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GUNG HO

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt, Mimi Rogers, John Turturro
Director: Ron Howard
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.20:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: July 16, 2002

“Hey, these are nice ribbons.”

“THOSE ARE RIBBONS OF SHAME!”

“I’d wear ‘em on the inside if I was you.”

Film ***

If my movie recollection serves me correctly, Gung Ho was the very first movie I saw that was directed by Ron Howard, now the much deserving Academy Award winning director of last year’s A Beautiful Mind. Back in 1986 when I first saw the movie, I knew of Ron Howard only from his work on television’s Happy Days and Andy Griffith. I had not even seen Howard’s earlier films, Night Shift, Splash, or Cocoon, at the time. So watching this film, a comedy about a clash of  American and Japanese cultures upon a sudden merger between the two countries at a Detroit car factor, I found it to be a sleeper of a comedy, though I never expected Howard to come as far as he has now. Howard gives the movie a nice added scope, but the driving force is a perfectly tuned comic performance from Michael Keaton, an actor I have come to miss from the movies since I last saw him in Jackie Brown, that is, if you don’t count his cameo in Out of Sight where, ironically, he was playing the exact same character from the aforementioned film.

Keaton plays Hunt Stevenson, head of the top automobile factory in the motor city. In the beginning of the movie, he travels to Japan hoping to convince the Japanese to locate their factory to his town. The scene of Hunt’s arrival in Japan is quite funny, giving the movie a perfect opening comic drive, as Hunt, after wandering through downtown Tokyo, finally finds his way into the correct boardroom, where is presentation to the Japanese, who bark at him “WE DO SPEAK ENGLISH!”, is nothing short of purely humiliating. However, through sharp convincing, Hunt does connect with the Japanese corporate managers, who agree to merge with the Americans right away.

The men from the Far East have their fingers crossed, as they send one of their current disgraceful workers, Kazahiro (Gedde Watanabe), to manage the factory, hoping that it salvage what dignity he may have left. The merging of Japanese and American cultures seems like a nice idea, that is, until the first day of working together, as the new arrivals like to begin their daily work through jumping jacks, which the American workers scoff at, until Hunt convinces them to play along with the charade. Hunt’s workers also become mighty restless when it turns out they are no longer allowed sick leave, asked to work overtime for free, and are constantly being shouted at by the Japanese managers.

The rest of the movie involves both sides being done wrongly by the corporate office, and from there, you can pretty much sense how the rest of the movie is going to play out. Even with sort of a by the numbers formula, Gung Ho doesn’t slack a bit on the laughs, and much of that credit should go Michael Keaton’s way. This was made back when Keaton was one of the top comic actors around, creating flawless fast-thinking, consistently wisecracking characterizations, and Gung Ho represents one his funniest performances ever, ranking it with the solid work he delivered in 1994’s The Paper, also directed by Ron Howard, and I strongly recommend the movie on the strength of his performance alone.

Video **

This marks the first time I’ve been able to view Gung Ho in it’s widescreen format, and the results are a bit mixed. The good news; Paramount’s transfer for this 1980s comedy is surprisingly sharp and clear, which made for an impressive presentation. The bad news; for some odd reason, the choice was made to present this movie in a ratio of 2.20:1, when it is obvious that it was filmed in the regular 2.35:1. The given ratio has cut off some edges in certain scenes, and I simply felt as if I wasn’t getting the entire picture, much like the transfers for Apocalypse Now and Playing by Heart. The only DVD transfer with such a ratio that has ever worked for me is New Line’s Life as a House.   (EDITOR'S NOTE:  Paramount sometimes uses aspect ratios that the directors have specifically requested...Apocalypse Now was an example of that.)

Audio ***

Mostly a dialogue driven movie, Paramount does get a few extra points in its audio department with a good enough 5.1 track, which does a nice job in numerous scenes involving music use and distinct background noises in crowded areas. Dialogue comes off quite nicely as well.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

Gung Ho for me as always been a career highlight for Michael Keaton, as well as a good early step for director Ron Howard. This is a good comedy with plenty of laughs that I always enjoy revisiting.