Life Tastes Good (1999) is an Asian-centric indie noir from playwright/director/musician/potterer Philip Kan Gotanda. The film concerns a money launderer named Harry Sado (Sab Shimono), who has just ripped off his deadly partner Mr. Jones (Gotanda). The film begins with the discovery of a body with a strangely puckered, discolored, and disfigured face. A tape recorder at the scene recounts Harry's last days. You'll have to stick around to the end in order to find out if the body is Harry's or someone else.
Harry took off with the loot and made his way to San Francisco where he rents out a warehouse/loft space for a week. We learn that Harry has a plan for the dough and it doesn't involve the long distance future because he is suffering from a terminal disease. Chief on his mind is reconnecting with his grwon children, a brusque alcoholic daughter and geeky, hypochondriac son. But, he also gets involved with a sensual mystery woman (Julia Nickson-Soul), who has a tragic past connected with the loft space.
A middle aged hood on the run. A mystery woman. A pair of Mutt and Jeff detectives. A brother and sister with abandonment issues. A wronged, murderous crime boss. And, one big poisonous mushroom. Life Tastes Good is a bit of a mish mash: a crime film with noir-ish leanings, a meager dose of soft eroticism, some familial drama, and some exaggerated comedy.
While Life Tastes Good isn't aiming for any kind of documentary or drama reality, there is a difference between being cinematically broad and just plain stagey. Several elements within the film feel forced and hammy. For comparison, the same night I watched Life Tastes Good I channel surfed and found Miller's Crossing playing on a movie channel. The Coen Bros. are masters of dealing in cliches and winking at archetypes yet showcasing them with pitch perfect, symbolic style and emotional performances. Gotanda's film, while entertaining, too often comes across as mannered.
Life Tastes Good just cannot find the right balance. The film has two detective characters that act and dress like they were from the 40's. It plays to the noir elements, but it is a cutesy characterization, underdeveloped and unnecessary, and is distracting rather than furthering the story in an inventive way. The ordeal with Mr. Jones, likewise, completely lacks any tension because Mr. Jones is painted as a broad, comic book character. Rather than be a realistic or even a mildly-caricatured mob/underworld figure, he's a gaudy mess including a weird penchant for leaving lemons as his calling card and some kind of fake finger deal that he uses to poke people to death. Yes, you read that right. He pokes people to death. And, then you get to scenes like the finale where Mr Jones and Harry engage in an obviously comic, mock samurai duel (two-by-four versus stale French bread). Funny, sure, but it is an unneeded, blatant tonal shift that braces against the whole Sunset Boulevardish narration, mystery motifs, and noir suspension the film seems to want to generate.
The DVD: Cinema Epoch
Picture: Non-anamorphic. Shot in Super 16mm and blown up to 35 mm, Life Tastes Good bears the marks of a ragtag but workmanlike production. The print is fairly grainy and shows evidence of some slight wear. Colors and sharpness are middling, and the contrast is noticeably lacing in depth with many low light/dark scenes coming across as grayed.
Sound: 2.0 Stereo. Basic stuff with standard mixing. Everything is clear though the scoring and atmopsherics lack substantial punch.
Extras: Director Interview (7:13). -- "The Kiss" Short Film by Philip Kan Gtando (13:12).
Conclusion: Life Tastes Good is diverting enough during its running time, but, ultimately, it is a concoction of many genre elements, all of them half-cooked, and the aftertaste is one of a feature that just doesn't quite gel stylistically. Still, for a no-budget little indie, a decent enough effort. The DVD presentation isn't stupendous, so this one falls into the "rent it" category for the casually curious.