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Crying Freeman

CRYING FREEMAN (1995) is a pretty cool movie that I went back to hoping it would be better than I realized before. I did a brief write-up of it in a column years ago, but I’m not gonna link to it right now because most of the column is angry rants about what was going on in the news at the time and it makes me cringe. Based on a Japanese comic book (or “Japomic Book”) by the same writer as Lone Wolf and Cub, CRYING FREEMAN is a moody, serious assassin movie with Yakuza, mind control, a witch, romance and tragedy. It takes place in 4 different countries (U.S., Canada, China, Japan) with the most convincing, of course, being the part that takes place in Vancouver, B.C.

The good part is the content and the obvious stylistic influence it takes from John Woo’s THE KILLER. This was back in the ’90s when we white people (in this case the Frenchman Christophe Gans of BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and SILENT HILL fame) had a big crush on Hong Kong crime cinema but didn’t know that if we love something we have to set it free and see if it returns to us. We held onto it tight through the Curse of Van Damme, BROKEN ARROW and THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. This one seems more authentic than some of those, because the emphasis is more on melodrama and themes of honor than on cool poses with two guns. (Also, there’s a whole lot of slow motion. No doves, though.)

So there’s a style and a tone that I like, but there’s definitely a low budget Canadian vibe to it too. THE KILLER meets SCANNER COP.

Mark Dacascos plays Yo, who is the crying freeman of the title. I know what you’re thinking – I don’t know what the hell a freeman is but if he’s gonna be a total baby about it and cry all the time I’m not interested. Well, hear me out. He’s a crier because he got abducted by a weird Chinese cult who put a giant dragon tattoo on him and mind control him to kill their enemies. He has no power over it, so every time he kills, tears come out. That’s pretty fuckin cool.

That’s not the only badass juxtaposition, he’s also into ceramics. His dad was “a famous Japanese potter,” and he himself was experiencing “15 minutes of fame” at a big gallery show when a stranger fleeing with evidence pulled him into this hassle with the Sons of the Dragon gang/cult. I don’t know if there really are famous potters and I don’t see anything different enough about his pottery to make people pay attention to him for 15 minutes, but he seems to enjoy it. Must be a good way to relax after a long day of assassination. Just… taking this stuff out of the earth, smoothing it out with your bare hands, trying to make it into something beautiful or useful. Lance Henriksen does pottery too. Unfortunately we’ve sort of moved beyond being a pot-based society, container-wise. I can relate to this guy ’cause he hangs on to the old technologies.

I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be making the creepy masks that he sometimes wears during assassinations, but I’ll go ahead and assume yes. He also uses ceramics to get guns through security at the airport, hiding them in a suitcase filled with clay. I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t actually work, especially after 9-11, but why don’t one of you guys give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Well, Yo meets a fellow artist, Emu O’Hara (Julia Condra, young Pat Nixon from NIXON), while on business in San Francisco. She’s painting a picture next to a cliff, he’s killing some gangsters in the woods. He comes over and instead of killing her he tells her his name. There’s an Edward Scissorhands kind of shyness to this killer. Since she’s a witness she assumes he’ll come after her, so she paints his portrait at home, sprays champagne on it (making it cry) and waits for him. I think she wants to die, especially at the hands of this pretty man. But somehow he overcomes his programming and makes sweet Cinemax love to her instead. But burns the painting.

Of course loves leads to him trying to conquer his brainwashing, but also being-in-an-action-movie leads to him getting to kill some people. There’s a war going on between Yakuzas and the Triads that Freeman works for, power struggles within the organizations, and there are police (Rae Dawn Chong, Tcheky Karyo) getting mixed up in it. Karyo’s Interpol agent Netah ends up fucking the Yakuza’s wife in a closet, so things get complicated.

Seagal regular Byron Mann plays Yo’s partner Koh, who tries to keep his eye on the ball. He can’t do it on his own, because the Freeman is the number one killer of the organization, created through magic. We found out through flashbacks that he was captured and either hallucinated or experienced a ritual where cultists chanted and a witch lady tattooed him.

