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Revenge flicks are like soft ice cream dispensers at an all-you-can eat movie buffet. You can fill up on your dramas and your romances and your high-brow comedies, but what you really came here for is the sweet stuff, and most revenge films tap right into that craving with tons of action, lots of great motivation, and usually some hyper-graphic violence that leap well over the line of good sensible taste. And that’s a good thing. With Kurando Mitsutake‘s new martial arts throwback Karate Kill, revenge is the name of the game and everything at the end of this buffet is nothing but hard serve triple dip with big chunks of kick ass.
It starts fast and simple with young Kenji (Hayate) on the hunt for his kidnapped sister Mayumi (Mana Sakura), who has found herself in the hands of some LA snuff filmmakers. Traveling from Japan, he arrives in the seedy side of La La Land and promptly starts taking names as he works his way to a secret hideaway and eventually learns that Mayumi is being held by a hairy nasty named Capital Messiah (Kirk Geiger), leader of a cult headquartered in a compound outside El Paso, Texas. Time for some payback and from here on out there’s not much to say other than Kenji punches a lot of bad guys. A lot.
Mitsutake is not exactly known for subtlety. His last film, Gun Woman (2014) was an explosion of gore and nudity and while Karate Kill has less of both (but plenty to boot), it is nonetheless a super-charged action film with barely a line of dialogue from its hero, him more of the strong silent type with a particularly devastating right hook. If you’re a fan of the classic Saturday martial arts films of decades past, then there is much to rejoice here, with Mitsutake carefully homaging much of how these films were made while adding some contemporary flare. It’s messy. It’s graphic, and it’s great fun.
It succeeds on two counts, with Mitsutake first lending great style to the familiar plot. He builds the action well and does nearly all of it in practical effects and long takes. Yes, there are some minor CGI additions that give the limited gunplay some authenticity, but the fight scenes are all mano-a-mano with none of that super cutting, rapid-fire editing so popular in most modern fight scenes but rather straight up well-choreographed punch-a-thons that have well, terrific impact, even if each strike is punctuated by an over-the-top sound effect. But Mitsutake’s got some skills in the artsy department too, finding some creative and compelling transitions as well. He serves up Peckinpah violence on a Malick platter.
Second is Hayate, in his debut, a martial arts and parkour expert who fills the trope-ish role with just the right amount of bravado and mysteriousness the part requires, his story not important but his motivation key. He moves with great fluidity and finesse and while he might lack the charms and presence of the masters, it is his first outing and given the opportunity, could break into something even better. Time will tell.
Karate Kill is a low budget love letter to those that came before it, full of brutality and extreme violence that fans of the genre will surely eat up. Well-acted and directed, it has its flaws with pacing and some length, even at 90 minutes, but is nonetheless a terrific throwback well worth watching if this is your thing. And it should be.
Karate Kill is now available on VOD (June 18th)
Movie description: Karate Kill is a 2016 (available on VOD 2017) action/horror film about a mysterious loner and Karate master who goes on a deadly hunt for his missing sister in Los Angeles.
Director(s): Kurando Mitsutake
Actor(s): Asami, Katarina Leigh Waters, David Sakurai