Vol. 7 - A Code to Live By
This month’s double feature showcases a pair of American independent films that deftly mash up genre (sci-fi+road flick and gangster+samurai+hip hop) to create two lasting cult favorites. Each film follows characters off the beaten path who nevertheless live by a set of standards, as laid out in The Repo Code and the Samurai Code respectively.
Released in the heart of Ronald Reagan’s America, REPO MAN is a science fiction comedy film written and directed by Alex Cox. Starring Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez, it received widespread acclaim and has since achieved cult status. Estevez stars as Otto, a suburban punk who lands a gig working for an eccentric repossession agent named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). At first, Otto is reluctant to work as a repo man, but he grows to love the fast-paced job. After learning of a Chevy Malibu that has been given a $20,000 price tag, Otto embarks on a quest to find the car with the beautiful Leila, who claims the trunk's contents are otherworldly. REPO MAN is full of endlessly quotable sharp humor, biting social commentary and rocks a deliciously subversive punk rock soundtrack.
After deconstructing the western genre with 1995’s DEAD MAN, Jim Jarmusch next took on the gangster film by way of samurai meditation with 1999’s GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI. Forest Whitaker stars as the title character, the mysterious "Ghost Dog", a hitman in the employ of the Mafia, who follows the ancient code of the samurai as outlined in the book of Yamamoto Tsunetomo's recorded sayings, Hagakure. Ghost Dog is a contract killer, a master of his trade who can whirl a gun at warp speed and moves through this world like a phantom -- stealthy and evanescent. In the spirit of the samurai, he has pledged his loyalty to a small time mobster named Louie (John Tormey) who saved his life many years before. Critics have noted similarities between the movie and Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 film Le Samourai.
The two films will be presented by UNIS Hanoi film teachers Colin Campbell and Jackson Garland, who will provide some historical context for the films and lead us in an open roundtable/Q&A discussion after each screening.
Come on down, grab some popcorn and let's do film!
REPO MAN (1984, Dir: Alex Cox, 95 minutes)
“There are endless things to enjoy, from Robby Müller's crisp camerawork to a superb set of performances, from witty movie parodies to a tremendous punk soundtrack.”
- Geoff Andrews, Time Out
“Cox's style is a step beyond camp into a comedy of pure disgust; much of the film is churlishly unpleasant, but there's a core of genuine anger that gives the project an emotional validation lacking in the flabby American comedies of the early 80s.”
- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
“A playful mood informs Repo Man, yet Cox also takes time to comment on the seamy side of LA, the crushing realities of living in a comformist society, and the problems inherent in a decade that so baldly worships Reagan, L. Ron Hubbard and TV evangelists.”
- Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing
“I saw "Repo Man" near the end of a busy stretch on the movie beat: Three days during which I saw more relentlessly bad movies than during any comparable period in memory. Most of those bad movies were so cynically constructed out of formula ideas and "commercial" ingredients that watching them was an ordeal. "Repo Man" comes out of left field, has no big stars, didn't cost much, takes chances, dares to be unconventional, is funny, and works. There is a lesson here.”
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
GHOST DOG (1999, Dir: Jim Jarmusch, 116 minutes)
“At once a tribute to traditional notions of honour, loyalty, friendship and professionalism, and a stylish, ironic pastiche inspired by the likes of Melville and Suzuki, it's very funny, insightful, and highly original.”
- Geoff Andrew, Time Out
“Jarmusch blends these disparate themes into a cohesive film that combines humor and truly unique characters with Eastern philosophy, mobster flick and shoot-'em-up western.”
- Robin Clifford, Reeling Reviews
“Ghost Dog is an impeccably shot and sensationally scored deadpan parody of two current popular modes -- the hit-man glorification saga and the Cosa Nostra family drama.”
- J. Hoberman, Village Voice
“Within [his] off-kilter sensibility, there has always been a Zenlike simplicity and elegance, and that aspect of Jarmusch's work reaches full fruition in Ghost Dog.”
- Serena Donadoni, Metro Times