The summer movie season of 2017 had a lot of big-name releases. The new Alien movie, John Wick 2, the Blade Runner sequel, the usual Marvel MCU films, and a variety of other stuff that I may have wanted to see to a greater or lesser extent. Buried among those big-name franchise releases was one that was on my list of the three most anticipated films of the summer: Karate Kill.
Karate Kill was from director/writer Kurando Mitsukake. If you’ve browsed Netflix in the last few years, you may have seen another one of his films, Gun Woman. If you watched Gun Woman, and liked it, you are going to love Karate Kill.
After I watched a screener for Karate Kill quite a while ago to review the movie for my other website, I struggled to think of exactly how I wanted to approach the review. The reason for this was my reaction from reading some other reviews of the film around the web at the time it was released.
I kept seeing comparisons to Tarantino movies and his style. This bugged me because it was a little unfair to the film, in my opinion. It seems that anything that is a bit of a mash-up of genres these days is automatically compared to Tarantino when it is his style that is a mash-up of others, to begin with.
For this Retro Review, let’s just get on with it. Karate Kill is one of the new wave of modern exploitation films that became more popular ever since Grindhouse hit the theaters in ’07… but that isn’t to say it copies those films. It stands on its own as a damn good martial arts action film with a twist of modern western and a dash of horror.
I have seen the description of “Cannon film” used in reviews of Karate Kill and I have to agree with that. I know there is a certain idea invoked when one uses the Cannon description, but in this case, I use it with much admiration as I was, and am, a fan of those film with no irony at all. This film would have fitted right in with that time and would have been one of their bigger crown jewels had it been a Cannon release.
All through the movie, we get hints at past 70’s and 80’s action and horror masterpieces: Cobra, Friday the 13th Part 2, Rolling Thunder, Kill Bill, Last House On The Left, and more. While these are present and fun to note, they don’t bog the movie down.
Karate Kill has a writer/director from Japan and it shows in the film in several of its humorous moments. Moments that could only have come from a Japanese creator. It does have plenty of good “hyuks”, even one that goes from dark, to dark comedy, to black. This is how I like my exploitation comedy moments to develop.
The plot of Karate Kill involves the main character on a quest to save his sister from a Charlie Manson-like cult that livestreams its snuff films. His sister, Mayumi (Sakura) had come to LA to start a career as an actress just as so many have. Not finding success, she works at a hostess bar to earn money and to earn money to bring her brother over from Japan. While working at the bar she is taken by the cult, along with a co-worker, to be brainwashed and then killed for the enjoyment of the crazies of the world.
Her Karate master brother Kenji (Hayate) gets to the US and picks up the trail. He works his way up the chain and out to the location of the cult by way of a series of bloody fights. Along the way he meets the only surviving victim of the cult and they team up.
The hook-handed survivor Keiko is played by the lovely Asami. You may know Asami as the lead in Gun Woman and in the awesomely violent, bloody-gory fun fest The Machine Girl. Keiko sports a hook for a hand, the result of torture from the cult. It makes me think of Rolling Thunder, and she is just as badass as the lead in that film. She helps Kenji master his bullet-dodging moves, and to prepare for their combined assault on the cult’s compound.
At the climax, we get everything you could want in an action revenge exploitation film – blood, violence, nudity, gunfire, blades, and awesome kills.
The fight scenes in the movie are shot with steady shots without the quick edits and shaky cam garbage we have had forced on us from big-budget “action ” films that cost a lot more with big-name stars. The fighting is well done and realistic. The martial artists are so skilled that the fights are a real joy to watch. While not as non-stop as The Raid, the martial artists are just as good.
Some really nifty camera work is done in one fight scene that was so cool I found myself smiling in glee. Later, at the climax, we get a close-up with blood spurting on the camera lens. Something I always enjoy when it turns up in exploitation movies. At some points in the film, we are shown the view of the cult members as they film themselves using GoPros mounted on their heads. The strange steadiness that comes from a GoPro while filming the maniacs is strangely unsettling and adds to the aura of the crazy cultists.
Karate Kill not only lived up to my expectations but exceeded them. It is a blast. The story gets right to the point. It is a bloody revenge/rescue yarn and it comes out kicking from the start. Karate Kill is also a film with heart, without the hipster irony of some other stuff like Manborg or Machete Kills. It’s fun and its creator shows once again his respect and love for the genre.
If you like independent exploitation films, martial arts action films in the style of 70s and 80s action films, and plenty of blood with a Japanese Karate master version of Clint Eastwood, then you are going to like it. Certainly, if you liked Gun Woman or the Director’s previous films you will enjoy this. Karate Kill is available on VOD and BluRay from various outlets.
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