This time out it’s more tough chicks kicking butt… and you know Neko just loves that! I’ve got the recent remake of the Japanese “Women in Prison” revenge classic “Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion” to review. Meiko Kaji is nowhere to be seen in this one, but thankfully we have the star of “Hard Revenge Milly”, Miki Mizuno to step in for the lead in “Female Prisoner 701: Sasori”.
You all know the story, but here’s a quick synopsis for those of you still woefully ignorant of the legend: “When a band of assassins invade the home of their target Hei Tai they find only his lovely, innocent, bride-to-be, Nami and force upon her a cruel dilemma: either she kills her fiancee’s sister or they kill her fiancee. Trapped, and unable to confide in the person she loves most, Nami kills her fiancee’s sister and is sent to prison where she survives only by becoming as ruthless as those around her. Trained to fight by a fellow inmate, Nami develops the skills and strength to escape and sets out on a quest for revenge. After killing two of the assassins she’s reunited with Hei Tai who’s still unaware she killed his sister. As their love is rekindled Nami decides to abandon her crusade of vengeance when the remaining assassin finds them and tells Hei Tai what Nami did. Nami realizes she can never rest until she finds and defeats the assassins’ employer, but now her beloved’s torn between helping her and his own personal desire for revenge.”
So… will this one equal the classic, or fall miserably on it’s butt? It’s got all the necessary prerequisites to succeed…. Women in prison…. brutal unrelenting violence and torture… a beautiful woman pushed to her extreme and honed into a lethal killing machine…. and, as the poster promises, “Lots of Girl-on Girl violence” all leading our Heroine to a well deserved vengeance by the film’s end. How can it fail? (But… as Neko well knows…. that somehow, some way, they can still mess it all up once in a while… so I’m keepin’ my lil’ paws crossed for luck!!)
Your Favorite Catgirl knows you like these unabashedly exploitative silly films too, so let’s all “Read On” and find out for ourselves!!
The first thing that I found surprising about this one was that, although it’s a re-make of the famous Japanese film, this one’s not a Japanese film at all. This film is actually a Chinese one…. complete with a Chinese Mandarin soundtrack. A bit jarring to me, expecting the familiar sounds of spoken Japanese to come from a character like Nami. I had to check the DVD just to be sure… but nope, no Japanese audio option at all.
As this one starts out, we get introduced to the character of Nami (played by Japanese actress and stunt woman Miki Mizuno from “Hard Revenge Milly”) hanging by her wrists in the courtyard of a nameless prison…. slowly dying of exposure. Then we flash back…. and find out this is a far cry from her former life as a simple ordinary woman with a loving boyfriend (played by Taiwanese singer & actor Dylan Kuo) who is an honest hard working policeman. Seemingly they have that almost fairytale perfect life most couples never seems to really have until, that is… evil invades their domestic paradise. A gang of vicious killers break into their home one evening taking poor Nami hostage as part of a plan to kill her boyfriend’s father once he arrives for a visit. Here the film sets it’s tone immediately as being far more bloody and grim than the original ever though of being.
Seems the mysterious woman in charge of this group of thugs, Sen Sou (played with stylish psychopathy by Emme Wong), finds Nami’s perfect love too much to accept. She gives Nami a choice….. stab her boyfriend’s sister to death or watch him die instead, a bullet in the back of his head. (This is actually the weakest part of the plot…. since Nami realistically would probably rather die together with her boyfriend rather than cause him the pain of watching her murder his sister….. At this point in the plot, she really lacks any ability to kill.) I’m a bit fuzzy as to how this all ends up with her going to jail… I mean, obviously she didn’t shoot her boyfriend’s father in the head with a gun she didn’t have, and if she told her story to any cops with an ounce of mental acumen she would have probably been given a far less grueling punishment for having been forced to choose who lived and who died on that horrible evening. However… apparently the police couldn’t be bothered to actually investigate the crimes… Oh well…..
But all this logic is getting in the way of the story…. So it’s off to the nameless bleak woman’s prison where Nami gets her first rude awakening as to the Hell in which she’s been committed to. Strangely enough, for an exploitation film like this… there are no evil Lesbians here (or if there are, they stay hidden pretty darn well)… just vicious lady pit-bulls who like to pound the fudge out of those weaker than themselves in a mud filled arena for the amusement of the warden and a select clientele of gamblers. Naturally… the leader of this bunch takes an immediate hatred towards poor innocent Nami. That leads to the first of her brutal beatings…. with the implied idea that there will be many, many more to come. The violence is hard…. and in any real world situation, would have actually resulted in a slow disfiguring death…. but not in the fantasy world of woman’s revenge cinema. No… there, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you tougher… meaner… and ultimately hardens you in body and soul till you are ready to bring the payback to those who have hurt you the most. It was really hard to watch some of this stuff…. and Carolyn let me know it was a bit much for her as well…. but I told her to hang in with me and things would turn around eventually for Nami. It’s just that kind of film….
