Review: JIL JUNG JUK Puts A Whimsical Twist On Indian Gangster Films

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
Review: JIL JUNG JUK Puts A Whimsical Twist On Indian Gangster Films
Deeraj Vaidy's freshmen directorial effort Jil Jung Juk is a balls to the wall, whacked out gangster comedy that has very little equal in the world of Indian cinema. Taking influences from all over the globe to craft his twisty, turny tale, Vaidy leaves it all on the screen in an effort to show Tamil film audiences something they haven't seen before. 

The result is an unusually ambitious tale of lowlifes looking for a big score while careening through a valley of deadbeats, backstabbers, and hired guns determined to stop them at any cost. While the end result is more than a little unwieldy in spots, I certainly left the cinema with a bigger smile on my face than the one I walked in with, and that's hard to beat.

The year is 2020, and in Vaidy's version of the post-apocalyptic wasteland, the men in charge are the ones who control the drugs and the gas. One such man, and the world's foremost drug kingpin is Deiva Nayagan (R. Amarendran), but even he is on his last legs after a major worldwide crackdown has peeled him back to his last four kilos of cocaine. He has one chance to get out of the business ahead, and that is to make a deal with Chinese dealers for the cocaine, but there's a catch. Tamil Nadu, where the film is set, is at the south end of India and China at the north end. The crackdown has made transporting the coke in its normal form impossible, but luckily, the filmmakers appear to have seen a few movies and a plan hatches.

In the spirit of Cheech & Chong's immortal Up in Smoke, Deiva and his henchmen find a way to turn the cocaine into a strawberry-flavored auto paint for a lovely vintage car. Now all they need are men to get the cocaine up north without drawing attention, Enter Jil (Siddharth) the smooth operator, Jung (Avinash Raghudevan) the timekeeper, and Juk (Sananth Reddy), the professional driver. The trio is pulled from small time con jobs into the big time because they were never successful enough to get on the police radars, literally. These three cats are to drive the car to a local vintage car rally and blend in with the scenery all the way to China. They make a mint, Deiva stays in business, and everyone walks away happy.

Unless, of course, something goes wrong.

As is the case with any good caper film, everything goes wrong. Colorful characters litter the highways of south India just waiting to distract our heroes -- if you can call them that -- leading to confusion, double crossing, and good old-fashioned shenanigans. There are too many twists to properly summarize without giving away crucial plot points, but suffice it to say that the car takes a bit of a journey without our friends that leads to an hour of plotting and subplotting in an attempt to cover up all of the various threads they've pulled loose.

For a first feature, Deeraj Vaidy really swings for the fences here, with his visual approach ranging anywhere from adventurous to outright goofy, but for the most part it works. Part Snatch, part Scott Pilgrim, even part Matrix at times, Vaidy throws everything he can think of at the wall and shockingly much of it sticks. I have no doubt that if Jil Jung Juk is remembered fondly by Tamil audiences -- the local critics don't seem to think much of it -- it'll be as a film that tried something different, which is a tactic that Tamil audiences seem to be fairly tolerant of. Obviously not everything works, but even the stuff that doesn't is exciting to watch.

Siddharth and his co-stars put up solid performances, though his Jil is truly the star of the film for a reason. As the producer, Siddharth understood that while this film may not make stars of its cast, it was important that the smooth talking lead be believable and charismatic, and casting himself in the role was a smart move. In fact, apart from the odd cameo -- pan-Indian heel Nasser makes an appearance -- there are very few other major stars in the film, instead, it's mostly populated with some of Tamil Nadu's finest character actors, including a man who is quickly becoming a personal favorite after his performance here and in 2015 critical darling Kirumi, Dheena. Dheena's portrayal of the mid-range gang boss Attack Albert is spot on and one of the film's greatest anchors.

The film is never played straight and plays fast and loose with its logic at times, but manages to tie up all of its subplots in a very satisfying way. Much has been made about the fact the film features no women, which is a good thing, because every cockamamie scheme in this film would've been 86'd by a sensible woman before it finished leaving these lunatics' mouths. Thankfully, no such sensibility exists and these alpha males are allowed to follow their bonkers ideas to their logical, or frequently completely improbable, ends.

The film is a bit longer than it needs to be, a trait shared by even the best Indian features, but manages to pack a lot into its run time. A ruthless editor could've dropped 15 to 20 minutes and added a bit of punch in terms of pacing, especially in the second half. However, as is, the film most of what it seems to have intended. It charted its own course with a style that borrows liberally from recent films both foreign -- most obviously those of Guy Ritchie -- and domestic -- nods to other Tamil films are present, as well as a similar visual feel to Lijo Jose Pellissary's recent Double Barrel, though Jil Jung Juk is thankfully a bit more restrained. As much as the second half feels a lot longer than the first, I was never bored, nor did I feel that the director went beyond his capability. If anything, I was excited to be along with him for this crazy experiment.

Jil Jung Juk probably won't make festival rounds, and I don't know if it'll survive another week at the cinema with several big name Tamil films on their way soon, but for those of us who can say we were there, we definitely saw something unique. Wonderful visual style, one of the finest soundtracks of the last few years thanks to Vishal, and an ambition as big as its characters' dreams make Jil Jung Juk a definite win for me, even when its reach exceeds its grasp.

Jil Jung Juk

  • Deeraj Vaidy
  • Mohan Ramakrishnan
  • Deeraj Vaidy
  • Siddharth
  • Sananth
  • Avinash Raghudevan
  • Radha Ravi
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indiajil jung jukKollywoodSiddharthDeeraj VaidyMohan RamakrishnanSananthAvinash RaghudevanRadha RaviActionComedyCrime

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