Top 10 Gangster Films Of World Cinema – Part 1
When Martin Scorsese finally won his long overdue Oscar, it was inevitably a gangster tale that gained him that illusive prize. The Departed was, however, not a product of Hollywood conception but rather that of a dazzlingly brilliant modern Hong Kong classic. Inspirational, inventive and thought provoking cinema inspired Scorsese, and it is this vein we take a trip around the globe in search for the top 10 Gangster films of world cinema…
Based on the true story of Salvatore Giuliano, a 27-year-old Sicilian bandit who had risen to become a Mafia boss, this is the groundbreaking political film of director Francesco Rosi (Christ Stopped At Eboli, Lucky Luciano, Three Brothers), his first reconstructed documentary, gaining him international acclaim for the film’s inspired blunt realism.
It is a brilliantly intricate work that may be too obscure for those not familiar with Sicilian politics and its social structure. So powerful and emotive was the message behind Rosi’s masterpiece, the film had an impact on real life, proving instrumental in prompting the local government of Palermo to formalise an inquiry into Mafia activities. This is a film aiming to make the viewer more politically aware that not everything appears to be what it seems, and grandly succeeds in accomplishing that aim.
A striking and fun filled actioner, Hard-Boiled follows grizzled police officer ‘Tequila’ Yuen (Chow Yun-fat) as he reluctantly agrees to team up with an unstable undercover cop, Tony (Tony Leung), to take down a vicious crime lord.
Action stalwart John Woo opens Hard-Boiled with a gripping and thoroughly exciting shootout that proves instantly captivating, and there’s little doubt that one is subsequently forced to wonder if the movie has peaked only ten minutes in. It’s just as clear, however, that the film does suffer from a rather standard (yet surprisingly convoluted) cops-and-robbers storyline that’s been peppered with a variety of conventional elements.
Woo compensates for the less-than-engrossing narrative by throwing in one increasingly over-the-top action sequence after another, with the film eventually arriving at an almost insanely violent climax in which ‘Tequila’ and Tony are forced to battle dozens of armed thugs within the confines of a crowded hospital. It may not be sophisticated in thematic terms, but Hard-Boiled is, ultimately, a picture-perfect example of what the ideal action flick should look like.
It’s as subtle as a slap in the face – of which quite a few are administered in the course of events. And yet, Jacques Becker’s terse, down-to-earth 1952 thriller Casque d’Or continuously threatens to be art as well as entertainment.
A radiant Simone Signoret dominates Jacques Becker’s 1952 film, which is based on a Paris underworld incident of 1898 that is, in some ways, the French parallel to the legend of Frankie and Johnny. Becker emphasized atmospherics at the expense of psychology, which outraged the literary critics of the time and impressed the young Turks who later made up the New Wave. A turning point for French cinema, although it must be understood in context.
A 2008 Italian export that earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film made its way around the world, setting a modern day benchmark for all mafia films to come. It is a shockingly provocative and appallingly stark portrayal of today’s mob. Add to this the gritty reality that director Matteo Garrone infuses into every single scene in his passionate film.
Combining such desolate reality in the script with such intense imagery makes for a visceral experience unlike any mafia film seen before. Gomorrah stages a scene so real, so believable, and weaves these into a truly affective experience. The reality that Garrone portrays, based on Roberto Saviano’s deeply controversial novel, is so bleak that it’s hard to imagine anything good in the world after seeing it.
A Pop Art masterpiece amongst the plethora of great Japanese gangster films, Tokyo Drifter is relatively bloodless – more so by standards present than past, but by the standards of any given generation, it is an aesthetically bizarre and fascinating film indeed.
The film tells the story Yakuza Tetsuya, who decides to drift off around Japan, leaving his sweetheart behind. The nattily dressed hoodlum wanders through snow covered landscapes and western saloons without any real destination in mind, closely followed by Viper, an enemy hitman out for blood. Whenever the end seems near, though, Tetsuya whips out his guns and either shoots or fights his way to freedom.
At times, melancholic and often rather funny, the film is a violent contemplation about love, trust, honour and betrayal. Tokyo Drifter is more a surreal, visual presentation of a gangster’s multicoloured acid inspired nightmare than a standard crime film. 1960s pop inspired Avant-Garde style-conscious Japanese gangster cinema – what more can you ask for?
The first instalment of the Top 10 Gangster Films Of World Cinema has taken us upon a journey through four Languages, three countries, two continents and an acid trip across half of Japan. Delving deep into the ultra-realistic world of the Gomorrah and dazzlingly through the fun-filled realms of gratuitous action heaven – where on the globe could the influence of the gangster possibly produce greater inspiration?
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