Takashi Miike's first entry in the Dead or Alive trilogy was one of his breakthrough films in the West. Newfound fans would quickly learn that sequels in the Miike-verse aren't as clear cut as they normally are though, with Birds and Final being very different films from the original. Dead or Alive: Final is somewhat of an overlooked entry in the series, but I liked it a lot the first time I watched it. But that was ages ago, so it was time to give this film another run for its money.
The Dead or Alive franchise consists of three loosely related films. Final makes some vague attempts to link the different stories together, but it's little more than a quick narrative diversion that, much like the rest of the films, doesn't need to be taken too seriously. The basic premise of each film pitches Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa's character against each other, what follows next is a showdown of epic proportions, though in true Miike fashion, there's also some room for dramatic cool downs in between.
This third and final installment is set in a futuristic version of Hong Kong. The Earth has gone to shambles and the major of Hong Kong has reigned in people's freedom. Birth control is in full effect and enforced quite aggressively, those who don't comply are seized and drugged into submission. Miike puts in some effort to flesh out the setting, but in the end it's just a background for Ryo and Honda's final one-on-one. Don't expect any serious sci-fi or dystopian world-building, because you'll be sorely disappointed.
The film catches up with Ryo as he arrives in the city. After rescuing a kid (a replicator, basically a war android) from the police, he follows him home to a group of rebels who are planning to assassinate the major. Ryo is only vaguely interested in their mission, but helps them out where possible. When Honda gets on his tail though, Ryo can't escape his destiny anymore and after the rebel group is decimated he gears up to end his feud with Honda once and for all. Little does he know that his own fate is tied closely to Honda's, more than he could ever imagine.
Dead or Alive: Final is a film that has the potential to look great. The effects are decent, Miike makes excellent use of Hong Kong to create a post-apocalyptic setting and the film bathes in a green/yellow glow that gives it some extra flair. The only problem is that the film was shot on standard-definition DV, which means it's all blurry artifacts and jaggy edges. It feels like watching a low quality DVD rip, even though the video was scaled up to 1080p for the Blu-Ray release. Hopefully they'll get around to giving it a thorough digital restoration, but until then you'll just have to look through the horrid image quality to appreciate the aesthetics Miike was gunning for.
For the most part, the soundtrack is a pretty basic Miike affair. That means it fits the film quite well, but it doesn't really add much of its own. It's appropriate and doesn't sound bad, but you'll be hard-pressed to remember much afterwards. Apart from the saxophone player that is, who was even added as an actual character in the film. I can't say the sax music made all that much sense, but that's exactly the kind of thing you can expect when watching a Miike film. It made for a few good chuckles, which is not bad at all.
Miike's Dead or Alive trilogy is all about Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi and their performances are riveting. The duo returns in full force and go well over the top, then again there's wasn't any other way for them to play these characters. The secondary cast consists mostly of Chinese actors, though few of them manage to make a real impression. Josie Ho is the exception here, as she holds her own next to Aikawa and Takeuchi. It's a nice addition that everyone is allowed to speak their native tongue, though in the end I think it would've been better if they'd scrapped the English dialogue altogether.
The film starts off pretty energetic, in contrast the middle part feels considerably more toned down. It's a familiar pattern that fans of Miike are sure to recognize, though not everyone appreciates. During these moments Miike tends to venture into Kitano territory (with Aikawa goofing off near the beach side), personally I can't say I minded these laid back interludes. If you're purely here for Crazy Miike though, the middle part may drag a little. That said, it's all just a warming up for a batshit crazy finale, so rest assured that the series ends with a veritable bang.
Dead or Alive: Final isn't the greatest thing Miike ever did, but fans of the director are sure to get a lot out of it. It's a real shame the image quality is atrocious, because apart from that this is a fun and entertaining film with some solid action scenes, a funky soundtrack, fine cinematography and a bunch of vintage Miike moments you won't be able to find anywhere else. It's not really necessary to watch the first two films beforehand, but it is recommended if you want to understand all the gags and weirdness that is hidden inside this Miike franchise.