High-Kick Girl (2009) by Fuyuhiko Nishi (T)

A fierce fighter learns the true lesson of martial arts discipline


Part of a growing trend in martial arts cinema, 'High-Kick Girl' appeared at the tail end of the 2000s when a series of films emerged to put more emphasis back on the hard-hitting female protagonists. Designed as a vehicle to showcase the skill-set of the teenage karate extraordinaire Rina Takeda, Fuyuhiko Nishi's take on the genre is certainly loaded with its own positives, even with a few flaws.


Living in Tokyo, feisty teenager Kei Tsuchiya (Rina Takeda, from "Karate Girl") is anxious and desires her black belt in martial arts, much to the disagreement of her sensei Yoshiaki Matsumura (Tatsuya Naka, from "Black Belt") who offers to teach her more disciplined tactics instead. This patience only serves to motivate her further, branching out to picking fights with other black belts to prove her skills, set up by her friend Ryosuke (Ryuki Takahashi, from "Kamen Rider Fourze") to help out in her studies. Eventually, this brings her into contact with a gang known as The Destroyers, which she tries to join only to learn they're more interested in her master than her. Finally forced to put her skills to the ultimate test, she sets out to stop the gang from following through with their plans.

First of all, this must be mentioned. For those expecting a balls-out fantasy-driven martial arts epic, this is not for those viewers. 'High-Kick Girl' is more of a character study on Kei, who lives for martial arts and is desperate to increase her skills. The drive and desire, from questions her sensei's teaching to actively challenging other rival black belts to test her own prowess, is a huge part of the film. The choreography by director Nishi keeps the fighting style grounded and realistic, as the hand-to-hand strikes and kicks are believable and plausible, forsaking the rapid-fire movements, intricate patterns and high concept wire-works typically found in martial arts films. Performers don't go flying around or leaping off objects for its action scenes, instead relying on the essence of martial arts to carry it's action scenes. This might be a cause of concern for some.


There's also the issue with the film in how this changes the character of Kei. Initially a feisty and rebellious teenager determined to advance her skills at all costs, she exudes a confidence and arrogance that carries her well. This is a big part of the beginning of the film, where we see her taking on the different martial artists and following up on the gang's offer to join them. However, she drops her attitude and takes a backseat during the film's lackluster finale, where she stays on the sidelines, not really engaging anyone. This drastic change of behavior doesn't suit her character at all. Being that she's the most accomplished personality in the film, that's a great disservice. Nothing is offered up about the gangs' interest in her sensei beyond retribution for something that happened over a decade prior. Most of them aren't even graced with a name and only serve to get punched in the groin or kicked in the head. Dressed in black, they strike an imposing figure but beyond that, there's nothing here.

That brings up the last detrimental issue to be featured here, the atrocious editing style of rampant, undisciplined use of slow-motion replays. The viewer is shown a strike at regular speed, followed by a replay of that same strike in slow-motion, which kills the fluidity of the action altogether. This is problematic for several reasons, as at first, these replays were shown for very basic strikes which is worthless. However, during the final confrontation there are sequences that are first shown in slow-motion, then replayed again in super slow-motion. This just drags the scene into mind-numbing boredom as it feels like they were just padding the running time to break a respectable running time. It's an obvious tactic that becomes really detrimental to the film as a whole.


However, the film isn't all bad. One of its greatest strengths is the multitude of martial arts fights here. The film is packed full of them to the point that nearly half the running time is concentrated on showcasing the performers in action. Due to the realism of the fights, it allows the performers to look really impressive, as the battles give them a chance to explore actual techniques during the scenes. Naka in particular, is quite impressive with his dismantling of the martial artists under their control taking out dozens of fighters across several different confrontations. When Takeda is allowed to let loose, there are some dynamic fight scenes involved here as well with her beating up the group of blackbelts at the start and a later battle with schoolgirls she undertakes to gain entry into the group.

All told, this is a pretty troubling effort. The realistic fighting choreography and overall quantity of the fights make this incredibly appealing to those looking for this kind of variety in their martial arts films. Even still, the problematic areas lower this one so it really only leaves the film for the most undiscerning genre fan who can overlook them even with its enjoyable elements.


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Asian Film Vault: High-Kick Girl (2009) by Fuyuhiko Nishi (T)
High-Kick Girl (2009) by Fuyuhiko Nishi (T)
A fierce fighter learns the true lesson of martial arts discipline
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