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Bloody Battle is 10% more futuristic than its predecessor, as measured in the new style fancied in the gangsters of the day — gas masks. The two movies take place in a familiar post-apocalypse, one where it’s likely that down under Master Blaster upholds his power in Barter Town, though Japan has a more cyberpunk feel (if Versus can be said to have a horror movie feel, for example). The war-torn buildings and desolate interiors offer an appropriately impressionistic environment for our formidable heroine Milly, though they also offer the audience’s best guess that Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle is after all, a budgeted affair.

Though a larger world is implied, much of the story unfolds in parking garages and non-descript warehouses, with the occasionally dressed-up set peppered in for world-building’s sake. Fortunately, by the endgame this actually registers as insignificant, because the action these environments house is a specific flavor of stylized ultraviolence, one with flying kung-fu, cool poses, and wacky weapons that inflict impressive spectacle when unleashed on smug, gas-mask-clad do-wrongers.

The action in the film is one end of the Hard Revenge Milly equation that’s so frustrating. The premise of this sequel doesn’t stray far from the original’s plot, certainly not for the purposes of puzzling out what’s so problematic in an otherwise highly entertaining gore-fest. Milly, after massacring the gang that brutally murdered her husband and set her baby on fire, while at the same time tearing her body apart with knives and forcing her to watch, finds herself hunted by friends of the gang — as we learn from the hardly comparable Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, revenge is a cyclical, spiralling affair.

At the same time, Milly is approached by a young woman whose lover was killed, and seeks training for vengeance of her own. It may not sound like much, but keep in mind that the original movie was 45 minutes long, and this one still isn’t quite average feature length, clocking in at 74 minutes.

So what’s the trouble with Hard Revenge Milly?

The opening fight scene embodies a rare and beautiful ideology in action movie filmmaking, where the action hero is depicted as a slasher villain in how he/she dispatches foes. The only contemporary example that springs to mind is the critically discarded Punisher: War Zone, a film that sees Frank Castle slaughtering villains as if they were zombies — heads explode, bodies explode; the carnage is front and center, and there’s a gleeful joy in the application of a crazed badass to the action.

When this badass is essentially the Terminator, the entertainment is in the creativity of the hero killing slimy villains rather than the drama of ‘will the hero prevail?’ since there would clearly never be a question (there never is a question, regardless of what action movie you’re watching, but let’s not parade on the dreams of the Len Wisemans and the McGs of the world*). Punisher: War Zone succeeds where the 2004 Punisher fails (for one) in the villain department, because there’s a nemesis cold war going on — Frank Castle might be crazy, but Jigsaw and Looney Bin Jim are batshit. John Travolta? Not very threatening and surely no threat to Thomas Jane, which deflates the drama of ‘will the hero prevail?’

War Zone goes above and beyond, then, where Castle has gangsters to kill like a regular Jason, but with more RPGs, and these guys are no threat, but also a villainous element that provides any measure of suspense. Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle, as well as its predecessor, have the same pretty Japanese pop-singer dude who happens to be a badass.

It’s odd, because while the end fight of the original is much longer than any other fight scene in the movie, it’s less entertaining because the guy offers a sizable opposition, and this is not what we were being driven toward with Milly tearing through people earlier. What makes this guy special? His kung-fu seems to be pretty good but he looks like everyone else and isn’t characterized appropriately in this regard. The sequel does a little better by having the villain be a cyborg, but any cyber-fuelled cool factor is negated by his villainy stemming purely from his sexual deviance — aka homosexuality. That’s great, guys.

This may sound like a lot of talk for something pretty unimportant, but the in-the-moment result is that Milly gets thrown around a lot by these lame villains where she should be trouncing everyone, save for something actually impressive. Anything other than yet another gangster dude. Like the Bride, Lady Snowblood, or Lady Vengeance, Milly gets her gender-equality fair share of the action movie beating, but to me it doesn’t make a lot of sense given the premise of what these movies are. This might sound like sexism, and it probably is, but this time, I honestly just don’t give a fuck. I don’t want to see a woman nicknamed Hard Revenge Milly getting her arm chopped off and defeated, only to win with further cyborg upgrades further down the road.

Not to mention that Milly technically falls into that more recently popular category of kick-ass females, here dubbed the Dragon Tattoo category, where only rape or violence against the heroine can incite bloody rebirth. That’s not a big deal here, because not only is Milly’s origin story so absurd, the movies are extremely obviously not meant to be taken very seriously.

