High Kick Girl! is what happens when great martial arts meets mediocre filmmaking. The “High Kick Girl” in question, real-life karate champ Rina Takeda, deserved to have a movie made that featured her talents. I just wish it hadn’t been this movie, which features even less plot than Ong-Bak, has all the personality of an industrial film, and becomes the one thing a movie like this should never become: Boring as hell.
Takeda plays a teen martial-arts wunderkind named Kei, chafing under the strict tutelage of her master. She has a predilection for finding trouble: in one of the first scenes, she casually strolls into a class full of black belts and takes them all down with her trademark boot to the face. When she’s invited to join a gang of underground martial artists named the Destroyers, with promises of good money, she naively accepts. She doesn’t realize it’s all a trap to help flush her sensei out into the open, and soon it’s her and her master against the Destroyers. One wonders why they didn’t simply, you know, follow her to class to find him, but most people watching this will have nodded off long before they come up with such complaints.
When watching a movie that gets many things wrong, it’s at least fair play to point out what is right, and there are a couple of things done right here. Some of the individual fights have flavor, as when Kei faces off against a roomful of yanki (teen girl hoodlums) in their trademark long skirts, or when her teacher gets cornered by a girl in geisha gear with a weighted chain as her weapon. Also, and more importantly, there’s no fake juicing-up of the action with wuxia-style wire-fu or trampoline gimmicks. This deserves credit: martial arts are exciting all by themselves, without being gilt-edged, and the best moments of this film prove that.
It’s just that such a strategy deserves a better movie, because the one we have here is a drag. Moments that generate a real laugh or genuine surprise are few and far between, and even those are lazy. At one point an opponent pulls out nunchuks and Kei snatches them away from him, but there’s no follow-up and no real payoff. It’s just dumped on screen. After a while the whole thing stops feeling like a movie, and more like one of those compilations of fight scenes from different movies that people scissor together and upload to YouTube.
What few fights that have flavor are overshadowed by
the movie's relentlessly draggy editing and direction.
It’s the editing, now that I think about it, which really sinks this movie. Shots drag. Scenes wander. Too much of the time, Kei’s martial-arts moves are replayed for us in slow motion, to the point where it’s not just redundant but the cutaways to the replay totally disrupt what little editorial rhythm the film has managed to build up. Yes, I know Ong-Bak and other movies also pull this trope, but they had the wisdom to save it for the moments that mattered, not use it to shamelessly pad the film’s already meager running time.
The worst thing about High Kick Girl! is how most anyone reading this could have directed this film with far more flair, far more attention to how to have fun with the material. It’s all so juiceless and lockstep. None of its problems are due to limited resources, just limited imaginations. amazon-alt=41SO2SRlP8L