Encapsulated Cinema: Assault Girls and Yoga

Well Go USA Entertainment, the distribution company behind “Ip Man”, the upcoming “Ip Man 2,” and “Legend of The Fist,” all starring Donnie Yen, has been hit and miss when it comes to their films. This is a statement that can be said of many companies in the business though. I can’t really knock them for choosing to distribute certain films, as someone has to do it, but I do have to question why I get sent some of this stuff. I mean I couldn’t make these films, and I applaud the effort that went into them, but some of them just leave me wanting more, and some just leave me wishing I hadn’t watched the film at all. The former is the case for the duo of films sent to me recently, “Assault Girls” and “Yoga.”

Todd already gave a review of Mamoru Oshii’s “Assault Girls,” the semi-sequel to “Avalon.” Now I haven’t seen “Avalon” but I know Oshii’s animated works. I’ve read up on it though and I plan to find myself a copy as it sounds great. This on the other hand is just…sad. A minimalist approach could have completely worked for this but it was taken too far.

Quick review, the movie revolves around four people in an immersive MMORPG war simulation. The four main characters “Grey” (Meisa Kuroki), “Colonel” (Hinako Saeki), “Lucifer” (Rinko Kikuchi), and “Jaeger” (Yoshikatsu Fujiki) are the best of the best in the game of Avalon. They have earned the right to play the updated and more difficult “Avalon(f).” The landscape of the game world is a barren desert of gray sands and mountain ranges. This can almost be seen as a metaphor for the film itself as it’s just as barren and drab. Sure there’s some pretty visuals, and a decent action scene, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of any plot (getting to the boss fight does not count), and lack of dialogue. If you’ve ever seen a Mamoru Oshii animation you know what to expect, long scenes of characters walking, or driving or such, and beautiful scenery, punctuated by grandiose action and philosophical debates. Well you get the long scenes of walking and scenery, and that’s about it. Yeah the action isn’t even all that great.

This film showed at the NYC ComicCon and I’m glad I didn’t waste 90 minutes to see it. On top of the boredom is the fact that it was filmed in “Engrish.” No that’s not a typo. The cast speaks in very broken English through most of the film. AND their mouths are covered by masks making it worse. Why not just have it dubbed? Seriously. The trash talking between “Colonel” and “Grey” is just plain hilarious and not because of what they’re saying. Had there been a little more substance and better action to the film then ”Assault Girls” could’ve been a guilty pleasure. As it stands it’s just a disappointment because upon seeing the ads for it I really wanted to see it and was hoping for something cool.

Which brings us to “Yoga” by Yun Jae-Yun. I had heard about it right here on this very site. I remember thinking, “Um how is this gonna be scary?” Well scary it wasn’t but it was pretty entertaining, for the most part at least. Six women, all obsessed with their looks enroll in an elite Yoga class. The teacher is cryptic, the studio is dark and creepy, the rules are outrageous, and only one of them can claim the prize. Let the games begin.

With a set-up like that it’s a wonder any of these women actually enrolled, but then again pain is beauty right? Playing up on that aspect of the female mindset (don’t argue with me just look at what you go through to look good), “Yoga” takes you on a journey to find out just how far some will go for ultimate beauty. The setting and the atmosphere do a good job of making what could arguably be a ridiculous film into something actually kind of creepy. As the rules were set in the film — “No mirrors, no contact with the outside world, no cellphones, no showers for an hour after a session”, etc — you already know they will be broken, but it’s in seeing the consequences that the film draws you in. The mystery of what’s actually going on was a big draw too. I found myself eagerly wanting to get to the end to find out exactly what the hell was going on…and then it ended and I was scratching my head.

The film definitely has some clichéd parts, but for the most part it worked well, even if it did take a bit long to get to the meat of it. It’s just that once things get going, they race to the end and you’re left wondering exactly what you just saw at the end. I re-watched it and I’m still not sure. I had a lot of fun with the film for what it was, but really wish they didn’t try to do an ambiguous ending. Did she die? Is this a nightmare? Is she just freaking out? Or did the writer just say, “It’s up to you” and give us some weird visuals.

Well Go USA has some great titles in their library, but these two are just okay. “Assault Girls” is pure visual candy and “Yoga” is a decent attempt at horror with a lackluster payoff. Hit ‘em up on Netflix if you’re curious. But that’s the biggest recommendation I can give.