Japan, 2009: High-Kick Girl
A high school girl training in karate seeks out stronger opponents to test her fighting skills on, only to become involved in a revenge plot by a gang of thugs against her master.
In addition to Hong Kong, Japan now faces stiff competition from Korea and Thailand when it comes to producing martial arts movies and martial arts superstars. High-Kick Girl introduces Rina Takeda, a young Japanese idol who holds a black belt in Ryukyu Shorin-Ryu Karate, hoping to develop her new film career into the next action franchise. However, with incredibly low standards of production quality going into this project, I would be surprised if anyone even bothers to learn the actress’s name, much less watch her next movie. With poor writing, bland performances, and altogether lackluster direction, High-Kick Girl is a boring, contrived, and visual mess, failing in just about every aspect of the genre and film-making as a whole.
The script’s pacing has no sense of drama or tension whatsoever, and none of the dialogue is captivating at all. We are thrust from one event to the next without any idea of who is important, what is happening, or why any of the characters are doing anything at all. Coupled with single-note performances by the entire cast, the movie drags on for the entire hour and twenty minutes that it spans. Normally, these sorts of things would be tolerable in an action movie, which provides the real entertainment in between the moments of bland plot forwarding. However, in the case of High-Kick Girl, the failures of production penetrate every level of the film, leaving nothing worth watching. With ridiculously excessive amounts of slow-motion, the camera work does nothing but emphasize the terrible choreography and execution by the stunt team. Often, they will repeat entire stunt sequences in slow-motion, using the exact same angle as we’ve just seen. This pointless gesture just pads the movie further and makes it obvious how little material the team actually had to work with. Removing all the slow motion and repeat cuts, the film as a whole would measure around an hour, if that.
Thematically, director/writer Fuyuhiko Nishi treads the same clichéd martial arts tropes of “self-defense and protection only” and “fighting is wrong, and is a last resort only.” However, without any affinity for the leading characters, the message falls flat and Takeda’s arc feels less like the development of self and more like an abrupt shift of personality compelled by the plot. Unless you have some massive fetish for Japanese school girls in action, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about this film. It is a disappointment as an action flic, fails as a plea for traditionalism, and lacks any impact as a cathartic work of art at all. If we are to see more of Takeda as a rising film star, hopefully it won’t be anywhere near Fuyuhiko or his team.