Getting Wilde, by Jenn Stark

Literary rating: starstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2

I initially thought I had a fairly good handle on where the first book in the Immortal Vegas series (currently at six entries, plus a prequel) was going, with a Lara Croft-esque lead, who specializes in locating and recovering ancient artifacts. You can also throw in fragments of The Da Vinci Code, since she is hired to retrieve a relic from the secret basement beneath the Vatican, and is going up against a cult of religious, Catholic fanatics. But it somehow ends up taking a sharp right-turn, ending up in a version of Las Vegas where, just out of phase with the casinos and hotels, lurks a hidden dimension of other venues, populated by…

Well, probably best to rewind a bit. For in this universe, magic is real, albeit not apparent to the vast majority of the population. Some, particularly sensitive types, have an affinity for it, in one way or another, giving them abilities such are remote viewing or precognition. These are the Connected, and our heroine Sara Wilde is one of them. She started before she was even a teenager, using a talent for locating missing things to help her local police. But after a tragic incident, she was forced out on her own, and now wields her skill in the pursuit of material objects.

Meanwhile, the Arcana Council – largely formed of characters out of the tarot deck, e.g. the High Priestess, the Magician and the Devil – are based in that alternate Vegas strip. They seek to maintain the balance between good and evil, preventing either from prevailing, and that’s becoming a problem. For the increasing intersection of technology and magic is being exploited by those who want to benefit from the resulting synergy – they don’t care how many lives have to be destroyed in that process. Which is where Sara comes in, as exposure to a psychoactive drug turns her into a seer, and she unwillingly takes on that mantle, to protect the innocent alternatives.

If it sounds rather complex and confusing, that’s about right. You’d expect the first book in a series to set out the universe and its rules fairly clearly. But here, you’re largely dropped in to the middle of things, then have to try and figure out what’s going on, from nuggets dropped by Sara almost in passing. Maybe previous knowledge of Tarot might help? It also suffers from incompleteness, a sadly common trait in e-books; Stark sets up the characters and plot, then more or less ends in “Buy volume 2!” rather than offering any resolution. The book’s attitude to sex is kinda weird as well. Wilde doesn’t actually have any, but comes perilously close on multiple occasions, to the extent this seems like some kind of edging fetish.

But you shouldn’t take the above to mean it’s all negative. In particular, Wilde is a very well-formed character. She’s clearly a heroine, willing to put herself in harm’s way (both physically and psychically) to protect others, out of genuine concern for their well-being. Yet she’s far from flawless, carrying her own share of historical baggage, and has a sarcastic wit to which I can easily relate. Stark has a good eye for her settings too – having been to Las Vegas, it would be the perfect location for a supernatural governing body to set up their operations, just out of sight behind the lurid facades.

I’d probably have liked to have seen more action out of Sara. Her first excursion, into the depths beneath of the Pope’s palace in Rome, is almost an occult Indiana Jones escapade, and she clearly is capable with more than just her mind. But after that, there is a lot more talk than walk, save perhaps for her helping bust loose some unwilling participants from behind a sleazy casino, in an even sleazier back-room. Hopefully, future entries will have more of this, and she won’t be stuck doing remote viewing for the High Priestess, which is where she ends this volume. I’d probably be interested in another adventure, given the potential here; yet there are enough flaws, it could all end up being thoroughly wasted.

Author: Jenn Stark
Publisher: Elewyn Publishing, available through Amazon in both printed and e-book versions.

Golden Swallow

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“Roc beats Swallow”

If this seems somewhat familiar, it’s because it is not dissimilar to Iron Swallow, reviewed just a couple of weeks back. However, this is the official sequel to Come Drink With Me, in which Cheng reprises her character of Golden Swallow, rather than being the Taiwanese knock-off. Ms. Swallow is living a fairly quiet life, fighting for the rights of the underdog, etc. along with the aid of Golden Whip (Lo). Their peace is disturbed by the actions of Silver Roc (Wang Yu), who is carrying out various massacres, and leaving Swallow’s trademark darts at the scene, in order that she gets blamed for the crimes.