I mean, look — when Milly cuts some dude’s body with her elbow sword, their high blood pressure sprays in an initially hesitant fountain in the grand tradition of Chinese and I think Japanese cinema. It’s great, silly fun, but it is metered a bit by Milly’s qualified badassery. That said, Bloody Battle is an improvement over an already entertaining original, one that reaches for eleven on the novelty dial in the fight scenes: we never know what her metal body’s gonna drum up next to slice and dice her foe, or what lethal new form this familiar weapon will take, but we know it’s gonna be bloody as hell. Meanwhile the action is intense and fantastical, remaining compelling through the whole of the two films with the promise that they’ll end in brutal, comedic splatter.

This movie is also interesting for its essence as a sequel. This is an instance where the follow-up deconstructs the original, showing the aftermath of the events in the first movie and the effects they have on the heroine. She isn’t just a killing machine, she’s a killing machine with no sense of control and a lost past that she can’t even be sure of. In a peculiar moment, Milly questions her memories in a spot of dialogue lifted straight from Ghost in the Shell. The self-deprecating doctor character plays Batou here, swatting down her Shirowesque cyber-Descartes existential quandaries much in the way the audience might.

Philosophical questions about revenge are paid equal lip service, but it amounts more to an intriguing setup to a theoretical third installment than an actually compelling discussion. Milly might be cursed by her vengeful journey, which infects others and only begets violence and death, but we’d rather see her kick some ass than mope around like the Major.

Or get her ass kicked by the villains, for God’s sake. Somebody needs to give this director, Takanori Tsujimoto, a bigger budget and put the lead, Miki Mizuno, in more action movies — they make a great team.

 

*Because I like Len Wiseman for some reason and I really enjoyed Terminator Salvation for some reason

It’s the inexplicable and unexplained post-apocalypse, where we’re told that Japan is nothing but a wind-swept plain. Elsewhere, in the two abandoned buildings of this plain, Milly seeks hard revenge for the murder of her family and the fleshy parts of her body.

Hard Revenge Milly is a smart action movie. Not only does it grab the attention immediately with some sword-thanked arterial spray, it deals directly with the genre’s #1 problem — action movies can be unbelievably, shockingly boring. It does this by its runtime, which is roughly 43 minutes (it lasts the whole way, through the credits and after), effectively minimizing the exposition and everything between the fights that is empty content. There is almost no actor who can carry a movie without playing a character, which is why Arnold Schwarzenegger movies (barring End of Days) will always be great, and that’s often what happens in action movies across the globe. The effort given toward an original, compelling story is akin to the writer sullenly kicking an empty soda can across a dusty road.

Whether it’s reliant on special effects or physical combat, action can be pretty expensive, and cannot realistically fill 100% of the movie. Usually, unless it’s a John Woo flick, the action will be peppered in. To be fair, a lot of Hard Revenge Milly is talking and her waiting around for the action. Fortunately the action feels like live-action anime, which may sound pretty crass or cliche, but the end result is that while the choreography may not be as complex or impressive as we’ve seen elsewhere, there’s a fantastical logic to the martial arts that makes it difficult to keep up with, but what we do know is that those violent flashes sure look cool.

As we learn from Versus, there’s a tendency with these overly violent, stylized action movies coming out of Japan (perhaps taking inspiration from Versus) to favor how things look over the movement, such that still frames taken from any point in a fight scene will be well composed and super cool looking. This is where the anime comparison comes in — as early Japanese animation featured a lot of drawn still frames being physically manipulated for the camera, a style that’s been updated over the years to largely the same effect, where there’s detailed characters jumping through the air but moving somewhat stiffly when compared to the detail-lite but smoothly animated Disney cartoons.

With Hard Revenge Milly, there’s probably twenty total minutes of violence, but it’s pretty fun to watch for just such animated reasons. In one instance she does this kick thing and kind of flies off the guy, only to follow up with another attack in the next shot, sans any sense of momentum… or reality. She’s also got a sword — which extends from a pretty odd spot on her arm — that magically grows when convenient, like John Cho’s in Trek ’09. That’s the true joy in a movie like this, though the inventiveness of dismemberment tactics and the absurdity of the violence. Martial arts killers in Japan have an extra talent to turn people into geysers, which never gets old. Thankfully, because this movie isn’t really a movie but a short film, it doesn’t get old, which makes me wonder about the sequel, Bloody Battle.

