dragon because of Jet Li, Taxi because of the car chases, Yamakasi because of the stunts. The setback of The Dancer, that didn't have such assets, confirms it.

Still, thanks to fair acting of this duo we don't get bored. But maybe it's also because the movie is so short (less than 90 minutes, without the end credits) that it finishes when we're still expecting the main course.

Tokyo, a new set for the French audience, is eye candy. Poor Hirosue Ryoko does her best, but never convinces. Her frivolous and implausible character is particularly badly written, a kind of stereotyped animated character, not far from 5th Element's Leeloo.

I take note that with Wasabi, the Big Blue, and Taxi 2, Mr. Besson seems to have a very caricatured idea of Japanese people. Thankfully, the German characters in Taxi 1 reassure us: it's not Japan-o-phobia, it's xenophobia.

The modern techno/rap soundtrack is clearly made to be sold separately to make more money (just like the book that is also available in French).

Finally, this mediocre and slap-dashed movie shows us that the authors mainly wanted to do a good commercial operation. The movie was made quickly, but no effort was spared on the marketing package. Young people don't have much money, but never mind : Mr. Besson takes it anyway. Thank you Mr. Besson.

  Laurent Ziliani

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