Friday, April 23, 2010

REVIEW: High Kick Girl!

ハイキック・ガール! (Hai kikku gâru!)

Released: 2009

Fuyuhiko Nishi

Rina Takeda
Tatsuya Naka
Sayaka Akimoto

Kyôji Amano
Mayu Gamou

Running time: 81 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

Is there a growing trend in martial arts films these days, to bombard the audience with a female protagonist capable of tearing most mere mortals limb from limb? Thailand has JeeJa Yanin in ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Raging Phoenix’, China has Jiang Luxia in ‘Coweb’ and ‘Bad Blood’, but whom does Japan have? Producer, director and martial arts co-ordinator Fuyuhiko Nishi is on a mission to bring about a revival in traditional Japanese martial arts and budo type films. To help spread the good word of Karate, he discovered Rina Takeda, a teenage Karate extraordinaire, fully capable of kicking people who stand a good foot taller than her in the face. ‘High Kick Girl’ is her first film, and like ‘Chocolate’, it’s definitely a vehicle to showcase her mad kicking skills. She’s also become what is now dubbed as a ‘Karate Idol’, a cute and adorable teenage star who can take a punch to the face and then knock you flat out with a spinning hook kick to the head.

‘High Kick Girl’s’ set-up is rather easy. Kei Tsuchiya, played by the deceptively cute Rina Takeda, is a Karate student and brown belt. She’s hell bent on receiving her black belt, but her sensei Yoshiaki Matsumoto, played by Tatsuya Naka, is a very patient man, and views the learning and practicing of kata, the arranged forms and movements practiced to ingrain techniques into ones subconscious, as the key to Karate mastery. Fighting, Kei’s preferred method of practice, is just an after thought. Without the perfection of the kata, one cannot function properly in combat. Kei is too impatient however, and goes on a black belt hunt, finding any black belt she can, challenging them to a fight. Upon the conclusion of her swift kick to the head, she takes her prize, the opponents black belt. This form of ‘training’ draws the eye of The Destroyers, a group of rogue martial arts experts who use their skills for criminal gain. The want Kei to join. She wants to battle the best. Soon she becomes mixed up with the wrong people, and she can’t handle them on her own.

‘High Kick Girl’ has a lot of great things going for it. One, Rina Takeda is pretty frickin’ fantastic. She has some crazy long and flexible legs, and does some fantastic kicking flurries to smite down her enemies. She’s also pretty charismatic, and plays a ubertough teenage girl quite well. Two, the choreography its pretty impressive. Fuyuhiko Nishi, who also produced and choreographed ‘Blackbelt’, uses a similar formula here, hiring real Karate experts for all the fighting roles, and therefore using some real contact within each fight scene. Even the seventeen year old Rina takes a wholloping, but she also deals out some pretty vicious moves. Fuyuhiko is apparently well versed in several forms of Karate, but it most definitely seems theres a lot of Kyokushin Kaikan (a full contact for of Karate, practiced by UFC champion and Quebecois Canadian Georges St. Pierre) going round with the films performers. Some of the behind the scenes footage has Rina sparring with a fellow student who also happens to be one of her opponents in the film, and they give each other a good smacking. Three, the film is actually sort of funny, the best humorous moments coming when intertwined with Karate mayhem. It does some short comings however. The biggest one is that they use a nifty motif of showing the ensuing fight mayhem several times, once at your average 24ps, so you can see the action in one, long, unedited take, just as it should be, and then again at much slower frame rate, letting you see the intricacy and precision of the technique. However, they use the motif a lot, and I mean a lot. The running time would probably be under an hour if they didn’t. And sometimes the techniques they are showing aren’t really daring or intricate enough to require a slow motion breakdown. Sometimes its breathtaking, sometimes its quite monotonous.

Regardless of some of its cinematic shortcomings, and there are a few, its still a breath of fresh air in the martial arts film world. There aren’t a lot of films that depict Karate in its true form, and this one tries its hardest to do so, distilling some of its philosophies down to a fine point. And that’s usually followed up by a swift kick to the head.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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