Review - "Lupin the Third" entertains with tongue-in-cheek action

Marcus Goh
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Shun Oguri as Lupin. (Encore Films) 

Marcus Goh is a former Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. Tweets at @Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 133 minutes (2.25 hours)

"Lupin the Third" or "Lupin III" as it’s named in some cinemas, is a heist film that is an adaptation of the manga of the same title. It follows the exploits of gentleman thief Lupin as he gets embroiled in the theft of the greatest treasure of the known world, the Crimson Heart of Cleopatra. It stars Shun Oguri (Lupin), Meisa Kuroki (Fujiko Mine), Jerry Yan (Michael Lee), Tetsuji Tamayam (Daisuke Jigen), and Gou Ayano (Goemon Ishikawa). 

"Lupin the Third" is one of the better manga adaptations produced, as it doesn’t concern itself with slavishly following the source material. Instead, it focuses on capturing the spirit of the original characters, and isn’t afraid to make radical changes or new additions (the character of Michael Lee, for one) to serve the strengths of the film medium. Best of all, you don’t have to read the manga or watched the anime to understand what’s going in this movie!

Meisa Kuroki as Fujiko. (Encore Films)

So what’s good about “Lupin III?”

Fun set pieces and action sequences

"Lupin the Third" is based off a manga, so the obstacles they face, the traps they set, and the foes they face are all larger than life. Fortunately, they’ve got a whole range of methods of dealing with their enemies - be it trickery, finesse, or just somersaulting through moving lasers. There’s always a sense of delight in how they overcome their challenges, which makes it just plain fun to watch.

Stylisation

The film manages to end up looking like a proper, well-shot production while paying homage to its anime roots by choosing the most appropriate things to be larger than life, like stunts, glamour shots and certain characters, while leaving other aspects to hew closer to reality. This blend of both manga and movie styles fits the genre perfectly, without downplaying either medium.

Interesting characters

Lupin, his love interest Fujiko, and his supporting characters each have their own agenda, playing off the “honour among thieves” trope, and this adds more complexity to their interactions and motives. You never really know what’s going to happen next, yet you can understand why the main characters play each other out in a constant merry-go-round of (amusing) betrayals. 

Singapore cameos

The film opens with the Singapore skyline… and then the fictitious Hougang Museum of Art. I kid you not. It’s all part of the globetrotting nature of the film, but as a Singaporean, it’s certainly amusing to catch all these references. Watch out for the Singapore Union Bank during the film as well!

Gou Ayano as Goemon. (Encore Films)

"Lupin the Third" had some critical flaws which made it gruelling to watch at times though.

Cringeworthy English

English is not the first language of any of the characters, and may very well not be their second language either. And it shows. In an attempt to establish the international scope of the thefts, the characters speak English for large portions of the movie, stressing the wrong words and mixing up Rs and Ls. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that their Japanese sounds so much more fluent, natural, and authentic. It gets to the point where you’d rather cover your ears and read the subtitles instead - at least it doesn’t sound so painful.

Handicapped performances

The problem with having so many of the characters speak to each other in a language they’re not comfortable with is that it severely hampers their performance. A scene that is meant to be an emotional farewell for one of the characters turns into a farcical mess of badly enunciated English quips near the end, and you can see the actors struggling to just push their lines out, let alone emote well. It’s a pity because so much of the film takes place in English.

Lupin (Shun Oguri) and Fujiko (Meisa Kuroki). (Encore Films)

"Lupin III" may have suffered terribly from its inclusion of English into its script, but it’s otherwise an entertaining, light-hearted movie that never takes itself too seriously, and focuses squarely on entertaining you. And that’s what a good movie should do, right?

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like action or caper films.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Sure!

"Lupin the Third" opens in cinemas 25 September, 2014 (Thursday).