赤龍の女 (Sekiryû no onna)
Running time: 77 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
There are plenty of things wrong with "The Legend Of Red Dragon": the story is far from original, the low budget screams out with every frame, the "martial arts" action is neither martial arts nor action, the acting is either cranked up to 11 or dialed down to minus 11 and the video effects are rather pointless. None of those things are a crime though - you can't blame someone for trying and there's obviously some effort put into the filmmaking (different camera angles, specific framing of actors, etc.). What is a crime, however (or at least will be if I ever get into elected office), is making something this dull.
Though only a measely 77 minutes long, the experience of watching this movie lasted several days for me - simply because I fell asleep no fewer than 7 times while working my way through it. Part of the problem is a story that never engages or provides any mystery whatsoever. It's a straight up revenge picture that does nothing new with the premise (it barely does anything old with it). The next in line to become leader of the Kurosawa Kai yakuza gang is a man known as Sekiryu (because of the big red dragon tattoo on his back), but the jealous Aramaki has other plans. After killing the family head, he pins the blame on Sekiryu and then kills him as an act of revenge for his slain leader. He doesn't realize that Sekiryu's young daughter Yui has witnessed the killing and is determined to avenge her father. Now that she has become a woman (with her own tattoo) and trained for years with her caretaker, she is systematically wiping out the yakuza who are part of the Kurosawa Kai.
Aramaki's second in command is infatuated with her (one wonders why since Yui shows no personality at any point in the entire film), but neither he nor his boss realize that she is the one killing the yakuzas. There's room for conflict here: Should second in command Kunimoto stay true to his boss or follow his true love? Should Yui follow through her sworn revenge or grasp at her one chance for happiness (she sees something worthwhile in Kunimoto)? Can she reconcile that the one man who loves her works for the yakuza who killed her father? And yet little is done to fill the gap where the conflict should arise. This leaves a huge vacuum in its place, so any willingness you had left to care for the characters is sucked away completely.
Not that there should be much there anyway. We weren't more than a few minutes into the opening battle between rival yakuza gangs when I thought to myself "Already, I don't care". Part of this was due to the fact that EVERYBODY WAS YELLING, but it was also because a drawn out, poorly staged fight between stock gang members with no reason to root for anyone tends to leave the viewer (at least in my experience) rather bored. On top of that, its look is that of a flat washed out student film and its pacing is like shuffling through a field of molasses. That goes not just for the opening fight scene, but the following ones and both sex scenes too. The film never recovers from that bland opening and short of the pointless quirkiness of a band of assassins (who do a little dance and sing a song before their killings), the story brings nothing of interest to the table. Aside from a few moments of moderately interesting visual setups and an obvious attention to certain deatils, "The Legend Of Red Dragon" fails in the worst possible way: it's completely inert.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.