GAME OF DEATH

December 21, 2010 – 3:54 am


Yohei Fukuda’s Death Tube may feature a live online killer site but to have classroom-style obstacle races passing off as cutting-edge reality games and where killings involve poison and shootings - that’s really old school. Stephen Tan reviews.

Spoilers alert! The Saw series has so much to answer for. Death Tube (aka X-Game, 2010) is a website that shows real-time murders and has a chat-room function that allows viewers to add their comments. According to fans, using a number of overseas servers to avoid detection, the site is online only a couple of times a year for a week. The film then opens promisingly with a man strapped on a table and is decapitated.

Eight individuals are abducted and kept in separate rooms. A series of deadly games begins, officiated by two people dressed in teddy bear costumes. For Level One, everyone has to complete the Rubik Cube in 10 minutes or die. Seven complete the task and the person who failed dies when he is drilled in the head.

Level Two is structured like an obstacle course with seven hurdles. This level is deemed cleared when any four of the tasks are completed. Gondo makes the first attempt by pushing a nail into his fingertip. Maekawa succeeds in spinning the bat and Saeki passes the hula hoop test. While Inouye fails the stopwatch test, the group is saved when one of the victims manages to type out the preamble to the Japanese constitution in time. But he is killed when a giant ball smashes into his head.

The doors open and the remaining six enter into a large room designed as another obstacle course. Level Three features a hop-skip-and-jump routine, eating a hanging donut, stacking five cubes and finishing off a glass of water. As there are only five glasses available, the last person dies. The donut is poisoned (the antidote is in the glass of water) and another victim dies.

Level Four is a form of musical chair and Gondo dies when a poisoned balloon bursts over his head. For Level Five, Inouye is chosen to take the test. He is asked if he will continue to love his fiancee as before even if she had been raped. He is then shown a video feed showing his fiancee, who has been kidnapped. The wrong answer will get everyone killed. Inouye answers “correctly” but at a heavy personal cost. Before Level Six can start, another victim, a young girl, dies after taking some poisoned food. For Level Six, each person has to write the name of one other person who should not die. Anyone not listed will die. Saeki quietly tells Inouye that Maekawa is actually a serial killer; Inouye withholds Maekawa’s name and he is shot dead.

It is revealed that Saeki is indeed a serial killer and just as he is about to kill Inouye, he is struck in the neck by the sickle-wielding young girl who faked being poisoned. Hoping to survive the contest, the girl goes after Inouye but gets her leg pinned to the ground by the dying Saeki. A deranged Inouye hacks the girl to death. In the final lucky draw, Inouye fails and is then hanged. A closing note says: “This site has been closed. No scheduled resumption.”

The popularity of YouTube and reality game shows has inspired this movie but one of the film’s biggest stumbling block is its lack of budget. But director Yohei Fukuda has worked with small budgets before. His earlier Onechanbara (2008) - whose budget was probably larger than what was spent here - was an exuberant fantasy involving bikini-clad swordswoman and a biker chick with shotgun in a face off with the living dead.

The lack of funds on Death Tube also means it no longer can be an extreme gore movie. Genre fans may have their appetite whetted with the decapitation scene at the beginning and the driller killer scene later on but that’s about it. The scene of Gondo pushing the nail into his finger is never shown (though the thought is nauseating enough); Maekawa shot in the back is your usual squib work; and the young girl being hacked to death takes place off camera.

But nowhere more pathetic in the lack of budget are the so-called games. Closing your eyes and count to 10? Spin around on the ground with a baseball bat? Come on! Already the Rubik Cube and hula hoop gags should alert viewers of what’s to come.

If the tension-generating sequences are a letdown, the film is also riddled with a number of inconsistencies. Here is a website that has enough resources to kidnap its victims seemingly at will; able to utilise overseas servers to avoid police detection; yet offers crummy “games” where a victim is killed by a giant ball, poison or shot outright. Even the “online viewers” complain about the lack of creativity in the killings.

The idea of “viewers” commenting on the action may be a nice touch but strangely there are no vulgarities (this is a very polite site) and, according to the English substitles, there are no omgs (oh my god) but one too many lols (laugh out loud). And since this is supposed to be “live,” there are stretches where the film is from the point of view of the victims - viewers are probably too stunned to comment (either that or they’ve simply walked off and never to return). As a study in group dynamics, viewers will also wonder at the speed with which the surviving members jell as a unit; and none of the survivors seem to question if the whole thing is a set up or that any of the victims is an “insider”.

For those who stayed the distance - the film runs almost two hours, the scene of Inouye being asked if he will continue to love his fiancee who has been raped offers some pathos, which seem to be lacking in a movie about people under extreme stress. Viewers’ heartstrings also get a tug in a scene where Gondo tells Inouye that he is expecting his first child after 10 years of marriage only to see him fall later under a cloud of poison. But the most beguiling and enigmatic character remains the main bear (Ponkichi), whose lack of humour, glib or memorable lines, other than a willingness to shoot someone down, and who then fades off with a wave to the camera - will probably leave viewers wondering wtf.

Snuff films with a race-to-the-death theme (think Arnie’s Running Man and the more recent Death Race) are workable models but without ingenious (death) games and memorable death scenes, Death Tube doesn’t have a hope in hell.

Note: The Death Tube DVD (4Digital Asia) is banned in $ingapore.

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