Thursday, April 14, 2011

High Kick Girl! (2009)

Rina Takeda.  Surprisingly, this shot was played at normal speed.

 One of the pleasures of working on this particular blog has been the fact that my co-author and I watch such wildly different kinds of films, yet think and talk about them in very similar ways.  This has at times allowed me to make unexpected connections between films and genres and find common threads of interest to follow.  And so it was that I found myself thinking about MGM musicals while watching this low-budget martial arts quickie from Japan.

Allex has commented in past conversation that rather than build films from the story up as we would generally assume that movies are made, MGM seemed to be in the habit of signing performers with various and sundry photogenic talents and finding ways to build movies (or at least sequences in movies) to showcase those talents.  Knowing nothing about the production history of High Kick Girl! I can only assume that the process was pretty similar.  Some producer at Toei discovered karate black-belt Rina Takeda and thought to himself "here's a fetching young girl, with legs that look great in a short skirt, and she's a pretty talented martial artist.  That's enough for a movie, right?"

Truth in advertising.

And look, I'm a "man cannot live by art alone" kind of film fan.  There is more than enough room in my cinematic diet for both movies that challenge me with their profundity as well as for movies that offer more, shall we say, superficial pleasures.  So my answer to the question whether a cute girl in a short skirt practicing karate is enough to build a movie around is an emphatic "hell yeah!"  Unfortunately, High Kick Girl! is not that movie.

Don't get me wrong, there are enough scenes of Takeda doing her thing that I don't feel like I wasted my time or money.  But when the credits rolled I was more than a little inclined to track down director Fuyuhiko Nishi, take away his toys, and send him to his room to think about what he'd done.  In a movie like this, entirely centered around the talents of its performers, the best thing any director can do (unless he has some superlative talent himself) is just get the hell out of the way and try not to draw attention to himself.  Nishi took the opposite approach.  I kid you not when I say that this movie would be far, far better had a technician simply strung the raw dailies together and kept the director out of it.

Captions identify the villains, as they have no context other than to appear and lose a fight.

The movie barely reaches feature length, clocking in at a slim 81 minutes.  But I'm confident that were the movie to be re-edited without the incessant instant replays and simply unbearable overuse of slow motion that it would not crack 45 minutes.  Did Nishi perhaps fall asleep on the slo-mo button in the editing bay?  There are worse explanations.

Hick Kick Girl! is at its best in the first half hour, when Takeda is a cocky wise-cracker, poking fun at martial arts cliches and generally having a good time.  But the moment plot shows its ugly head and we're asked to care about the quest for vengeance of a group called The Destroyers against Takeda's teacher the movie loses its focus.  Worse, at about the half-way point, it shifts its attention from Takeda to the aforementioned teacher, which was a magnificently wrong-headed choice.  At least Takeda is always imminently watchable, even when saddled with a drivel story and amateurish direction.  I look forward to seeing her in something good.

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