Acclaimed directors John Woo and Quentin Tarantino aren't known for being restrained or subtle, but the hordes of imitators that have popped up in their wake sure make it seem that way.
Take, for example, Japanese director Takashi Ishii. His ordinary-guys-vs.-the-mob thriller "Gonin" is stylish enough. But the over-the-top violence and gore and even-more-out-there performances aren't enough to overcome what is basically a standard revenge yarn, and not a very well-constructed one at that.
Actually, its storyline closely mirrors Woo's infamous thriller "A Better Tomorrow," which is also a much better film. In "Gonin," five financially desperate men rip off local Yakuza (mob) leaders, only to be stalked by hired killers sent to recover the money.
The leader of the desperadoes is Bandai (Koichi Sato), a nightclub owner who owes the gangsters a lot of money. Along with a disgraced former cop, Hizu (Jinpachi Nezu), unemployed failure Ogiwara (Naoto Takenata) and the androgynous, knife-wielding hustler Mitsuya (Masahiro Motoki), Bandai manages to pull off the heist.
But their big mistake is involving Jimmy (Kippei Shiina), a crippled pimp, who betrays them when he's tortured. Soon enough, the five are eliminated, one by one, by a psychotic assassin (Japanese cult director Takeshi Kitano) who's even quirkier than they are.
Ishii has a flair for exciting action sequences, but his plotting and dialogue (at least in this movie) could use a lot of work. He also spends way too much time developing odd character traits without explaining them properly.
And while Motoki, Shiina and Kitano have a heyday playing their oddball characters, Sato is too enigmatic and Takenaka's weaselly Peter Lorre-like chuckle gets annoying quickly.
"Gonin" is not rated but would certainly receive at least an R for brutal beatings and gunfire, gore, profanity, a pretty graphic rape scene, male nudity, torture and some lewd dancing and vulgar references.