A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 446 – Dragon Princess

Dragon Princess – May 20th, 2011

Oh boy, this is going to be a short review. There’s not a heck of a lot to this movie and I’m afraid I’m going to end up focusing on its flaws instead of on its potential, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. This is yet another movie obtained from my coworker. We got it solely on the basis of Sonny Chiba’s involvement. Okay, Sonny Chiba and the promise of a kick-ass female protagonist getting revenge for her father’s sake. And well, Sonny Chiba is in it. And Yumi is pretty awesome and does kick a lot of ass. But the movie’s pretty lacking in almost every other area.

One of the first things we discovered when we put the movie in was that it was dubbed. And this is the sort of horrible dubbing that’s been lampooned on every sketch comedy show ever, with the audio not even remotely synced with the video on multiple occasions. The aspect ratio shifts between the opening scene and the rest of the movie. The camera appears to be hand held and not very steadily so. There is panning and scanning but not nearly enough of either since the camera often seems to be looking at the empty space between the two characters in the scene being filmed, or on the spot a character was in and has moved from. And well, this is very obviously a low quality transfer from what was likely already a low quality copy of the original, leaving the visuals blurred more often than not.

The plot is pretty simple, or so it seems. The basic story is, anyhow. A man is attacked by several men and gravely wounded in front of his young daughter. He lives, only to devote his daughter’s childhood to the study of martial arts so she can be his instrument of revenge. She grows up and after he dies she seeks out the men who attacked him when she was little, eventually taking them all down. That’s not terribly complicated. And if the movie had kept it nice and simple like that, perhaps things would have gone better. But there’s a whole plot with a karate school and the scheming leader, Nikaido, who wants it to be the only school or a state sanctioned school or something like that. I couldn’t really figure out exactly what his incentive was but it definitely had something to do with being a karate teacher. And he’s also into extorting protection money from the locals around his school and sets up a big tournament that’s supposed to bring prestige to the school and the local government somehow and then he rigs it so his students will win. And then there are his men.

The Big Four, as they’re referred to in the movie, are four of Nikaido’s men. They were with him when he beat up on Yumi’s father and they act as his agents all over the place. And I’m not sure if I’m supposed to have picked up on anything other than that one of them, who has longish white hair, is more than a little high strung. The trouble here, and through the vast majority of the movie, is that while it attempts to have a plot and characters and dialogue, the scenes between fights are so poorly shot and edited together that they’re actually hard to pay attention to or make sense of. Which in turn makes the whole movie hard to pay attention to or make sense of. Why did that one student at Nikaido’s school decide to help Yumi? I have no idea. If he ever said anything about his reasons I admit I totally missed it and it’s not like the movie gave me much to go on. But help he does. After the tournament is announced the Big Four go out to kick the asses of anyone who might dare to try and compete. This takes us to such far flung locales as Cuba and South America and. Um. I think that’s it. Cuba and South America. Where we spend about five minutes of fighting before going back to Tokyo.

Yumi’s staying with her grandfather in the city, and you do get to hear some from him, but not enough to keep my interest. He tries to stop her but she goes to fight anyhow. She gets her arm fractured and is told if she fights more before it heals she’ll probably never use it again. You might think this would be the source of some emotional weight or conflict but no. She doesn’t really bat an eye. Not that I saw. There’s also a sort of side plot with a man who picks Yumi’s pocket when she arrives in Tokyo and apparently sells pornography from a stall near his home and whose mother pays protection money to Nikaido, but it’s never delved into. That would take time away from the fight scenes.

The thing is, with the shaky and poorly framed camera work here, all the fight scenes sort of muddle together into one. If I were to tune into this movie, even having seen it, I’d probably find it difficult to tell by a fight scene where the plot was at any given moment. When a movie has well choreographed fights that serve to enhance or propel the plot you can see how unique they are. These fight scenes are only usually unique due to whom, specifically, Yumi is fighting. And even then, the villains aren’t terribly distinguishable for me, aside from the one with the long hair and Nikaido himself. The other three? They aren’t even characters. They’re just henchmen.

