If there’s one storyline present in almost every other movie here at Fantastic Fest it’s the old ‘mad scientist kidnaps people and links them surgically lips to ass in an effort to create the first human centipede’ plot. God, when is that trend gonna run it’s course anyway? The second most common theme here though is revenge. People are wronged. And then they get bloody payback. The best of the bunch this year comes from the land of the rising sun and the murdered dolphins, and it’s actually two films… Hard Revenge Milly and it’s sequel, Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle. Both films are under an hour each with the first one releasing last year followed by it’s sequel this year.
A family is targeted by a handful of punks who kill the husband and carve out the wife’s torso like she was a yellow grapefruit. Oh, and they also light the couple’s baby on fire then throw it against a wall. These are really bad people. In the grand tradition of revenge flicks though these murderous bastards forget one thing… always make sure your victims are actually dead. We learn all this in flashback as Milly, wife to a murdered husband, mother to a murdered child, attempts to work her way though her attackers with heavy-duty firepower, shiny metal blades, and more than a few surprises up her sleeve (or up her shirt as the case may be). Milly (Miki Mizuno) is also a kick-ass martial artist, and those skills combined with the hardcore weaponry make for an action-stuffed and entertaining as hell movie that rarely stops moving.
The second film, Bloody Battle, picks up some time later as a woman comes looking for Milly with a sad tale in need of an avenger. She wants Milly to take revenge on whomever killed her boyfriend, and she reluctantly agrees… kind of. Instead, she trains the girl in combat so she can feel the satisfaction of getting her own bloody revenge. A dueling story thread follows two brothers also on a quest for revenge, but their target is Milly herself. They were friends with one of the thugs from the first film and are looking for some vengeance of their own. The idea of revenge takes on a life of it’s own and becomes the motivation for an endless cycle of violence. You can see how these movies are very similar to Stephen Spielberg’s Munich can’t you?
The general premise of assault and revenge is nothing new, but both Hard Revenge Milly films tackle the subject with beautifully choreographed fight scenes, gun battles, and geysers of blood and gore (courtesy of Yoshihiro Nishimura). As Brian Salisbury pointed out recently the Japanese seem to be unique in their complete lack of understanding when it comes to how the human body works. From every body part containing multiple arteries to the ability of a headless body to continue aiming and firing a machine gun (and flipping someone the middle finger), the dead don’t go quietly, cleanly, or realistically. Which is perfectly fine by me…
Even better than the physical action and effects though are the films’ genre surprises. The story can be summed up as a revenge tale, but it goes and grows in some surprising directions. Characters have unexpected agendas and mysteries arise around Milly’s miraculous survival (and while some questions are answered others are obviously left for part three). Mizuno is more than just a pretty face as she’s also a real-world martial arts champion. Her fights are shot wide so we can take in all the kinetic goodness on display. She’s fast, limber, and extremely talented, but she also holds her own on the acting front. Character-wise the films tread lots of familiar ground with one stand-out… one of the two brothers out for revenge against Milly is gay. Shouldn’t be a big deal I know, but Asian genre films haven’t exactly been quick to embrace homosexual characters as anything more than perverted punchlines. Here he’s presented as incredibly tough and capable of kicking major ass, but he’s also extremely funny. It’s smart dialogue instead of the expected and usual derogatory jokes too.
It’s easy for these types of films to get lost in the shuffle of Asian exploitation, and in fact I’m ashamed to admit that I had never even heard of Hard Revenge Milly before this festival. Most of the movies in this genre deserve to be ignored, but these two are definitely worth seeking out because they do almost everything right. They both balance the serious and silly action and the dramatic and humorous dialogue extremely well. Serious moments have weight, jokes and gags will have you smiling and laughing, and the action will have you cheering. Milly kicks major ass and you will love it.
The Upside: Lots of fight scenes, fun weapons, fantastic swordplay, and all choreographed beautifully; very little fat or excess film; Mizuno is an accomplished martial artist and pretty damn attractive; surprising sense of humor.
The Downside: Very little downside… maybe the films could be longer?
On the Side: The arterial sprays and multiple body parts littering the screen come courtesy of Tokyo Gore Police director Yoshihiro Nishimura.