Last Life in the Universe (2003) Review

"Last Life in the Universe" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Last Life in the Universe” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Writer: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Prabda Yoon
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Sinitta Boonyasak, Laila Boonyasak, Yutaka Matsushige, Riki Takeuchi, Takashi Miike, Yoji Tanaka, Sakichi Sat
Running Time: 112 min.

By Alexander

Comparisons between Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe and Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express are inevitable: both are photographed by Christopher Doyle; both are studies of quirky characters; both explore the relationships of disparate yet similarly lonely men and women who meet under unusual circumstances. However, aside from a shared DP and few similarities in pacing and plot, Last Life in the Universe is but a shadow of the richness and fun that is Chungking Express.

The first half hour held promise. We’re introduced to a quiet, obsessive compulsive, suicidal and lonely man named Kenji, a librarian. Tadanobus Asano (in a complete 180 from his role as Ichi) effectively tempers the seriousness of his role with an appealing blend of bumble and earnestness. He manages to make being a total square attractive. Asano’s performance, coupled with Doyle’s cinematography, make for an enjoyable and intriguing introduction.

But when Kenji meets Thai native Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak), a sexy, chain-smoking bar hostess the film stumbles and never recovers. The circumstance in which they meet for the first time is novel and well-filmed, but the ramifications of their meeting are nil. Nothing happens. He cleans her house. They watch television. They eat. They talk in a combination of Japanese and English. They… well, that’s about it. Not an ounce of chemistry between the two. Not an iota of growth in Kenji, despite his introduction to a world completely alien to his own.

Ultimately, the film looks great, and Asano-as-bookworm is interesting to watch. But if you’re looking for a film with energy, intrigue and even an ounce of passion, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.

Or just watch Chungking Express again (THAT never gets old, does it?).

Alexander’s Rating: 6/10

By Ningen

The commercial was the main reason for me to check this Thai flick out, but it had better editing and pacing than the actual film. Tadonobu Asano plays a nerdy suicidal yakuza named Kenji who runs into a working girl of Thai descent named Noi (Played sufficiently, but not impressively by Sinitta Boonyasak.) who’s trying to cut ties with her thuggish beau. The two leads both lose their siblings, due to uncontrolled circumstances, and manage to slowly bond as a result, despite the language barrier. The pair rely on Engrish for the majority of the film in order to communicate, whenever their limited Japanese and Thai fail them. The majority of the film also consists of them eating and watching old-school Thai films, among other things. In other words, nothing happens until the end, when the Thai and Japanese gangsters go after the couple.

Unfortunately, like Tarantino, the director for Last Life wasn’t very good at filming action sequences, so he comes up with a vague and unsatisfying ending to keep the film’s dark atmosphere, just when the situation was looking up. And like the Asian cast in Kill Bill, the talent is wasted in this film. For some reason, the main characters are underdeveloped, while the gangsters are given more dimension, even though Asano and Boonyasak are more appealing than the criminals. And Christopher Doyle’s masterful camerawork is either overused on unimportant scenes and settings. So, in conclusion, I consider Last Life in the Universe an example of wasted potential.

Ningen’s Rating: 7/10

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