Turns out this is Roc’s idea of courtship, figuring it’ll force Swallow to track him down – and not with the aim of serving a restraining order, as I’d have said was more likely. Odder still, this “massive body count in lieu of a bouquet of flowers” concept actually appears to work, at least piquing Swallow’s interest, and thus  setting up a love triangle between Swallow, Roc and Whip. It’s only interrupted by the arrival on the scene of Poison Dragon (Yeung), and the two suitors put aside their scheduled duel to the death on top of a mountain, in order to take care of the real villain.

Despite the title – particularly the alternate one, which promises a whole level of action the film isn’t interested in delivering – and lead billing, this is significantly less about Swallow than Roc. And that’s a shame – Wang Yu would get plenty of his own opportunities to shine, he didn’t need to be hijacking the limited chances given to Cheng. Took me a little while to work out, too, that his character is named after a mythical giant bird, not a boulder. The references to “soaring rocks” were quite confusing for a while, until I figured this out.

The fights are okay, rather than impressive. They’re certainly not helped by Chang’s style, apparently an early ancestor of the MTV style of shooting action. This involves the camera being pushed too close in to capture the skills of the participants, and a primitive version of steadicam, which is certainly not steady in the slightest. I didn’t like it. I had high hopes for a scene which began with Swallow sitting quietly in a tea-house, which seemed to be echoing one of the most memorable sequences from Come Drink With Me, but it was little more than a nod, and was over before it had properly begun.

I wasn’t all that impressed with Drink, finding it more influential than entertaining. But it is still considerably better than this, which never gets off the ground thanks to a laughable plot, and carries out something perilously close to a bait and switch, with the heroine of its title reduced to a supporting role. What a waste of Cheng’s talents.

Dir: Chang Cheh
Star: Cheng Pei-pei, Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi-hing
a.k.a. The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick

Gunslinger Girl

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“Young and heavily-armed.”

gunslingergirlIf you want something more cerebral and family friendly than Kite – if a story about underage assassins can ever be family friendly! – then Gunslinger Girl is perhaps for you. Set in Italy, a shadowy government organization, the Social Welfare Agency, has a prototype project which takes young women from hospital beds, augments their strength, speed and agility with cybernetic accessories, and unleashes them as state-sponsored special agents, with a wide-ranging license to kill. Each has a handler, to maintain and direct their conditioning and act as backup. But these trained assassins are still little girls at heart, with a fondness for teddy bears and ice-cream, as well as forming disturbing attachments to their handlers, who become their only family.

Though probably the most disturbing thing here, is that these are the forces of good: this is your tax dollars (well, tax lira) at work, fighting against radical terrorists and organized crime. Does the end justify the means, in terms of both the physical and emotional costs paid by those who take part, especially those too young to offer any kind of informed consent? Perhaps wisely, the thirteen 22-minutes episodes don’t delve too far down that rabbit-hole, preferring to concentrate more on the relationships between the five girls who are the subjects of the project. There’s something of Ghost in the Shell here, with the heroines’ awareness of their own (now, largely mechanical) nature leading them to ponder what it is to be human, and whether they can even consider themselves as qualifying any more.

The action here is perhaps less frequent than you’d expect, each episode typically having one or two brief bursts of intense activity. This doesn’t soft-pedal the violence in any way, even if it doesn’t seem to have the emotional impact on its young subjects that you feel it might; this could well be the point, and may also be a side-effect of the amnesia which is induced in them. The technical aspects are solid, in particular the music which prefers a classical tone to the (over-used, to be honest) standard large helping of J-Pop tunes, and the show has been complimented for its attention to detail, particularly in the details of the weapons it depicts.

