Budda Heads

"Weak"

Budda Heads Review


I always welcome the opportunity to watch a film that depicts a part of our society seldom exposed in the media. In the case of Budda Heads, we are given access to the world of Los Angeles-based Asian-American gangs. The big problem, however, is that writer/director Brian T. Maeda's view of this world seems totally manufactured, informed only by other gangster movies and overflowing with clichés and forced, testosterone fueled dialogue. Add to the mix some really stiff acting and an obvious, connect-the-dots script, and the ultimate result misses its intended mark by a pretty wide margin.

Japanese-American Suggzy Sugimoto (Calvin Jung) returns to the free world after spending 25 years behind bars for murdering the thug who killed his parents during a robbery. Upon his release, he sets out to track down his younger brother Marco (Eddie Mui) and soon finds that the young man is the head of an organized crime gang called The Savage Boys. An ex-gang member himself, Suggzy is a bit surprised to see how much things have changed. Marco runs with a racially mixed crew and actually works for a Chinese mafia leader named Wallace Chin (A.M. Lai), a stark contrast to Suggzy's days of exclusively fraternizing amongst those of Japanese origins.

Suggzy's single-minded mission is to get Marco to walk the path of the straight and narrow. Marco, though, revels in the life he leads and isn't interested in the advice of a brother he barely knows. When Marco becomes involved with Helen (Helen Ota), the daughter of one of Suggzy's ex- gang mates, tensions begin to escalate. Suggzy's friends are now all adults, far removed from their younger gangbanging days, and view Marco as a symbol of a past they've gladly left behind. As Marco starts to question the direction of his life, he finds himself directly at odds with Wallace, his boss and the only father figure he's ever known.

The film begins with a flashback sequence illustrating that Suggzy and Marco's parents were prisoners in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The movie raises issues about Japanese-Americans' gradual loss of identity and the younger generation's apathy for learning about and/or remembering their roots. These points, however well meaning, are almost completely washed away by the film's preoccupation with embracing tired urban stereotypes.

Budda Heads shares much in common with the lower tier Blaxploitation films of the '70s, right down to its gritty, low-budget look. The dialogue, on many occasions, crosses the border into self-parody and there's no chemistry between any of the actors, who lack the skill necessary to bring their characters to life. The scenes are oddly composed and structured, often times coming across as awkwardly filmed theater (especially in the violent moments). The movie doesn't have any sense of pace, and the excessively melodramatic score doesn't help matters either.

Maeda was born in an internment camp, and he does display a strong passion for the material. In fact, the framework of the story, regardless of how derivative it may be, is of some interest and contains a message worth hearing. But the movie simply feels flat -- the script just trudges from one plot point to the next in the most routine fashion.

Budda Heads does deserve credit for its exploration of a little known culture, but in the end, I was left with the feeling that the culture deserved a better movie.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Brian T. Maeda

Producer: Brian T. Maeda

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