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High Kick Girl

January 27, 2010

High Kick Girl (Japan, 2009)

“She is more than just a cute high school girl. She is a master of Karate!”

High Kick Girl delivers what it promises. Idols on wires are out, High Kick Girl is a vehicle for its 17 year old lead, Rina Takeda, who, like most of the film’s cast, is a real life karate practitioner and a black belt holder. Fuyuhiko Nishi, promoted from action choreographer (Black Belt, 2007) to debut director attempts to deliver a relatively authentic karate-movie with no wires, special effects, or other gimmicks, such as proper storyline.

There should be little need to explain why a 17 year old girl kicking men in the head is a concept worthy of a movie or two. High Kick Girl does, however, differ to its advantage from most other high concept movies and genre pastiches of the recent years. The self aware cleverness that has plagued many of such movies is not to be found here. Takeda’s karate circus is a straight face show that exists for itself, and where cinematic clumsiness is entirely unintentional. This is how genuinely cool movies are being made.

The plot is quick to summarize. Kei’s (Takeda) sensei Matsumura (Tatsuya Naka from Japan Karate Association) refuses to grant her with a black belt due to lack of training. The frustrated girl walks out and takes an entrance exam for The Destoyers – an immoral karate gang for hire. She passes the test but discovers their next target is her own master. Time switch sides again.

High Kick Girl consists of three things and three things only: training scenes, fight scenes, and short dialogue scenes placed between the other two. Occasionally Takeda exhausts the viewer with angsty teen dialogue, although not in as bad manner as in the trailer (“I get kicked for real! That’s me! Ore ga atashi!”). Thankfully the next fight scene is, without an exception, waiting right behind the corner. That’s good, as things such as acting and directing would not keep the film from sinking. Teen girl karate on the on the other hand is first rate entertainment by theory alone.

The biggest of the film’s problems is that its brilliancy is often theoretical. The fights suffer from heavy ongbak-syndrome – the highlights are always seen twice. In the hands of a director proud of his performers this equals to countless long replays that efficiently take away fluency and potential tension in the fight scenes. A record amount of slow motion doesn’t help either, as most performers no doubt would convince more with their speed than cinematic style. On the positive side, the slow motion does make it obvious the fights are relatively real: no stunt doubles, and no quick edits to bluff the eye.

Takeda is a convincing kicker but does tend to get overshadowed by her supporting stars. Naka’s skills are naturally on a whole different level, which was also observed by the director… to the extent Takeda eventually becomes a supporting star in her own movie. The enemy league also features some stand out performers, of which the acrobatic Aya Sugiyama is without an equal. Jumping around the room like a circus performer she may look harmless, but you’ll be quick to change your mind when she lands on your face and uses your back as a trampoline.

High Kick Girl’s shortcomings in terms of action come as a disappointment, as the crew has clearly shot superb fighting footage for the needs of a straight forward karate movie. The punch has only been weakened in the editing room. If the director was to remove all slow motion and replays, High Kick Girl would be a clearly better movie. Nevertheless, it must be admitted the film is, in many ways, a lot of fun. Its merits are not based on cinematic achievements but rather displaying realistic karate. And to some extent, school uniform. Everyone can make their own conclusion based that that.

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2 comments

  1. The second screenshot alone totally makes me want to watch it. Did you see this in a theater, or Japanese DVD after all? US-Release should be due in March. In another review I read, that Takeda is kept on the bench for most of the showdown’s time, which is truly a shame; totally gonna buy the DVD, though.

    Let’s just hope someone more experienced with cinematic values will pick her up eventually, and make a truly kickass movie featuring Miniskirt-Karate.


  2. I bought the dvd. Unfortunately just missed the theatrical run.

    I do highly recommend the Japanese 2 Disc release, though. The extras are better than the film, and feature loads of fighting practice with Takeda and others. A few pics



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