Review for Hard Revenge Milly - Bloody Battle
I'm not particularly a fan of gore and splatter. There was a time when I couldn't get enough of the stuff, and if a movie had torment, dismemberment, guts, blood and bits of brain, I would lap it up. Not literally of course, that would be gross, but I digress. Funnily enough, my period of gore appreciation was in my mid teens, and as so often is the case, it is the illicit that attracted me, not the content. As soon as I became eighteen and it became perfectly legal to watch these movies, the excitement wore off. Also, there is a sense of the spectacle about them; these were movies that you watched for the extreme effects, not for the storylines or the acting. Just as thrill rides and fireworks have lost their charms for me in recent years, so splatter and gore movies have become ever more ephemeral and fleeting. All of which goes no way in explaining why I'm reviewing Hard Revenge Milly, and its sequel Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle. So I'm fickle, I was in the mood for blood sprays, disembowelment, and pure vapid brutality. Besides, few are doing it as good as Japanese independent cinema right now. Lock up your children! This one ain't for the faint hearted…
CineAsia Extreme bring this double bill to the UK, two films on one disc, and extra features to boot. They're short movies mind, if you were concerned about compression.
Hard Revenge Milly (45 mins)
The world has fallen to crap. Japan exists in a future dystopia, where Tokyo is a barren desert, and Yokohama City is a lawless ruined wasteland. It wasn't always thus. Two years previously, Milly was a happy mother and wife, living a normal family life. It was a life that was destroyed by the Jack brothers, who brutally murdered her infant child and husband in front of her, and viciously tortured and mutilated her, leaving her for dead. Milly didn't die though. She woke up a cyborg, a shotgun implanted in her knee, a vicious blade holstered to her arm, and a burning desire for vengeance. Now she seeks the Jack brothers, to introduce them to hell!
Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle (71 mins)
The world is still crap, only it's a little crappier for Milly, who after achieving her revenge is now aimless, directionless and withdrawn. Worse, she's now begun worrying about the degree to which her body has been mechanised, and it's causing her relentless headaches. But if she doesn't have vengeance of her own to attain, maybe helping someone else would be enough. When Haru shows up, looking to find the murderer of her lover, Milly is initially reluctant to take the job, but soon comes round to training Haru up, so that she can get revenge on her own terms. She doesn't have long though, as a couple of villainous brothers, Ikki and Hyuma are picking up where the Jack brothers left off. Indeed the first thing they want to do is to kill Jack's slayer, so they can prove their own superiority.
We have a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer here, fairly clear and sharp, although there are the usual standards conversions issues prevalent, especially in the first film. Actually the two films are a world apart in terms of quality, in that while the first film is shot on digital video, the second has a goodly dose of HD applied, making it a sharper and crisper experience. The digital effects are a world apart as well when comparing both films, and the cinematography in the second film is surely just as indicative of a greater budget.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Japanese is your sole audio track, with the added annoyance of player forced English subtitles. The music suits the subject matter, the action is well portrayed, the dialogue is clear, and all the splattery, squelchy, and squishy sound effects come through with ideal clarity.
This disc gets the usual Cine Asia animated menu treatment, and of course you'll find trailers for 10 other titles here. There is also a trailer gallery with the trailer for Hard Revenge Milly, two trailers for Bloody Battle, and 4 TV spots for the same.
Of more interest here will be the making of documentaries. The Making Of Hard Revenge Milly lasts as long as the film itself, at 44 minutes. It's your usual behind the scenes look, but there are interviews and glimpses of the special effects, stunt co-ordinators, and fight choreographers at work. Of major interest to me was the revelation that Mamoru Oshii inspired the creators of Hard Revenge Milly. Since then I keep seeing Miki Mizuno as the Major in a live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell!
There is also a making of for the sequel, but it's shorter at 15 minutes, offering much the same as the previous featurette, but with more of an emphasis of what's different for the second film.
I really enjoyed the Hard Revenge Milly movies, and it isn't just my inner teen squealing his glee at the decapitations, dismemberments, disembowelling, eviscerations, blood sprays, splatter, gore and uber violence. Although that stuff is pretty cool too. What makes Hard Revenge Milly stand out is that the story has had a smidgen of thought to it, it's very Mad Max with its dystopian future post-apocalyptic Japan, and its lawless remnants of society, but with the focus on the violence and action, it's Mad Max turned up to the max, for want of a better word. It's not just pure action and violence though, as there is also a good deal of character motivation and build up, and what's more, the performances from the main cast certainly exceed what I usually see in low budget features like these two. And then there is the action itself, which is just awesome. Blades and shotguns and various implements of destruction aside, there is also a goodly amount of martial arts in these films, and it's choreographed and executed with a finesse and brutality, and with a visceral visual impact, that would take Hollywood a mega budget, wire-fu and copious CGI to replicate. The action sequences in these films are thrilling edge of the seat stuff that had me grinning from ear to ear. Best of all… No bloody zombies. You'd expect zombies in a film like this made nowadays, but there aren't any, and I am eternally grateful for that.
What makes Hard Revenge Milly work for me are the characters, particularly the villains. It would be so easy to have a stock moustache twirler for our heroine to face off against, and Milly's foes aren't exactly gifted with character nuance, but more than just clichés, these are scenery chewing villains, grandstanders of the highest order, the sort of people who make Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber look understated. Jack particularly has a flamboyance and style that shines on screen, while his successors in Bloody Battle, Ikki and Hyuma also sparkle in the character villainy stakes. These are people that you want to see sliced and diced in imaginative ways, and Milly doesn't disappoint when it comes to dealing with her foes. It's that gut level enjoyment that makes low budget actioners like this work, and Hard Revenge Milly has it in excess.
If I do have a preference, it would be for the first film, despite its shorter length, and despite the patently lower production values. It's all about introducing the character for one, as well as this wrecked future world. Milly is more of a mystery to us, who she is, what she is capable of, what her past is and what her motives are. Despite the early burst of violence, it's a slow, measured build through its runtime, perfectly paced, perfectly poised for the finale, which when it comes is stunning and brilliantly executed. The sequel falls short of this high benchmark, most obviously because we now know Milly, we know something of what to expect. Also, with the higher production values comes a more Hollywood aesthetic to the storytelling, meaning that the film is liberally sprinkled with action sequences. There's less of a build up here, and the climax, when it does arrive fails to astound in the same way, simply because the earlier action sequences have been so intense.
Bloody Battle does try and spice things up with the introduction of a new character, a student of sorts for Milly to mentor, but I have to say that I saw the twist coming as soon as Haru's desire for vengeance was announced. If you don't see it, I guess the narrative punch at the end of the film will carry more weight. As it was, Bloody Battle was a competent enough story, but I have to admit that the action sequences, stunts and special effects work by far exceeded that which came in the first film, save perhaps for the Milly Jack fight, which is pretty tough to top.
I sincerely hope that we will see more Hard Revenge Milly down the line. The conclusion of the second film does promise more story, and hint at a further sequel or two. On the strength of these two films, I hope that it gets the full theatrical treatment if it is made. But these two films are veritable peaches. There is an independent, cheap and cheerful ethic to them that certainly appeals, and also means that there isn't any sop to audience sensibilities. You can either take them or leave them on their extreme violence merit. But they are damn fine action movies too, giving us brutal martial arts action that is a joy to watch. Mad Max? Pah! Mad Milly would rip off Mad Max's head and spit down his neck before he could even blink!