KG: Karate Girl

July 7, 2011

KG: Karate Girl (Japan, 2011)

Lately, Japanese action cinema has been like a hamburger. First there is director, screenwriter, and action choreographer. Then the beef (choreographer) takes a hike and makes a film of his own. Finally, the choreographer’s screenwriter (sandwich) declares himself as director and delivers the third film in the continuation. This is the history of recent karate film from Black Belt (2007) to High Kick Girl (2009) and finally KG: Karate Girl (2011).

Rina Takeda, Japan’s most promising new action talent, caught the chain during its second phase. The 1991 born sweetheart fought herself a black belt in Ryukyu Shorin-ryu karate before entering show biz. Her film debut High-Kick Girl was a karate demo suffering from inadequate cinematic execution. Furthermore, she was overshadowed by the more skilled karate sensei Tatsuya Naka, who appears in all three films.

In KG Takeda is back in action as yet another super karate shoujo. The storyline kicks off with Okinawa flashback, with bad guys barging into Kurenai-sensei’s (Naka) place. The wrongdoers take a hell of a beating from the righteous master until the last coward standing manages to deliver a deadly strike by katana. The villains take Kurenai-san’s 3 year old daughter away, but seal their destiny by accidentally leaving the elementary school age big sis alive.

As further fuck up the villains grab the wrong belt. The wise sensei had replaced his black belt (symbolizing karate world supremacy) with a worthless copy when he saw the petty thieves coming. 10 years later the bad guys raise an eyebrow once again when the Internet is flooded with cell phone pics for a joshikousei who took down two thieves using Kurenai-karate techniques. Who exactly is this girl, and might she possibly have the sought after black belt in her possession?

KG essentially reverses the filmmaker roles from High Kick Girl. Yoshikatsu Kimura directs instead of writing, and Fuyuhiko Nishi, aside choreographing, does the opposite. The change is a success: KG is a far better movie than High Kick Girl, only stumbling in storytelling. The simple truth is that storytelling should not be applied when one doesn’t have what it takes. In KG the problem appears mainly in a handful of “story scenes”, although some great one liners and occasional unintentionally amusing bits lessen the problem. These scenes aside, the film rather rocks.

The action scenes are plenty and well done. Almost entirely gone are the endless replay shots seen in High Kick Girl. The fights now come with a solid flow and superior cinematic execution. Advanced editing tricks are ignored, with filmmakers relying on the good old “No Wires, No CG, No Stuntmen” mantra. Heavy full contact is still lacking, but thankfully compensated by ballsy sound effects that make bones break as they should. Some kicks are taken all the way, with one cast member taken out and sent to the hospital by Rina-chan. The only real gripe is that fights tend to be a bit one sided – standard opponents display alarming lack of self defense skills and appear eager to taste the shoe.

Aside Rina, the film’s real stand out is the 13 year old Hina Tobimatsu. She faces the regular problem: the younger the girl the more difficult it is to believe she’s able to take down grown up men. A couple of times the illusion is indeed broken, but for the most part one can only follow her movement in awe. For a 13 year old she sure is one hell of a kicking machine who’s constantly about to go into “airplane mode” as she mistakes her opponents as “stars”. The film’s editing, while not fast by any means, basically does her injustice as she was capable of taking 15 opponents out at one go, with no need for the director to yell “cut” in between.

The villain bunch is a more mixed bag. Wheel chair baddie Keisuke Horibe’s merits lie on a fantastic “Devil’s Grin”. His right hand man, Richard “The Monster” Heselton on the other hand is a real, 190 cm karate killer. He’s got murder in his eyes, while heroine Takeda-san is having depressing speech on using martial arts only on self defense. Far gone are the times when Sonny Chiba would defend himself by ripping the opponent’s balls off. Then again, such actions could not be expected from Takeda. As a wise girl she took the idol path, with beach vid Angel Rina in stores for good 6 months now. Her music talent can be witnessed in KG theme song Ready. Steady. Go!

Takeda’s idol status considered KG is considerably straight forward action film decidedly lacking any major kawaii-factors, despite part of its charm being based on “sweet girls kicking ass”. This concept, asexual in tone and aiming at maximum innocent fun, is familiar all the way from the 1980’s High School Action TV Shows (Shoujo Commando Izumi, Rebellion League of Girls in Sailor Uniform, etc.), although unfortunately it still confuses random foreign viewers. These individuals, sadly, cannot even stand the sight of one of Japan’s most commonly worn outfits, the school uniform, without feeling uneasy. Takeda and the male crew can hardly be blamed: KG goes ever further than High Kick Girl in anti-sexualizing teen girls.

KG doesn’t bring anything new to its genre and doesn’t manage to avoid all cinematic crew ups, but as silly and even unintentionally amusing genre entertainment it certainly delivers – especially it its action sequences. Someone could of course complain Takeda and Tobimatsu don’t have half of Sonny Chiba’s killing power. But Chiba never had school uniform. Case closed!

note: DVD review can be found here

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