Next up in this August’s “Martial Arts Mayhem” review series is the 2011’s Japanese Martial Art film “Karate Girl”, with Ryukyu Shorin-ryu Karate black belt Rina Takeda, star of “High Kick Girl”. Japanese Karate schoolgirls? Oh yeah… this wee Catgirl’s certainly on board for this one…. 😉
Our synopsis reads: “Pretty Ayaka Kurenai, is a young girl living an assumed identity in hiding with an adoptive family after her father, a famous Karate Master was murdered and her younger sister kidnapped. Years later her true identity is accidentally revealed when she is seen on TV news using her skills to stop a purse snatching at the cinema where she works. Once again Ayaka attracts the murderous attentions of her father’s killer, Tagawa Shu, now the Supreme Master of an evil Martial Art Empire of deadly karate assassins still desperate to get his hands on her father’s black belt to claim control of the Kurenai family karate legacy. Realizing her true identity, he sends his killers to find her, seize the belt, and kill her once and for all. As she battles for her life and her father’s honor, little does Ayaka dare guess that one of those enemies is Sakura, her younger sister, now trained as one of Shu’s merciless killers-for-hire.”
“High Kick Girl”, while only a minor little film made on a shoestring budget wasn’t the greatest Martial Art movie ever made, it did have one thing going for it…. Rina Takeda. Pretty and obviously talented with a confident charisma that showed amazing promise, it was only a matter of time before she would get the chance to strut her stuff properly and become the Martial Art movie star she should be. Will “Karate Girl” be her big “break-out” role? Only one way to find out… and that’s by giving it the ol’ “look see”… So let’s all “Read On” and find out, shall we?
Yep… a few years ago it seemed every country in Asia wanted to jump on the “Bad-Ass Girl” bandwagon. First there was the absolutely amazing Thai kickboxing skills of Jeeja Yanin in “Chocolate”. Then China jumped in with the Wushu stylings of Jiang Lu Xia in “Coweb”. These two alone spawned a veritable deluge of “Girl Power” martial art films, each trying to outdo the rest with the always interesting idea that attractive, sexy girls could kick ass every bit as hard as their male counterparts. Naturally… Japan, with it’s long tradition of chambara films, ninja flix, and karate action films wanted in on some of this too. Enter Karate expert Rina Takeda….
Her first film role in “High Kick Girl” while hardly the stuff of movie making genius, showed off her impressive skills in karate leaving a lasting impression on Martial Art film fans who most definitely came away from that film wanting more. Lots more. Being young and pretty didn’t hurt either, and it was only a matter of time before you just knew she’d be back again.
However… as with most of the other Martial Art girls of late, that has proven to be an even more difficult task than learning her karate ever was. Seems poor Rina, like many of the others, has fallen afoul of the same lack of vision that keeps a truly worthwhile talent languishing in a series of meaningless low budget efforts, that quality stand-out role just always out of reach.
While definitely a step up from the fairly amateurish “High Kick Girl”, “Karate Girl” isn’t ever going to be going down in cinema history as any sort of “epic’ film. It is a better film…. but only in comparison to that initial effort. At least this time out it looks more like a real movie… shot on film rather than video… but it’s still hampered by being saddled with a truly silly plot and cartoonishly goofy villain and preposterous “my loving little sister was raised to be evil” plot idea. In it’s defense, most Martial Art films are usually somewhat simple stories (although not always…. some can be remarkably complex and compelling) and this at least makes following the story lots easier for an audience that is mostly there just to see the crazy mad fighting skills on display. But for that to work… you have to really come up with some creative stunt and fight sequences to grab those viewers, blow them away, and make audiences remember them for years and years. Think Jackie Chan….. with most of his films very simple affairs, he always… and I mean always… fills those movies with the most jaw dropping scenes you’ll ever witness. “Chocolate” certainly learned that lesson and ran with it to great success. Here, unfortunately, we don’t get anything like that. And I soooo wish we did.
Basically here, our story merely stumbles from choreographed fight to choreographed fight…. with bare hands, with weapons, against both hordes of low level mooks as well as the requisite “Level Boss” main henchmen…. all filmed with the cinematography skills of your average piece of stale toast. No dramatic cuts… no real attempt to use the camera to flow with Miss Takeda as she takes down her opponents… mostly just wide shots designed to stay out of the way as our actors get it on and keep the cameraman from getting hurt. The fights… while technically well done, lack the brutal “reality” that would truly sell them. A shame really…. as Japanese filmakers used to know how to do it and do it well and still can when they want to.
But, as it stands for me at least, “Karate Girl” ends up being less like “Sister Street Fighter” and more like “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior”…. less about the butt kicking goodness and more about merely going through the motions, making a buck, and playing it safe. Darn it…. 😦
Sigh…. Given all this, your Favorite Catgirl Warrior Princess has to be fair and give this one a paltry and barely earned 3 “Meows” out of 5. It wouldn’t even have that… being merely a forgettable footnote in Karate cinema… but I’m still very impressed with Rina Takeda and sooooo want to see her blossom into the lethal Martial Art movie heroine I know she can be. This wee Catgirl can only say “Ganbatte, Rina-chan!! I know you can do it!!” Maybe, if the Movie fairies are kind, someday it’ll happen….. and when it does I’ll still be watching.
The Region 1 DVD is presented well with a letterboxed NTSC formatted picture and those excellent English subtitles I like. It’s a modestly priced little DVD too, and ought to be available for right around 10-20$ US most of the usual places. If you are nutty for Kung-Fu movies like a certain silly Catgirl, you’ll still probably want a look… even if you read my review, but I’m thinking for most of you, this one is definitely a rental not a purchase for your movie collection.
As always, a nifty Trailer exists, just for our viewing pleasure, courtesy of Youtube! Enjoy!!