High Kick Girl!(2009)
Cast : Rina Takeda, Tatsuya Naka
Fuyuhiko Nishi’s “High Kick Girl!” is a sometimes interesting throwback to 70’s martial arts films like “Gekitotsu! Satsujin Ken AKA The Street Fighter” and “Onna Hissatsu Ken AKA Sister Streetfighter” but ultimately fails to provide enough thrills or drama to keep viewers entertained. What we are left with is a plot-less and somewhat boring film whose only trump card is watching cute new comer Takeda Rina kick-ass quite impressively.
Takeda Rina is the latest in a wave of cute, martial artists breaking into the movie scene. In the last couple of years we saw the debut of two similarly lithe and deadly cuties in Luxia Jiang (star of “Coweb” and winner of Jackie Chan’s “The Disciple” HK reality show) and Jeeja Yanin (Thai martial arts phenome and star of “Chocolate” and “Raging Phoenix”). Takeda certainly has the skills of an up-and-coming martial arts star being a 1st degree (Ichi Dan) Black Belt in Karate with the Ryukyu/Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate-Do Genshin Kai. With her tall lanky frame and long legs, Takeda’s specialty seems to be high kicks to the heads of opponents, earning her the movie’s title.
Takeda’s impressive high kicks and cute face however can’t save this “one trick pony” of a movie which suffers under the weight of a weak story and some terrible acting.
The story is lethargic at best and revolves around Takeda’s character Tsuchiya Kei, a skilled albeit brash Karate student who spends her time challenging other Karate school students to test her prowess. She is a student of famed Karate instructor, Matsumoto Yoshiaki (portrayed by real life Japan Karate Association lead instructor and former All Japan Karate champion Taka Tatsuya) who is unimpressed by her abilities and who chides her for exploiting her training.
The rebellious Tsuchiya is soon contacted by a mysterious caller who offers her a chance to use her skills and earn money as a “kowashiya” (“breaker” i.e. enforcer). Intrigued Tsuchiya takes up the caller’s proposal but before she can start, the caller has her take an initiation to test her Karate. Tsuchiya soon finds herself facing off a number of high school punks in an abandoned building including a group of Sukeban with similar Karate skills. Tsuchiya easily bests the bunch and is soon introduced to the caller who turns out to be Ryuzoku (Sudo Masahiro) a former associate of Matsumoto with a grudge. Ryuzoku is part of a larger mob of other Kowashiya led under the sinister Genga (Amano Koji) who all want revenge on Matsumoto for some unrevealed wrong(it is hinted that Matsumoto was once a part of their organization but left).
Tsuchiya learns that this was all part of a trap to find Matsumoto and get revenge on him. Tsuchiya and her classmate are overpowered by Genga and his minions and it is up to Matsumoto to save them but can he fight through waves of Genga’s best fighters in time?
Even though Takeda is supposed to be the heroine of the story, it is surprisingly Taka who dominates much of the last act of the movie and does the lion share of the fighting. The movie seems like one part action film and the other part a Karate instructional video. There are several odd moments when Taka expounds on how to be a virtuous martial artist and use Karate in a responsible way. The films takes a preachy attitude about Karate and patronizes the audience with its message.
While Takeda may be a good martial artist she unfortunately lacks the acting experience to carry a film and while she does an admirable job for a beginner, she is charmless as Tsuchiya and is rather bland as a the Tsuchiya character.
Unlike some of her Japanese predecessors like Oshima Yukari, Nishiwaki Michiko, Morinaga Naomi and recent female action star Mizuno Miki she doesn’t quite have the fighting versatility or ferocity to really make an impact. Takeda may be on par with 70s Toei action icon Shiomi Etsuko in fighting skills but lacks her acting skills and on screen charisma.
Taka is stoic and exudes authority as Matsumoto but is also very boring as the Taka character.
The villains suffer the most from character under-development as they merely act as cannon fodder for Takeda and Taka’s kicks and punches. It is almost like a video game where one waits for the next opponent to get their face bashed in. Neither Ryuzoku and Genga are interesting as villains save for their stereotypical bad-guy appearances and despite being touted as the badass leaders of this criminal organization are dispatched in shockingly anticlimactic fashion. They don’t even put up a decent fight.
Some of the earlier fight scenes are pretty decent and the stunt men and women involved definitely should get some credit for allowing themselves to be on the receiving end of some very painful kicks and hits for the camera. Unfortunately the thrill of the fights is undermined by director Nishi’s insistence on replaying and rewinding every fight scene in nauseating slow motion. The first couple of times may have been novel but when it is done for every single fight scene it becomes just plain irritating. It takes away from the action in very dumb way.
“High Kick Girl” is a disappointing action film made on the cheap and which features martial artists trying to act but whose inexperience shows. “High Kick Girl” had the potential to be a Japanese equivalent to the HK “girls with guns” films but failed to live up to those expectations. Perhaps Takeda’s next film will be a better showcase for her and allow her more opportunity to act. Maybe she can get her fame through Tokusatsu TV (Live Action Science Fiction TV) although I think she deserves better.