As a filmmaker, we, subconsciously or not, want to offer tribute or call upon our inspirations on why we strap a camera to our hands and eyes in the first place. At the same time, genre of old should just stay where they are, in the loving memory of nostalgia.
So, as you can tell, that’s not really a good opening to my review of Kurando Mitsutake’s Karate Kill. Before I get into all of that, let me just give you a general synopsis of this film.
Kenji (Hayate) has lost contact with his younger sister, Mayumi (Mana Sakura), who was studying in the States. Worried, he decides to leave his life behind to find out what happened to his sister; and with the power of Karate and the help of Keiko (Asami), an ex-military, shotgun blasting, sexy amputee, Kenji will stop at nothing to save his sister from the clutches of a crazy cult.
Karate Kill definitely takes its inspirations from the b-film, chop socky, grindhouse feel; where conceptions of story progression and plot takes the backseat from the muzzle flashes of guns and geysers of blood. This ultimately is the problem that I had trying to sit through this movie. I haven’t been the biggest fan of contemporary Japanese cinema but pairing it with this genre makes it even worse. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the quirkiness of it all; there’s something oddly satisfying seeing blood being sprayed upon the nice supple breasts of Mana Sakura (who I definitely Googled after the film and watched her other films that aren’t for general consumption) but there were odd film making decisions that were too hard to pass.
About 15 minutes into the film, there was a fight scene that was filmed as a one shot. Not sure what the director had in mind but for this minute long fight scene, he decided that it would a good idea to spin the image throughout the whole fight. Okei? It wasn’t cool or add anything to the fight scene; it was disorienting and made no sense to concept of clarity, which sucks because it looked like the action performers were capable people. I honestly would have preferred the American style multicut of fight scenes than this lazy film making decision; and this wasn’t a one time thing either, the same spin effect happens at the final fight scene too. For a movie that glorified this badass Karate fighter, the fight scenes were completely droll. Most of the fights were literally one master shot and a few close up inserts of the protagonist. The training sequence in the middle of the film is exactly the same. Cutting from too wide of a shot to extreme close ups just a jumbled mess of editing and poor shot planning, I think.
This also leads into another problem that I notice with Japanese films and filmmakers; over zealous acting and confusing pacing. Maybe it carried over from the golden age of chanbara films, but it seems like over emphasizing a lingering shot to build tension is a staple of every Japanese film these days.
The problem is that there’s no mood to make in this film with its simple plot nor at any time does the protagonist feel that time was of the essense. It showed more of Kenji silently walking from destination to another to serve as the film’s only idea of scene transition. Seriously, there was more walking than fighting in this film. That’s another sign of lazy filmmaking.
Though, there are a few gems in this film. Obviously, if you love blood, gore, and nipples, then yeah, this film gives you those by the boatloads but what I’m saying is that Asami came a long way from Machine Girl. I actually really liked her acting in this film, although she was barely in it as she only served the purpose to give the protagonist some T and A. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just that her background was MUCH cooler than the main guy himself! A former Japanese SDF soldier that got caught up by this cult that mutilated her hand in a sink’s trash disposal? That’s nuts.
Speaking of nuts, the main antagonist Vendenski (Kirk Geiger) is hands down AMAZING. He took a silly written character and made that role shine. Mr. Geiger’s performance definitely was the only enjoyable character in the film and it was a shame that I didn’t get to see him enough. I would love to see this guy get better scripts.
After all that though, I can’t really recommend this film to anyone. An action film that prides itself in martial arts but uses only two angles in fight scenes, odd but lazy filmmaking decisions, uninspired action tropes, poor pacing and even worse writing…
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