The Plot: Kei Tsuchiya is a brown belt in Karate (played by Rina Takeda, a legitimate karate black belt) but that is only because of how incredibly harsh her master is when it comes handing out belts. Tsuchiya’s skills are truly at the black belt level and to prove this she goes from one karate school to the next in order to challenge their masters. When she wins, she collects their black belts. After collecting nearly all the belts that she can, Tsuchiya begins to search out more exciting endeavors. Her master, Sensei Matsumura, is a master of the art who looks to teach young Tsuchiya that fighting is not the necessary thing to do and that real karate is learned through the repetition of forms and finding inner solitude. The young girl however is still spoiled by her own power and looks to join up, or challenge, a group of young martial artists named The Destroyers. However, as she soon discovers, this group isn’t the type of people she would hope to associate with and they actually have some history with her master Matsumura.

The Review
If you read the front page of this site, you know that I had been excited about this project since first seeing its trailer. I am a fan of mixed martial arts and K1 kickboxing, so I know just how spectacular the “high kick” can be as a offensive technique. I also know that it is rare that we see extremely cute Japanese girls laying a cinematic beating on dozens of grown men. So, knowing Rina Takeda’s background as a legitimate martial artist, I had high hopes for High Kick Girl. While I am not here to rain on anyone’s parade and say that it is a severe disappointment, I will instead simply say that it is an entertaining b-movie that shows areas of promise but simply fails to make good. Light on plot or narrative and high on fight scenes, High Kick Girl is the big dumb karate movie embodied, in one easy to swallow eighty minute caplet. Although it at times has delusions of grandeur, it unfortunately never succeeds at stepping up to become a legitimate threat to the few martial talents that are producing phenomenal films (Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Tony Jaa) at a top level.

Making good on the limitations of the V-Cinema (Japanese straight to video productions) marketplace, director Fuyuhiko Nishi manages to create a karate feature that is equally a cinematic spawn from the work of Sonny Chiba and also an odd mix of several popular concepts floating around in the cinematic martial art world. The first incredibly noticeable aspect of the fight choreography is the impact that is made on the actors. In traditional action choreography the fight sequences have always been staged in a manner where the actors pull their punches back within inches of their opponent and the camera is stationed in a position that just misses the gap between fist and face. However, since the rise of Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior and the rise of Thai action cinema, a new style of fight choreography has entered into the market place. The punches that are thrown aren’t legitimately as powerful as they possibly could be, but the difference here is that the blows actually connect with their opponents. This stylized form of combat has actually been popular within Japan for many years in their “Puro” form of professional wrestling and Jackie Chan has also been known to feature some brutal connecting shots in his Hong Kong film work (although not in quite as brutal of a fashion). Once again, the blows are not as powerful as they could be, but they are strong enough to look both painful and real. I can only assume that Ong Bak was more than likely the genesis of the fight sequences throughout High Kick Girl, but who is to say?

I don’t think you could make a film that is more obviously a coming out party for any particular talent. Rina Takeda is given a tremendous opportunity as she is pampered and given such a tailored role. The character of Kei Tsuchiya is not an incredibly diverse or difficult role to pull off, but I was shocked at the level of arrogance the young actress/athlete had to pull off. This type of role is not uncommon in Kung Fu cinema, where more times than not the lead character is a young hustler trying to get over on a few hoodlums (Dirty Ho, Knockabout) but to see a female pulling off the role is something different to say the least. This proved to be an interesting choice, because one figures since this is her breakout performance and debut the producers would go for an instantly more likeable character. However, instead we have to slowly buy into this young woman and invest more of our time in her character. How is the young actress in her role? Truthfully she seems a little wooden in the part. However, the fight sequences are of course where she shines and in that regard she is exceptional. The fight sequences, especially those involving the young actress, are done quite well in their unrepentant brutality. Focusing mainly on kicks (duh), there are a tremendous variety of foot-level assaults. Front kicks, spinning back kicks, axe kicks and any variation of the roundhouse that you could possibly imagine is thrown about during this incredibly short feature.

Fight scenes and interesting choices do not a good movie make though! High Kick Girl is about as corny and cheesy as most casual movie goers would expect it to be. Where I had hoped it would be “cutesy” on the worst side, it is instead a cadre of action film cliches and ridiculously clunky character motivations. Skipping first gear entirely, the movie begins with its pace set to “uber”. Where this would normally be a positive for any action title, we unfortunately miss out on so much character motivation and background. Funny moments pop up throughout the picture as we discover that this group The Destroyers have been looking for Matsumura for years, but according to everything that we have seen so far he has been running a dojo in Japan under the same name. When you claim that you have been searching for someone for years, doesn’t that imply that they have at least been hiding? Or does it imply that you are so inept in your searching that you didn’t bother to look in a phone book for “Matsumura – Karate Master”. This is the vague introduction that we have to this elite squad of killers. This is also the END of all character background because we are never truly clued into the reason that this group is out to kill Matsumura. This could be spawned from the fact that this is a V-Cinema title and everything in that industry is ruled by the sequel. So I have a good feeling that this absolutely necessary bit of character motivation was left out for a reason.

The final thing I feel I should mention harkens back to the fight scenes again. This doesn’t have anything to do with the fight choreography mind you, but the choices made by the director. For one… the use of slow motion. Clocking in at just eighty minutes worth of film time, and that is generous and not deducting credits, there is no need to have as much slow motion as there is in this film. I will concede that the use of ambient music (which is likely the second best thing about the movie, behind the fight choreography) during these slow motion sequences creates a very interesting texture. However, this is a big dumb action picture for crying out loud! The second incredibly annoying recurring aspect of the movie is the use of repeated footage. Jackie Chan is the godfather of this, but when Jackie Chan showed us three different shots of himself falling off the side of a building and through three pieces of cloth in Project A he did so showing us the incredible danger of the stunt. High Kick Girl repeats almost every single “painful” looking shot and in slow-as-dirt-motion. If you cut the repeated shots out and you remove the slow motion, we may very well be talking about a one hour long movie.

The Conclusion
The film does a good job at explaining the tenants of Karate and Rina Takeda actually interests me as a future martial arts film star. However, High Kick Girl has some real problems. For those itching to see some cute girls kicking so high that we see their panties, then this will already be on your top ten list. For everyone else, take it with a grain of salt. It isn’t a particularly great piece of cinema and its nowhere near being a action classic. It is a moderately entertaining time and I’m glad that I have seen it. I give it a solid three out of five. It hovers above average, due mainly to the few flares that separate it from the rest of the cinematic world.

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