Also Mako is in it as one of the guy’s Yo has to assassinate.

There are some cool details to their procedure. My favorite is that their guns contain time bombs for disposing of the evidence, and therefore they can also be used to explode things. Also he wears a fake mustache.

This is a really good role for Dacascos because his male model looks fit the character, he’s quiet and emotionally blank, and also he gets to go around shirtless and do martial arts. After the love scene there are intruders, so while still in his underwear he ambushes them in a pretty impressive way:

But I never understand why movie characters do a big spectacular flip just to land behind a guy. Isn’t it always better to land on top of them?

Condra unfortunately is kinda bland. This might be the way she’s directed, to make her kind of a passive romance character standing vulnerably in the middle of a mystical gang war, needing her angelic cursed muscle man to protect her. But I think it holds the movie back. Somebody with more presence and chemistry with Dacascos might’ve been what kicked the movie into really working. Or maybe it just needs more action. What’s there is good, but I think more could balance out the gloomy tone and make it more effective.

But I kinda like this movie, and just as it seems like it’s gonna peter out at the end it brings in some more interesting themes of honor and shit. I like that shit.

Weirdly, Variety‘s review of the movie seemed to think it was gonna be a hit, saying, “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.” But whoever owned the rights must not have agreed, because it was never released in the U.S., even on video. You gotta find an import, like I did.

Gans became a bigger deal several years later when BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF came out, but he’s still directed only 4 movies total in a nearly 20 year career, and that’s including the Lovecraft anthology NECRONOMICON which he did one segment for before CRYING FREEMAN. SILENT HILL was actually a big hit and has a non-Gans sequel coming out soon, but I’m in the minority on liking that one. So the guy still struggles to get his projects off the ground.

The connection to the slew of reviews I’ve been doing lately is that the script (credited to Gans and Thierry Cazals) allegedly got a rewrite by Roger Avary. This seems believable because producer Samuel Hadida hired Avary to rewrite TRUE ROMANCE, because Avary executive produced BOOGIE BOY starring Dacascos, because he later wrote SILENT HILL for Gans. Anyway, whoever wrote it, it’s a respectable attempt. I would’ve totally watched that second movie with those involved in the first still on board.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, August 27th, 2012 at 12:59 am and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Crying Freeman”

  1. Whatever happened to that FANTOMAS movie, that Ganse was attached to one or two years ago? I was really waiting for this one, even though his version would probably be closer to the novels, than the funny Louis De Funes movies of the 60’s.

    CRYING FREEMAN is one of those movies that I try to watch for years. It’s constantly playing on (pay) TV, but for any reason I never watched more than the first 10 minutes. I really want to watch the rest of it, but there is always something happening outside of the TV that keeps me away from it.

  2. CJ, you really should check it out. And you should try to get hold of the first Crying Freeman movie, KILLER’S ROMANCE from 1990 with Simon Yam.

  3. It’s not that I don’t want to watch it, but it’s like life tries to keep me away from it! The last time I tried, my DVR didn’t record it!

  4. I have not read the Japomic Book, but from what I’ve heard it’s pretty crazy, Yo and his girlfriend run around naked while killing people

    but I did see that NECRONOMICON movie once and it was pretty cool, it had Jeffrey Combs playing HP Lovecraft in the wraparound segment

  5. I do think SILENT HILL is a very underrated movie. I never understood the complains about it. It does everything it set out to do very well. Even the executive meddling that was imposed on the movie by having the male character played by Sean Bean be more active and thus creating a whole subplot arround him in the end works very well, it brings better the whole point of being two universes in the haunted town of Silent Hill. But the reason the executives gave was “there are too many women characters and not enough males” Roll of eyes! Yeah, really, what a big problem, an horror movie in which all main protagonists are females, what a bother!!!

    BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF is, of course, total badass awesomeness. It’s the best type of movie i like best, those which has both badass action, smart ambitious story and artistic aspirations. And a naked Monica Bellucci.

    I have heard of CRYING FREEMAN since i first noticed this director thanks to BROTHERWOOD OF THE WOLF. Have ment to watch it, but as Vern pointed out, it’s a hard movie to come by, even in our international releases this side of the pound.

  6. I love SILENT HILL without reservation. It has great atmosphere, set design and just the feel of “otherworldliness”. I admit that it suffers from the one-two punch that were the Sean Bean storyline and the exposition dump right before the end where the film felt it necessary to explain everything. Not only the long talk robs the movie much of the mystery earlier parts so carefully built, it also grinds the movie to a halt pacing-wise. But despite those flaws, I still defend it.

    I don’t expect much from SILENT HILL: REVELATIONS. I’m sure the director will do a fine job, and SOLOMON KANE proved he has a good eye for visuals. But the storyline itself seems much more conventional monster movie fodder. I can’t blame the writers or the director, since it seems to be a pretty faithful adaptation of the game it’s based on – and that too was a rather conventional monster bashing game with rather uninspiring storyline. The game did, however, had some really terrific horror bits, I hope will make it to the movie.

    But I still hold hope someone will adapt SILENT HILL 2 the game to a movie some day. In the right hands, it could be a terrific film. Instead of monsters and cults, or big set pieces, it’s a smaller story more about personal loss and guilt.

    As for Gans, SILENT HILL is also the only film I own on DVD of his works. I used to own CRYING FREEMAN on VHS and I haven’t seen BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF since it was in the theaters. I’d love to watch both of them again, but they haven’t exactly been the easiest to come by. I don’t know what’s the story behind the distribution of them, but it’s really bizarre. BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF especially was really weird – it got a lavish multi-disc special edition in France, but they didn’t bother to include English (or any other language) subtitles with it. Either there has been some serious rights issues with Gans’ films, or whoever distributes them hates non-French speaking people.

    I really would love to own all three of his films on BluRay. Hopefully that format treats Mr. Gans better than DVD did.

  7. I can’t wait to see PHANTOMAS. As a child I loved the De Funes trilogy and I still think it’s a really great premise. Even more if you treat it more serious. Great potential for an epic, badass thriller. Gans is the perfect choice for this material.

    BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF is a great movie that was released on a fantastic Blu-ray in Germany. After rewatching it I instantly bought SILENT HILL despite not liking it as much while watching it in the cinema. I think it derails a little bit in the end and looses much of the atmosphere that dominates the first two acts. But it’s a great showcase of how good Gans is as a director and visual storyteller.

    Now I have to search for a decent release of CRYING FREEMAN. I’ve seen it the last time when it was released on VHS and sadly don’t remember anything.

  8. Man, I watched and rewatched Crying Freeman so many times when it came out on VHS; not necessarily because I thought it was a great piece of filmmaking, but there was something about Dacascos and that character, and that crazy idea of the brainwashed assassin who would cry whenever he killed.

    I watched Brotherhood of the Wolf some years ago and just couldn’t get behind it. I remember the trailer had me all excited, the reviews were good, but I just didn’t like it, despite it containing so many elements that I would usually really enjoy. Still can’t really put my finger on it, but I just find it… boring.

    I always hate it whenever someone’s critique of a film is that it’s “boring”, because what the hell does that mean? There has to be a reason you find it boring. Some people find The American or The Assassination of Jesse James or 2001: A Space Odyssey “boring”, and I always challenge them when they say that, because those are all films that I fucking adore.

    A movie can only really be boring when it has nothing for you the viewer to invest in or relate to, right? Something has to grab onto you and keep you watching. Of course, pacing also plays a major role. I’m really into film editing and pacing, and when a movie doesn’t flow it bothers me. I am picky, though. I think Ichi The Killer has some of the most monotonous pacing I’ve ever seen. Again, it contains a ton of elements that I would normally appreciate, but… boring. I guess that was the case with me and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Bad pacing.

