Thanks to Outposter Shawn Thompson for this Karate Kill retro review!
The summer movie season of 2017 had a lot of big-name releases. The new Alien movie, John Wick 2, the Blade Runner sequel, the usual Marvel MCU films and a variety of other stuff. Among those big-name franchise releases was one on my list of the 3 most anticipated films of the summer: Karate Kill.
Karate Kill had its US release July 18th and is the newest film from director/writer Kurando Mitsukake. If you’ve browsed Netflix in the last few years you may have seen another of his films, Gun Woman. If you watched that and like it, you are going to love Karate Kill.
After I watched Karate Kill I kept seeing comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s films and style. This bugged me because it’s a little unfair to the film in my opinion. Seems anything that is a bit of a mash-up of genres these days is automatically compared to Tarantino, whose style is a mash-up of others, to begin with.
Karate Kill is one of the modern exploitation films that has become more popular since Grindhouse hit the theaters in 2007, but that isn’t to say it copies those films. It stands on its own as a damn good martial arts action film with a twist of modern western and horror. I have seen the description of “Canon film” used in reviews of Karate Kill and I have to agree with that.
I know there is a certain idea invoked when one uses the canon films description but in this case, I use it with much admiration as I was and am a fan of those film with no irony. This film would have fit right in with that time and would have been one of their bigger crown jewels had it been a Canon release.
All through the movie, we get hints at past 70s and 80s action and horror masterpieces: Cobra, Friday the 13th Part 2, Rolling Thunder, Kill Bill, Last House on the Left and more. While these are there and fun to note they don’t bog it down.
The film’s writer/director is Japanese and it shows in the film with several of its humorous moments that only could come from a Japanese creator and it does have plenty of good hyuk’s. Even one that goes from dark to dark comedy to black, which is how I like my exploitation comedy moments to develop.
The story of the film involves the main character on a quest to save his sister from a Charlie Manson-like cult that live streams its snuff films. His sister, Mayumi (Sakura) has come to LA to start a career as an actress as so many have. Not finding success she takes work at a hostess bar to earn money and to pay for bringing her brother over from Japan to visit her. While working at the bar she is taken by the cult along with a co-worker to be brainwashed, then killed for the enjoyment of the crazies of the world.
Her Karate master brother Kenji (Hayate) gets to the US and picks up the trail. He works his way to the location of the cult in a long bloody fight while meeting the only surviving victim of the cult, who has escaped and teams up with her. The hook-handed survivor Keiko is played by the lovely Asami.
You may know Asami as the lead in Gun Woman and in the awesomely violent, bloody and gory fun fest The Machine Girl. Keiko sports a hook for a hand, a result of the torture from the cult that makes me think of Rolling Thunder and she is just as badass as the lead in that film. She helps Kenji master his bullet-dodging moves in preparing for their combined assault on the cult’s compound. At the climax, we get everything you could want in an action revenge exploitation film. Blood, violence, nudity, gunfire, blades and awesome kills.
The fight scenes in the movie are shot with steady shots without the quick edits and shaky cam garbage we have had forced on us from big-budget “action” films that cost a lot more with big-name stars. The fighting is well done and realistic. The martial artists are so skilled the fights are a real joy to watch. While not as non stop as The Raid, the martial artist is just as skilled and fun to watch.
Some really nifty camera work is done in one fight scene that was so cool, I found myself smiling in glee. Later, at the climax of the film we get a close up with blood spurting on the camera lens. Something I always enjoy. At some points of the film, we are shown the view of the cult members as the film themselves using GoPros mounted on their heads. The strange steadiness that comes from a GoPro while filming the maniacs is strangely unsettling and makes the crazy cultists seem even more strange.
Karate Kill not only lived up to my excitement to see it, but exceeded my hopes. It is a blast. The story is a get right to the point, bloody revenge/rescue yarn and it comes out kicking from the start.
Karate Kill is a film with heart without the hipster irony of some other stuff like Manborg or Machete Kills, its fun and its creator shows once again for his respect and love for the genre . . If you like independent exploitation films, martial arts action film in the style of 70s and 80s action films with plenty of blood with a Japanese Karate master version of Clint Eastwood you are going to like it.
Certainly, if you liked Gun Woman or the director’s previous films you will certainly love it. Karate Kill comes out on VOD and Blu Ray on July 18th.