Too Tired to Die Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2000

Too Tired to Die box art

If you suddenly found out that you had only twelve hours to live, what would you do? Would you spend the time in quiet reflection, making peace with the world that you are about to leave? Would you do something that you had never done before, or engage in hedonistic activities, in an attempt to cram a lifetime of experience into your remaining hours? And what if, for one reason or another, you are unable to achieve what you have set out to do, forced to watch your remaining minutes on Earth drain away without a sense of achievement or closure? These are the questions posed by "Too Tired to Die", a quirky metaphysical drama starring Asian heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro ("Chungking Express") as a man whose time is running out, and Academy Award-winning Mira Sorvino ("The Replacement Killers") as his seductress, Death. Having debuted in the 1998 Sundance Festival and seen a limited theatrical release in Japan, Korea, and Bosnia thereafter, "Too Tired to Die" recently appeared on video store shelves, where it is being given a second lease on life. And though this ambitious independent film has in its favor two talented lead actors and a premise with promise, the esoteric nature of its emotionally muted narrative leaves much to be desired.

By telling you, I've given you 12 free hours. So go out and live a little.

The story starts off in Old Baghdad, in an homage to the silent era, where a young Arab seeking immortality (Toronto-born actor Rizwan Manji) is forced to literally run for his life when he is pursued by Death (Sorvino) and her minions (William Sage of "Boiler Room" and Sandra Prosper). Cut to the dreamer, twentysomething Kenji (Kaneshiro), who is roused from his slumber in his sparsely furnished Manhattan apartment.

Takeshi Kaneshiro

Despite the strange dream, Kenji rises and heads down to the local cafe. It is here that Kenji's life slowly begins to unravel. While waiting to meet his friend Fabrizio (Michael Imperioli of HBO's "The Sopranos"), a wannabe filmmaker, Kenji comes into contact with a number of eccentric personalities. There's the intellectual narcissist who only pretends to be reading Balzac (Jeffrey Wright, seen recently in "Celebrity"), a mysterious German woman (Geno Lechner) who mistakes Kenji for someone else, and a waitress with a chip on her shoulder (Drena De Niro, daughter of Robert).

However, this oddball collection of characters pales in comparison when Kenji sees the young Arab from his dream running down the street. Compelled to find out what is going on, he catches up with the young Arab and stops him in an alleyway, inadvertently allowing Death to claim the man's soul. However, before Kenji can get his bearings, he finds himself alone again in the alleyway.

Unfortunately, this is not the last time that Kenji will meet Death. The very next morning, he is woken up by Death, who tells him that she will be returning in twelve hours to 'pick him up', and suggests that he 'go out and live a little'. When asked why, Death offers that the warning is in return for helping her catch the Arab the day before.

Why are you asking me about it while I'm in the midst of reading it?
Oh yeah, right. It's just like watching a movie, while you are watching it, you cannot tell it.
It's like life itself... you cannot know about it until you've lived it... all.

During the twelve hour odyssey that follows, Kenji scrambles across town with the arduous task of trying to make his remaining time on Earth somewhat meaningful. Unfortunately, it is a task much more difficult than expected as he tries to find closure with Fabrizio, have one last fling with the German woman he met the day before, and lusts after the beautiful young mistress (Hye Soo Kim) of a well-to-do painter (Ben Gazzara of "Lost Highway").

Good guys don't live forever. I come for everyone sooner or later.
Jim Denault (DP), Drena DeNiro, Wonsuk Chin, Michael Imperioli and Takeshi Kaneshiro on the set of Too Tired to Die

Wongsuk Chin, the South Korean-born director of "Too Tired to Die", spent eight years living in New York City before scraping enough money and backing to shoot this film. Like many of the so-called 'Gener-Asian X' directors that have been making their mark in North American cinema in recent years, "Too Tired to Die" is a reflection of an East-meets-West upbringing, mixing cinematic influences from both sides of the Pacific. The influences of Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, and Jean-Luc Godard are evident, as is John Woo, as seen in a "Killer"-esque sequence where Chin dons the garb of a hitman and lays waste to a Mott Street apartment just in time for Death to pay a visit.

It's heartbreaking taking away the younger ones... the plans that they make for their lives.

Unfortunately, other than some interesting visceral elements, "Too Tired to Die" is a little short on thematic cohesion. Chin raises a number of interesting ideas in this film, such as presenting Death as the disenfranchised agent of the afterlife, who often finds it difficult and disheartening to take the lives of the young. However, what Chin fails to do is develop any of these ideas to a sufficient depth so as to be meaningful, and the end result is a humorless pastiche of unrequited thematic concerns that is murky at best. Lacking the insight demanded by the film's weighty subject matter, the film runs a little long and unevenly, right up to the film's emotionally vacuous twist-ending.

How am I going to die?
Does it matter?

About the only nugget of meaning that can be found in this esoteric film is if viewed as a cautionary tale on the inability of an individual to change their nature. In the story, Kenji finds himself unable to change his languid nature in life, even when faced with imminent death. Despite his intentions otherwise, Kenji finds, even in his final hours, that he is unable to overcome the inertia of his misspent life. Like the aimless life he has lived, which often involved sleeping in until noon, wasting time in coffee shops, and spending the money his parents would send him, Kenji spends his final hours adrift in New York City, accomplishing little. His downfall is his inability to change-- whether he had 12 hours or 12 years would have made no difference.

You're an actor, aren't you? You were in "The Lover", weren't you?
No, that was not me.
You Chinese people all look alike to me.
I'm Japanese.

In terms of performances, "Too Tired to Die" is adequate. Kaneshiro, a cross-border sensation in the Asian Pacific film market, makes his first appearance in a Western film here. Though he is affable and sympathetic as the film's tragic hero, his limited command of the English language is apparent here, and he doesn't quite exude the same exuberance he displays in some of his better-known Hong Kong and Taiwanese films, particularly "Chungking Express" and "Fallen Angels".

Who are you?
I'm your Death. Don't you remember me?
You speak our language! Where did you learn it?
I take all kinds of people.
Do you speak Mandarin too?

Sorvino also has a first in this film, speaking Chinese on-screen for the first time, putting to good use her major in East Asian studies from Harvard. As the seductress Death, she is a hauntingly beautiful figure who conveys both the benevolent and world-weary aspects of her character's outlook, executing her role with finesse and poise. It's just unfortunate that her character isn't allotted more screen time-- providing more depth to Death is one of the great missed opportunities of this film.

Why don't you stay and have dinner with us? It's my birthday!
Well, happy birthday to you... but aren't you forgetting who I am?

As for the rest of the cast, Gazzara does a respectable turn as an old man who remains young at heart, while Wright injects some much-needed brevity into the film during his scenes. On the other hand, Imperioli, who has done some impressive work before (such as in "Sweet Nothing"), is in a throwaway role that couples a bad hairstyle with a bad accent, while De Niro's stilted performance is screechingly incongruous with everything else in the film.

"Too Tired to Die" is obviously not for everyone. While the film starts off promisingly enough, the talky, meandering script and lack of thematic cohesion will severely test the endurance of even the most patient moviegoer. Other than Kaneshiro's affecting performance, Sorvino's stunning presence, and a brief homage to John Woo, there is little life to be found in "Too Tired to Die".

Images courtesy of Dream Search Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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