REVIEW: ‘Hell Dogs’ – Savage With Surprising Intimacy

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Hell Dogs - But Why Tho

Netflix has been a fantastic bastion for international films and series over the last few years. The service has championed a vast array of projects that have caught the eye of many a critic, and begun to make a massive impact in the western market. With so many choices at your fingertips, knowing which direction to go is difficult. Luckily, I’ve got your next recommendation hot of the press and ready to binge. Get ready to dive into the Netflix film, Hell Dogs.

Directed by Hell Dogs follows the story of Shogo “Tak” Kanetaka (Jun’ichi Okada), a rogue ex-police officer hell-bent on seeking revenge and getting justice for the young girls murdered by a street gang that happened on his beat. After completing his mission and turning himself in, the police provide him an alternative to rotting in a jail cell. His objective, go undercover and infiltrate the Yakuza with to cripple their organization from the inside.

The undercover cop trope is one that has been done a lot. I’m sure that even as you read this sentence you can name at least one or two films in this subgenre. The narrative, however, if done well, can be incredibly compelling, because it’s the dichotomy of the lead role being caught between two worlds with the intent of destroying one in the name of justice for the other. That tension is palpable for the audience as they live vicariously through the protagonist knowing they must sell every lie, and endow themselves to the criminal organization they’re trying to tear down. Without a doubt, Hell Dogs does a fantastic job of extracting an immense amount of action entertainment from this story in the best possible way.

The film works for three very simple reasons: a killer lead, a fantastic supporting cast, and a strong plot line that doesn’t pander to the notion of justice being inherently compassionate. Okada being the film’s lead hell dog provides the framework from which everything else is built. It’s not to say he carries the film, because that would undermine some of the other excellent points that the project has going for it, but rather, his performance allows the film to really flex its presence thanks to his performance.

Action directors often search for that lead role that can project a level of gravitas on screen without the need for performative dialogue that needlessly spoon-feeds the exposition to the audience. Okada, brings this and so much more. He carries himself as this lone figure and embodies the personification of unforgiving justice. And Okada isn’t a big man. Even in the film itself he’s one of the smallest, yet his soft-spoken words carry an incredibly direct weight to them, and the fight choreography he adapts is swift and sharp.

The cast around Okada only serves to add to his legacy, as the offset to this stoic existence comes in the form of one of the more erratic and highly entertaining characters in Muro (Kentarô Sakaguchi). I unabashedly love Muro. Kentarô injects such an unparalleled amount of vigor and energy into Muro that results in him being such a compelling character. But it’s more than that, because the motive behind the psychotic behavior is a deeply broken, and emotional child starving for parental affection. Pairing Tak and Muro together is a fusion of a beautifully violent relationship that sings with as much intimacy as it does terror in their effectiveness to take down the enemy. Yet, it’s also a fated relationship and one that’s as cruel as it is kind. The two have such on-screen chemistry and I could watch them together in at least another two spin-offs.

For War Dogs though, it also just has a vast array of brilliantly conceived villains each with their own unique designs, that add to the overall back story of the film in an eccentric but exciting fashion. From the elusive Yakuza boss Yoshitaka Toake (Miyavi), to the boy toy gangster Tsutomu “Pops” Toki (Kazuki Kitamura), or Chuji Omaeda (Yasumasa Ôba) the mob boss with his nose torn off who wears a shark skin mask to cover his deformity. There’s a variety and diversity to the cast that invites you in.

What really gripped me most about Hell Dogs, as a film critic and movie lover who’s seen a lot of undercover cop films, was the narrative’s utter disregard for Tak’s honor. It was perfect. It’s my biggest gripe over this subgenre of the unrealistic expectation to send an undercover to infiltrate organizations as big as this and not expect them to earn their way in. This is the world-famous Yakuza, of course Tak is going to have to kill a lot of folks to get in. They’re a worldwide feared organization. To not allow Tak to get his hands dirty knee caps the story’s ferocity and its brutality. Thankfully, Harada takes the gloves off and unleashes his savagery upon this story.

The film does have some sticking points that held it back, however much I loved it. Oddly enough, I anticipated the run time was going to be the issue, and while it definitely could have been tightened up in certain areas it still did a great job of remaining enticing until the end. Where the film does lose focus however, was in the dialogue back story to the Yakuza family and its main antagonist. The pace of the script in certain scenes moves incredibly fast and isn’t intuitive. You eventually end up picking up on the context of what’s going on, and while the script was beautifully crafted in parts, this section felt rushed over and it does diminish the story overall.

Without a shadow of a doubt, I would fully recommend checking out the crime action film War Dogs. Jun’ichi Okada and Kentarô Sakaguchi absolutely steal the show and enhance every scene they’re in. It’s brutal, savage, and it also captures an unexpected level of intimacy through found family. Add this to the Netflix list!

Hell Dogs is available now, exclusively on Netflix.


Hell Dogs
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Without a shadow of a doubt, I would fully recommend checking out the crime action film War Dogs. Jun’ichi Okada and Kentarô Sakaguchi absolutely steal the show and enhance every scene they’re in. It’s brutal, savage, and it also captures an unexpected level of intimacy through found family. Add this to the Netflix list!

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