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Running Time: 112 minutes
Starring: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt, Mimi Rogers, John Turturro, Sab Shimono
Screenplay by: Lowell Ganz
& Babaloo Mandel
Directed by: Ron Howard
Retail Price: $24.99
Specs: Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Stereo, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (17 Scenes)
Released: July 16th, 2002
Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton) heads to Japan and ends up convincing a Japanese auto firm to reopen a bleak town's closed car factory. Since this means jobs, income and the like, Hunt is a hero to his fellow common man. However, all of that starts to go downhill when everyone at the factory is expected to go along with the Japanese work code. While everyone thinks it's a joke at first, and Hunt bends his workers to go along, the cultures soon collide and a lot of it becomes out of hand. It's up to Hunt to work with both sides and make both sides happy, but that can be a bit difficult...
I've always had a soft spot for "Gung Ho," and I still don't know why that is. Be it like the nutty acting of Michael Keaton, the comedy aspects, the keen direction of Ron Howard or my interest in Japanese culture, there's something that is quite appealing about this movie. I think it's easy for the viewer to be seduced by its simplicity in storytelling, and how it has many parallels to world events and our own lives. I'm sure we personally can recount times we've differences with other people. Perhaps not in large groups or over race or religon or culture, but in how we as people deal with different things. "Gung Ho" perfectly takes this conflict in a funny context, but with it, brings truth to it without going overboard sentimental wise.
The film does work much better than the concept may sound, and you have all of this thanks to a solid cast and crew. Howard teams up with collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, striking gold again. As you are probably familiar with, the writing duo often teams up with Billy Crystal and Howard (as they did do the mega hit "Splash" with him and the ill-fated late 1990s flick "EdTV"). Still, this script is great with a solid lead protoganist and interesting supporting roles to mix around him. All the factors are perfectly pitched to make up a solid story.
The movie is essentially about respect and teamwork, but I come to think of it more as a man who's trapped between two different, overwhelming walls. Nonetheless, the slapstick comedy is great, the characters are interesting and well developed, there are some classic one-liners and it's simply a very fun movie that actually has a point, which is hit across the field pretty wide but doesn't go out of the park. The movie may be nearly two hours, but it nevers feels long or tiresome, thanks to director Ron Howard. Howard perfectly paces the movie's setup, buildup, tensions and resolution. I could see many concepts or jokes in this movie being overdone and overblown, but Howard knows not to resort to those kind of tricks. It's very even and moves exactly as it should. The flick is entertaining and fun, but at the same time, quite honest. There are a bundle of nice shots and the film has a very cultural feel both Pacific-wise and Atlantic-wise.
The performances are incredibly enthusiastic, stocked filled with chemistry and just scream energy as well as pizzaz. I think this is one of Michael Keaton's best performances. What's so great about Keaton is that he can handle both comedic roles and dramatic roles exceptionally well. Here, he shows what a great comedic actor he is. He really adapts well into his role as a man who wants to do the best for other people, while respecting other certain needs. He encourages people with the Japanese to help the relations, but he also fights for his American workers. There is a slick side to this role which Keaton nails down perfectly, but there is also this great sensetivie part to go right with it. There's this charm about him as Hunt that you basically cannot resist.
The supporting players are great too. George Wendt and John Turturro (and the lovable Clint Howard!) shine as fed-up American workers, while Sab Shimono and Geddge Watanabe have a good time with their counter cultural roles. Mimi Rogers is a fine love interest, and when it boils down to everything, "Gung Ho" is a strong, funny movie that is well written, well acted, well directed and well worth investing your time in. Comedies usually don't get much better than this.
I believe "Gung Ho" was shot in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but this DVD widescreen transfer doesn't look that wide, so I'm assuming it might be slightly cropped. The aspect ratio is a bit wider than 1.85:1, but I couldn't put my finger on the size exactly. Either way, despite what may be cropping, I'm mixed on this anamorphic widescreen transfer itself. It doesn't look too bad, but given the weird ratio, I'm curious what film elements they used to bring the film to DVD. I found the picture to be very video-ish, sorta looking like a video tape but sorta not. Detail isn't great and some of the image at times looks a bit smeared and blurry. Despite that, color saturation is good and fleshtones are fine. Little instances pop up all over: nicks, pieces of dirt and your little flaws like that, plus edge enhancment. Despite the weirdness this transfer features, it's pretty good.
Remixed in English Dolby Digital 5.1, I was really impressed and amazed just how good the film sounded throughout the channels. Granted, the upbeat music sounds very nice and I found myself brought into the film more because of it. Make no mistake though, the film has some nice surround effects that sound natural and not artificial. Be it the crowds of people cheering, the softball scene, cars moving, the working at the factory or some of the more interesting clashes, there's some good activity in this track with good fidelity and superb dynamic range. Dialogue is clear and very crisp too, as the mix has ample subwoofer effects and a good balance. A strong and pleasing mix that is quite entertaining. Also included are tracks in French stereo and English Dolby Surround, plus English subtitles and English closed captions.
Unfortunatly, nothing. I don't think Ron Howard would have mind to record a commentary for the movie, but given his busy schedule and everything, I don't think it worked out. In a recent interview with Mr. Howard, he told me and others that he missed the boat for the "Willow" commentary, and was recording one for fall 2002's re-release of his live action "How The Grinch Stole Christmas." I would have liked to see a featurette with new cast interviews or something, but alas, there's nothing here.
Just a fun, great and even comedy from the 1980s, "Gung Ho" is one of my favorites from that era and I'm very pleased that it is now on DVD. The presentation of the film is pretty good, but when it comes down to it, the lack of supplements make this a tough sell for the casual fan of the movie. If you love the film then go out and buy it; otherwise it makes a fine culture clashing trip to relive.