This Japanese production from Korean-born helmer Lee Sang-il should satisfy the Tarantino diehards with its mixture of psychological angst and gratuitous violence, but Scrap Heaven does not advance much beyond its expected generic elements.
Lee's screenplay introduces three distinct characters--a milquetoast police officer, Shingo (Ryo Kase); a rebellious sanitation worker, Tetsu (Joe Odagiri); and a bored pharmacist, Saki (Chiaki Kuriyama). The three happen to be riding a bus through nighttime Tokyo when their vehicle is hijacked and Tetsu is hurt in the melee. Months later, Shingo bumps into Tetsu and they decide to get even with society and bad people by offering their services to perform acts of revenge for profit. The business takes off and the men start to feel emboldened and powerful.
Meanwhile, Shingo finds Saki and makes overtures to help her through her own post-traumatic stress, and Tetsu decides to commit his most lavish revenge plot yet, using stolen police guns. But this latest act of vengeance goes awry and Shingo and Tetsu must face the dire consequences.
Lee (director of the cult favorite 69) deftly cobbles together this post-9/11 version of Fight Club, with its emphasis on disaffected youths getting even following the trauma of a terrorist attack. (The reference point and origin of despair in the film is the poison gas incident on the Japanese subways prior to 9/11, but American audiences may not be as familiar with that history.) Thus, the hijacking episode represents a microcosm of a society out of control--even the police are ineffectual and no discernable justice takes place after the event.
So we are supposed to understand--and perhaps condone--the string of revenge plots by the two "heroes," but this set-up is a risky and troubling one for any film (even the best of them, A Clockwork Orange, and certainly the most basic, I Spit on Your Grave). Lee knows revenge works as a dramatic device and he lenses the action in a dark, cool atmosphere to make everything all the more appealing. But those who like this sort of thing won't enjoy the muddled "Crime Does Not Pay" message in the latter stages and those who don't like this sort of thing (if they even bother to see it) won't appreciate the graphic violence in the early stages.
Scrap Heaven may only capture the attention of jaded, nihilistic art-house moviegoers, but there may be many more of them than one would think.