Futuristic cell phones

There’ll be a review shortly for that one because there’s more I wanted to say about villains and feminism and stuff.

Spoilers incoming

There are three routes you can take if you want to be a film-snob, these routes of course often intersecting at grotesque and pretentious crossroads. They’re arthouse, indie, and foreign, the big bad three. F the first two, but let’s pause for a moment and examine the last. I’ve seen a few foreign films in my time, mostly Korean as of late (representin’*), and I’ve seen a lot of shit because of it. Granted my least favorite film of all time is American-made, and science-fiction, but a lot of Takashi Miike movies would be up there, as would Irreversible if I were in a crass enough mood (it’s got moments). We tend to view foreign films as a higher form of film art because the mainstream stuff is filtered in. We get Shaun of the Dead and In the Mood for Love because they’re so good they deserve international release. But I don’t think they put the live-action Wicked City on the Criterion Collection yet (I know because I’m looking for it).

These foreign films most Americans see, in addition to simply being good, don’t steep themselves in their culture to the extent where we might not fully appreciate what’s going on. Then there are movies like Audition, which is perhaps the most well-known, or second well-known after Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike flick — a good movie that can be enjoyed on a base level, but requires minor, but further, knowledge of Japanese culture.

The reason Audition makes it to US shores is because it’s one of the most acclaimed horror movies in recent times, its claim-to-fame being a climactic torture sequence, as well as a particular limbless guy-in-a-bag who eats vomit. Gnarly stuff, the kind of stuff that American teens (and Eli Roth or James Wan) would definitely be into. For me, I wanted to see if this would be another Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance — a comparison that will be revisited later — and I was interested in seeing a Miike jab at feminism. Here’s a spoiler: it involves a lot of needles.

Without speaking down to you (because this is basically trivia), the thing to be aware of going in is that Japan, historically, has been behind the times on the whole ‘women’ thing. They like women, as most of us do, but seeing them as equal I believe wasn’t instant — like… it was here. Characters treat women as objects in a game in this movie, which is the premise, so we aren’t totally lost going in, but knowing context is helpful to pick up what Miike’s putting down.

Is it possible that after years of being assholes to women, there will be repercussions? That’s the question being asked here, and it seems to have a pretty straightforward answer, as you might imagine. It fucks people up, bottom line. Also, burning little girls’ legs with fire, that fucks em up too. I was interested to see this movie because it is Takashi Miike, a man who deals heavily in violence against women and movie rape, things I’ve given up on — mostly because of him. This must be his penance or whatever, though there do remain those uncomfortable moments. The difference here is that they’re supposed to be uncomfortable.

Also uncomfortable is the cutting off of limbs; the torture scene isn’t nearly as hard to watch as really any moment in Ichi, or the more extreme bits in Chan Wook Park fare, but it’s worth the price of admission, even for non-torture-porn fanatics. The movie truly shines though in its first and second acts. The setup to the darkness we know is ahead in my mind takes greater directorial strength than the 2001-like trip through layers of unreality, or the transcendent pain — it’s a slow-boiling family drama, one with humor and small, touching moments.

This is where I was engaged the most, because as ghastly as holding wife auditions is, I couldn’t help but feel for the character, his supportive friend Ishikawa, and his son. I actually liked them — Miike characters. But then the movie goes a bit haywire and a dream sequence of sorts takes us out of the emotional realm and into the depths of hell.

The character is drugged, and as he’s falling to the floor he gets visions of backstory for the girl character. I take issue with this sequence for many reasons, but chiefly, it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. We’re led to believe that he’s experiencing all of these things, that he now knows that the uncle tortured her. It’s possible he inferred it all in a fever dream, which also saw his late wife returning, but it’s hard to say. At this juncture, I was really lost, and it took me out of the movie. I knew what was coming next, so every time there was a false ending to this sequence I was getting more and more frustrated. Not necessarily because I needed to see the torture, but because I assumed it’d be up next.

So he goes all David Lynch, which stretches what could’ve possibly been a short film to feature length, and is an interesting move from an artist. It’s not something you see a lot, especially in a movie like this, which could’ve been just as satisfying with a pared down A-to-B-to-torture structure. I appreciate it, but didn’t really buy into it as fabric in the greater movie.

