Real life Ryukyu Shorin-ryu Karate champion turned action movie actress Rina Takeda follows up her debut “High Kick Girl!” with “Karate Girl” (or “K.G.”), offering fans more of the same as she kicks, punches and chops her way through swathes of bad guys while wearing a cute high school uniform. Despite its similar title, the film bears no relation to its predecessor, though it does see original scribe Kimura Yoshikatsu taking the director’s chair, with co-scripter, producer and choreographer Nishi Fuyuhiko also returning. Boasting the same brand of old school, no wires, no CGI high impact martial arts, the film attempts to go one better by teaming Takeda with another young female karate expert in the 14 year old Tobimatsu Hina.
Takeda takes the title role as Ayaka Kurenai, a young girl who happens to be the daughter of one of the great karate dynasties, living under an assumed identity with adoptive parents after her father was murdered, his sacred belt stolen, and her younger sister kidnapped. After giving the game away and ending up on the news by using her skills to stop purse snatchers in the cinema where she works, Ayaka attracts the attentions of her father’s killer, Tagawa Shu (Horibe Keisuke, “King Game”), who now runs an evil empire of karate assassins and is desperate to get his hands on the belt. Realising her true identity, he dispatches a couple of young killers to do away with her, one of whom is Sakura (Tobimatsu Hina), actually her younger sister.
Although “High Kick Girl!” wasn’t a particularly bad film as such, it suffered from some unimaginative action and long stretches of dullness, being notable only for introducing Rina Takeda to the world. Thankfully, “Karate Girl” goes some way to correcting these mistakes, and though still not quite the vehicle that her considerable talents deserve, it’s a far more enjoyable piece of martial arts cinema. Kimura Yoshikatsu certainly does a better job as director, keeping things moving at a decent and reasonably energetic pace, and whilst the film has a tendency to drift off into reels of expository dialogue, it still manages to hold the interest. Similarly, though the plot could politely be described as generic, the film has a pleasingly and unpretentiously stripped down feel to it that fits well with its modest ambitions.
The action scenes also show a marked improvement, with much less of reliance on needless slow motion or on endless repetitions of money shots. The choreography is generally better, and though it could have done with a little more imagination, it does pack in a number of exciting set pieces. As a result, the fight scenes feel more brutal and hard hitting this time around, with a huge number of kicks to the head, some of which do look worryingly real, with UK-born, Japan-based fighter Richard William Heselton in particular taking a real beating. It certainly helps that the budget was quite obviously higher, and while this doesn’t translate into glossiness, the film has a much more professional and convincing air.
Of course, it’s Rina Takeda’s film, and as a showcase for her skills it more than delivers, giving her much more screen time than in “High Kick Girl!”. The film provides her with a great many chances to demonstrate her amazing athleticism and agility, with some stunning shots of her leaping into the air and taking on multiple opponents at once, often felling several before she hits the ground. The actress reportedly trained for around a year and a half for the film, and the results of this dedication are clearly visible on screen, and are all the more impressive for the fact that she apparently broke her arm just a couple of months before filming began. Although the script doesn’t give her much to work with, she has also developed somewhat as an actress, giving a charismatic and likable performance that suggests she is capable of real star power when the right vehicle comes along.
“Karate Girl” isn’t quite that film, and though several notches up from her debut, it falls a little short of really allowing her to kick her way onto the action A-list. Still, it’s a perfectly enjoyable, if rather basic martial arts film, given a boost by some dynamic fight scenes and benefitting from being bereft of the kind of CGI and far out wire work which has diluted the impact of so many other genre outings. If nothing else, it should keep Rina Takeda fans more than happy as they wait for her next, hopefully more ambitious film.
Yoshikatsu Kimura (director) / Fuyuhiko Nishi (screenplay)
CAST: Rina Takeda