My main issue is the lack of any real story arc or escalation. You reach the end of the 13th episode and, while not ineffective (most of the girls sit out in a meadow, watching a meteor shower and singing Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, while one lies in a hospital bed), it would hardly pass for a satisfactory conclusion. This may well result from it being an adaptation of just the first two volumes, in a series actually running to fifteen. Given this, it might have been wise to cut down the characters; rather than splitting stories and characterization relatively evenly across the five, focusing on one or two in greater depth would potentially have been more successful. That said, I still appreciated its more thoughtful and leisurely pacing, and will certainly cover the sequel series in due course.

Dir: Hiroshi Ishidori
Star (voice): Eri Sendai, Yuuka Nanri, Kanako Mitsuhashi, Ami Koshimizu

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Literary rating: starstarstarstarhalf
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2

This works rather better as historical fiction than an action novel, and is set in the late 15th century, when the province of Brittany was fighting to remain independent from France. Such high-level political machinations are far above the heads of most inhabitants, who are busy with everyday survival. At the beginning of the book, this includes the heroine, 17-year-old Ismae, who is more concerned about her upcoming, unwanted marriage – more of a sale by her father, to be honest – to a brutal husband. Rescue comes in an unexpected form, as she is whisked away to the Convent of St. Mortain, devoted to one of the pagan gods, absorbed into the Catholic faith as a saint. Mortain’s field is death, and Ismae, who has a natural immunity to poison, is trained in his dark arts. She becomes a tool used by the Mother Superior – albeit for political ends as much as religious ones.

After a couple of training missions, the main thread of the book is her presence at the court of the young Duchess of Brittany, where she is sent as the “cousin” to her adviser, Duval. Quotes used advisedly, since the general assumption is that she’s Duval’s mistress. Know I mentioned “high-level political machinations” in the previous paragraph? Cue these, in spades, as the future of Brittany hinges largely on to whom the Duchess is married. [It was only right at the end that I realized the Duchess had barely turned thirteen, rendering some of the previous events significantly more creepy] There are any number of factions, each with their own agenda, and willing to go to any lengths to make sure they’re achieved; figuring out and negotiating the maze of loyalties and deception is no easy matter.

By coincidence, I read this not long after The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory, which depicts events in a similarly chaotic period, just across the English Channel and around the same time. That didn’t have enough action to qualify here, but did get me in the appropriate Middle Ages mindset. It did share a supernatural element, with its heroine being able to affect the weather, for example. Here, Ismae’s main talent is her ability to see the mark of Mortain on those the saint has targeted for death. But this is problematic when it conflicts with the instructions given to her by the Mother Superior, and the main thrust of the heroine’s development is her transition away from an indoctrinated cult-head, as she realizes she might be being manipulated and used, almost as much as in her peasant days.

Part of this is – and you can insert a heavy sigh, complete with eye-rolling here – her blossoming feelings for Duval. It’s clear, virtually from the first time he appears, that he is the Designated Love Interest, and it’s only a matter of time before our hard-nosed assassin will inevitably be making googly eyes at him. It’s certainly the case that, once she and he arrive at the castle, the action largely grinds to a halt, being replaced by much skulking around and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. There’s much more suspicion than assassination, outside of one incident at the banquet, where she saves the Duchess from violent death at the hands of a mime – okay, it’s more one of a strolling troupe of players, but I find the idea of a killer mime just too amusing to discard. [Also: while Ismae does wield a crossbow, it’s considerably smaller than the one pictured on the cover!]

I did like the meshing of old and new religious beliefs, and must confess, this certainly didn’t feel like a 550-page tome [one advantage of e-books is their lack of weight!], since I ripped through it in not much more than a week, which is lightning fast by my standards. But the book did suffer from incomplete subplots, such as the psycho fellow novitiate, who is also present in the Duchess’s castle, only to vanish entirely from the story without explanation. Perhaps this is something which will be explained in a future installment. Having paid 99 cents for this on special offer, I guess I can’t complain; but I likely wouldn’t be inclined to pay the $9.99 currently being demanded for the second part of the trilogy.

