Posted: 02/16/2003




by Del Harvey

This DVD is available for purchase at

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Hubert Fiorentini (Jean Reno) is a former French intelligence officer (think CIA) who’s now a Paris police inspector with some pretty rough methods of dealing with crime, but he’s a tender hearted man all the same. In the opening sequence he punches out a woman in a nightclub, then hauls her down to the station. In the interrogation room he chains her to a table and pulls off her wig. The chief calls him in before he can get started, and asks him about his problems with hitting people. He explains that the “she” is a “he.” The chief asks him to think harder, and in flashback we see several clubbers trying to come to the “lady’s” aid, only to be knocked into near-coma’s by one punch from Fiorentini, who explains to the chief that they were impeding the apprehension of a criminal. The chief tells him to think harder…about the young man. Flashback, we see a young man saying something in the loud club, then Fiorentini’s fist hits him and he flies across the room. Before Fiorentini can explain, the chief clues him in that this was the commissioner’s son, who is now in hospital. Fiorentini frowns.

Within the next seven minutes, we see Fiorentini break down the “lady” and arrive at the scene of his pals’ next bank robbery. He enters the bank, where the manager is tied to a chair with many sticks of dynamite, and calmly warn the three robbers to give themselves up. The two in drag are quite amused by the big man’s size and especially the size of his pistol. The third, a small, thin woman, is equally impressed but shows intelligence in her fright. In the next minute Fiorentini exchanges droll banter with the sleazy robbers, then slugs each of them into submission one-by-one, stopping the robbery in its tracks. Outside, half the police force waits while he does their work for them.

The commissioner wants Fiorentini to take as many days vacation as his son will be in the hospital, which comes out to about a month. As Fiorentini cleans up his desk, he stares lovingly at a photograph of himself and his true love, taken when he last saw her 19 years ago in Japan. He tells her image it is time they separated and puts it into the drawer. As soon as he does the phone rings; it is a Tokyo lawyer telling him his long lost love is dead and he must come to Tokyo at once for the reading of the will. Fiorentini flies to Tokyo for the reading, only to discover he’s got a 19 year old daughter who is as opposite from him as possible. Then the real fun begins as the same people who killed her mother are after her, for a missing $200 million in cash. All this and we’re only 15 minutes into the film!

Reno (Ronin, The Crimson Rivers, La Femme Nikita) is a thoroughly charming actor who portrays a French Dirty Harry in Fiorentini. But he does so with more style, wit, and humor than Clint ever could. As stoic and tough as his police inspector is, he is also caring and tender. It has been a long time since an American actor has been able to pull such characterization off and make it believable, and still have you believe in him as a tough guy and even make you laugh. Reno’s acting has improved many supporting roles in a number of American films of late, and when he is the star of his own films, he is outstanding.

Long-running TV actress and singer Ryoko Hirosue portrays Yumi, Reno’s newly discovered daughter, and she is bright, fresh, exciting, and charismatic. When matched with Reno, they make a great pair, as unpredictable and inseparable as any true father/daughter. French actor Michael Muller (Like a Fish Out of Water) plays Momo, Fiorentini’s former intelligence partner in Tokyo. Momo is the opposite of Fiorentini, and his bumbling sidekick is perfection.

Once united with Yumi, Fiorentini and Momo must protect her from Yakuza boss Takanawa (Yoshi Oida) and his henchmen. This provides many opportunities to take tongue-in-cheek advantage of Fiorentini’s tough guy, and the results are humorous and inventive.

Working from a script by Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element), director Gerard Krawczyk (Taxi 2, Heroines) combines cultures and the craft of action and comedy with deftness, resulting in a nearly perfect effort. The soundtrack is also quite effective, featuring the music of both cultures meshed with influences of rap, techno, and classical Japanese music.

Wasabi is one of the best action films to come out in a long, long time. It is also one of the best comedies to come out in a long, long time. If you have a hard time reading subtitles, get over yourself. You are missing something good. Rent this DVD or video the next time you’re at the store and have a good laugh and a good time with a fun little film.

Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly, is a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.

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