Running time: 101 mins.
Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff
After Meiko Kaji left the "Female Convict Scorpion" series in the early seventies, the films continued in fits and starts, but finally seemed to die in 1991 with "Toshiharu Ikeda (Evil Dead Trap)" incarnation "Female Convict Scorpion: Death Threat". However, the series, much like Nami Matsushima, would not die. The Japanese production company Art Port seems to have found success adapting various manga to the big screen, with films such as Kazuo Umezu’s "Cat Eyed Boy" and Junji Ito’s "Tomie vs Tomie". But after a healthy relationship with Hong Kong based Same Way Productions that saw them make among other films the viciously awesome "Man Bites Dog" in 2006, followed by the messy manga adaptation of Izo Hashimotos "Shamo" in 2007, they decided it was time to step up there game and take on the "Female Convict Scorpion" series by not only rebooting the franchise but adding their own take on the popular manga and film series.
Nami Matsuhima (Miki Mizuno from the "Hard Revenge Milly" films and Sion Sono’s upcoming "Guilty of Romance") is a happily married woman who slowly transforms into the embodiment of revenge as her life is suddenly turned upside down. When her father in law comes to visit, a band of sadistic thugs who want him dead not only succeed in their task, but also force Nami to kill either her husband or her sister in-law. She chooses her sister in-law, not only incurring the eternal hatred of her husband, but also resulting in her being sent to jail. From there she learns the only way to survive and get her revenge is through violence and sheer force of will. However, after escaping prison, she also learns she needs some kung fu skills so as she’s nursed back to health by the Corpse Collector (Simon Yam!) he also teaches her how to fight. From there it’s just a matter of time until she exacts her revenge.
This being a reboot they have obviously changed a few things from the original series, which is fine, but they have sucked away part of the soul of the series, the contempt for a patriarchal society and anything masculine and macho and replaced it with a simple revenge story. It shares many of the same faces that were found in "Shamo" including Bruce Leung, Ryo Ishibashi, and Dylan Kuo. It also unfortunately shares a similar narrative and visual sense, which means it’s all over the place. Sometimes the film features some amazing action set pieces (this film is much more action oriented, given she learns kung fu), some gorgeous cinematography and even some rather inventive editing, but then that’s followed by a constant strobing of images that at times can evoke the comic book spirit the film should have, and other times evoke a headache because its pointless and used to give the impression of stylization.
If you love both Japanese and Hong Kong film, its got a good cast, with Ryo Ishibashi, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Sam Lee and Bruce Leung all making appearances. It even features AV idol Nana Natsume as one of the female prisoners Nami must contend with. And here in lies my biggest problem. This film should be screaming exploitation. It should be screaming "Cat III" (18 and over rating in Hong Kong). Like "Shamo" and "Dog Bites Dog" it even emulates some of the eighties Hong Kong style during the height of the "Cat III" film. The original series was exploitation with a heart and soul, but here we get no heart, no soul and no exploitation. The producers seem content on not pushing it as far as they should. For all the crazy antics that are involved in the film, a lot of it just seems to fall flat. They cast an AV idol yet there is pretty much no nudity. They have martial arts mayhem that whilst features some hard hitting action scenes, don’t push the envelope of violence to the extreme it should be pushed too. There are so many things this film should have done, but it seems content hiding the fact that it didn’t by giving us a lot of fast cutting, hallucinogenic fades and strobbing imagery that makes it think its far more intense than it actually is.
Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.