  9. It’s weird you state that Dacascos and Julie Condra have no chemistry (I would have to agree) but these two were married in 1998 and are still married with three kids (according to IMDB – although I learned this from an interview with Dacascos some time ago).

    I really like this movie and it is one of my missus’ favourites, and I think Dacascos has been much underutilised in his career, although I must admit to watching it recently on VHS and wasn’t quite as impressed as I recall when it first came out.

  10. Hey guys!Good Lord ,it’s been a long time! Nowadays Internet connection is so shitty over here , I kinda gave up !

    Anyway ,I remember renting it here in Italy , back in the day , in VHS ,no less. I was kind of familiar with the comic it is based on , because there was a big manga explosion over here .I was not a fan , I was reading Fist of the North Star ( now also a live action movie , from 1995 ,with Gary Daniels himself !!) and Akira ( the source material for the classic animated movie , and for the future remake with everyone attached to it , from Leonardo di Caprio to Keanu Reeves!) , but I liked the drawing style of comic , because I was able to read some stories in a compilation magazine. I always liked this movie , even if I was not blown away by the action sequences , I liked the set up and the direction . I think that in this case , with a protagonist that’s also a potter and an unwilling killer, it’s good to tone down the action scenes and have a good mix of asskicking/introspection….but I also like to imagine this very movie with him blowing shit up left and right with his creepy demon mask on ( I love masked killers!), non stop, and with well staged action choreography.So, I think I will try to find that Killer’s Romance movie , from what I’ve seen of the trailer , the action looks better than in this one . Thanks , pegsman.

  11. HT, the canadian DVD edition of BROTHERWOOD OF THE WOLF has the same extras that the french editon has, with the added bonus it has english subtitles for the film. It doesn’t have, however, subtitles for the french language audio comentaries, alas. It took me all my effort to remember my french from high school to understand half what they were saying. Other then that, the canadian special edition DVD cames highly recomended.

  12. If I recall there was a 2-discset OF BOTW released in UK, I remember reading about it in Total DVD ( or whatever the magazine was called)but I wasn´t able to get it at the time. The version that was released in Sweden only had an interview with Gans and a few featurettes at best.

  13. And you guys kept asking for a forum why?

  14. I saw this in the cinema, but I found the whole thing very cold, and curiously unengaging. Good action, but Vern’s right – the chemistry wasn’t there.

  15. Absence of onscreen chemistry on two actors who were married in real life… reminds me of Tom Cruise and Nikole Kidman in their two movies they did together, DAYS OF THUNDER and FAR AND AWAY. In their 3rd movie, EYES WIDE SHUT, that actually helped the story since it was about a desintegrating couple whose relationship had cooled off, unbesknown to them.

  16. The only memorable thing about EYES WIDE SHUT were the venetian masqueradeball-esque orgy scenes. I can´t honestly remember anything else.

    Back to CRYING FREEMAN: the VHS cover I have claims the flick contains 42 minutes of straightup action. That seems a bit much, but it sure is actionpacked. Also worth noting that Dacascos fights Masaya Kato again in DRIVE. That time the fight lasts a bit longer…

  17. I always did want to see this. I remember the comic and the anime being just ridiculously awesome for a 13 year old, what with the endless amounts of titties, violence, and badass stoicism. I should track the movie down just because. It may just be good enough to pass GUYVER 2 as the best live action western Anime/Manga adaptation (not that that is really saying much, but if an overly long Power Rangers episode with grizzly violence and KNB monsters is your cup of tea than GUYVER 2 is your movie).

    The same team that made the CRYING FREEMAN comics had another series called SANCTUARY that I’ve always maintained would be a killer HBO show. Two kids grow up witnessing atrocities so they decide to run the show themselves. One becomes a mobster and the other becomes a politician and they climb to the top by working together in secret while all sorts of crazy shit goes down. You could run a show like that for a long time and keep new obstacles coming up without getting stale with the premise. Political intrigue and shootouts, how the fuck hasn’t this been tried yet?

