A group of Chinese-born Japanese gangsters are fighting the Triads and Yakuza, on the verge of reaching an historic accord. Meanwhile, a detective's investigations into the gang war are compromised by his need of $200,000 to pay for a life-saving operation for his daughter.

Though having its moments, Dead Or Alive doesn't hang together, feeling more like two or three different movies than one.

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The attention-grabbing opening - a rapid-fire montage of pole-dancing, drug-taking, assassinations, shootouts and random sex'n'violence - is frenetic, loud and MTV empty.

Then director Takashi (Audition) Miike raises the START NARRATIVE HERE sign and settles down into a more conventional style, punctuated with moments of superior action and sheer unpleasantness. A girl being drowned in a paddling pool of excrement, or some pornographers preparing to shoot an animal lover's erotic nightmare, may be nothing to those familiar with the nether reaches of Japanese exploitation, such as the Guinea Pig films, or Hisayasu Sato's work, but one can imagine the majority of viewers failing to appreciate their context.

We start to understand what is going on, as well as the characters and situations of the two main protagonists, gangster Ryuichi and cop Jojima, whose mutual loyalty to their family and friends leads them into conflict.

Thanks to good writing from Ichiro Ryu and surpringly deep performances from Riki Takeuch and Sho Aikawa in the leads, this middle section is actually the most interesting.

However, as Ryuichi and Jojima face off, showdown-style, for the finale, it's back to OTT action, with - perhaps more than - a touch of parody.

Miike clearly has loads of ideas. To make an average of five films a year, he'd have to. But - just maybe - he needs to exert more quality control, slow down, and think about what he's doing if he wants to be recognised as anything other than a marginal, cult filmmaker.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2002
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Cops versus the Japanese mafia thriller.
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Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Ryu Ichiro

Starring: Takeuchi Riki, Aikawa Sho, Ishibashi Renji, Ozawa Hitoshi, Dankan, Terajima Susumu

Year: 1999

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan

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If you like this, try:

Kiss Me Deadly
Yakuza Graveyard