ADV Films // 2002 // 64 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // December 17th, 2004
The Fable of a Lady with Guns
A Woman From Nowhere, the first entry in B-movie director Atsushi Muroga's Gun Crazy series, borrowed liberally from Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars but moved the story from the American Old West to a border town near Okinawa, Japan, and cast supermodel Ryoko Yonekura in the Clint Eastwood role. Made the same year as its predecessor, the second entry in the series, Beyond the Law, trades the Western influence for the old trope of the wronged criminal newly sprung from prison and bent on carry out revenge against those who double-crossed him, a tale common in Japanese yakuza pictures of the 1960s like Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower or Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill.
Muroga also trades Yonekura for another supermodel, Rei Kikukawa (Godzilla: Final Wars), who plays naïve and altruistic trial lawyer Yuki Jojima. Her world collapses when her firm forces her to take first chair defense in a murder case involving a smug yakuza who's obviously guilty. Soon enough, the court discovers her boss has presented falsified evidence, and he's whacked by the thugs for blowing the case. The hit men are about to pull the trigger on Yuki when Takita -- the aforementioned wronged yakuza -- makes the scene and saves her life in a hail of bullets. Takita, it seems, was the patsy in a heist meant to cover up an embezzling scheme involving two yakuza bosses, a cop named Kaburagi, and a senior executive at the Oriental Bank. He's out to plug them one by one and, soon enough, Yuki's caught up in his game of revenge. Fascinated by firearms' ability to dole out justice with greater speed and at least as much precision as the courts, she becomes Takita's apprentice. A brief montage that includes Yuki picking off old beer bottles at 100 paces transforms our heroine from a wilting female professional to a leather-clad warrior capable of murdering a yakuza boss and his entourage in a public restaurant with a Colt pistol clutched in each of her dainty hands. As if a switch has been clicked off inside her, she becomes the cold killing machine through whom Takita exacts his revenge. But when the gangster's henchmen gun down Kaburagi's wife and child, Yuki's old altruism is stirred and, soon enough, she's facing off against her mentor in a final showdown.
Beyond the Law's plot is more serpentine than A Woman From Nowhere's, and it has a larger cast of colorful characters (including a Japanese-American pimp named Penguin, who has a hip hop fashion sense and looks eerily like Jamie Kennedy in disguise and ready to "X" someone). To Muroga's credit, the larger canvas doesn't water down the proceedings. The second entry in the series plays about as well as the first -- its rigorous pace helps make up for the B-grade acting, and gun battles that are competently choreographed but would benefit from more flair in shooting and editing. Every turn of plot is a predictable, well-worn device of formula action/revenge pictures, but at a scant 64 minutes, the movie doesn't overstay its welcome. It might've even been a more enjoyable romp than its predecessor except Kikukawa's gun moll spends the first half of the picture as a conventional damsel in distress before metamorphosing into an ass-kicker for the home stretch, whereas the heroine in the first film is all leather, Harley Davidson, quick drawn Colt .45s, and merciless eyes from the get-go. A Woman From Nowhere is fun because of a playful gender twist: It takes a Sergio Leone male revenge fantasy, places a woman in the central role, and makes no apologies for her cold-blooded murder. Beyond the Law is a more conventional girl-with-guns movie, and less interesting because of it. In the end, though, it does deliver a beautiful woman in black leather pumping lead into every creepy male in the vicinity with blood-spurting results, and isn't that about all fans of this little sub-genre really require?
On the technical front, ADV's Beyond the Law DVD is essentially identical to its release of A Woman From Nowhere. The 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced transfer is top-notch for such a low-budget production. Aside from a bit of color fade, there's not much to complain about. The stereo presentation of the original Japanese audio track is clean, punchy, and presents a convincing ambient space. It's an impressive mix as long as it isn't compared to the Dolby 5.1 English dub, which is dynamic, immersive, and offers some strong directionals and low end. A dub is still a dub, though -- despite its limitations, the original Japanese is the better audio option.
A 12-minute interview with Rei Kikukawa is offered as a supplement on the disc. Recorded in March of 2002, the featurette presents questions on title cards, followed by the actress's answers. The presentation is full screen, camcorder quality, and the questions aren't particularly interesting, and don't probe into the specifics of making the film. The disc also houses trailers for six other ADV releases.
As with the first film in the series, Gun Crazy: Beyond the Law isn't a good movie, but it's a good girl-with-guns movie. If that's your cup of tea, drink up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 64 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Rei Kikukawa
* ADV Previews