I have, over the last couple of years, mostly while sick and bedridden, developed an especial fondness for Asian film. I’m not talking Crouching Tiger stuff, though I have nothing against extended and frequently air-born ninja-like combat per sé. I’m talking about something a little more subtle, along the lines of Beijing Bicycle. And that’s exactly what I love, the subtlety. There’s a quietness to these films, almost as if they’re trying not to draw attention to themselves, much like the culture from which they come. Most of the plot happens between the lines. And yet, it seems the absence of the overt that engenders surprisingly deep feeling and passion.
But yesterday I watched a film that resembled none of the above except that it was Asian. The Machine Girl caught my eye because it is about a teenager who gets her left arm cut off while trying to avenge her brother’s murder. With the help of friends, she then attaches a machine gun to her stub and goes back to finish the job. Always interested in one-arm film appearances [see also French film, and personal favorite, Amélie], I put it immediately on my ‘to watch’ list, which is mostly in my head, with some random suggestions scribbled on paper, if it is readily available.
Firstly, I would like to say that I knew it was going to be bloody from the trailer. But no one prepared me for horror. I soon learned that this genre makes ‘bloody’ look like the scrape on your knee from when you tripped and fell on the sidewalk. I thought I might be empowered by the tale of a similarly handicapped girl who becomes a skilled ninja, fighting for good and justice. No, I was too busy intermittently laughing and throwing up. It was actually painful to watch.
The only thing I had in common with this bloodthirsty-machine-gun-(literally)-armed teenager, is that she started off as a pacifist [so noted in an early scene where she explains to her brother that “violence only hurts people”]. To her credit, Ami is loving and devoted and really good at basketball in the beginning. She doesn't become a death-seeking avenger until her little brother is tossed out of a building by some bullies with powerful connections. She's also a good friend to a much less cool or talented schoolmate who is later stabbed through the mouth by her enemies, a family with seemingly little else in common than a love of violence and vendetta for poorly performing waitstaff.
I was excited to report back to you about this film, before actually watching it. Now that I've seen it, I don’t know if I can even recommend it. I can say this movie makes me wish I was watching a Quentin Tarantino film. I guess I should be happy the one-armed girl was the heroine, and not the villain, as is remarkably the case in other movies. But it’s a very small spot of sunshine amidst an hour and a half of carnage, where someone’s torso is getting cut in half every ten seconds, sending blood spewing in every direction. This bloodfest is interrupted only briefly for similarly vomit-inducing scenes where characters express their ‘to the death’ devotion to one another. And I’m not sure I’d want to be the recipient of devotion from someone likely to stab other people in the skull.
It’s funny, if by funny, you mean a steal bra with drill-sporting cups bringing destruction to anyone the wearer hugs...Ok, I was laughing by this point...but, though I consider my humor to be on the dark side, I also prefer understated, which, this film was not in any regard. By the end, she’s exchanged the gun for a prosthetic chainsaw...also helpful, I suppose, if you’re a one-armed lumberjack. I have to admit, it seems a lot more humorous in retrospect.
I believe I have a broad appreciation for film, and I’ve been known to watch some flicks so obscure I’m convinced I’m the only one I could recommend it to, but for those of you who enjoy horror, I just don’t get it. And after yesterday’s drama, I think I’m done trying. I gave it a valiant one-film effort, and that’s the best I can do. I know it’s not supposed to be reality, but even my suspension of disbelief wasn’t enough to hold me. And aren’t Asian martial arts all about fighting without weaponry, conquering your opponent with your mind? Someone please advise... I never saw The Karate Kid.
But, if you’d like to see a one-armed girl get the upper hand [and that’s exactly the kind of groan-worthy cliché this film is chalked full of], and don’t mind watching nails pounded into someone’s head one at a time or the consumption of human finger sushi, The Machine Girl might be for you.
Meanwhile, I’ve lately been standing and practicing other gymnastic moves on a trotting horse. And I did find myself unusually inspired to lift weights this morning, after a 30-minute bike ride.
When the ninjas come,
I’ll be ready.