Kinji Fukasaku went through the seventies as probably Japan's most revered director, thanks to his revisionist and highly successful takes on the gangster film with the Battles Without Honour and Humanity series (Jingi Naki Tatakai, 1973-'79) and their offspring (such as Cops vs Thugs / Kenkei Tai Soshiki Boryoku, 1975). At the end of the decade however, he seemed to consolidate his bankability by directing an array of big-budget spectaculars which were increasingly slick but also increasingly anonymous, the Kadokawa production Virus (Fukkatsu No Hi, 1980) being a prime example. From a personal stand point it was probably a wise decision, since Fukasaku was one of the few directors who emerged fairly unscathed from the crisis that hit Japanese cinema in the 1980s.
The early nineties saw the emergence of a new generation of Japanese filmmakers, many of them with a background in independent / underground 8mm shorts, who challenged the conventions (and thus the earlier generations of directors) head on. Who was still going to care for a journeyman director in his 60s who had his best days behind him, when the raw energy and spirited zeal oozed from the films of young guns Sogo Ishii, Takeshi Kitano, Takashi Ishii and Shinya Tsukamoto?
Watching The Triple Cross, one gets the impression that this situation must have bothered Fukasaku himself quite a bit. But rather than quietly disappear into retirement, his reaction was to challenge the new blood head on: by making a film that was as fast, furious and frenetic as anything on offer at the time.
The Triple Cross certainly is fast, furious and frenetic. It's a foul-mouthed crime saga in which Fukasaku combines the visual characteristics of his early-70s action classics with an audaciousness and a willingness to go very far beyond the boundaries of good taste firmly rooted in the 90s - the film features an endless array of violent and exotic shoot-outs and car chases, culminating in a combination of the two with a school bus full of children thrown in for good measure. The storyline clearly mirrored the director's intentions: a trio of aging bank robbers (including longtime Fukasaku cohort Sonny Chiba) are scammed out of a sizeable loot by their bleached-haired twenty-something partner, who kills one, wounds another and runs off with the young mistress of the third. The only oldtimer still standing decides to go for revenge and the money, in a fashion that's as relentless as anything the young upstarts are capable of.
The Triple Cross showed that Kinji Fukasaku still had energy to spare despite his advancing years. Few of those who had seen it could have been very surprised that the now 71-year-old director could still put the moral guardians' panties in a serious twist with the recent Battle Royale. The Triple Cross, in the meantime, remains an essential entry in contemporary Japanese action cinema.