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[NYAFF ’21] ‘Office Royale’ review: Another brutal day at the office

Comic book plot!

Office Royale is a whole new take on office politics. There have been many movies and television shows that gained popularity be skewering the workplace, but none have given it the beating that this movie does. The film is about the lives of “office ladies” in Japan. They live in a world of rival factions and territories where only the strong survive. When a newcomer named Ran comes on, it looks like the turf wars are coming to an end. It ends up leading to a shocking revelation. 

The film is powered by a predominantly female cast. This includes all of the major heroes and villains. There is even a scene that reverses the “damsel in distress” gender roles. That being said, it would be wrong to hold Office Royale up as some sort of feminist manifesto or to tear it apart for not being progressive enough. It is a straight up action movie that just happens to star women. 

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The narration alone should hint to the film’s tone. Naoko constantly compares everything that is happening to the story in a comic book. No matter how serious the situation is for her (or silly to the audience), it is all part of a bigger plot. Adding to the comic feel are the title cards, vivid colors, and many fight scenes. It is almost as if her entire life is one big manga.

As Office Royale progresses, the action sequences build. The first act – aside from the damsel moment mentioned above – is relatively tame. There is so little action that it will make some wonder whether the movie is making some sort of commentary on violence in the workplace. When the fighting moves outside, it becomes clear the off screen violence is being done for comedic purposes. 

Initially, it works. The tease of more brutal action along with some delightfully oddball characters will keep audiences invested. It does go on for a little too long and soon becomes disappointing, however. It is hard not to question when Office Royale will pick up the pace. When it finally does, it is worth the wait. The first Dynasty Warriors-esque scene is an exciting one. This is followed by an all out brawl that is impressively shot and exciting to watch. The film also stops holding back and starts showing the all out viciousness of these brawls. 

Office Royale does have an interesting twist that not everyone will enjoy. At one point, a new main character is brought into the mix. As stated in the narration, it is a comic book twist. Since not everyone watching is an otaku, they may not be as impressed. Nonetheless, anyone who has watched the movie to this point will already be enjoying its flamboyant world and will accept this with no questions asked.

The New York Asian Film Festival takes place from August 6 – August 22. Screenings are live and online

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