Overview: A master of karate travels to the United States to look for his missing sister. 2017; Petri Entertainment; Rated R; 89 minutes.
Exploitation Kill: Exploitation has never been my favorite genre of film. I can admire ludicrous endeavors, with films like Crank and Crank 2 being among the forefront recommendations of 2000s action films. It’s a difficult genre to commit to. There’s a balancing act of tone and content not easily achievable. That being said, Karate Kill is a disappointing attempt at capturing the necessary components of the genre.
Karate Kill(ed): Where Karate Kill succeeds is in the construction of action scenes. Framing is clear and precise, with cuts allowing the pacing to breath in between hand to hand combat or the karate master dodging a barrage of bullets. If the movie had been set in an isolated location, Karate Kill may have been worth something of a recommendation. Action movies with consistently closed spaces utilize limited areas to funnel a sequence of action events, much like The Raid or Dredd in recent years. Unfortunately, everything not involving grindhouse thrills falls apart with haphazard framing, dialogue that sputters into lunacy and uncomfortable fetishization of women.
Several scene transitions focus entirely on naked breasts, with one instance involving blood splattering directly onto a half naked woman. It’s like someone watched the blood on the cotton fields sequence from Django Unchained but decided to make the viewer as juvenile as possible. Violence in movies can qualify as “cool” or “badass” but in this context it’s worse than juvenile. It becomes repulsive, full-stop. I lost count of the amount of knives held to the neck of half naked women, often ones who were also riddled with drug habits.
Unsettling Kill: When it’s not focusing on exploiting women, Karate Kill does sneak by some individual moments of striking violent imagery. A sequence captured almost entirely with go-pros strapped onto the helmets of a snuff film cult (long story) is genuinely unsettling in the best way. Like a reverse Hardcore Henry centered on the villain’s face instead of the eyes of the protagonist, the direction doesn’t allow you to look away from the insanity on display. Even these best moments topple overboard, like a child playing with as many toys in their toolbox only to realize they’re actually in their parent’s not-so-secret gun drawer.
Strictly speaking on a technical level, it doesn’t come together as it needs to. Editing is less tight, never knowing when to let moments sit or when to cut to the next beat. Budgetary restrictions leave the CG blood feeling far too weightless with too vast a contrast of the legitimate bloody prosthetics.
Overall: Even at under an hour and a half, Karate Kill feels tediously long. Perhaps it would’ve been best to produce this as a short film almost entirely dedicated to action beats. For non-fans of the exploitation genre, that’s all you’ll find of note here.