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Thursday, May 13, 2010

HARD REVENGE MILLY -- DVD review by porfle


Milly wears a black leather trenchcoat to conceal the patchwork ruin of her ravaged body, and walks stiffly due to all of its robotic enhancements--including a shotgun embedded in her right leg that loads at the hip and fires at the knee, and a horrendous razor-edged rig that sprouts from her torso which, thank goodness, we never quite get a good look at. She moves quickly and purposefully, preparing a bloody revenge against the thugs who massacred her family and left her for dead two years before. And when the blood-drenched hyper-action of HARD REVENGE MILLY (2008) kicks into high gear, it's a clear case of love at first sight for this giddy viewer.

After the repeal of all gun and sword laws, Yokohama, Japan 20XX A.D. is a wasteland of crime and violence where murder is sport and only the strong survive. Milly (Miki Mizuno, CARVED: THE SLIT-MOUTHED WOMAN) gets by on nothing more than the desire for revenge against the loathesome Jack Brothers, whose sadistic thrill-murder of her husband and baby grows more horrific with each flashback. We never get a good look when she opens her jacket but it must be pretty messed-up, especially after we see her being brutally stabbed 20 or 30 times, and the extent of her surgical body modification is suggested rather shockingly during the finale.

Milly is an interesting character who's fun to watch, even if she's just preparing for her next duel or sitting somewhere reflecting on the past. Her meeting with former blade-sharpener Jubei in his dingy coffee bar, whom she asks to sharpen her retractable elbow-sword although he's retired from the death business, echoes Beatrix' meeting with Hattori Hanzo in KILL BILL. All of the performances are fine, with Miki Mizuno and Mitsuki Koga as Jack being the stand-outs.

In a cool opening sequence, Milly makes short work of Jack's drug-dealing brother Kyoshiro (splitting his torso with a bloody flash of her elbow sword), uses his body to create a grotesque welcoming display, and gives Jack a call inviting him to drop by. When the surviving Jack Brothers arrive and encounter her in an abandoned building, it's one thrilling action-packed death duel after another. The dialogue leading up to this is funny as male and female Jack Brothers Tetsu and Yuma discuss how hungry they are after getting a whiff of Kyoshiro's roasting corpse on their way in. After that comes what is now one of my favorite death scenes ever--it's so cool that I found it wonderfully hilarious in its offhand audacity.

Milly's fight with Jack himself is an extended setpiece that yields a wealth of pleasures--their climactic clash of swords, guns, fists, and other arcane weaponry is dazzling. Takanori Tsujimoto's direction and editing are exquisite, and like the rest of the sublimely-staged action in this film it's executed with such imagination and style that watching it made me giddy. The furious choreography is first-rate considering that no doubles are used, and even the wirework is convincingly handled.

This is low-budget filmmaking driven by skill, creativity, and imagination to exceed its limitations and become a unique and scintillating entertainment that's every bit as satisfying as any multi-million-dollar production. Short and sweet (only 44 minutes long), it left me keen with anticipation for the feature-length follow-up.

HARD REVENGE MILLY: BLOODY BATTLE (2009) takes up where the previous film left off, with Milly now being hunted by Jack's bombastic gay lover Ikki (Kazuki Tsujimoto) and his accomplice Hyuma (Ray Fujita). "Jack was the craziest, sexiest man in the world!" Ikki declares as they plot their revenge. Meanwhile, a timid young woman named Haru (Nao Nagasawa) has sought out Milly for a different purpose--to help her get revenge against the person who killed her lover.

When they're both attacked in Milly's warehouse hideout (in the film's first bloody action scene), Milly takes the injured Haru to a fortified outpost called LAND to be treated by the same crazy doctor who delights in keeping Milly's mechanically-enhanced body in working order ("Don't let any other doctor touch that thing in your chest," he urges). Milly empathizes with Haru and agrees to help her, but this must be postponed when Ikki and his gang of killers invade LAND and launch a blazing attack.

With more time to develop the story and characters, writer-director Takanori Tsujimoto gives us more to contemplate while ratcheting up the action factor. The quiet moments are effective, such as Milly's melancholy reflections to Haru on the futility of revenge. Often the film looks and feels the way BLADE RUNNER might've been if Ridley Scott had done it as a no-budget indie feature. (Like certain characters in Scott's film, part-machine Milly begins to doubt the validity of her own memories; she won't let the doctor X-ray her head for fear of what he might find.) There are also welcome hints of such films as MAD MAX and THE CROW. The script is brimming with interesting dialogue and the performances are outstanding.

Again, the stunning and intricately choreographed (not to mention delightfully gory) fight sequences are bristling with imagination and the execution is often breathtaking. Takanori Tsujimoto keeps coming up with interesting ways to shoot and edit these scenes and introduces some thrilling variations on traditional weapons--I was on the verge of cheering when Milly went up against a horde of bad guys with her laser-sighted, bullet-spewing nunchaku.

As in the first film, there's a climactic battle with the baddest bad guy that's a free-for-all of frenetic fun, ending with another of my new all-time favorite multi-rewindable death scenes. (This one's a real doozy, folks.) There's even a surprising story twist that (hopefully) sets up the next sequel.

The double-feature DVD from Well Go USA, Inc. is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 stereo. Soundtrack is Japanese with English subtitles. Extras include trailers and "making of" featurettes for both films.

Visually interesting throughout, with an involving story and vivid characters, HARD REVENGE MILLY: BLOODY BATTLE is compelling sci-fi on a limited budget. It definitely gets a permanent spot in my DVD collection, in that special place where nobody can walk off with it and the dog won't eat it. I love this movie.

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