In the wake of Kill Bill, avenging angels are a dime a dozen on the exploitation film landscape. It’s hard to find fresh ways into the usual revenge movie tropes – and this is one area in which Kurando Mitsutake must be credited. With his recent film Gun Woman, Mitsutake wasn’t able to reinvent the basic tropes of the genre but he sidesteps that issue in a novel way. Simply put, he supplements the usual violence and tricky revenge plot with acres of bare flesh and gallons of blood.
A framing device has an assassin (Matthew Floyd Miller) telling a story to his driver (Dean Simone). It’s the story of a Mastermind (Kairi Narita) who puts together an elaborate revenge after the demented son (Noriaki Kamata) of a wealthy man rapes and kills his wife and then cripples Mastermind. He kidnaps a drug-addicted prostitute (Asami) and puts her into an intensive detox/brainwashing/training program so she can infiltrate a place the wealthy psycho goes to commit mayhem in safety and privacy.
The plan is where Gun Woman goes into faux-grindhouse overdrive. For starters, she has to enter the facility naked and drugged so she will appear to be dead because the wacko son is into necrophilia. The Mastermind plants the pieces of gun inside her torso so she can rip them out, reassemble them and use the gun to assassinate Mastermind’s nemesis. If she doesn’t bleed to death, he will use his medical skills to save her.
As the synopsis should indicate, Gun Woman is a wild ride that never shies away from opportunities for grindhouse-inspired nastiness, spraying blood around or gratuitous nudity (Asami, a former adult film star, spends much of her screen time naked). However, Mitsutake’s outrageousness is contrived instead of natural, with a plot that self-consciously imitates past exploitation films and only varies things by cranking up the outrageous meter to 11. The problem with leaning on that kind of outrageousness is that it quickly loses its effect and ultimately becomes numbing.
And that’s just one of Gun Woman‘s problems. The film also suffers from flat digital cinematography and acting that is mostly poor, even by faux-grindhouse standards. The majority of the cast has one of three problems: they are either ludicrously over-the-top, miscast or just plain bad actors. Mitsutake also expects his wild content to speak for itself and stages it for the camera in a rushed way.
All of this is a shame because the middle third of Gun Woman is often good. Tellingly, it is the most low-key part of the film, a chamber piece that focuses on the Mastermind’s training of his pupil. It delves into storytelling and simple character development – and the one gory moment actually plays into it rather than just being used for cheap thrills. Both Asami and Narita give committed performances that play it all for real. Though Mitsutake’s directing technique is still raw in this section – there’s one lapse of taste/tone with a sex scene fantasy sequence that is shoehorned into the story – his work still connects in a way that suggests that he could have done a straightforward version of the film that invested in good storytelling if he wasn’t so fixated on camp-shock spectacle.
Simply put, Gun Woman has the same problem that affects most faux-grindhouse product: it believes that a grindhouse film is delivery system for cheap thrills first and a story second, rather than investing in the craft of storytelling to communicate its transgressive content. As a result, it’s merely a curiosity piece for gorehounds and Japanese trash-film fanatics.
Blu-Ray Notes: This film recently got a home video release in the U.S. via a blu-ray edition from Scream Factory. The transfer does well by the rough-hewn digital cinematography, bringing out the detail and colors (particularly the red, red blood). Both 2.0 and 5.1 lossless stereo mixes are offered. The 5.1 was used for this review and it does pretty well by a limited recording, giving some oomph to the musical score.
Extras begin with two commentaries. The first pairs Mitsutake with Asami for a Japanese language/English-subtitled track. It’s a lively affair, with a nice chemistry between the two as they cover the challenges of making an action/FX-intensive film on a micro budget and the physical rigors of action scenes. Mitsutake does a second commentary track solo, in English. He goes into detail on the tricks used to give his film a real movie look on a modest budget ($70,000 for a 10-day shoot) and plenty of detail on the cast and crew.
Also included is a 48-minute making-of documentary in three parts. Mitsutake anchors the first segment with his reflections on trying to be professional while working as quickly and cheaply as possible. The next sections offer lots of detail on the action choreography and makeup effects. All parts feature copious behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
In short, a good disc for a micro-budget flick. Anyone into the wild side of the Japanese genre fare will appreciate the presentation and extras.