Ever since Jeeja Yanin made her debut as a premier female martial arts superstar in “Chocolate
“ (2008), I knew it was only a matter of time before real-life female martial artists made it to the big screen. Well, Female Karate Champion Rina Takeda makes her debut in “HIGH-KICK GIRL” (aka. Hai Kikku Garu, 2009) that also showcases a good number of real-life martial arts practitioners. The fight scenes were shot with no stunt men, no wires with realistic choreography; and it makes this its main draw. But it does define the spirit of Karate within the simplicity of its plot. Oh, I also like school girl outfits on high-kicking female martial artists...so sue me!
Kei Tsuchiya (Rina Takeda) is a pupil of a man called Matsumura (Tatsuya Naka, Black Belt
) who proves to be the most capable fighter in the dojo. However for some reason, she is denied a black belt by her sensei. Restless, she goes around challenging other masters in other dojo’s to prove her skills but Matsumura remains unconvinced. Restless and frustrated, Kei takes up a challenge from a rogue group of expert fighters called “The Destroyers”; this group cares for nothing except money and power--which may suit Kei’s needs to prove her strength to her master. Little does she know that this group is after Matsumura’s head. Now, Kei is the bait and she must learn what it really means to become a true practitioner of KARATE…
What I really appreciated about “High Kick Girl” is the fact that it pays respect to the teachings of Karate. The film is directed by the producer of “Shaolin Girl” (how come I haven’t reviewed this yet?) and the fight choreographer of “Black Belt
” so expect the film to follow some of the established elements in films about Karate. It was good, as the viewer is taken to a side that defines the art and its use in real fights and the real world. “Karate is a martial art that guarantees protection and survival” and the film brings the definition of the art to exposition. The film Black Belt defined the philosophies, the practice, the variations and the beliefs of the arts in a way that was truly awe-inspiring. Now, look at this film from the eyes of the student and her impressions of her sensei in this more modern world; then you will understand what the film is trying to say.
The film’s premise is admittedly simple but most stories that express the philosophies of martial arts usually are. Why? Because its beauty is in its simplicity. Sure, the film’s story could have been more ambitious and intricate but for a low-budget film, it does what it set out to do with a lot of credibility. The film’s plot revolves around the fight sequences which were excellently executed but I have to be honest, the direction needed to be more polished. First-time director Fuyuhiko Nishi seemed to have gotten a little too over-zealous in the execution of the fights. I know his intentions were to spotlight the non-stuntmen, no-wires execution that displays the beauty of the movements of Karate, but the “instant replay” hampered the intensity that could be felt in the fights. Don’t get me wrong, the moves were real good, but too much slo-mo and replays can overstay its welcome. But…
…the fights were performed by real-life martial artists and they do look very realistic. The moves are simple (remember you don’t get to do complex moves in real fights) but they were impressive in a way that they looked like they were making contact; and the end credits do show the execution of the fights--NO STUNTMEN! This gives the fights a lot of credible impact in its narrative. As in “Black Belt”, Tatsuya Naka is incredibly bad ass; his moves are fluid, powerful and effective. This was one of the times that I did NOT mind the slo-mo at all. Rina Takeda’s performance in the fights were very good, but remember she plays a pupil so as much as her moves were effective, they were a little awkward at first (too “showy”) to express the idea that she is still a novice and extremely overconfident with her skills. Real Life fighters such as Hisae Watanabe (too many of them to list, but they do get introduced in the scenes as a “destroyer“) also makes an appearance to display her skills in one of the film’s best scenes. I do still insist that it is easier to teach a real-life martial artist to act than to teach an actor to do martial arts.
I’ve said that the film’s plot is very simple and I have to admit that the film has a lot of plot holes in the screenplay, but one isn’t exactly here for the story. “High Kick Girl” will get its attention from martial arts fans and they are here to watch the fights. Still, the film does define the meaning of a “belt” and that it doesn’t usually represent the greatness of one’s skill but rather the purity of one’s spirit. Notice Matsumura’s “Kuro Obi” in the film, it is worn out and used up--to represent wisdom and spirituality achieved through time. Oh, did I mention Rina Takeda is also very cute?
Recommended! [3 ½ out of 5 Stars]
Japan Promo Poster>>>>>>>