Thursday, October 1, 2009

In short: XX: Beautiful Killing Machine (1996)

Cheryl (Rei Natsume) works as a top class bodyguard in Tokyo. Thanks to a mysterious and tragic past, she's the silent, affectless type. Her only friends are the one-armed ex-mercenary bar-owner Mark (Shunsuke Kariya), the wheel-chair-bound tech guy and voyeur Lucky Ears, and a doctor with rather unorthodox methods (Saiko Isshiki) who treats Cheryl for some mysterious reason that has something to do with Cheryl "having no womb".

Cheryl's newest job is to protect the sleazy misogynist creep Kou Sawamura (Naomasa Musaka) from a group of even less pleasant yakuza he stole some jewels from.

Although her client has quite a talent for making her life more difficult, Cheryl succeeds protecting him without much sweat, until she meets the bad guys' main assassin, only known as "The Owl". When the moment comes, she isn't able to shoot the Owl, for she remembers him from her mysterious and tragic past.

So she stows her client away in a storeroom and falls into an existential crisis she is only just beginning to crawl out of when the Owl begins to target her handful of friends.

Beautiful Killing Machine is (as far as I know) the final of the XX movies. Like the last film of the series I saw, this one too likes to get the girls with guns business behind itself as fast as possible and concentrate on character and mood. Even the sleaze has to take a backseat. Of course, having less action and more talk is a lot cheaper than making your movie a full-grown barrage of action and explosions, but director Takahito Hara's careful way of dealing with his characters and the coolly melancholic mood he often manages to achieve point at a director able to make a virtue of necessity.

The plot might be cliched and the characters far from original, but the same goes for some of the best of film noir - a genre that could have had a certain influence on this film. Hara's earnestness and the slow, thoughtful rhythm to the film really won me over, even though the actors weren't always able to commit as fully as their director.

Of course, if you are watching girls with guns films just for the action and the sleaze, you'll probably be disappointed here. In these two aspects, the film is adequate at best. Personally, it's not a lack that bothers me, as long as the rest of the film keeps my interest as well as this one does.

There's also the point of a very uncommon and therefore slightly strange twist at the end of the film that merrily abuses some of the basic assumptions of every girls with guns film ever made while at the same time fulfilling all genre expectations. It's a thing of beauty - and also quite silly, but just in the best and most earnestly presented way.



Todd said...

Is it just me, or is "Cheryl" a mighty strange name for a silent and affectless top class bodyguard in a Japanese Girls With Guns movie?

houseinrlyeh said...

The really strange part is that not just the subtitles, but the Japanese dialog calls her that. Perhaps because she is supposed to be from Thailand, and nobody clued the writer in about the Thai language?

King of the tawn said...

"Her only friends are the one-armed ex-mercenary bar-owner Mark (Shunsuke Kariya), the wheel-chair-bound tech guy and voyeur Lucky Ears" sounds Lyk the movie Kataude mashin garu (Machine Girl)

Hope this one is not that sick,haha.

houseinrlyeh said...

It's not in the same league of hysterical awesomeness, no.