The Battling Angel (2003) Movie Review

Ishould really stop watching Japanese movies that sells itself as “action” because, invariably, I am disappointed. “The Battling Angel” follows the trend of big-budget actioners like “Yesterday” and “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl” — that is, films with the means and know-how to make a thrilling action movie, but is ultimately undone by its inability to engage the audience with an exciting script to match the impressive visuals.

Such is the case with “The Battling Angel”, a movie that seems to want to be an action movie, but only has about an hour’s worth of story to tell. As a result the additional hour is made up of padding, where characters do as little as possible to move the story along. And oh yeah, they do it all very, very slowly. It’s as if the movie is moving in slow motion, and all the characters seem stuck in time, only managing to come unstuck when the script calls for yet another bloody shootout to break the monotony of nothingness.

And speaking of shootouts, director Ryo Nishimura is so enamored with getting the bloodiest bullet hits that he forgets to film exciting shootouts around them. What pass for action in “Angel” is people standing around taking turns shooting at each other — but only after they’ve stood around for a really long time doing nothing, I mean. I counted at least a half dozen occasion where characters just stood with their weapons pointed at each other for, oh, about 5 minutes talking about this and that, and then firing simultaneously, always managing to hit the other guy in the leg or shoulder. Of course all of the gun wounds have to be non-lethal because in this movie people run around for days with gaping gun wounds bleeding all over the place, but never seems to die despite lacking, you know, proper medical treatment.

The plot: female cop Asuka (Yuka Kurotani) and her fellow coppers, including brooding (and oh does he brood!) cop-boyfriend Hazuya (Takao Osawa), are after criminal mastermind Kirino (Kenichi Hagiwara). The cops can’t find Kirino because he has a secret lair hidden underneath a run-down factory. And oh yeah, Kirino is also a super duper genius, and is armed with things like groovy holographic projection and a doohickey that can read people’s minds. Being that he’s a wacky Bond villain-wannabe, Kirino has stashed his goods in a vault that can only be opened when the right person is wearing the doohickey that can read minds. Or some such.

After she’s shot dead by Kirino’s men, Asuka is resurrected when doctors scoop out her brain and insert it into the head of Kirino’s moll, who had been trying to escape from the madman’s perverse clutches when she was shot. (In what amounts to a ludicrous sequence, Asuka meets up with the moll in a bathroom, where the moll proceeds to tell the disinterested cop her life story, as if she had already read the script ahead of time and was dishing out all relevant info. Wow, how convenient — not to mention utterly insipid.) Because Kirino is obsessed with his love toy, he engineers her escape from police custody. Now Asuka, in the body of the moll, must infiltrate Kirino’s underground lair. Not that it matters, because later the cops magically learn of the hideout’s location and storms it. I think. At this point my mind had wandered, and I might have dozed off a time or two.

To be honest, “The Battling Angel” lost me at about the 40-minute mark. Up to that point this “action” movie had managed to give us one inconsequential action sequence at the very beginning and a completely nonsensical shootout 30 minutes later. The rest of the film is made up of people doing what I described above — standing around aiming guns at each other for what seems like eternity. Truthfully, the entire second half of “Angel” comes across like a bad attempt by Nishimura and writer Oosama to copy the “one plot twist a second” of “Basic” — not that the two movies have anything in common other than “Angel’s” insistence on pulling plot twists out of its butt in the mistaken belief that it matters to the bored audience.

Compared to “Angel”, the recent “action mega-budget spectacle” “Returner” looks like a masterwork of Japanese cinema. Like that other offering, “Angel” is devoid of energy or a sensible screenplay, but at least “Returner” had some well-choreographed action that went beyond dummies standing around jawing with their weapons aimed at each other. People, screenplays do matter! While Nishimura is obsessed with staging illogical shootouts involving wildly bloody bullet hits, the script is obsessed with making everyone into a red herring. For about an hour, the movie convinces us that Hazuya is a turncoat working for Kirino, but as it turns out this isn’t true — by way of some truly mind boggling explanations, natch.

Before the film wraps, about a dozen characters get their chance to play, “Am I the red herring or is this movie just really dumb?” The answer is that the movie is just really dumb, especially since it requires characters to act “sneaky” and “villain-like” in order to sell their turn as the red herring. Of course it’s illogical they would act so sneaky and villain-like in the first place, but there you go. Speaking of illogical character motivations, why does Asuka display awesome fighting abilities one moment but freezes up like a Sunday school teacher the next?

Movies don’t get anymore nonsensical or idiotic than “The Battling Angel”. And to think this used to be a manga. Did it make more sense as a manga, or was it the adaptation that made it stink to high heaven? One can only wonder. In indifference, that is.

Ryo Nishimura (director) / Arimasa Oosama (screenplay)
CAST: Takao Osawa …. Hazuya
Yuka Kurotani …. Kono Asuka
Kenichi Hagiwara …. Kirino Kurai
Mayumi Sada …. Kanzaki
Humio Sano …. Asida

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