There are revenge flicks, and there are revenge flicks. It's an old formula, and it still works beautifully. Person has happy life, person's happy life gets fucked up, person seeks vengeance on the bastards (usually organized crime) who did the deed. The formula works especially well if the protagonist is a woman, and for several years now this tiny sub-genre has done pretty well. Raquel Welch did okay with Robert Culp's and Christopher Lee's help in Hannie Caulder; some rapist punks got their comeuppance just fine in the deadly-serious I Spit On Your Grave, to name two examples. When Tarantino did Kill Bill, we thought that maybe we'd seen the ultimate expression of the idea.
Nah. At least, not in an ultra-cool, pop-culture-suffused, Japanese-themed way, despite Quentin's hard work. The title for all-time greatest chick-revenge flick now goes to a recently-released (on DVD) gem called Kataude mashin g�ru, or Machine Girl.
Ami is a (very) cute college-age girl taking care of her brother, who's still in high school. Their parents are gone, we never quite found out why, but there was a cloud surrounding their deaths: everyone thinks Ami's parents were murderers, and she's shamed by the idea. Her brother, Yu, is a nice kid, but he and a pal are mercilessly bullied by a gang of punks, led by Sho, the son of some nasty yakuzas (gangsters). Yu and his pal are killed, and the odyssey begins.
This film was produced by Tokyoshock, who up until now have merely acted as distributors of Asian films into the American market. DVD enthusiasts know that their releases are always top-quality; and now, with their own self-produced film, we can see that all that knowledge and obvious love for these wacky genres have paid off, big time.
Machine Girl takes the best, wildest, and most visually-charged elements of Asian movies - mostly Japanese samurai and yakuza flicks, but also the more popular Hong Kong action fare - and blends them all into a super-satisfying treat for viewers. The violence is so over-the-top that it become cartoonish; the characters are outlandish, comic-booky - and that's meant in a good way. The young women are all gorgeous, the villains are truly villainous, the heroes are usually heroic (usually), and nobody, but nobody, gets to die peacefully in their sleep. More likely, they get a katana blade stabbed straight down through the tops of their heads, their blood spurting out in a soft red fountain.
Believe it or not - and you kind of have to be a fan of either ultra-violent action films or gorefests to appreciate this - but this movie is really funny! The whole thing is so outrageous that, even though dozens of people die horribly violent deaths, there's no sense of reality at all about the whole thing. On the contrary, it's impossible to take the thing seriously. And unless you're just sickened by all of the gore - and there is a lot of it - you have to just laugh at every other set-piece. How many other movies give you a scene where a clumsy chef is forced to eat the fingers of his left hand, sushi-style? Sure it's grotesque, but it's hilarious - simply because it's so friggin' unbelievable.
A lot of cliche moments from Japanese and kung fu cinema are lovingly rendered, and being able to recognize specific references just adds to the joy of watching. Ninjas, ass-kickin' sailor-suited schoolgirls, crazy yakuzas, wild weapons - even the flying guillotine makes an appearance! The plot of the film is kept very lean to keep viewers' attention on the action and the gore, and rightly so. This isn't the type of film that takes an hour and a half to get going - you start seeing the blood fly within seconds of sitting down to watch.
If you love over-the-top action films and don't mind blood & guts, you have got to watch this movie! It's a nice little roller-coaster ride that will have you laughing and cheering; the 96-minute running time just flies by. It's the best Japanese flick I've watched since Sukiyaki Western Django, and a lot more fun. (Why is it that the Japanese are making all the good new movies, anyway? Whatever it is, boys, keep up the good work.)
For a taste, check out the