And in the middle of all that mess is a totally unrelated sexy dancing scene that’s not really at all sexy. I think sex is supposed to have happened? I’m not sure. It’s strip disco, as Andy said. Between two characters who aren’t even in this movie. For no reason I can divine aside from someone deciding that the movie needed some bare breasts for American audiences. That, along with the ever-so-70s horn section soundtrack just makes this movie ridiculous and cheesy on top of messy. And you know, I really wish it was better. I would love to see a remake of this with decent production values. Heck, I’d even settle for halfway decent production values. Because I like the basic premise and I’ve got to say I did enjoy Etsuko Shihomi as Yumi and she did indeed kick a lot of ass. But I couldn’t really enjoy it as much as I wanted to, between the cropped and sloppy camera work and the horrible dubbing and the total lack of pacing and writing. If anyone knows of a remake or of something that takes the same premise and runs with it in a more coherent fashion, please let me know.

May 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dragon Princess

May 20, 2011

Dragon Princess

I have to admit that this movie is a bit of a mess. I’m not sure if it is a result of the dubbing, or of the poor pan & scan, or if it’s because I am so debilitatingly tired or if the movie itself is really as slapdash as I felt it was as I watched it this afternoon.

What we have here is a Sonny Chiba karate movie from the seventies. The thing is that a lot of the time I felt like I should have known what was going on because it is a movie firmly rooted in the tropes of its genre. It involves revenge and a team of evil weapons masters that need to be defeated and a mysterious young man whose motives are not immediately clear and… well… a lot of concepts I’ve seen before in many an anime or martial arts movie. There’s just some kind of disconnect in the way it is presented.

For the most part this is the story of a young woman named Yumi. In the pre-credit sequence her father is brutally beaten by an evil quintet of backstabbing martial artists. (According to the dubbed dialog it is because he is up for a job as a karate instructor and the leader of the five meanies wants the job instead. I think it must have lost something in translation.) Anyhow, Yumi’s father is defeated and barely left alive. During the opening credit montage he trains his daughter relentlessly to be the greatest fighter of all time. Eventually (after many years) he dies – it is implied from the injuries he sustained at the start of the movie – and implores that Yumi avenge him.

All this is pretty standard and it’s no particular mystery where this movie is headed. Next we get to see what the evil master is up to now in Tokyo. He’s got his own dojo where he trains a big group of students by beating the crap out of them. One new student is able to hold his own against the master, and you know he’ll be back later. The dubbed dialog informs us that there’s a martial arts competition coming up and the evil Nakaido has his heart set on winning. So much so that he dispatches his four underlings to every corner of the Earth to kill the other masters signed up for the competition. (The movie begins to feel a little samey here as each rival master in turn is assassinated in a fight scene very reminiscent of the opening scene of the movie.)

There’s also a street gang that is extorting protection money from some local merchants (including our comic relief, a brightly dressed pickpocket and porn merchant.) Yumi, who has come to Tokyo to live with her grandfather, beats up the gang and attracts the attention of Nakaido, who is in cahoots with a corrupt politician and somehow involved with the gang as well. It’s unclear to me exactly what the connection is. Anyhow, the gist is that Nakaido sends his promising new pupil Masahiko to kill Yumi.

Instead Masahiko teams up with Yumi after revealing that he’s the son of a murdered police officer. They fight the five evil masters and although they survive Yumi is gravely wounded, losing the use of her left arm. She is determined to hunt down Nakaido even if it means she’ll die in the process. There’s a long scene where her grandfather begs her not to throw her life away, but pretty much tells her to go after Nakaido anyhow. Then there’s the climactic fight scene where Yumi and Masahiko confront Nakaido and his entire student body as well as his weapons masters in an overgrown field. There’s a lot of fighting and then the movie abruptly ends.

I really had trouble keeping up with this movie tonight. The fight scenes are frenetic and hand held and the cropping down of the frame to fit the movie to full screen means that a lot of action takes place off the sides of the picture, so I never really had a feel for what was going on. The movie has all the individual parts of a classic revenge action movie but for some reason they never really fit together. The strange translation and abrupt editing don’t help. (We were particularly amused by the non-sensical sex scene which appears to have been edited into the middle of the film from some other movie.)

I simply didn’t enjoy this as much as I would have liked. I can see that there is a cool movie buried in here, but it isn’t allowed to really come out to play. The end result is amusingly cheesy and more than a little bit cheap feeling. It’s so clearly not the movie it wants to be. I have to say I liked the concept more than the execution. I’d be very curious to see how different the movie is in the original Japanese and in wide screen.

May 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment