Karate Kill (2017)

This review gives me the chance to talk about one of my favourite things – the business model behind the villain’s money-making operation. So, there’s a thing called “Capital Messiah”, and it’s a website with a range of different snuff films on it. You can watch a variety of people getting murdered or raped in any way you like, as long as you’re prepared to pay, and this operation is run by one Vendenski, a methed-out-looking lunatic, from a series of trailers and mobile homes in the middle of the Texas desert.

The prices are flashed on the screen at several points, but the price to watch the final fight (a little more on that later) is $3,999.99. Nearly four grand, just to watch two complete strangers fight to the death. Who’s paying for this? Why is no-one remotely interested in the apparently hundreds of dead people littering rural Texas? One of the listed videos has six cops being murdered, apparently, yet the entire movie takes place in a consequence-free environment where people get shot, stabbed and kicked to death willy-nilly. Who does his tech support? What’s he spending the money on? The guy who runs a “hostess club” (a sort of cross between a nightclub and brothel, as far as I can tell) owes Vendenski $700,000, which is a plot driver. How on earth do you owe a guy who produces snuff films so much money?

Anyway, “Karate Kill” was sold to me by the people at October Coast (a PR company who were good enough to add me to their approved journalist list) as a cross between Tarantino and Cannon. Using “Cannon” as a descriptor is quite popular these days, but all it means is it’s a low-budget, no frills action movie, as it’s certainly not remotely visually the same as a Cannon movie – the Tarantino part of it presumably relates to his love of exploitation and kung-fu movies. And they’re sort of right!

Kenji (a fellow by the name of Hayate, who seems to be a parkour expert, making his movie debut) quits his four part-time jobs, rounds up all his money and heads for LA, to find his sister. Yes, that old chestnut, one of the most abused B-movie plotlines of all time, is trotted out again. He beats the crap out of a few people, goes to a bar and beats the crap out of a load more people, then finds out his sister is being held by a bunch of snuff-movie lunatics out in Texas and goes there. He’s rescued from a bar fight by Keiko, a one-handed former resident of Vendenski’s compound (Japanese gore-movie legend Asami), and they build up a nice relationship, training and falling in love. Then it’s on to the compound for the rescue / final show-down, which involves the aforementioned $4000 fight to the death, in the stupidest location imaginable.

There’s a curious cultural disconnect which comes from it being a Japanese-made movie which just happens to be set in the US and have most of the cast speaking English. “Capital Messiah” doesn’t really make any sort of sense, and while this might be a reference to the slapdash way American movies use Japanese symbols and language, it’s probably just born of the same laziness.

It’s clearly made by someone with a sense of humour, though. The Keiko / Kenji sex scene has that little image of the two hands grabbing each other at a heightened moment, but one of the hands is a steel claw.

And, of course, there’s the gore, of which there is gallons. People get blown up and sliced open and shot in the face and all sorts, but it’s almost all CGI. I guess it’s easier for low-budget producers to do it that way (although if all you’re interested in is making it easy, perhaps you ought to find another line of work) but it looks cheap and “weightless” and didn’t really gross me out, even when the movie was clearly trying to get you to that sort of emotional place. So, the front of someone’s face is blown off…okay? It looks like a very good computer game, is all.

Kudos to the central two characters. Hayate is pretty damn good for a person making his debut, and has decent karate skills. He’s that humourless grim killing machine, but if you’re not super-sure about the acting thing, it makes a lot of sense to be that sort of character, as Arnold Schwarzenegger proved. But Asami is the real star of the movie, a superb performance from a woman who’s been in such gems as all five “Rape Zombie: Lust Of The Dead” movies and “Yakuza-Busting Girls: Duel In Hell”. She’s beautiful and interesting and makes a good foil for the lead.

Ultimately, though, it fails, even on its own terms. Digital video seems to look more naturalistic to me, and to combine it with wacky OTT gore doesn’t really work visually. Keiko hangs around near the Capital Messiah complex, after they fed her hand into a meat grinder, but doesn’t at any point consider telling anyone what happened to her, and therefore helping out potential future girls who get bought from sleazy LA clubs. And there’s the ending, which involves a character who’s spent the entire movie broadcasting appalling crimes on the internet threatening the hero with the police (who do, finally, turn up just as the credits roll). Why were the police not interested before now? It doesn’t work logically, and it doesn’t work as a sort of alternate-reality view of society. It’s just stupid.

It needed more gore, or for someone with half an idea of how movies worked to have a read through the script before it started. I’m sure people will say “well, it’s got boobs, gore and laughs in it, what more do you need?” and to them I say…well, nothing, because they’re clearly fools. If you’re prepared to accept this, go ahead. Nothing I say will change your mind.

Rating: thumbs down

PS – “Karate Kill” is released in July

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