Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In short: XX: Beautiful Hunter (1994)

Orphan girl Shiori (Makiko Kuno) has an impressive streak of bad luck. As if the whole being an orphan thing wasn't enough, she is adopted by an evil Catholic secret society and trained to become one of their killers (or Warriors of God).

The grown-up Shiori is well loved by the organization's boss, a priest usually just called Father (Koji Shimizu), for reasons of him being a sleazy, blind old man and her being ruthlessly efficient.

Until she makes a mistake on a job and lets two journalist witnesses escape with some very incriminating photos. The first of the two is easily hunted down, but Ito (Johnny Okura) the second one is more of a problem. His attempts at lying low aren't too successful, but when Shiori finds him, she for once in her life isn't just able to kill him. As it goes in films like this, all her carefully suppressed sexuality explodes and she falls in love with him.

Both have to go on the run together, always trailed by Shiori's former colleagues.

Beautiful Hunter is the second part of the XX series, a handful of Japanese girls with guns films made for the video market. As such, the film always has to fight against its low budget, but director Masaru Konuma was veteran of intelligent smut filmmaking enough to be able to roll with it. Although the lighting and colour schemes betray the film's year of production, the film has a distinct 70s feel to it, with much of the scenes as carefully laid out by Konuma as his Roman Porn films for Nikkatsu were and more than one moment of guerilla filmmaking.

Not surprisingly, Konuma seems to be more interested in the script's sado-erotic undertones and the sexualisation of violence with the gun as phallus stand-in than in the actual action scenes and even finds some honest human emotions in the ritualised sex and the sadism. At times, it looks as if the director is trying to marry pulpy exploitation in the style of a Kazuo Koike manga with the sado-masochistic psychological clarity of some of his earlier films.

He is not completely successful with it for two reasons. Firstly, as much as he tries to ignore the plot or the non-sexual implications of girls with gun cinema, the film still needs to function as part of the genre or at least do something, anything with the genre's clichés. Alas, it just doesn't.

Secondly, Makiko Kuno is good enough when she doesn't have to show emotions, but has her problems with the more emotional scenes, coming off less as someone with lessened affect than slightly bored.

Still, while Beautiful Hunter is less successful than I'd hoped it to be, it is a very interesting and worthwhile film with a handful of aesthetically impressive scenes. I always prefer a film with ambitions it doesn't completely fulfill to a film that isn't even trying.


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