Author: Robin LaFevers 
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, available through Amazon, both as a printed book and an e-book.

Here’s the trailer. Yep, TIL that books nowadays have trailers…

Grand Auto Theft: L.A.

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“Leaves you yearning for the high quality of Asylum mockbusters.”

grandautotheftVixen (Zachary) and her girl pals Sarita (Almonte), Kandy (Kodding), Electra and Katie are ambitious young dope-dealers on the streets of Los Angeles. After discovering that someone is pushing lethal drugs, Vixen’s moral streak kicks in, and she cuts off the head of the snake responsible, Kane. Unfortunately, this opens the door for the even more dangerous Andre, who is completely insane and willing to stop at nothing to prevent Vixen and her gang from interfering with him. After he kidnaps, rapes and kills one of her crew, it’s clear this war won’t end until one of them is dead. Then there’s “The Shadow,” a mysterious and unknown figure, lurking behind Andre.

This is clearly designed to look like a Grand Theft Auto film, complete with animated cut scenes. I’m somewhat surprised there wasn’t a cease-and-desist from Rockstar Games. However, the execution is so painfully poor and unconvincing, viewers would likely be more entertained if the makers had video-taped someone playing the game for 85 minutes and released that instead. Virtually no-one here is at all convincing in their roles as dangerous gangsters: Kodding, in particular, appears to be visiting the mean streets of Los Angeles on day-release from a Beverly Hills spa, and Dolinar resembles Neil Patrick Harris trying to play a thug. Both are as ineffective as that would suggest. Almonte did manage to sell her character in one monologue; otherwise, the best actor here is porn star Ron Jeremy. He gets his penis yanked off after it’s caught in a car door.

I’ve enjoyed some of Leroy’s low-budget work in the past; Hell’s Highway hit the spot, and The Witch’s Sabbath had the awesome line, “Where y’going? You crazy-ass witch with titties.” Those both managed to, if not conceal their limited resources, at least make them relatively unimportant to the entertainment provided. Here, there’s just not enough effort invested. While the film is hyper-violent in the same way as GTA, it’s all digital effects – which might be the point, I suppose, yet feels more like a choice made to save money than out of any stylistic consideration. It seems rather ambivalent towards its female characters as well, wanting to depict them as strong and independent, yet also degrade them with sexual violence. On the other hand, anyone watching B-movies for a moral education is in about as much trouble as anyone who plays video games for that reason.

I look forward (for some very loose definition of “look forward”) to seeing whether Leroy continues down this road. Perhaps we may soon be seeing Alive or Dead, Evil Resident or, perhaps, Raider of Tombs? I’m not sure which is sadder: the possibility of those, or the fact I’d almost certainly end up watching them…

Dir: Jeff Leroy
Star: Mahogany Zachary, Alexis Kodding, Tim Dolinar, Jessica Almonte

The Girl King

starstarstarhalf
“Queen of Arts”

girlkingThis isn’t the first biopic about Christina, Queen of Sweden from 1632 to 1654. Most notably, Greta Garbo played the role in 1933’s Queen Christina, though one sense the focus here is rather different. Certainly, she’s an interesting character, the only child of King Gustav II Adolph. She became queen at age six on his death, then was brought up as if she were a prince, taking over actual rule on turning 18. She caused major ructions with the established order with her plans to end the Thirty Years’ War, educate the population and turn the capital city, Stockholm, into the “Athens of the North”. It didn’t help her case in a strongly Protestant Sweden and a very fraught religious time, that she was influenced by Catholic writers such as René Descartes. Nor her reluctance to marry, or the (according to this telling) passionate relationship with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Ebba Sparre (Gadon).

