Tuesday, December 27, 2011

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle

A veritable epic compared to its predecessor, ‘Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle’ clocks in, staggeringly, at almost an hour and a quarter. Okay, one hour ten allowing for an opening credits sequence that basically recaps the earlier film.

‘HRM: BB’ takes place an unspecified time after ‘HRM’ – long enough, it would seem, for Milly (Miki Mizuno) to develop enough of a reputation that Hura (Nao Nagasawa), a woman mourning the brutal death of her lover, seeks her out to ask her assistance in gaining revenge; but with earlier events still recent enough that the Jack Brothers’ associates Ikku and Hyuma* – themselves brothers – have only just picked up Milly’s trail in their quest for revenge.

Milly, living in heavily armoured isolation, is initially resistant to Hura’s request. No sooner has Hura arrived, though, than she is injured in an attack on Milly’s stronghold. Milly sees off her antagonists and takes Hura to a surgeon she knows at a fortified bazaar called Land where, it seems, everything is available – from medicine to weaponry to body art – if you’ve got the requisite amount of no-questions-asked cash.

The one element of its set-up that ‘Hard Revenge Milly’ failed to exploit beyond the odd moody visual was its implied post-apocalyptic setting. In ‘Bloody Battle’, wastelands and decayed cityscapes are the order of the day. With Land, there’s a sense of an edgy new society establishing itself. Enough ideas and images pattern the film to suggest that with a better budget and a little more depth to his scripts writer/director Takanori Tsujimoto might create something truly iconic. He certainly has an intriguing enough character in Milly (here given some pertinent backstory) and an athletic and strikingly attractive actress in Mizuno. And it has to be noted that Mizuno shows much greater facility in the fight scenes in this instalment.

Tsujimoto doesn’t quite up the villainy on this one, however, with Ikku and Hyuma coming on a bit like Laurel and Hardy if Oliver Hardy were gay. The fact of Ikku’s sexuality is questionable. On one hand, it’s refreshing to see the grubby old woman-in-peril scenario curtailed by Ikku grinding the would-be rapist’s face into a corrugated wall and grumbling about bisexuals. His assertion that he’d “convert” Hyuma if only the lad weren’t his brother, while wrong on many levels, is an unexpected moment of jaw-dropping bad taste humour in Tsujimoto’s otherwise po-faced script. Elsewhere, however, there’s a tang of homophobia that never quite goes away.

Although Ikku’s physicality is never in question – he almost defeats Milly in a manner no-one in episode one even came to close to – the film lacks the sheer arbitrary threat that the Jack Brothers brought first time round. This is absence is compensated for, though, by the ambiguous allegiances of Hura. Pretty much the only person in the whole farrago to get a character arc, Tsujimoto seems to be setting her up for a meaty role in the next instalment. (Though having said that, ‘Bloody Battle’ ends, unlike its predecessor, without a post-credits pointer to the next chapter.)

The downside of backstory, character arcs and other such subtleties is, of course, that ‘Bloody Battle’ is a slower, talkier affair. During the early scenes in which Milly wrestles with the decision to assist Hura or not, there are so many pregnant pauses that I wondered if a few pages of Harold Pinter hadn’t got mixed up with the shooting script. Maybe it’s a harsh comparison, given that the original is essentially a short rather than an actual feature, but the fact that, at just under an hour and a quarter, ‘Bloody Battle’ feels somewhat padded has to be counted as a flaw. It doesn’t help that while Tsujimoto’s cast look cool, none of them quite have the acting chops to carry to the non-smackdown business.

I can’t help thinking that if you took both Milly films, chopped about fifteen minutes out, and edited them into a single feature, you’d have something that equaled the sum of its parts.

*Again, a combination of unsubtitled end credits and sketchy IMDb information leaves me with no performers’ names beyond those of the leading ladies.

No comments: