Saturday, August 28, 2010

Executive Koala

Tamura's just your average Japanese dude. He's an executive for a successful vegetable pickling concern, and despite his crippling shyness and lack of self-confidence, he's managed to spearhead a partnership between his firm and a South Korean kimchi manufacturer that promises to help his company boost its market share. His love life is looking up, too. His ex-wife disappeared three years ago, but he's moved on, even though he still loves her. He's dating this cute secretary in his office, who likes him even though her co-workers make fun of her for it. So it's kind of a bummer when she ends up murdered and everyone assumes he did it. Kind of makes for an awkward work environment.

There's one other thing about Tamura, but I don't know if I should even mention it. Honestly, I feel like some sort of racist for even bringing it up, because it's not like it really matters. So what if he's a six-foot koala bear? It's not important to who he is inside, you know? This is the age of Obama. We shouldn't judge people by the color of their skin or how much fur they have growing out of it.

So, yeah, that's what this movie's deal is. It's a deadpan comedy/thriller type thing where every now and again somebody is an anthropomorphic man-beast with a big plushy head like your high school football team's mascot. And nobody thinks that's weird. It's not like they don't notice it. Everyone is fully aware that Tamura is a koala and his boss is a bunny rabbit and the guy who runs the convenience store is a frog. They just don't bring it up, which makes sense. I mean, you wouldn't just walk up to a midget and be like, "Hey, so you're wicked short. How's that working out for you?" That would be rude, which the Japanese are more frightened of than just about anything besides giant nuclear lizards and tall white women. There's a pretty great shot where Tamura is walking down a crowded street, and it's pretty clear that the people around him aren't extras. Some of them do double takes when they see him, but most just keep their heads down and go about their business, secure in the knowledge that, if they had reason to be concerned about the dude with the huge, bulbous koala head in their midst, their superiors would surely let them know about it.

Executive Koala begins with an animated credits sequence like an old Pink Panther movie. Temura is shown in cartoon form, flying around in a business suit while his teeth-rottingly chipper theme song plays, explaining that little things like divorce and downsizing can't keep him down. It's sort of like the beginning of the Toonses the Driving Cat sketches on Saturday Night Live. Then we see him at work, trying to convince some skeptical human executives of the validity of his plan to merge with the kimchi company. The fact that he gesticulates a little too wildly to compensate for his mostly inexpressive animatronic stuffed animal head probably doesn't help his case, but they go for it anyway.

At this point, it's still funny to see a guy with a koala head wearing a business suit or making pillowtalk with his attractive ladyfriend, but that wears off pretty quickly and you start wondering what the fuck they were going for with this one. There is really no good reason why Temura should be a koala. It has nothing to do with the plot, and it's never explained why this world has humanoid animals walking around and assuming high-level corporate positions. The story would have remained exactly the same if he'd just been a regular human, only I probably wouldn't have watched it, because who the hell wants to see a movie where some boring peckerhead who's not a koala occasionally blacks out and goes into a blind rage and maybe killed his girlfriend and possibly his ex-wife? Without the koala, you got nothing.

From now on, this should be a viable option for all directors stuck with a not-all-that-interesting script. I'm pretty sure I would have gone to see Righteous Kill if Pacino and De Niro had been played by a mongoose and a sea lion, respectively.

Anyway, Executive Koala is admirably deadpan at the outset, letting you get used to this world where you can walk into a room and there's a big white bunny rabbit just sitting there, being real friendly and supportive despite his evil pink eyes. It does get weirder as it goes on, however. At one point, this Korean businessman opens his briefcase and a fluffy hand puppet jumps out, and Temura is like, "A giant flying squirrel!" And you're like, "Giant? Buddy, you're a six-foot koala." It brings up some bizarre questions about the zoological hierarchy of the world this movie takes place in. It's sort of like how Goofy is a person, even though he's a dog, but Pluto is just an animal.

The visual style also gets more surreal as the movie progresses. At the beginning, it's very flat and drab, with fluorescent lights washing out most of the color, but by the time it gets to the concluding kung-fu battle in front of a flashing neon ferris wheel, it turns into a full-on psychedelic light show. That's also when the movie gives up on trying to make sense and gives in to the ironic detachment it had valiantly fought off up until that point. In my Zombie Strippers review, I complained that the movie never took itself seriously enough to justify its existence, but Executive Koala treats its retarded premise with a commendably straight face right up until the final reel, when it reveals itself to be a big joke that doesn't amount to anything. Still, it's hard to complain when a movie's climax hinges around the idea that learning Korean martial arts allows you to self-resurrect at will. Makes me wish I hadn't wasted my time on those breakdancing lessons when I was a kid.

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