Thursday, September 17, 2020

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (United States, 1989)

NOTE: While going through some old papers recently, I came across this, my first published film review, which appeared in the SF Weekly in February of 1989. It concerns the Charles Bronson vehicle KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS. if I was writing the review today, i would mention that the film was produced by Golan & Globus for Canon Pictures and that it was exactly the kind of film that those two entitites built their reputations upon, and that it was helmed by GUNS OF NAVARONE director J.Lee Thompson. I just didn't think at that time that there were people who cared about that kind of thing. I also would have mentioned that it features an early appearance by a shockingly fresh-faced Danny Trejo if I had been able to predict the advent of the MACHETE movies. Longtime readers of this blog will recognize that, despite the review clearly being written by a less experienced hand, there are certain stylistic through-lines, such as my taking every opportunity the movie offers to make jokes about butt sex. 

CHARLES BRONSON'S FACE, weathered and worn like that of some hellish apple head doll, is, though not exactly pretty, a fitting visage for a man burdened with the anxieties of an entire nation. As one of the media's most enduring personifications of American paranoia, Bronson has reduced his screen performances to a series of choreographed walk-throughs. Questions of role or motivation are irrelevant, as are charges of predictability: Bronson does not act, he performs ritual. Despite appearances, this is no easy job.It was inevitable that, sooner or later, Bronson's burden of projected anxieties would crack his mask of stoic brutality snd give us a brief glimpse of what these "wipe the scum off the streets" movies are really all about.

Kinjite, Bronson's latest vehicle, is a rote action film leaden with underdeveloped subplots and subtexts that give the film's action a backdrop of dizzying ideological ambiguity. After his daughter is molested by a Japanese businessman, an issue is made of Bronson's virulent anti-Asian bias. This racism, once explicitly stated, is never fully examined or resolved, and ends up being, if anything, an affirmation of popular anti-Japanese sentiment. Alongside this, some statement seems to be being made about American vs. Japanese sexual mores. This theme is ultimately abandoned, leaving in its wake a slag heap of sleazy visual residue. Any attempt to turn a Bronson film into a psychological thriller is doomed to fail miserably due to these films' necessary lack of characterization. in Kinjite, the only way we find out what a character is supposed to be thinking is through clumsy verbal exposition.

Kinjite"s most interesting "theme" is graphically introduced in its opening scene, in which Bronson, playing L.A. police Lieutenant Crowe, breaks into a hotel room occupied by a teenage hooker and her snotty, white collar john. After brutally subduing the john, Bronson demands that he make a statement identifying  the man who has been supplying him with teenage girls. When the john refuses, Bronson throws him down on the bed, vowing to give the scumbag a taste of his own medicine. As the john screams in protest, Bronson picks up his nasty looking, foot-long dildo and lustily rams his message home (ow!) The next day, Bronson expresses some reservations about the incident to his wife (played by The Mod Squad's Peggy Lipton.) Soothing him, she observes that the arrogant yuppy probably just got Crowe/Bronson's "Irish" up.

In a subsequent scene, the stirringly androgynous pimp, Duke (Juan Fernandez), gets a formidable rise out of Bronson's Irish when he attempts to bribe him with his diamond-faced Rolex watch. "I'd like to shove this up your ass," responds Bronson. "But I don't want to get my hands dirty." Instead, Bronson forces Duke to swallow the watch at gunpoint. Though it's hard to say why Bronson has suddenly gotten all picky about his orifices, the grueling watch swallowing scene, coupled with the earlier butt-reeming, provides a perfect exposition of the American action film's pornography of consumption (in the course of the film, Bronson--and Kinjite's producers--consume/destroy numerous cars, hotel lobbies and, at the climax, an entire shipyard.) Like most of filmland's pimps, Duke expresses his sexuality/power through his props, be they implausibly stunning young prostitutes or flashy wrist watches. When he actually has sex, it is a grim duty, a solemn rite necessary to the indoctrination of young girls into his harem. When Bronson forces the watch down Duke's throat, he turns this prop into the messenger of his own sexual power, just as he does when he violates the impotent john with his own substitute sex organ.

Obviously, in Kinjite, Bronson is finally giving his anxieties their most honest form of physical expression. His desire to literally fuck everyone is further exposed when, later in the film, his pastor suggests that his affections for his teenage daughter are something other than fatherly. "We all have our demons," he counsels.

Along with it's explicit and metaphorical depictions. bungholing is also paid a lot of lip service in Kinjite.  We hear of a young girl who has been raped and sodomized by Duke and his gang. Repo Man's Sy Richardson, tragically wasted here as Duke's monosyllabic toady, ogles a young man's behind as he speaks to Duke about branching out into the chickenhawk trade.

As for its treatment of "normal" (i.e. straight) sex, Kinjite provides little contrast to its lead characters' oddly motivated rectal preoccupations. The wives of Bronson and Hada, the Japanese businessman, are hollow and housebound, used mainly as expository devices. When Hada (James Pax) and his wife have sex, it is brief, joyless and almost entirely without movement. (This, presumably, is how Japanese people "do it.") When his wife asks him why,  after two years of abstinence, he has deigned to make love to her, Hada replies, "I guess because we are so vulnerable here (in America)."

Outside the home, all of the film's women are prostitutes. In this world, the only significant relationships are between male partners; Bronson/Crowe and his sidekick Rios (Perry Lopez) on the one side, Duke and his crony on the other. When these two couples get together, it's something like an overblown, tag-team bitch fight complete with pyrotechnics.

Unlike the film's other themes, which are dropped in favor of car chases and explosions, Kinjite's anal obsession carries through to its last frame.  In the final scene, Bronson, smirking triumphantly, leads Duke to his prison cell and introduces him to his bunkmate-to-be, a leering psychotic rapist. As Duke loudly protest his new roomie's advances, Bronson calmly walks away, almost wistful as he utters the film's final line; 'That's justice."

This vision of karmic justice meted out in buggery makes Kinjite a film that only an asshole could love.   

1 comment:

L. Humungous said...

For those that don't know, Todd, the owner of this amazing blog, has passed away. I didn't know him and therefore won't say much more, but as a fan of his work I figured I'd pass along this information to anyone that comes across this in the future. RIP.