Eventually Nami has to face off against Dieyou (played by Nana Natsume) and her gang of thugs… a particularly vicious battle in a dirty shower room that was possibly the meanest girl fight I’ve ever seen. We get multiple opponents going after Nami with a sledgehammer, several boards studded with nails, and all the dirty street fighting moves this side of pro-wrestling. We see her fend them off taking the kind of punishment you’d never believe a woman could take…. including a drowning that lets her trick Dieyou into dropping her guard long enough to let Nami slice open her throat with a piece of another woman’s skull. Ouch!! (And Ewwwwhhhh, gross!!)
I almost lost Carolyn at this point…. the fight was just a wee bit toooo graphic for her, but she stuck it out with me…. (Something tells me I owe her a light romantic comedy next “movie nite”….) However real revenge movie junkies…. like your Favorite Catgirl…. just know this means the big finale is sooooo gonna kick some serious butt. Right after they kill Nami of course… Say what?
Yep, we’re at that point where the warden figures Nami is just toooo dangerous and crazy to keep around anymore. So it’s off to the courtyard and the sequence in the beginning where she’s been left to hang till she dies…. A cold lonely death that ends with the guards bagging her up in some tattered old tarp and dumping her in the woods away from the prison to be forgotten and unremembered. However…. we wouldn’t have much of a movie if everything ended there now would we?
At this point the movie changes gears…. and Nami gets found by the enigmatic character called “The Corpse Collector” (played by Simon Yam) who finds that she not… quite… dead yet. He’s got this notion that only someone who has already died can get really good at kung-fu…. and sets out to heal Nami and teach her everything he knows about fighting. Cue that crazy training montage!!
There’s some kickboxing…. with hanging corpses standing in for heavy bags… and a nifty playground version of the shaolin wooden man….. a little psychological insight into the nature of one’s opponent….. and most especially some deadly swordfighting to round it all out. Next…. it’s time to dig those two graves and hit the bloody road to vengeance. You go girl!!
From here on, we leave the desolate confines of the prison and the ruins near it, and Nami becomes a veritable leather clad demoness…. stalking the night scene in a nameless city, looking for some sign of the gang that invaded her home and caused all this pain so many years earlier. They skip all the boring stuff that such investigations always get bogged down with and jump right to her suddenly knowing exactly what was behind it all. (This confused the bejeebits outta Carolyn and if you don’t pay attention, it’s likely to leave you scratching your head too….) Seems after all this is said and done, it had nothing whatsoever to do with her boyfriend’s police job…. Instead it seems that his dad stood in the way of some evil scientist’s desire to get funding for his unethical experiments involving transplant surgery. Seems his daughter… errr, ummm? “trophy wife”?….. No.. wait a minute…errrr, ahhh, weird girlfriend, maybe? Heck I don’t really know who she is, but she’s the one that sent those bad guys over to Nami’s house to kill her boyfriend’s dad. A simple call to her gets those killers looking for Nami, and solves her problem of finding them.
To complicate matters… her boyfriend is back too. But he’s had his memory erased…. all the nasty images of his beloved Nami killing his sister gone, so naturally he finds himself falling for her all over again. You just know that relationship is doomed, especially since our villains are the ones who kindly did the hypnotherapy he needed. Nice coincidence that…..
All that goofy plot stuff aside, we get several nice set piece battles as Nami faces off against the gang, killing them one by one in some fairly bloody, creative ways. Lots and lots of anime inspired wire-fu… but fun nevertheless. If realistic fights are your thing… you probably won’t enjoy this part of the film, but I sorta did. It’s silly…. cartoonish….. yet satisfying in a visceral way. How does it all wrap up? Well… this one is a short film at 88 minutes in length, and is more about neat fight scenes than character development, but we all know how these usually go, right? The villains all get killed… in as nasty a manner as our Heroine can manage… love will elude her again, so empty and alone you know she’ll be forced to continue living with her pain simply because she’s just too tough to die. Time to walk off into the sunrise….. Roll those credits.
So…. all in all, how did “Sasori” stack up? As a remake of the classic film…. well… there’s no comparison. The Meiko Kaji film of the 70’s is so superior in most ways, with far better music, cinematography, story and all the trimmings. It’s probably why this one went it’s own direction, re-imagining the ideas behind the original and going with all the strong violence and brutal HK inspired action. Seen in that light, it’s an OK film, but flawed from the standpoint of having an overly simple story that has glaring plot holes a viewer needs to ignore if they want to enjoy it. Perhaps the best element was the role of Nami as portrayed by Miki Mizuno… She’s a very accomplished actress who easily appeals as both innocent Nami and the cold, deadly “Scorpion” as well. She’s not afraid of the action either, as “Hard Revenge Milly” showed us, and is a natural here in this very physical role. The other actors also do a credible job, but can’t really lift this one above it’s level of simple actioner.
I give this one an acceptable 3 “Meows” out of 5…. mostly on the strength of the action and fight choreography. Also… for all it’s violence, particularly against women, it doesn’t forget “Neko’s Cardinal Rule on Violence & Torture”….. a very welcome thing. But in general, I wouldn’t recommend this one to any but the most die-hard fans of the genre. The Region 2 PAL DVD is certainly acceptable, being both letterbox formatted and well subtitled, but nothing special. So in wrap-up, I’ll definitely be wanting to see more of Miki Mizuno in the future, if not a sequel to this particular one any time soon.
Trailer? OMG…. could I ever leave you without one? You know this lil’ Catgirl better than that…. Hehehehe!!