Easily delivering the best action-comedy I’ve seen in ages, Lupin the Third is a treat for fans who like their action high octane and their plots ludicrous.
Let’s bitch it out…
I went into Lupin the Third knowing that it has a ton of history behind the brand (a quick search on Wikipedia reveals that the character, the grandson of French writer Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, debuted as a manga in 1967 and has appeared in “numerous manga, five anime television series, six theatrically released animated feature films, two live-action films, a two-part animated theatrical short film, five OVA works, twenty-five animated television films, music CDs, video games, and a musical”). Clearly there is a lot of interest in this character, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.
Simply put: this movie is fun as hell. The film is basically a mix and match of James Bond, Fast & Furious and countless spy films, thrown into a blender and pureed to perfection. It’s basically a bag of familiar tropes, but the execution is (mostly) flawless and the result is a film that had the packed Fantasia crowd laughing, cheering and whooping it up.
The plot is a bit derivative in that it’s essentially The Italian Job as portrayed by the who’s who of Asian cinema. Lupin the Third (Shun Oguri) is a master thief and charming playboy (he wears leather pants, red velvet jacket and yellow tie throughout the entire film). He’s also the heir apparent of the Works, a consortium of thieves with Robin principles forged under the paternal mentorship of Dawson (Nick Tate). A daring heist featuring the playfully combative members of Lupin’s team, including femme fatale and love interest Fujiko (Meisa Kuroki), opens the film and sets the tone for things to come (rocket packs, double crosses and explosions figure prominently). The following day at a Works celebration, Dawson is murdered in a double-cross by Michael (Jerry Yan) and a prized necklace, the Crimson Heart, is stolen, initiating a year long hunt for vengeance. From there the action jumps around between Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore as Lupin and new recruits – surly gunslinger Jigen (Tetsuji Tamayama) and samurai Goemon (Gō Ayano) – attempt to track down Michael and recover the Crimson Heart, all while avoiding Zenigata (Tadanobu Asano), the loudmouth Interpol who is hot on their trail.
The film is a primarily a heist film with acrobatic fight scenes and a G-rated love affair thrown in for good measure. Despite Lupin’s goofy charm, the narrative is far more interested in using Fujiko as its designated femme fatale – we’re meant to constantly wonder if she’s working for Michael and playing Lupin (as Jigen repeatedly suggests).
Lupin the Third, which took a reported four years to script and shoot, is well shot by director Ryuhei Kitamura, who clearly knows his way around action sequences. Occasionally the hand to hand combat is a bit difficult to make out, but there are enough inventive touches sprinkled throughout that this is forgivable (my favourite is a scene when Lupin punches someone and initiates a split screen with Michael). The dialogue is memorable and leans more towards fun frivolity, especially when it comes to Geomon’s deadpan bemusement. Occasional interludes that might have been cut/edited out in a North American context frequently add humourous touches (such as Jigen and Goemon’s gun vs sword fight, which leaves the men eating caramelized dumplings). There’s also a bit of obvious product placement with Fiat, most prominently in a car chase scene featuring Lupin’s tiny banana yellow Fiat 500 squaring off against a giant armoured SUV, but it’s no worse than an average Bond film.
If there’s one thing to complain about, it is the film’s treatment of Fujiko’s abilities. She’s shown to be a considerable fighter (in the opening heist, she takes out a dozen guards in close combat while wet…because of course). Unfortunately in the climax, rather than let her get her hands dirty, Fujiko is sidelined, effectively demoted to ensuring a satellite is aligned (yawn). Besides this, her other major fight scene is a titillating tete-a-tete with hench woman Maria (Yuka Nakayama) that at one point, I kid you not, finds them fighting/rolling around under bedsheets. Obviously there’s a pervasive sexism in the spy genre in general and Fujiko is never portrayed as anything other than a vital member of the team, but it is disappointing to see the film fall back on the “girls only fight girls” trope and effectively sit out the climax.
Bottom Line: Lupin the Third is on par with the best Hollywood action films of recent years. It’s got great action and lots of funny dialogue. It’s a genuine crowd pleaser.
Lupin the Third is available on DVD in many countries around the world. There are currently no North American exhibition plans.