Sasori (HK 2007)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Female Convict Scorpion (US release)
Review Date: 7/11/20
Cast: Miki Mizuno, Nana Natsume, Simon Yam

"Those who come back from the dead make excellent kung fu fighters."

This movie is a bit of an oddity. It's a Japanese backed Hong Kong production that reinterprets the 1972 Kaji Meiko exploitation classic, "Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion." However, it has nothing in common with the source material other than the main character's name is Nami Matsushima. Nami (Miki Mizuno) is having a dinner party for her cop boyfriend and his family. Unfortunately, she's ambushed by a group of assassins and forced into killing her boyfriend's sister. She confesses her crime and goes to prison, where she's beat up by a mean and nasty inmate named Dieyou (Nana Natsume). As a matter of survival, she eventually learns how to fight by watching other girls participate in death matches that are arranged for sport by the corrupt warden. Against all odds and without any experience or strength and endurance training, she manages to kill all of Dieyou's gang and is sentenced to death by the warden. The police dump her body in the woods, where it's collected by a strange kung fu master played by Simon Yam. Incredulously, Nami is still alive and Yam trains her to get revenge. However, much like the rest of the film, his motivations are totally unclear. After a year of intense training, she heads out to get her revenge with a katana that's thirsty for blood. She takes out the villains in typical by-the-numbers fashion and tries to make peace with her ex-boyfriend before disappearing into the night.

Unfortunately, the movie has a lot going against it. As one of many remakes over the years, it's impossible to even come close to the daring audacity of the original. The exploitation, torture, cruelty, and humiliation aspects of the original are nearly non-existent, which boils the movie down to a dull and uninspired revenge story. However, being a Hong Kong film, it's much more action oriented, which gives Nami a chance to fight and kill with stylized martial arts skills. Sadly, the action scenes are frustrating to watch due to poor execution, weak choreography and camera work, invasive editing, awful CGI effects, and unconvincing wire stunts. The gratuitous wire work really is terrible and seriously derails and deflates the action. There are some pretty shocking moments scattered throughout, but they all happen off-camera, which tends to diminish their impact. A more skilled team with a larger budget might have been able to pull these moments off more effectively.

On the plus side, the cinematography is noteworthy and the use of color is inspired. It's a good looking movie, although the production values and editing have the feel of a low budget TV movie or direct-to-video release. Miki Mizuno does a wonderful job, although she tends to be a bit emotionally flat. However, I could easily see her stoicism as a reflection of her vengeful resolve, as well as a nod to Kaji Meiko, although unlike Meiko, there's no fire in her eyes. Her stunt work is quite good, but her fight scenes are spoiled by bad camera work and editing. Nana Natsume is also quite impressive, but her fight scenes suffer as well. Simon Yam's character is a throw-away role, although he ironically has some of the best action scenes. The plot is definitely formulaic and cliché, which wouldn't be bad if the structure and execution were stronger. As it is, I just felt annoyed and disappointed by all of the missed opportunities for greatness as the movie clumsily stumbled from one scene to the next.