This focuses on the period between her 18th birthday in 1644 and abdication a decade later – she left the throne to her cousin, turned Catholic and headed off to live the rest her life in Italy. The film suggests this was largely a reaction to an enforced separation from Sparre, which is depicted as causing Christina a breakdown. [The mentally-fragile apple depicted, apparently didn’t fall far from the tree. Her mother was barking mad, who preserved her husband’s embalmed corpse for two years after his death and, again per the movie, made Christina kiss it good morning and good night] That seems a little too trite of an explanation, for someone who spoke nine different languages and was as much driven by admiration for her “virgin queen” predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, as any passion.

It’s more successful in documenting the struggle between Christina and the nobles who had no interest in an educated underclass, or even peace, the loot “liberated” from enemy countries being a major source of income. Mind you, the peasants aren’t necessarily interested either: an amusing scene has the monarch about to quote Marcus Aurelius to them, when she’s interrupted by an offer of free beer from a rather more down-to-earth adviser. The tension between a high-minded – possibly too high-minded? – queen and the realities of 17th-century European politics, would have benefited from additional exploration.

It would likely have been preferable to a rather uninteresting love affair, one which seems to say more about 21st century sexual politics than anything at that point. While I generally liked Buska’s performance, there were a couple of points I felt like I watching a modern teenager, rather than one of the most well-educated women of her time. I have to think there was rather more to Queen Christina, than the slightly-unstable lesbian portrayed here, but the true depth of that character only occasionally pokes its head over the large dresses and even larger wigs seen here.

Dir: Mika Kaurismäki
Star: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, Lucas Bryant

The Graves

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“Home cooking isn’t necessarily more tasty.”

thegravesI must confess to being drawn in to this 2009 film partly by the “local interest” factor, it being an entirely Arizona-grown product. This is obvious – indeed, painfully so – in the early going, which includes a plug for a comic-store chain and a performance by a local band, as well as a particularly cringe-inducing cameo by some of the director’s own comics. Mercifully, the film rapidly moves on to the actual plot. This has sisters Megan and Abby Graves (Grant and Murray) head out for a spot of sibling bonding, before one moves from Phoenix to New York. Their road-trip takes them to a diner where they’re told about a nearby ghost town, Skull City, the site of a former gold-mine. Megan – the more outgoing and confident – is all for it; Abby is less sure, but is eventually convinced. What they don’t know, is that the mine is the home of a very nasty cult of religious psychos led by the Reverend Abraham Stockton (Todd), and even the friendliest of locals (Moseley) can turn out to be potentially lethal.

I appreciated the straightforward and unpretentious nature of this: it’s the two girls (really, it’s almost entirely Megan who’s the proactive one, with Abby only really good for running and screaming, with a side-order of quivering in terror) against the world. The story is thus largely to the point, though they might as well have disposed entirely with the unseen demonic entity subplot, since it doesn’t add anything, given the effects budget was apparently largely limited to hearing it consume souls… Unfortunately, that poverty extends to quite a few other aspects. For example, the mayhem has a tendency to happen just off-screen, which is never satisfactory at the best of times, and the use of obvious CGI blood only draws attention to this shortcoming.

The performances are a bit over the place too. I enjoyed Todd, who chews scenery to good effect, from the moment he stalks into the diner, a terrified young girl in tow. He seems to have a handle on the comic-book tone for which Pulido is going. The rest of the cast? Not so much, particularly Moseley, who seems to think that putting a fake pig’s nose on equates somehow to exuding menace. He’s wrong. The two leads fall somewhere in between: while they’re okay, the characters are never much more than generic cyphers. At least Pulido was wise enough to dump the hand-held video camera which infects some of the early going: a good rule for the use of such being, it’s never a good idea. I’ll admit half a star of my grade is likely the kick I got out of seeing places I know, such as scenes filmed at the late, lamented venue, The Sets in Tempe.  Take that away and sad to say, there isn’t enough meat on the bones of its potential. The moral here is, just because you can make a film, doesn’t mean you should….

