Premise: When a slacker con-artist falls in love with the daughter of a Japanese crime boss, they go on the run to not only escape her arranged marriage, but the dangerous Japanese underworld that refuses to let her go.
About: Chad Damiani and J.P. Lavin were writers on Ryan Seacrest's KISS-FM Morning Show and American Idol when this 2007 Black List script sparked a heated bidding war between the studios and was ultimately set up at Screen Gems. Since then, they've been attached to a bevy of hot projects, from Rob Liefeld's "Capeshooters" to the Taylor Lautner Mattel action figure vehicle, "Max Steel". They were also the writers on the 2007 Fox comedy/reality pilot, "Anchorwoman".
Writers: Chad Damiani & J.P. Lavin
Details: March 15, 2007 draft; Black List 2007 (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
The next True Romance?
One of my favorite flicks is Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott's "True Romance". It's an Elmore Leonard plot strained through the filter of a narrative junky and cinephile, and thus its wrapping consists of Spaghetti Western Mexican stand-offs, a Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos comic given as a keepsake, lines of dialogue (Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper are monologue-slayers in this movie) that sparkle in the mind like diamonds, and squibby Peckinpah deaths that would even make John Woo proud. All wrapped around a gooey true love conquers all center. Sure, it can be considered a male geek wish fulfillment fantasy and it's more about the buddy aspect of a relationship, but hey, I still find it romantic. I still find it hopeful. I still find it relevant.
And, I don't think I'm the only one.
Which is why I was disappointed when people were comparing that Zac Efron project "Die In a Gunfight" to it and discovered that the spec was more Godard narrative experiment than a deftly plotted young couple on the run caper. I've been patiently waiting for a movie to seize the True Romance mantle, to grab the baton and just run with it. The closest thing I could find that successfully ran with it was Garth Ennis' "Preacher", but that's not a movie (yet). Then this 2007 Black List script came along, and it wasn't until the halfway mark that I realized "True Romance" finally had a worthy successor in Chad Damiani and J.P. Lavin's "Kamikaze Love".
Really? What's it about, Rog?
Ford's just another slacker living in a shit hole above the dive bar he works in when he finds true love. He awakens on his air mattress, surrounded by empty Chinese takeout, to find his cousin Jersey trying to hit him up for a handout. Initially, he scares the shit out of Ford because he knocks on the door pretending to be the Five-O (a curious fear we will remember later on). Jersey needs a few cases of beer because he's trying to score with some ladies at a girl power concert in Woodstock, and after we learn that he's already helped himself and stashed the booze in his I-Roc, he's off on his merry way.
The bar is a total mess form the night before, and there's a petite Japanese man in his forties standing the doorway. Because of the backlight from the sun, we don't see the features of angelic figure that slips into the bar and bolts for the bathroom. The man says, "Lady need bathroom." Then he demands a coffee. Black. Arigato. Ford serves the man some coffee and discovers that one of the sinks is clogged.
It's when he goes downstairs to get some tools that he finds his destiny.
She's in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of a toilet, crying. She's a stunning Japanese woman who locks eyes with Ford. Their souls surrender to each other upon their first glimpse of each other. Yep, it's love at first.
They go from a fairy tale kiss to Cinemax After Dark as they immediately have sex on the bathroom floor, and right before Ford orgasms, the woman whispers, "Save me."
That's when Kazuo, the petite Japanese man from earlier, finds them on the floor rutting. He takes off his shades, revealing a gnarly scar under his eye. He blasts Ford with an open palm, sending him flying into a wall, and Ford struggles with the man and manages to rip open his shirt where we see the scary-ass Japanese Dragon Tattoo on his stomach.
Kazuo drowns Ford in a toilet and drags Naoko, the girl, out of the bathroom. He's greatly offended and he berates her, and we understand that today of all days is not the time for her to rebel like this. But, before we can learn more, Kazuo is clobbered with a monkey wrench by a not-so dead Ford. They make a run for it and get to his pickup truck when Kazuo chases them down like the fucking T-1000. It's amazing how persistent and capable this man is, and he only stops when Ford drives him into a telephone pole, escaping.
Miraculously, the man still isn't dead.
Holy hell. Just who is Kazuo and what is Naoko running from?
Sure, you can probably guess that Naoko is trying to get out of an arranged marriage, but what you couldn't have guessed is that not only is Kazuo Naoko's escort, he's also her sensei. He's a great warrior, known in Japan for his Unstoppable Fist Technique. And, Naoko is a student trained in the Art of Roaring Earth.
Which means that every object she touches becomes her ally.
