HIGH & LOW: THE WORST X Review: Fisticuffs And Hard-Fought Friendship Lead The Way For Another Supercharged Sequel
The last eight years or so of thrills from the hive mind at Japanese brand LDH and the writers of HI-AX have brought forth what stands to be one of the best multimedia action franchises ever created, with Shochiku and Netflix raking in much of the earnings. Credit as of late goes to the shared directorial powers of Daisuke Ninomiya and Norihisa Hiranuma, and action stylist Masaki Suzumura with a window of at least three years since Shigeaki Kubo transitioned the High & Low saga into a new era, one led by “The Rampage” members Kazuma Kawamura and Hokuto Yoshino, along with actor and franchise favorite Goki Maeda who now return for their continuation, High & Low: The Worst X.
The story reimmerses you once more into long-established pentaterritorial S.W.O.R.D. whose Oya High confab still flexes its best under the otherwise still nascent leadership of the precocious and rambunctious Fujio (Kawamura), who has since set his sights on challenging the toughest fighter at neighboring Toaru City’s Suzuran High, Rao (Henry Daichi Mikami) whose reputation is greatly heralded by tales of legend and delinquent folklore with any hint of exaggeration all but cast by the wayside. It’s a peculiar introductory segment that reveals a row of main players the film recurs for the better part of its first hour while separately setting up major development with Kohei (Ryoki Miyama), a spoiled-as-shit rich kid with a narc complex and the leader of the All-Boys’ Senomon Tech High School whose activities of late have him joined by right-hand “tool,” Ryo (Yuta Nakamoto), in gathering a confab of rival schools to defeat Oya High and conquer S.W.O.R.D. for his own ends. A few members of Oya already suspect that Senomon is planning something, but before preventive measures can be taken, Kohei launches a full-scale attack on Oya, taking a student hostage, and setting up the ultimate showdown between a vicious gang alliance, and the underdogs at Oya whose very leader is forced to rethink his approach, realizing that simply meeting fists head-on isn’t the answer.
While a global pandemic may have prevented another High & Low film from being made sooner, the newest chapter with High & Low: The Worst X brings an all the more inviting experience for fans of the High & Low saga with a branched-out sequel in a franchise that hasn’t missed a beat. You get the characters you love and some cool surprises along the way, and strong performances to match, including by Daichi who brings a fresh vibrance to his brooding, albeit likable role opposite Kawamura, with impressive effect in a debut feature role just outside of his professional fighting career.
Youthful rebellion, high energy music tracks and badass action sequences and the occasional comedic gag make their reprisals for this latest sequel, spotlighting character favorites and new additions that make way for the familiar and refurbished narratives and themes surrounding boyhood friendship and camaraderie, and never forgetting who you are. This messaging here falls succinctly on Ryo and Kohei, with flashbacks later in the second half that reveal a bit more about Ryo’s motivations, less so than that of Kohei who is as deplorable as you might expect from the outset of the film.
Barring the expansion of characters and its spirited adherence to the manga properties serving as the basis for this film not much is achieved in terms of leveling up the stakes – something the previous canonical High & Low trilogy largely accomplished. The good news here is that it mostly sticks to the strengths of the franchise and plays on them smartly enough not to feel too overdone, and the result, much to the viewers’ delight, is a heartfelt and poignant close that emotes succinctly after all the dropkicks, haymakers, bludgeonings and bodyslams have been had for the day.
I’m still keen on what the post-credits end of Final Mission could mean (or could have meant) for the franchise, as that bit of foreshadowing was never expanded on to my knowledge. As for High & Low: The Worst X, there’s a little room for improvement as far as sequels go, but you could do way, WAY worse. If you’re a veteran fan of the Crows adaptations of yesteryear and you’ve kept an eye on the High & Low saga since its inception, or it just so happens you love good and solid modern action from the far East, consider yourself invited to the party, as long as you can take a punch to the face.
Stream High & Low: The Worst X now on Netflix.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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