Sometimes, it can become painfully obvious when a filmmaker loses interest in a particular series. Dead or Alive: Final (2002), the third film in director Takashi Miike’s action series featuring Shô Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi, appears to suffer from lack of interest. Set 300 years from now in a run-down city in a post-apocalyptic world, the population is kept in check and under control by forced birth control. With the help of an android fighter, a small band of rebels challenges the despotic mayor for the right to have children. Whereas the first two films in the series pitted the main stars head-to-head, they have very little interaction in Dead or Alive: Final, with most of the story being focused on other characters. The plot itself loses its way, with threads wrapped up in a cursory manner, when they are resolved at all. The action seems toned-down compared to the previous installments as well. Overall, one is left with the feeling that Miike and his stars are just not as committed to the film as they were to its predecessors.
Unlike the previous films in the series, Dead or Alive: Final does not take place in contemporary Japan. Instead, it is set in the year 2346. In the film, the city of Yokohama is not a bright and shiny metropolis full of technological advancements. Instead, it is a run-down dystopia with very little to distinguish itself from an early twenty-first-century city. Most of the outside world has been rendered a wasteland by past wars. The city is no longer even that Japanese. Most of the residents speak Chinese, in fact. To keep the population in check and under control in what appears to be the last vestige of civilization, the despotic mayor Wu (Richard Chen), forces the residents of the city to take daily birth control pills. Couples that defy the law and get pregnant are dealt with harshly. Ryo (Shô Aikawa), one of the last Replicants — android warriors from the apocalyptic war — finds himself aligned with a small band of resistance fighters who are looking to overthrow Wu’s government. Wu’s chief enforcer is the elite agent Honda (Riki Takeuchi). When the resistance inadvertently kidnaps Honda’s young son, Honda must come to terms with the actions of his boss, the mayor.
The first two films in the series, Dead or Alive (1999) and Dead or Alive 2: Birds (2000), focus primarily on the interactions of the two leads, Shô Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi. Even when not sharing the screen, they are still the main characters in those two films, with their actions driving the story. For Dead or Alive: Final, the characters portrayed by Aikawa and Takeuchi, while still important to the story, feel more like supplementary characters than central figures. Instead, the film seems more to orbit around Mayor Wu and the leaders of the resistance, Fong (Terence Yin) and Jun (Josie Ho). Aikawa and Takeuchi’s appear to act more in passing than directly. They are aware of each other, but neither character is all that interested in the other. There is no sense that the two characters have any relationship whatsoever, neither positive nor negative. Dead or Alive: Final essentially ignores the entire raison d’etre for the series — that of seeing these two actors interact on screen.
Without the interaction of Aikawa and Takeuchi, Dead or Alive: Final seems unfocused when it comes to its plot. Aside from the dystopian forced birth control, there is not much else going on here. Miike tries to explore family relationships in this dystopian world, but it never quite gels. The plot feels underdeveloped. Some central stories are only resolved in a cursory manner, while others are left without a real resolution. The entire final sequence does not even fit in with the rest of the film. By that point in the movie, Aikawa and Takeuchi’s characters are essential on the same side, but the climax has the two of them going head-to-head in an abandoned factory. It makes no sense at all in the context of the movie. It is more as if Miike felt that the series needed to close on a climactic battle, but it just ends up feeling out of place, instead.
The most disappointing aspects of Dead or Alive: Final are its underwhelming actions sequences. While he is rightfully known for his hyperkinetic and ultraviolent films, in Dead or Alive: Final, Miike attempts to recreate Hong Kong style action. He is shooting in Hong Kong with local talent, but it just does not work. Instead of a synergistic mash-up of Miike’s and Hong Kong’s action styles, the scenes end up rather pedestrian and uninspired. There really are no stand-out action set pieces in the film. The final confrontation comes closest to recreating Hong Kong wire-fu, but it is still a long way off from that level of expertise. Even the WTF moments one expects in Miike film are rather less shocking than usual.
When Takashi Miike is on point and interested in a project, viewers can be assured of seeing something interesting, unusual, or heartfelt — and often all three at once. When Miike’s heart is not in a movie, then the results can be somewhat run-of-the-mill. The latter is the case with Dead or Alive: Final, the rather lackluster conclusion to an otherwise outstanding series of films. Instead of centering on the series’ two leads, Shô Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi, the film relegates them to supporting characters. Without their relationship, the story meanders, with key plot threads dropped or just left to peter out. Miike, a veteran at directing action films, tries his hand at Hong Kong style action, but the results are disappointing. While the first two films in series, Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2: Birds, are well worth catching, Dead or Alive: Final should be left to completists and die-hard Miike fans. Otherwise, it is a pass.
Dead or Alive: Final (2002) (2.75 / 5)