Now, this is all stuff gleaned from the narrative, and it's not all told at once but peppered throughout the script. There are lots of other details and information that are best discovered as a reader or audience member, so I'll just give you the necessaries.
Naoko has been arranged to marry the most powerful Japanese crime boss in the Western world, a man referred to as The Tank. The Tank's a guy in his eighties who's confined to his wheelchair, assisted by an oxygen tank. Daddy Boss Sato, Naoko's father, has never been content to be low on the crime boss ladder, so he's giving away his daughter in marriage to gain more power and influence (and he possibly has another plan in mind for The Tank).
The whole narrative seems immediate because the wedding provides us with a ticking clock and there never seems to be enough time for everyone and their goals.
While Kazuo squeezes Jersey for information, we learn that Ford is harboring a few secrets. He's not quite the slacker we initially thought him to be. These secrets change the nature of the stakes and provide our young couple with an exit strategy. They just have to escape Kazuo and the Japanese GQ model assassins Daddy Boss sends to "assist" him. The old sensei is pissed that he has to work with these wanna-be soldiers, and he feels like he's being dishonored.
OK. So, Kazuo is going to kill everyone related to Ford until he gives Naoko back. What's their plan?
Well, Ford needs his old wheelman, his bearded lug stoner brother Dewalt, aka Dewey. Dewey drives an orange van from the 1970s, and he seems obsessed with the show "What's Happening!!" and Rice Krispies treats. Dewey complicates matters when he says, "Oh, and you might want to fill in your soulmate about some things before you introduce her to your girlfriend."
Yeah, Ford has a girlfriend.
Naoko is just as surprised as us. Dewey, Kaitlin and Ford's parents are all part of something bigger, something that they all did in their past that is essential to Ford's end game. Ultimately, they all have to get to a farm that belongs to Ford's parents, and their path leaves plenty of bodies and property damage in its wake.
Of course, Kaitlin isn't too happy that Ford is ditching her for a soulmate, and the girl, although crazy to begin with, goes off the deep-end and teams up with Kazuo and ultimately falls in love with the sensei. The two make a sort of twisted Bonnie and Clyde duo, one part American Psycho and one part Shogun Assassin.
On everyone's trail are pretty boy metrosexual police officers, Chief Simmons and Deputy Blair. They seem to be despised by the rest of their department, and their demeanor combined with their ineptitude leads to a gory, entertaining brawl at Police HQ when they try to interrogate Kazuo, his men and weepy Kaitlin. I love how manic and perverted and full of rage the sequence is, and I wish I read more stuff like it.
Sounds cool. Does it work?
Yes. The plot is full of twists and turns, and just when you think you have it figured out (especially in the first half), it spins into something that's even more entertaining than what you could have expected.
And, it's brimming with conflict.
Not only do you have the obligatory scene where the young couple seems to be on the outs, but every character in this script has some type of beef with the other characters. Obviously, Kaitlin and Naoko don't like each other. Kaitlin wants revenge against Ford. Kazuo despise Daddy Boss Sato. Daddy Boss Sato despises The Tank. The veteran police officers despise Simmons and Blair. Hell, even Dewey and Ford have some old brotherly issues and it boils into conflict later in the script. Dewey and Ford also have unresolved issues with their parents that leads to conflict. There's some old fashioned master versus student history that turns into a battle royale in the third act between Naoko and Kazuo that is pretty fucking awesome to read.
This script kicks ass. There's a lot of meat on the bones that separates it from some of the other scripts that attempt to grab the "True Romance" baton. And, there's plenty of humor to boot. It clocks in it at a tight 97 pages but there's never a lack of story. You know, some movies don't have to aspire to be deep character studies with revelatory moments. Sometimes, a movie is what it is. A competent plot that contains a story with enough heart and entertainment to warrant a good yarn. And, that's what "Kamikaze Love" is, a good yarn that combines the couple-on-the-run plot with some stylized Eastern martial arts.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Ask yourself, "Does my script have enough meat on the bones to warrant a movie, to warrant a story?" It took me about twenty pages to be sold on "Kamikaze Love". Sure, it was entertaining, but I didn't know if its young-couple-on-the-run plot would sustain it for an entire hundred pages. How did it overcome this? The characters. They were harboring secrets and dramatic back-stories, especially Ford. A secret can be a great game changer, a good way to hook the readers and spin the story into those wide open narrative spaces that contain a lot of possibility and options. In addition to secrets, this script is a good example on what conflict (no matter how big or small) can do to make a script a page-turner. I kept asking myself, "Are these characters ever gonna resolve this conflict between that other character? Who's gonna get their way? Who's going to win?" And it was those questions that kept me turning the page, kept me asking, "Man, what's going to happen next?!"