It’s not a huge problem, didn’t ruin the movie for me. I think the reason why I enjoyed Audition as much as I did is because I was able to see a real master work his craft without being demented by his own weirdly-o sigs. It’d be like watching Pulp Fiction for the first time after seeing Kill Bill and Death Proof — given you aren’t a fan of feet like QT is. Miike puts a lot of weight into detail. Notice the torture tools the girl uses — needles, wire, syringes — they’re feminine in that they’re finesse, less about blunt force and more about pinpoint tactics. She’s engineering his pain, talking him through it and being methodical. Half of the terror is psychological warfare, which trickles down to the audience very effectively: this chick is totally nuts (“deeper, deeper, deeper“).

As wild as this scene is, it really isn’t as bad as I imagined. I went into Audition as anyone would — anticipating some hardcore fuckedupperies. I wanted this to be another Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a movie you could show to a friend, preferably a female one, and be like, “This is the charming tale that gets a little dark. It’s about these guys who kidnap a little girl, and then things go south.” When they go south in Mr. Vengeance, they go south and never let up. Movie gets pretty rude. Audition doesn’t really, and I don’t think it’s the director holding back, rather it’s a measured dose of violence, despite its craziness — and tameness.

Miike doesn’t want to chance the ending becoming tongue-in-cheek. Every time Ichi kills somebody, it’s a gore-fest, but he’s being a bastard screeching and running around like a jerk, so it’s madly challenging to take seriously. Or handle, period. It’s almost an affront to the institution of cinema violence, but that’s why we have the blonde dude, I suppose. Audition doesn’t need the blonde dude, because it isn’t really about the violence, though that is the clear centrepiece. He’s using violence this time, not being used by it. So this time I didn’t really feel had by Miike. I think that this time, he was simply trying to do a good movie.

This isn’t to say that he doesn’t every single time set out to make a good movie, it’s more that he isn’t full of himself in this case. Let’s go back to white Takashi Miike for a moment: Audition is like the Reservoir Dogs of the Tarantino canon. It’s a solid movie, and it isn’t bleeding with Tarantinoisms. I happen to like Tarantino, so I liked Death Proof and even Inglourious Basterds. I don’t like Takashi Miike, but I did like Audition. If you’re looking for a place to start with the dude, duck his latest effort and go straight to this one. It’s low-key horror, chilling and intense while intelligently stopping short of lame-o torture porno.

*Not really. I might be Korean in flesh, but not in spirit, which is good, because it’s opened my eyes to the stupidity of taking pride in one’s heritage

Yes, I am that technically improficient that there are no embedded videos to be found anywhere on this site or in this post. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, but for now, here’s five action movie trailers. The action movie is a topic of significant discussion here on Dreck Fiction, because they’re experiencing something of a renaissance in the recent years. And note that when I say action movies I mean 80s action movies. There’s some of that in this list, whether they’re literally from 1980-1989 is whatevers.

5. A History of Violence

The simple story of a podunk town. Nothing really happens. EXCEPT.

4. Ashes of Time Redux

From what I’ve seen of the movie so far (it’s rare I’ll watch a movie 100%, I guess), I’d be hard pressed to call Ashes of Time an action movie. But the trailer sure wants you to think it is. There’s beauty in cinema violence, and Wong Kar Wai makes everything beautiful, so don’t worry about it. What’s more stunning than dudes on horseback jumping over dunes in slow-motion? Spartans in slow-motion, eat your heart out… in HELL.

3. 13 Assassins

Goes to show that all you need is a good editor to sell a movie. I was sold when the guy jumps off the building and they cut as he lands to FROM LEGENDARY FILMMAKER TAKASHI MIIKE. Unfortunately I never finished watching this movie. It wasn’t as bad as his others, but I just have very little motivation to return to it. Watching the trailer again couldn’t quite do it, though it is good.

2. I Saw the Devil

Man the last shot in this trailer is great. Good movie, good trailer. One that really gets across just how jacked up this Korean diddy really is.

1. Death Sentence

James Wan’s action/drama is an underrated movie with a stirring performance by Kevin Bacon, gory violence, and a terrible soundtrack. Some of the worst and most inappropriate music I’ve yet experienced over video. But none of that is in the trailer. What is in the trailer is great. The definitely captured some of the more artistic shots of violence, like tackling a dude off the staircase and firing a gun into the air. I would recommend this movie, but the trailer does a better job.

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