Dir: Brian Pulido
Star: Clare Grant, Jillian Murray, Bill Moseley, Tony Todd

The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl

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“Great idea, spoiled by limp execution.”

goldenclawsInspired by the first in a series of books by Albert Sainte-Aube, it’s easy to see why this proved a successful concept. Beautiful circus performer Françoise (Gaubert, who managed to marry both a dictator’s son and a triple Olympic gold medalist, in Radhamés Trujillo and Jean-Claude Killy respectively) takes her talents to the criminal field, where her tightrope and trapeze skills help in her secret life as a cat-burglar. However, this is derailed when she falls for a sting by government operative Durieux (Guiomar), and the price of her freedom is her assistance with a task set by him.

Diplomat Saratoga (Pitoëff) is using his status as a cover for drug-running, and in order to break the operation open, Durieux needs Françoise to break into Saratoga’s office and liberate a 20 kg package of drugs from the safe. To this end, she’s given the help of Bruno (Duchaussoy), a gifted lip-reader who’ll be able to figure out when the deal is going down, and the two of them begin a stake-out from a nearby apartment. But our heroine’s sticky fingers don’t stop at the drugs, and when she also liberates a large sum of cash from the safe, and heads for Switzerland, with the cop, the criminal and Bruno, all keen to track her down, each for their own reasons.

Unfortunately, this is one of those films that, despite a brilliant title (not the original one, which translates as much more prosaically, as The Lone Wolf). doesn’t live up to its promise. There is an awful lot of sitting around and chatting, filmed in a flat and uninteresting manner, and none of the supporting cast provide any kind of depth or interest. That’s a shame, as the action is generally well-handled, not least the heist at the movie’s core, which takes place during a thunderous rainstorm, making every move all the more treacherous. I do have to wonder, however, quite where they are hanging the trapeze from which the heroine swings, or why she bothers – the tightrope-walking depicted on multiple occasions previously, would seem a much more sensible and reliable method of getting from High Point A to High Point B!

Regardless, after a wonderful 10 minutes, it’s back to sitting around and chatting, and that’s largely where the movie remains until the end. More than one review has remarked on the film’s possible status as an inspiration for Luc Besson’s Nikita. While I can see that possibility, in its tale of a woman coerced into working for the government, who yearns to escape, this would be a case where the student’s efforts significantly surpassed those of his master.

Dir: Edouard Logereau
Star: Danièle Gaubert, Michel Duchaussoy, Julien Guiomar, Sacha Pitoëff
a.k.a. La Louve Solitaire

The Great Texas Dynamite Chase

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“A movie packed with blow(-up) jobs.”

dynamitegirlsSorry. Couldn’t resist the above tasteless joke. I did try. It was the longest five seconds of my life. But, let’s face it, the late Ms. Jennings would probably have approved, as she shot across the B-movie firmament like a meteor, in other films reviewed here, such as Gator Bait and Unholy Rollers, before her untimely death at the age of 29.

This is an energetic and briskly-paced B-movie, with no pretensions, perhaps inspired somewhat by the Italian film Blonde in Black Leather, made two years earlier, which also had a downtrodden woman breaking free of the shackles of society for wild adventures alongside a rebellious friend. Here, the former is bank-teller Ellie-Jo Turner (Jones), who has just been fired when her branch is robbed by the dynamite-toting Candy Morgan (Jennings). in need of funds to save her family’s farm. The two meet each other again on the road, and Ellie-Jo convinces Candy that a life of crime would be fun, and so the pair – after scoring some non-fizzling explosives – begin a cross-Texas bank robbery spree. During an unscheduled diversion to a convenience store, they pick up a hostage, Slim (Crawford), who turns out to be rather happy in his plight. However, for how long can they stay ahead of the law?

I didn’t even realize this was an action heroine film, until a friend reviewed it on his site, so a hat-tip to Hal for that. The alternate title – particularly if accompanied by the over-enthusiastic French poster accompanying this piece! – makes this more clear.  I enjoyed the Thelma and Louise vibe here, with the two heroines playing off each other nicely, and while it is obviously exploitational, right from the moment Jennings gratuitously changes her top inside the first five minutes, these aspects are relatively restrained. To be honest, I could very easily have done without Slim entirely, as his character appears to add nothing of significance to the film, and Crawford’s performance is so blandly uninteresting, he sucks the life off the screen whenever he appears – quite a contract to Jennings.

