Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: High-Kick Girl!

First the good news: Rina Takeda, the high-kicking karate girl of the title, is a star. She has the martial arts abilities, she has the looks, and she has the "sarcastic badass" attitude down. What she doesn't have is a competent film to star in. Everything from the directing to the writing to the acting displays utter ineptitude.

First and foremost, when you title a film HIGH-KICK GIRL!, you expect the film to focus on the high-kick girl. You do not have her kidnapped and held hostage for two-thirds of the film. If the audience was looking for a slightly portly older gentleman with a chubby face and little charisma to be on a rescue mission for the majority of the running time, they would have gone to see HIGH-KICK MASTER! It's bait-and-switch of the worst kind, as it seems so misjudged. Did Takeda suffer an injury during the shoot, forcing a rapid re-write? Or did director Nishi Fuyuhiko lose confidence in here abilities to carry an entire film? In which case he was dead wrong, as Takeda's scenes are the only ones worth watching.

The acting, Takeda excepted, is uniformly dreadful. Maniacal laughter, constipated glares, pointless shouting, all the hallmarks of classic bad acting. Perhaps these are all genuine martial artists, cast for their fight prowess and not their thespian skills? Fair enough, but at least use an acting coach and give them some acting lessons first. Professional actors would at least spend some time in a karate class before filming, how about trying the same thing in reverse? It certainly couldn't make things any worse.

The fights are frustratingly stop-start. Single sequences take down all foes. Sure, this is true to the karate "one-hit-instant-death" spirit, inherently less cinematic than the flowing grace of Chinese kung-fu, but Fuyuhiko chooses to emphasise that aspect instead of disguising it. Each kick or punch is followed by a slow-motion replay, then ten seconds of the fighters standing still for no apparent reason. In one sequence in a gym that almost seems like a spoof of the genre, twenty fighters rush at our stand-in hero together, yet curiously in the fight scene that follows he beats them up one-by-one! Did they suddenly form an orderly queue off-camera?

Ultimately, HIGH-KICK GIRL! fails because it doesn't know what it wants to be. It doesn't have the low-budget energy and fun of an equivalent grindhouse flick like MACHINE GIRL, lacking blood or exploitative elements. It doesn't have the brilliant long-takes and crazy stunt-work of the standout female-martial-arts film of recent years, CHOCOLATE, and as it spends zero time on character development or backstory it can't be compared to western fight films like THE KARATE KID or Danish female-fight film FIGHTER. Is it an educational karate film to be shown in class, to teach Japanese youth to practice their kata-forms every day? Or is it just a show-reel for the martial artists involved?

No comments: