The potent poster for writer and director Kurando Mitsutake’s Karate Kill is dripping in Cannon-era hyperbolic imagery promising that ‘He is no Mr. Miyagi’, a wealth of 1980s references that for fans of the era ticks so many boxes you hope it will hit even half of its marks. In Japan, Kenji (the uni-monikered Hayate) hasn’t been able to get in contact with his sister Mayumi for a month. Mayumi is over in America having gone to study acting. Kenji quits the four jobs he’s been working to put her through classes and heads to LA to find her. Since their childhood Kenji vowed to protect his sister and it’s not long after his arrival in the US that he discovers she needs him more now than ever.
A crazed cult-like criminal gang called Capital Messiah headed up by the maniacal Vendenski has kidnapped Mayumi. They run a website that hosts real snuff footage of murders and executions amongst other heinous acts, so Kenji doesn’t have much time left if he’s going to save Mayumi from a sad and miserable fate to please the highest bidders.
Enough of the time these days a nostalgia-tinged marketing campaign suggesting a return to the purely enjoyable likes of ‘80s horror or action gets something of a little buzz and nobody really feels like spoiling the fun when the finished film turns out to be just alright. When they don’t work it’s through being too much of a homage to inspirations, not doing anything new at all or being pale imitations of their more lurid exploitation forbears. Karate Kill is certainly trading on films gone by and that era in particular but fortunately for the viewer it lands its punches more often than not.
Often cheesy, tasteless and overblown, it is decidedly over the top but all done with tongue in cheek. It’s a knowing film that frequently borders on parody but keeps enough of a straight face to not tip too much that way. Hayate makes for a likably laconic hero and makes a convincing badass. He leads a film that isn’t in any way original but at least has enough character of its own to stand out from those inspirations. Mitsutake ramps up the punishment everyone involved experiences in a film that’s remarkably silly nonsense but still hard not to like and enjoy while it’s on.
Gory, violent and exploitative, it’s certainly not subtle about anything and whilst it’s unlikely to become your favourite film any time soon, it’s not without popcorn charms. It was never going to be as entertaining as that poster promised, but it has a damn good go at trying to be, enough to recommend.
KARATE KILL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KURANDO MITSUTAKE / STARRING: HAYATE, MANA SAKURA, KIRK GEIGER / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBA