REVIEW: Karate Kill
– By Stephen Harper
Since bursting onto the scene in 2009 with ‘Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf’, director Kurando Mitsutake’s films have all run by the same rules and similar themes, mainly those incorporating revenge. His follow up ‘Gun Woman’ starring former Japanese AV star (porn to you & me) Asami, was basically a cross between Tarantino and titles from the Cannon back catalogue. As ludicrous as Gun Woman is, there’s no doubt you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen.
Now he’s back with a similar tale and just as wacky with ‘Karate Kill’. Firstly what ultimately sold me on this movie was its retro -styled poster and the tag line of “He is no Mr. Miyagi”. They say never judge a book by its cover, but I shit you not, if you think the poster is cool and harps back to the 80’s when martial arts films (especially from Cannon) were fantastically absurd, then your gonna love this as it delivers exactly what it says on the tin.
The plot (what, there’s a plot?!) consists of Japanese wannabe actress Mayumi living out in Los Angeles trying to fulfill her dream, but whilst working as a hostess at a restaurant she is abducted by an absolute nut-job called Vendenski and his hysterically seedy cult, Capital Messiah. They have a ranch in Texas where they basically just inject girls with drugs and degrade them, before ultimately killing them. They’re feared throughout the criminal community for reasons that are beyond me, but nobody seems to be able to touch them, until Mayumi’s brother Kenji travels over in search of his missing sister. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Kenji is a Karate Master – wouldn’t you just know it? This now sets the wheels in motion for Kenji to stroll around L.A. all brooding and a fish out of water, but cracking skulls as he’s doing it.
Along the way he teams up with a female steel-clawed assassin named Keiko (Asami again), a former captive of Capital Messiah. Together they set out to take down the cult and everybody else standing in their way.
Karate Kill is possibly the most fun I’ve had in ages. It’s totally ridiculous on almost every level, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s a total 80’s action throwback that is gratuitous with its violence, sex and seedy undertones, but doesn’t go out of its way trying to become too nostalgic or retro, it just is. I’ve seen dozens of these films growing up with the same strange array of characters and bizarre plot-lines and in an age where everybody is trying way too hard to make throwback movies from the 80’s and early 90’s with some successes (but mostly fails), Karate Kill delivers in every department.
There’s scenes that are so outlandish and unnecessary it made me laugh out loud, such as a bar brawl that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, but inserted so Keiko can make an appearance, and a laughable sex scene accompanied by 80’s blue-tinged lighting.
The best probably coming in the shape of a musical montage that shows Keiko training Kenji in how to dodge bullets within five minutes. Now that’s fuckin good!
Performances are pretty darn good as well. Kenji (Hayate) doesn’t have much dialogue, but his fighting skills are extremely good. There’s some killer choreography throughout the film and they didn’t water the violence. Okay, this isn’t from the genius school of Gareth Evans, but it’s not trying to be. It’s got elements of brutal slapstick meets Grindhouse and I’ve no doubt we haven’t seen the last of Hayate. Asami doesn’t have much to do I’m afraid, apart from that notable sex scene and seeing the origins of her claw-hand. The real showcase here is Kirk Geiger as Vendenski. An utterly amazing nut-case of a performance. I hadn’t heard of Geiger beforehand, but I’ll be keeping my eye on him from now on.
Karate Kill is so stupid it should win an award. I enjoyed it so much I probably should be ashamed of myself, but the world is a pretty glum place right now, so a bit of fun and escapism is a beautiful thing.