Capitalising on a spirited central performance from Japanese actress Asami as the eponymous heroine, Mitsutake Kurando's blood-soaked US-based crime thriller rises above its budgetary limitations in suitably sleazy style.
Killing time on a long drive through the desert, a pair of hired guns recount an infamous story of revenge involving the lunatic son of a notorious Japanese mobster. When the elderly Hamazaki dies, his son (Noriaki R. Kamata) lashes out by raping and murdering the wife of his father's doctor. Driven made with revenge, the surgeon (Narita Kairi), now dubbed "Mastermind", acquires a mute Japanese meth addict (Asami) and grooms her to become his instrument of vengeance.
Gun Woman, directed and co-written by Mitsutake Kurando (Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf) had its world premiere last week at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize, along with a special accolade for its lead actress, Asami. An ever-present supporting player in the filmography of Iguchi Noboru (The Machine Girl, Robogeisha, Dead Sushi), the Japanese actress seizes upon a rare starring role, excelling in a wordless, yet incredibly physical and engaging performance.
The film starts on shaky ground, as the weakest sections are its wraparound story involving a pair of hired guns on their way from a job to their extraction point. The performances are awkward and the dialogue somewhat expository, as the film works to lay down a considerable amount of backstory and find its feet. Fortunately, once we settle into the flashbacks, which detail how a once-happy family man becomes a handicapped, embittered "mastermind" and embarks on training his angel of vengeance, Gun Woman reveals and embraces its exploitation ambitions.
Working with limited means, Mitsutake and Co. never let their ambition be tethered by their resources, and proudly wear their influences on their sleeves. Unsurprisingly, there's an element of Nishimura-esque Japanese shlock in the scenes of blood splatter and sexual debauchery, but Gun Woman's sights are set on the American exploitation cinema of the 1970s and VHS-era action flicks of the 80s. This is helped immeasurably by Dean Harada's evocative score, that shifts seamlessly from neon synth to hair metal as the action dictates.
While the modest production values and extreme subject matter will not be to everyone's taste, audiences with a penchance for the rougher edges of the action genre should find plenty to sate their appetites. In fact, it's the film's no holds barred commitment that proves its greatest asset, cramming everything from shower cubicle assassinations to underground necrophilia clubs into its lean sub-90 minute runtime.
There are ridiculous implausibilities in the plot, but the film is self-aware enough to imbue proceedings with a sense of fun, while still playing things dead straight. One minute our heroine is tearing her own flesh open, the next she's racing against the clock to avoid bleeding to death, or cutting off her own ponytail to use as a tourniquet. Gun Woman even has the audacity to leave its lead actress blood-drenched and butt-naked throughout the film's entire climactic shootout. This is a film that knows its audience and has them right in its crosshairs.
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