Several recent American martial arts releases have tried to take genre to higher levels than simply chop-socky kung fu fare: and failed. Perhaps the most recent example comes from Red Belt, which opened many plot twist avenues only to get lost in its own tangle of possible themes.
Coming from overseas is a film that avoids this recent trend, instead favoring a fairly a straight-forward plot and theme. High Kick Girl, while unfortunately carrying an ominous title more suggestive of hentai antics than actual martial arts, keeps things simple: Karate fighting at its best.
The plot is fairly simple enough (simple enough for me to follow in its original Japanese with only conversational fluency): Kei (Rina Takeda) is one of the most feared fighters in her dojo, but her sensei won’t award her shodan (black belt rank) until she can master the forms. Forms are boring to her, however, so she practices by stepping into dojos in her high school uniform and taking on all comers (and adroitly kicking the crap out of them). Unfortunately she goes too far, joining a gang that is targeting her sensei for revenge. Her and her brother end up as bait to lure Matsumura sensei to a fight to the death.
All this is achieved, impressively, through the use of real martial arts – Hollywood movie martial arts are replaced by actual martial arts techniques. What results then is a much more realistic and yet every bit as breath-taking series of action scenes. Takeda herself is an accomplished martial artist, and one of higher-profile gang members is idol group AKB48 member Sayaka Akimoto, who in real life is a black belt in Aikido.
High Kick Girl achieves what the best Jackie Chan movies have done: exciting martial arts scenes mixed with a sense of humor. One of the funnier scenes (seen in the trailer) involves Kei walking through a line of sparing karate-ka’s in her school girl outfit, receiving a challenge from the instructor (who’s a head taller than her) before dropping him with a single kick to the head.
And indeed, Matsumura embodies the real spirit and essence of Karate. He demands perfection of kata to instill the forms’ values on Kei. Even details like his belt, which is black only from him having trained so long and hard in it, points to a sense of martial arts tradition.
In the end, High Kick Girl doesn’t try for anything out of its reach. Kei learns the real power of karate from Matsumura sensei, and in between we get a lot of entertaining fighting scenes. And isn’t that what martial arts movies are supposed to be about?
Want to see more? Check out the trailer for the film here: (High Kick Girl). Also, check out some of the side links, such as Takeda on a Japanese talk show.