Karate Girl (Japan 2011)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: KG
Review Date: 9/19/11
Cast: Rina Takeda, Hina Tobimatsu, cameo by Tatsuya Naka

A disappointing effort from the same team that brought us the delightful "High Kick Girl!" (2009). The film starts with a bizarre animated sequence that's accompanied by an overly enthusiastic narrator, which makes you think you're about to watch a goofy slapstick comedy. Instead, it transitions to a flashback of karate master Tatsuya Naka fighting to save his two daughters and ultimately losing. The villain takes one of the daughters away and leaves the other for dead. Ayaka (Rina Takeda) miraculously survives and manages to live a relatively peaceful life with an adopted family. Years later, Ayaka still studies karate and a chance incident brings her to the attention of her father's murderer. The villain is obsessed with crushing Ayaka's karate legacy and sends her long lost sister, Natsuki (also a highly skilled fighter), after her. After a rough start, the two sisters finally team up and avenge their family name.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot going on in this film and it suffers from the same terrible cinematography that "High Kick Girl!" did. The camera simply can't follow or frame the action, and the wobbly handheld movement and poor angles don't help. Nineteen year old Karate champion Rina Takeda also seems to be pulling her punches too much, and the entire first half of the film feels incredibly soft - especially after the hard hitting style of her previous film. The girl who plays Natsuki (Hina Tobimatsu) is also an excellent athlete, but her hits are even softer, which takes a bit away from her performance. Again, better camerawork and editing could do wonders here. Additionally, Natsuki is completely stone-faced and emotionless, which makes her extremely hard to connect with. She's clearly a fighter and not an actress. Rina gives a solid performance and emotes fairly well, but the main reason you're watching the film is to see her dish out punishment and pain. In a laughably absurd offering of fan service, she shows up for the final showdown against the villain's army of karate killers wearing a schoolgirl uniform. Not that I'm complaining (because I thought it was awesome), but it's completely inconsistent with her character and the rest of the film.

This is definitely an "action for action's sake" film, and while the stuntwork is extremely impressive, everything else is overly amateurish. Rina is clearly the star, but way too much time is spent on other characters fawning over her. Yes, she kicks ass - I don't need random people in the film to call that out for me and discuss the awesomeness of her karate. I can figure that out on my own, thank you very much. It's a slow starter, but the stunt players pay dearly for their art and it really makes you wonder how many kicks to the head a person can withstand. Ultimately, it's a marginally entertaining outing for fans of girl fu, but I would really like to see Rina Takeda start performing in higher class productions. Hopefully she will get the opportunity to do so.