Saturday, February 13, 2010
Directed by Joe Ma
Cast: Miki Mizuno, Dylan Kuo, Emme Wong
2008 - Japan
I'm a huge fan of the original Female Prisoner #701 series. Such a nerd for it that, in 2001, I tracked down a print of the second film in the series JOSHUU SASORI: DAI-41 ZAKKYO-BO (FEMALE CONVICT PRISONER 701: JAILHOUSE 41) and had it shown at Atlanta's Starlight Six Drive-in, causing misery to many inebriated subtitle-phobic rednecks. It would be unfair to judge this shot on video (J-Vid) re-imagining by the same criteria as the 38 year old original. Other than using the Meiko Kaji theme song Urami Bushi, there are not many similarities anyway.
In this version, housewife Sasori (Miki Mizuno) becomes the victim of some psychotic thugs hired by a wealthy bioengineer to assassinate her father in-law. These thrill kill super villains like to get their kicks as well, so they force her to kill noodle-happy dad and the sister in-law while her cop husband (Dylan Kuo) watches. By some inexplicable comic logic, she never explains who forced her to do it and the husband never saw the four fashion foes standing in their house!
Sassori is sent to prison where the inmates fight in caged death matches for booze and give the fat warden (Lam Suet) sucky sucky. When her husband tries to kill her on visiting day, she looses all hope. After several humiliations, Sassori visually learns kung fu from watching fights and murders the Queen Bee's sister. This brings down the wrath of all the inmates whom she fights to the death. Then the warden has Sassori thrown into some outdoor suspended bondage where she expires until she is finally saved by a martial arts guru called the Corpse Collector (Simon Yam) who turns her into a sword wielding killing machine with a 10 second training montage. Seeking vengeance, she reunites with her husband who turned into an alcoholic musician with an erased memory and has become an attraction for a local bar. Many sword fights follow.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the end of this film was shot first then the production ran out of money. Other than the lighting, the first hour of Sasori looks like a 50 buck budget and contains so many annoying fading, zooming and dissolving jump cuts punctuated by loud sound effects it almost induces seizures. The prison sequence is so no-frills that the number designating Sassori as the infamous prisoner 701 appears to be written in Sharpie on a “Hello my name is” sticker! The last 30 minutes resembles a completely different film with a 500K budget and better crew. There are even plot revelations in the end that were never set up in the beginning, so they don’t make any sense. What the hell?!
Wacky plot and jaw-dropping logic aside, the biggest problem with Sasori is the lead Miki Mizuno. She has good choreography and wire skills but she isn't the least bit attractive. Her face is very skeletal and her frame doesn't fill the sexy costumes. Not even wig changes create an illusion of beauty. There are some nice looking women in this movie who run the gamut from butchy hot to lipstick femme fatale and each displays more on screen charisma and acting chops than Mizuno who apparently is a TV star in Japan.
Let's be honest, with J-VID, it all comes down to the sex and violence quota. Sadly, Sassori misses the mark. There is only one wet t-shirt scene in the skin category and the gore is all over the map. Occasionally it enters MACHINE GIRL territory but the majority of kills are pathetic and never graphic. Director Joe Ma relies more on showing a bloody prop than performing an actual effect. There is one cheap but very creative scene involving a vodka bottle but it can't save the overall experience. This is for die hard J-Vid fans only. Meiko Kaji fans should avoid at all cost. SASORI is currently only available with English subtitles, so bad they should be called “Ingrish” subs, on a PAL format region 2 DVD from the UK. There is an unsubbed Thai and Japanese release with the same running time.