There is also a sharp shift in tone for the final reel, where Pressman [whose subsequent directorial career include a pair of really bad sequels in The Bad News Bears: Breaking Training and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze] apparently getting in touch with his inner Sam Peckinpah, and delivering a slow-mo blood-squibtravaganza that is not at all in keeping with what has gone before. However, I’m prepared to forgive it for one big reason, though unfortunately it’s too spoilery for me to provide more details. For the same reason, I have to remain vague in my approval of the ending, which went in a different direction from the one I was expecting, and was all the better for it. This is more evidence that Jennings’ early departure was certainly our genre’s loss.

Dir: Michael Pressman
Star: Claudia Jennings, Jocelyn Jones, Johnny Crawford
a.k.a. Dynamite Women

The Great Chase

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“Driver with a thousand faces.”

greatchaseShinobu Yashiro (Shiomi) is nationally known as a race-car ace, but also moonlights as an undercover agent for Japanese law enforcement. That’s motivated by a desire to track down those responsible for the death of her father; he was a ship’s captain, convicted of smuggling drugs, who “committed suicide” in prison, though Shinobu thinks he was framed by the real perpetrator. She gets a possible lead, in the shape of Henry Nagatani and starts tracking him down, with the help of the brother and sister who run her fan-club (!) out of a florist’s shop (!!). Using a wide range of disguises, from a businessman through an old wonan to a nun and a Cambodian diplomat, Shinobu gets closer to the core of the conspiracy, and the man responsible, Onozawa (Ishibashi) though the cost on those she knows proves heavy indeed.

It’s kinda all over the place in terms of tone, charmingly naive and innocently light-hearted in some ways, such as the entirely gratuitous presence of Mach Fumiake, as a nightclub singer who follows up her songs with an in-club wrestling bout. [Fumiake was at the time, one of the starts of All Japan Women’s Wrestling, along with a tag team known as the “Beauty Pair”, whose name inspired the Dirty Pair]. Similarly, Shinoby’s disguises are also more than somewhat variable in terms of how convincing they are, and the drug-running through a convent, with guys dressed as nuns, may have inspired a similarly ridiculous plot thread in They Call Her Cleopatra Wong. Yet this can be grubbily sleazy, particularly in the second half. Onozawa likes to have rough sex while dressed in a bear suit, which reminded me of Walerian Borowczyk’s La Bête, released the same year, and there’s also an excessive amount of S&M, though Shiomi, naturally, remains above that sort of thing.

The action is probably not as frequent as Sister Street Fighter, and probably not as good, except for the final battle, where Shiomi gets to wield her nunchakus to excellent effect. Up until that, there are a lot of scenes where her kicks and punches don’t seem to have much force to them – to be honest, Fumiake comes over rather better in that department! The whole race-car driver aspect is rapidly discarded, and provides nothing more than the title sequence; I was expecting at least a car-chase so the heroine could show off her mad driving skills, but the makers apparently felt no particular need to justify their choice of name for the movie. Yet it moves along briskly, and you have to appreciate Shiomi’s enthusiastic performance, selling over-cooked lines such as: “Can’t you tell who I am? We’ve seen each other so many times. A woman gambler at times; a young gentleman at times; a tea-serving old lady at times; a nun in a black dress at times; and a white haired Cambodian woman. And, under the mask, my true self is the daughter of Masahiro Yashiro, who was brutally murdered by you five years ago – Shinobu Yashiro!” Half a star extra, purely for delivering that with a straight face.

Dir: Noribumi Suzuki
Star: Sue Shiomi, Eiji Go, Mach Fumiake, Masashi Ishibashi