KG: Karate Girl

Title: Karate Girl
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Martial Arts, Action
Starring: Rina Takeda
Director: Yoshikatsu Kimura
Language: Japanese

Terracotta East Asian Film Festival: #4

If there's one thing we can learn from the film 'Serenity' it's surely that watching cute 5ft nothings beat the snot out of blokes twice their size is always going to be entertaining. Thus emerges my interest in Karate Girl; starring the young Rina Takeda chosen less for her acting abilities and more for her knack for breaking body parts - at only 19 she already is a black belt in karate - and performing all her own stunts without any CG or wires, this is clearly where the focus is. The legendary black belt of Kurenai Sujiro was passed down from generation to generation along with the teachings of his own form of karate, sworn to protect the belt from those who wish to use its status to their own advantage. Maliciously stolen by Tagawa Shu, he kills the current owner and of the two daughters – the last in the bloodline – leaves one for dead whilst taking the youngest to train as an assassin. Ten years on, the eldest daughter Ayaka (Rina) has kept up with her training, and now working at a cinema, draws the unwanted attention of Shu when a youtube video of her tackling two thieves at her work goes viral, along the realisation that real belt is still in her possession...

Still only her second full-length film, the acting abilities of those involved is thoroughly awful but given to them for their abilities in karate rather than acting talent, is nothing particularly unexpected and is fortunately of little consequence to the heart of the story, and the inexperience of the cast never dwelt on for long enough for it to become problematic. Impressively it never degrades into plot-less drivel; the story is simplistic enough and maybe a touch generic but it allows for a comparatively slow-pace to accommodate the action. The opponents, too, aren't just cannon fodder to be kicked around but capable of putting up something of a fight – being real life practitioners themselves – and whilst at times the slow build-up feels excessive, resulting in periods lacking in actual action, it succeeds in adding gravity to the situation; the abilities of the opponent they must face, and as a result the pay off is often worth waiting for.

The entertainment here is less in the actual story being told and all to do with watching her perform, and whilst it's all been choreographed of course, it's left raw and unpolished, and this lack of squeaky clean perfection only serves to make it feel all the more realistic. Takeda is clearly the focus of the film and there is an odd beauty in watching her do what she does best, but as impressive as she is, it is after all little more than a vehicle for displaying her talent. This automatically creates a rift between those looking for a martial arts spectacle and those wanting an action film; the two sides don't collide all too often here and thus finds itself only really being of interest to a small niche group. It's might be no 'Tony Jaa' epic but thus far this is certainly the path she is treading. Don't go in expecting as much a film as a showcase of sparring matches and you wont be disappointed.


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