Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hard Revenge, Milly - Bloody Battle (2009)

Like in the first Hard Revenge Milly film, we are still in a (sort of) post-apocalyptic Yokohama, seemingly the city of warehouses and empty industrial buildings. After having taken her revenge in part one, Milly (Miki Mizuno) now whiles away her time in one of those warehouses, smoking a lot, popping aspirin against regular headaches, looking depressed and doubting the authenticity of her own memory, and with it her humanity. It's a Phil Dick thing.

One day, a girl we will later learn is called Haru (Nao Nagasawa) arrives in warehouse central. She wants Milly's help in avenging the death of her boyfriend, but before she can explain herself properly, a group of gas-masked leather freaks (friends of the guys Milly killed in the first movie, it seems) arrive and try to avenge Milly back. They are less than successful.

Haru is wounded, though, and so good-hearted Milly brings her into the territory of something called LAND (no explanation forthcoming), where our heroine usually earns her money by selling the weapons of the people she has killed and knows a mad scientist (Masahiro Komoto) who likes to fondle her mechanical bits. The film calls him a "hentai doctor", so make of that what you will (the "weird doctor" the subtitles use seem a bit weak to me). When she's alright again, Haru explains what she wants from Milly, but finds the older woman not all that receptive. Of course, Haru doesn't know who her boyfriends killer actually is, so the whole discussion seems somewhat pointless.

In the end, Milly decides to train Haru to become a better fighter instead of taking her vengeance for her, but their first training session is again interrupted by weirdoes who want to kill the mechanically improved woman.

This time, it's Ikki (Mitsuki Koga?), the boyfriend of the leader of the last film's evil-doers - a non-effeminate evil gay guy who likes to hump dead bodies - and his brother Hyuma (Rei Fujita), who looks at his sibling's love for men with a certain exasperation. Which is even a bit understandable when you hear Ikki treating him to endearing little pep talks of the "if you weren't my brother, I'd make you gay" variety. Yeah, a price for the positive depiction of homosexuality lies not in this film's future.

Milly loses the fight badly and is only rescued by a clever ploy of Haru. Afterwards, she gets a do-over by her mad scientist friend. With a new pneumatic fist, our heroine now looks perfectly capable of killing the avenging people of dubious morals, but the identity of the person who killed Haru's lover will complicate everything a bit.

Everything I said about Takanori Tsujimoto's first Hard Revenge Milly film applies to its slightly longer sequel, too. Bloody Battle is still a pearl of contemporary Japanese no-budget filmmaking with decently made action sequences, buckets of spurting blood and fine little bits and bobs of weird ideas sprinkled throughout its running time.

Tsujimoto still shows a sure hand at picturing action as well as dialogue scenes (the latter something Ryuhei Kitamura for example has never learned) and still uses natural-looking light in a much more interesting way than most directors working on his budget level. I'm glad to see that the director's achievements in the first part weren't only based on beginner's luck. Now, if someone would kindly give him a lot of money for his next film so that he can leave the warehouses behind.

While she isn't playing the most complex role imaginable, Miki Mizuno has obviously put a bit more thought into her performance than just striking cool poses (which really becomes clear after re-watching the film with knowledge of the plot twist), and comes over as convincing and appropriately grim. Idol Nao Nagasawa is a bit less impressive. Sure, the script doesn't give her too much to work with, but she seems to be trying much too hard in her big emotional scenes. On the other hand, she is trying.

The rest of the cast follows the good old low budget tradition of chewing the scenery as outrageously as possible, achieving a wonderful contrast with Mizuno's permanent tenseness.

The plot, though minimalist, turns out to feature a few more points of interest than strictly necessary, with slight nods in the direction of Philip K. Dick, the question of what makes a human, and an honest attempt at making Milly's psychology work while still having as much outrageous yet very very cheap action as budgetary possible. Milly flows very well, with no scenes that are just there to fill out the running time. It's not a complicated film, but a concentrated one. If you squint, you can also find an ironic commentary on the vicious circle that is vengeance somewhere tucked away between the loudly squirting blood, but the film is not going to hit you over the head with it.

First and foremost, Bloody Battle tries everything in its power to entertain. It's fast, it's absurd, it takes itself not too seriously, yet obviously respects its audience and its genre. What more could I ask for?


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