With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, November 26, 2007

ACF 057: Midnight Eagle

Former war photographer Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Osawa)

Shinichiro Ochiai (Hiroshi Tamaji) a journalist for Toyo Newspapers

"Wise" magazine journalist Keiko Arisawa (Yuko Takeuchi)

Only 48 hours till the end of Japan!

Takao Osawa portrays burnt out war photographer Yuki Nishizaki, who's seen one too many on-the-job horrors. An avid mountain climber for many years, he witnesses and photographs a U.S. stealth bomber, the titular Midnight Eagle, coming down in the Japanese Alps.

With reporter Shinichiro Ochiai (Hiroshi Tamaki, from Waterboys), he climbs through a blizzard to investigate. The two are fired upon by white-clad foreign agents who are also headed to the crash site, as are similarly garbed Japanese Special Defense forces. If the enemy gets there first and succeeds in setting off the Eagle's nuclear payload, the huge snowmelt and air-borne radiation will spell disaster for the country.

Meanwhile, magazine reporter Keiko Arisawa (Yuko Takeuchi, from Ring), Osawa's sister-in-law, has received photographs he took of the plane going down and becomes involved in her own investigation in Tokyo. This leads her to two of the foreign agents who were involved in sabotaging the plane at the U.S. airbase in Japan.

Most of the film cuts back and forth between these two locations: the snow-covered mountains in northern Japan and Tokyo, where we follow both Arisawa's investigation and the response of the Japanese government.

I've seen the film described as an "action thriller" and "a gripping adventure story" and I think these are fair descriptions of what it was intended to be. But director Izuru Narushima doesn't come particularly close to succeeding on this score. His cinematic interpretation, based on the eponymous novel by Tetsuo Takashima, doesn't have much in the way of really exciting action and isn't particularly thrilling. For me, it came across mainly as melodrama, and seemed more like a made-for-TV movie (though admittedly an expensive one with high production values) than a feature film release.

Now, I'm as ready as anyone to let some things slide: plot holes, inconsistencies, what have you. But here, there were just too many things that took me out of the picture. First off, the stealth bomber is said to have been flying missions over "the peninsula" and the enemies are described as "northern agents." Assuming the subtitles are accurate, it's like the film can't bring itself to say "North Korea." Meanwhile, there's no problem with bashing the United States, which kept the plane's nuclear payload a secret from the Japanese government.

Also, the "northern agents" on more than one occasion fail to kill Nishizaki and Ochiai. This despite the fact that the two are wearing clothing that makes them stand out from the snow. On the other hand, the same agents have no trouble ambushing and all but wiping out the white camouflage-wearing Self-Defense Force team. I know our two male leads have to make it to the plane - that's a given - but this is just too absurd, too inconsistent.

And how is it that the stealth bomber, which was brought down by a bomb that was place on it at the airbase where it was stationed) crashes in the mountains, breaks apart (we see one large piece standing vertical in the snow), and yet the fuselage remains almost completely intact, with all the lights and electronics working?! I don't think so, and I just wasn't buying it at all.

Midnight Eagle opened both in Japan and in the U.S. on November 23rd. Here, it's been playing at Manhattan's ImaginAsian Theater, and will be there through Thursday, November 29, 2007. For showtimes, click here.

On December 7th, it will be the first feature to be shown at the new ImaginAsian Center in Downtown Los Angeles. This will be the only center there dedicated to first-run Asian and Asian American films. It will also showcase live performances and special events. Located at 251 South Main Street, the facility will feature 250 stadium style seats, including a 16 seat VIP section. And while I wouldn't have chosen to open it with this film, I'm sure the center will prove to be a great treasure for fans of Asian films, just as the ImaginAsian Theater is here in New York. For further info and some photos, click here.

Midnight Eagle isn't a bad film, just not a particularly good one. (John Woo's Broken Arrow, while not a great film by any stretch, is still a far better actioner about a hi-jacked plane with a nuclear warhead.) For me, while Midnight Eagle didn't really succeed, it was still moderately enjoyable. At least I had fun in my bemused befuddlement at what I was at times watching.

ACF rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars, a cut above fair, but short of good.

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