Surprise, then, occurred on a number of levels with regards to this movie. Surprise that first of all, there was little else that was not Korean at the cinema. “See, I told you that ‘Iron Man’ is not out yet,” I said to Tony, my friend. We had planned to do something after picking up his laptop from the service centre, and plumped for the movies. He had initially thought that Iron Man would be released; I, while doubting that it would, went along for the ride, just in case. “So it’s either ‘Bucket List’, ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ or ‘Street Kings’.” You can make a wild guess (and I do mean wild) which one we eventually settled on.
The second surprise was the fact that it’s distributed by Fox Searchlight. A division of the main Hollywood studio itself, Searchlight has been financing independent movies; in fact, I figured that its very motif is to create and promote independent movies. You know, heartwarming crowd pleasers like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Juno’. Whether there’s a lot that’s actually independent about these movies is one thing (given how it’s become more and more Hollywood), but nevertheless, I didn’t think that movies about corrupt cops fit that particular motif.
More to the point, highly publicised movies starring Keanu Reeves and Forest Whittaker certainly didn’t fit in with what I had in mind. Because that is what Street Kings is all about. Almost every aspect of the story and the production speaks (shouts, in fact) “HOLLYWOOD!” You want your cursing? Got it. Guns and explosives? Certainly. Big, well-known, award winning stars? Rappers making crossovers into the movies business? Definitely.
‘Street Kings’ refers to the Vice Special unit of the LAPD. We follow Tom Ludlow (played by Keanu Reeves) a corrupt, disillusioned cop within this unit. Corrupt, because he and the rest of the unit have been bending the rules to their favour. He’s the only disillusioned one, however, as his wife’s death still affects him, leading him to the brink of drinking binges. After solving a case in his own unique style, he is publicly praised by his captain, Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). However, things aren’t made easy for him, with Internal Affairs Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) sniffing on the scene.
Ludlow’s former partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), is sick of the all the corruption, and makes contact with Captain Biggs. When Ludlow finds out about this, he follows Washington to confront him. However, before he manages to do that, Washington is gunned down (though ‘gunned down’ is really a tame description), with Ludlow implicated in the chain of events. Seeking justice for his dead former partner, Ludlow tries to team up with Officer Diskant (Chris Evans) to solve the case, before uncovering the layers of corruption covering the police.
Herein lies the third part of the surprise: it’s actually quite a good watch, though it shouldn’t be surprising in itself. David Ayer, the director is a man possessed with the cops. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a badge and the hat hidden somewhere in his closet, along with a toy gun to boot. His previous five films have all dealt with cop issues. Most famously, he wrote ‘Training Day’, which effectively shocks and drains you with the vulgarity and the sheer violence. Coupled with Denzel Washington, that movie may well be the best corrupt cop film ever, and it is clear that there’s a fair amount of it that David has taken on board, certainly in terms of style. Substitute Keanu for Denzel, and hey presto, we’re back in 2001.
What is surprising about this is that he didn’t write this one. I find that interesting, not least because his work with ‘Dark Blue’, ‘SWAT’ and ‘Harsh Times’ (which he also directed), in addition to ‘Training Day’, would have made him a prime candidate to write the script as well. Many screenwriters feel that they can best direct their own material, and many directors would rather work with their own script. David, however, bucks this trend.
Surprise number 5 is that this movie is not exactly new. It’s been around for more than a decade, with James Ellroy having scripted it back in the old millennium. In fact, it was supposed to have been David Fincher’s follow up to ‘Fight Club’ (kinda puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?). Other directors have been attached to it, notably Spike Lee. He seems like a good fit into this genre, and I wonder what a Spike Lee-directed ‘Street Kings’ would have been like. It would probably have Denzel Washington in it, for starters.
Unfortunately, we have to make do with Keanu Reeves and Forest Whittaker. I actually thought that ‘one-faced’ Keanu did alright with this, being given the complicated character that he has. I say complicated in a bad way: he was supposed to still be haunted by the death of his wife, but he’s dealing with it really well when that nurse comes around. I was surprised to see John Corbett in this film (almost unrecognisable, far removed from his New York films). The best bit of all, actually, is Hugh Laurie, and unsurprisingly, we first see him in….a hospital scene. Every body else works to type, though Jay Mohr looks a little weird with a moustache. Forest Whittaker is…Forest Whittaker. He brings such intensity to some of the scenes that it’s…well, it wears me down. By the film’s end, I was worn out by the plot twists and shaky camera work (it made me wonder when was the last time I saw a film with tripods), and my head pummelled with multiple ‘fuck you’ and its various brothers and cousins. Some of the bad lines (“Konnichiwa. It means what’s up. So what the fuck’s up?”) didn’t help either.
Not that the Koreans would have been to pleased about it. One of the earlier cases solved by Keanu in the film is that of Korean gangsters kidnapping girls and then using them for their own…needs. It seems that even in Hollywood movies, I can’t quite escape Korea. But anyways, their involvement caused some controversy. Actually, it was not their involvement, so much as being described as a zipper-head- dog-munching dick” that has “eyes like apostrophes, you dress white, talk black, and drive Jew.” Charming.
It didn’t help the cause further that the promotion in Korea was almost a disaster, with the stars apparently shunning much of the media and the fans. The empty seats in the cinema, then, indicates the result of this as much as the lack of English understanding amongst the general population (though they do have Korean subtitles).
Ultimately, then, coming into this film with little expectation and, apart from a slick trailer, little idea about what the film actually is about, ‘Street Kings’ turned out to be a bit of a pleasant and unpleasant surprise at times. What kind of a surprise it actually it depends on you, but I tell you this: after watching so many ‘independent’ movies with deep meanings and such shit, some mindless gore and violence (real violence!) is incredibly welcome.
Fikri was tempted by ‘Forbidden Kingdom’, but Fazil’s damnation changed his mind.