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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2002

Think 'Leon' in Tokyo, then ask why


Rating: * * 1/2
Director: Gerard Krawczyk
Running time: 95 minutes
Language: French/Japanese
Now showing

French action genre does Tokyo, is how one would best describe "Wasabi," a film that's being touted as a Luc Besson work but, in fact, was just produced and written by him. Which is not very nice of the distributors and certainly no fun for the real director, Gerard Krawczyk ("Taxi 2"), whose name appears in small inconspicuous letters in the shadow of the Besson logo.

News photo
Jean Reno and Ryoko Hirosue in "Wasabi"

Alors, Monsieur Krawczyk, better luck next time. But did you really have to direct a movie like "Wasabi" at all? After all, you have a reputation, a career and principles! Didn't you want to do create something that wasn't a lumpy blend of "Leon" and "Rush Hour," tasting something like bad vichysoisse? Please don't shrug and say what can one expect out of a movie made in Tokyo, or that a three-star French chef once came to this city and was enraged at the quality of the vichysoisse.

OK, we're not talking about soup here. But it does easily come to mind. It takes so much effort to follow the slippery plot of "Wasabi" that you're bound to work up an appetite.

Consider this: A terrifically macho cop in the Parisian police force still carries a torch for the one woman he loved, even though she ditched him 19 years ago and he hasn't seen her since. Then he gets a call from her lawyer, who informs him that she's dead and that he's the appointed executor of her will. It is imperative that he come over and fulfill his duties. Oh, and by the way, the woman in question is Japanese, and they met when the cop was working as a secret agent in Tokyo.

First off, there are no French secret agents in Tokyo -- those who are, please raise your hands. Second, no Frenchman abstains from female company for 19 whole years just because he got burned once. I mean, take my friend Didier, whose dating maxim is: "What won't kill you only makes you stronger." He hurls himself on any female who just happens to be there, on the sidewalk, for instance. Didier immediately launches into his Frenchman monologue: "Ah, we were destined to connect. I saw you there and, like some niiiice leetle love song, I knew we had to meet." I rest my case.

Anyway, so the cop picks up and goes to Tokyo (Air France, first class), and there, awaiting him, is an entire populace of Japanese who have mastered the French language. Even the customs officials at Narita are tres fluent -- you know, those guys who often refuse to speak even Japanese. But we'll let that go.

Anyway, the cop finds his way to Shinjuku (actually, it's painfully obvious the spot is Akihabara) with no trouble, and the Japanese lawyer who greets him is this suave guy who certainly didn't take his language lessons at Nova, and introduces him to a 19-year-old girl who is the daughter of his former beloved. The will stipulates that she is in his care until she turns 20, which is in two days. The cop reluctantly agrees. But he senses that there's more to this than meets the eye: The girl is being shadowed by guys in Comme des Garcons-style black suits, and it's clear that his love didn't die of natural causes. Soon the cop discovers that the girl is about to inherit billions of dollars, and the bad guys are out to grab the booty.

Jean Reno plays Hubert the cop and Ryoko Hirosue is Yumi, the girl. Obviously Besson and Krawczyk hoped to repeat the wonderful chemistry Reno had going with the young Natalie Portman in "Leon," only this time with a Tokyo twist. They certainly have pegged the modern Japanese girl: orange hair, great threads, skinny legs offset by platform shoes, and a shopping addiction.

Hirosue demonstrates that she didn't go to Waseda University for nothing as she spouts mile-a-minute French sentences at a very weary-looking Reno, who replies with an exasperated and fatherly: "Ecoutez, Yumi . . ." The way she hangs onto his jackets (Hirosue only comes up to about Reno's hip) like a puppy is so cute and endearing and says a lot about how the French view Japanese girls, causing many of us to feel mildly nauseated, but what the hell. The fact that these two are in the same frame is an international cinematic incident and a huge career-booster for Hirosue, so we should be happy for her.

Still . . . there could have been ways to make "Wasabi" more credible, more substantial, more . . . viewable. As it is, the picture has little to offer except the pleasure of seeing the two lead characters, a pleasure that is wasted on anyone who isn't an ardent fan. Personally, the high point of the movie is when Reno orders wasabi to go with his sake, and the waiter brings it in a glass bowl, piled high in a mound (which could never happen in real life) and Reno sticks his finger in it and licks it off. Better than a vichysoisse,

ne c'est pas?

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