Friday, October 30, 2009

FANTASTIC FEST REVIEW: Hard Revenge Milly/ Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle

ハード・リベンジ、MILLY (Haado ribenji MILLY)

Released: 2008 Director: Takanori Tsujimoto

Starring: Miki Mizuno, Tetsuya Nakamura, Hiroshi Ohguchi

Running time: 44 min.

ハード・リベンジ、ミリー~ブラッディバトル (Haado ribenji MILLY: Buraddibatoru)

Released: 2009 Director: Takanori Tsujimoto

Starring: Miki Mizuno, Nao Nagasawa, Kazuki Tsujimoto, Rei Fujita, Masahiro Komoto

Running time: 72 min.

Reviewed by Eric Evans

"Hard Revenge, Milly" and "Hard Revenge, Milly: Bloody Battle" follow the travails of the titular heroine (played by action star-in-waiting Miki Mizuno), a bionic woman living in a post-apocalyptic Japan. In Shinya Tsukumoto fashion, she is part woman, part machine: Her body has been surgically rebuilt and enhanced with a spate of weaponry that she uses with masterful precision and minimum fuss. On paper it sounds like good fun, but the films don't cooperate. Even at about 45 minutes each, the films are too long and suffer from flat bits. They're neither well executed enough to meet "Mad Max" on level ground, nor over the top enough to reach "Machine Girl"'s giddy heights.

Speaking of Max, in George Miller's "Road Warrior" violence is used both to punctuate the action and to add gravity and dread to the tension. No one would confuse the film with a character study, but Miller expertly allows for the characters trying to escape the wasteland to at least establish their humanity: They're confused, they're scared, they have hopes and dreams beyond the situation they're in. In "Milly" the violence is the whole point. There's little or no buildup to the slicings and dicings, the characters are all automatons who exist only to kill or be killed, and the viewer feels nothing because we're given nothing to feel. With a minimum of narrative told in brief flashbacks, we're told how Milly's husband was killed, her baby immolated in front of her, her own body hacked and mutilated by a sadistic gang known as the Jack Brothers. OK, she wants revenge--fair enough. But there's no satisfaction to be had in the rote execution of baddie after baddie. Milly hacks and slashes and punches and kicks, but there's no resonance to any of it. It's like watching someone else play a video game.

The second film, "Hard Revenge, Milly: Bloody Battle" fares slightly better than its predecessor mainly because we are given a slightly meatier villain in Ikki (Kazuki Tsujimoto), a militantly gay killer. I mention the character's homosexuality because it is his primary characteristic and a source of humor for the film. Not homophobic humor exactly, but… For example, while riding in a limo with his brother, Ikki says "If you were not my brother, I would show you the ecstasy of homosexuality." He delivers the line with a wild-eyed abandon, immediately making the film more interesting. He wants revenge against Milly for killing Jack, a man he admired as an equal (and also the leader of the gang who killed Milly's family). Part two also adds a sidekick of sorts for Milly, a young woman who wants revenge for her slain boyfriend. None of this matters much to Milly; she gets out of bed ready to be killed, so the appearance of either a new threat or a possible friend means nothing to her. Mizuno plays Milly as a blank slate, emotionless and methodical to such an extreme that another character (the doctor who saved her life and gave her the bionic weapons) has to describe what she's feeling for the other characters--and the audience. There are fights, people are killed (though not as creatively as in similarly themed j-exploitation horror), and Milly moves on. None of it has any impact, it's pure spectacle--but it isn't spectacular enough to succeed on those terms.

Films like this exist only to thrill, so any review should address them in those terms. Is the action intense? Are the kills unique, are the effects gross and over the top? Sort of, sometimes, and not enough. The movies share a special effects wizard with lighter, more visually inventive fare like "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" and "Machine Girl", yet it never reaches for the same excess as those films. The "Milly" movies look and feel low budget (which is fine), but director Takanori Tsujimoto never rises above monetary restrictions through creativity. Sam Raimi had no money to make "Evil Dead", so what he lacked in practical effects he made up for with camera angles and manic energy. The "Milly" movies don't rise above a level of basic cable competency despite a cast that seems primed to do so. Mizuno looks the part and moves with both grace and power. She's a rare animal--a believable female Japanese action hero--that unfortunately hasn't found a project that really showcases her talent.

"Hard Revenge, Milly" and "Hard Revenge, Milly: Bloody Battle" are worth your time if you're a great fan of Mizuno or if you're an insatiable action junky, but for the most part they're flat disappointments. Each has a few moments that hint at what might have been, but neither is likely to leave a lasting impression.

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