  18. Clubside – LMAO

    I always thought it was cool that he didn’t necessarily kill everybody that he shot. If he could get a leg shot in there instead of a head shot he would. That’s why there was a grace to the action in this one.

  19. That’s funny sicga, I had no idea they were married. I guess it must be an invisible chemistry or a subtle one. Or hard to spot when he’s playing an automaton.

  20. SANCTUARY manga is indeed phenomenal. And I agree it would make a killer TV show on a cable network like HBO.

    But I’m not sure if the subject matter would translate over. The inner workings of Japanese politics and the convoluted business relationships and organized crime ties. My gut reaction is that it all just would be way too impenetrable for the western audiences. Then again, that might precisely the reason why it would be cool to see – it is a very different culture and a fresh perspective on a lot of things. And if cable channels have successfully brought over ancient Rome and frontier western towns and many other unfamiliar settings, contemporary Japan shouldn’t be a too big of a hurdle.

    Another thing I wonder, however, is how accurate the storyline is in this day and age. Japan has changed a lot since the writing of the manga. Politics, economics and the Yakuza. Organized crime has seen a lot of crackdowns in the last decade, the economic bubble burst and there has been a growing number of outspoken voices against the political system and the backroom dealings and secret handshakes it has traditionally entailed.

    But the manga is still a must-read for anyone interested in (relatively) modern Japanese politics and a gripping yarn about the Yakuza.

  21. “and that too was a rather conventional monster bashing game with rather uninspiring storyline.”

    hell to the no, nothing about Silent Hill 3 was “uninspiring”, them’s fightin’ words buddy

  22. I liked GUYVER 2 , the old school practical effects were good in that movie. The make up and gore effects made it better than the standard super-sentai serial like Power Rangers ( but I was never a fan of those in the first place ), the lead is the actual voice actor of Snake in the Metal Gear stories. But I still consider Crying Freeman the better movie , even if I’m a plastic puppets guy.

  23. Okay, Griff. Rusty psychosexual blunt weapons at dawn! :)

    I’d argue that SILENT HILL 3 hangs everything on its mid-point twist. Granted, it was a good twist, but without it, it is a pretty standard evil cult plot. The film adaptation seems to telegraph it on the trailer, so I’m not sure what else meaningful is there left in the story.

    I would also argue that SILENT HILL 2 is a much better story. After the mythologically heavy first game, the sequel wisely went into a different, more smaller, personal direction. I think James Sunderland’s story of loss and guilt from SH2 would have been a better choice to a film adaptation instead of jumping back into the town mythos stuff from SH3.

  24. I agree that Silent Hill 2 has a better story, but the story in 3 is great as well and a great sequel to the story of the original game

    the sequel movie though looks awful

  25. I remember hating the Silent Hill movie because it made absolutely no fucking sense. I guess it’s dream logic or whatever but to me it was just a bunch of crazy creepy setpieces strung together. It had some sort of climax where I didn’t understand was was going on. I guess the bad guy was killed and the good guys won? But the family wasn’t reunited at the end?

    Yeah… I didn’t get it.

  26. Cassidy, well, i found SILENT HILL’s plot wasy to understand. We come to know that the town used to be a den of religious fanatics who treated a poor woman who had psychic powers very poorly and murdered her little child because they though she was the spawn of the devil. but the little kid, inheriting her mother’s psychic powers but augmented by her fury for the unjustice done to her, she punished the inhabitants by making them live in a form of hell. Only her mother was saved from worst torment because, as the hero says, mother is the name of god in the lips of all children.

    Frankly i found SILENT HILL pretty easy to understand. You could say the movie faults a bit because of that, as it should had been even weirder and more obscure and difficult to understand in keep of it’s nightmare logic nature.

    Or maybe i’m just too used to watch David Lynch movies.

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