Martial arts mayhem on Hi-Yah

I’ve made a few individual film threads for martial arts films I watch with my Hi-Yah subscription: Raging Fire, The Villainess, The Swordsman. They get a few posts and then peter out. I thought it would be more useful to have a thread (like the Prime, Netflix, HBO, etc ones) for movies on this platform. And other martial arts movies as well.

I just finished watching Baby Assassins, which is a Japanese yakuza martial arts slacker buddy comedy. Trailer below, but if you’re interested in this film, I suggest skipping the trailer as some of the best WTF moments and hilarious lines are featured in the trailer.

Chisato and Mahiro are teenage assassins. Chisato is effervescent and bubbly. Mahiro is laconic and withdrawn to the point of being nearly catatonic. They work for some sort of shadowy assassin agency and are required to live in an apartment together and get side jobs until they’re older. Most of the film is actually about their hilarious attempts to do this: Chisato is very social, but is on a bit of a hair trigger and Mahiro is anti-social and gets uh, bored with interviews. They’re also stupidly competent assassins. They have some run ins with a local yakuza family that culminates in a final breathtaking action sequence.

This movie is so Japanese with a bunch of cultural references and slang that is clearly there, but flies right over my head. It’s worth looking up what a Moe Moe Kyun Maid Cafe is because it helps contextualize an important location in the film. Or don’t and you can have my “what the actual fuck?” response to it. One of the great things about the film is that it makes no attempt at backstory or to justify its characters. It’s just: “here are two young women who are a great odd couple and are also assassins.” (The Fable and its sequel have kind of a similar story, with similarly vague justification.) Saori Izawa, who plays Mahiro, is apparently a stuntwoman who is transitioning to starring roles and it shows. She’s amazingly physical and her action sequences are fantastic and realistic.


Before Baby Assassins, Yugo Sakamoto directed a film called A Janitor about a yakuza hitman who poses as a high school janitor to protect the daughter of a mob boss. It is apparently the origin of the main characters in Baby Assassins; the two actresses appear in a small role as a duo of assassins during the final showdown. A Janitor is entirely forgettable, stuffed full of cliched and stupid villains and characters doing dumb things for obscure reasons. The only interesting part of the film is a 2 minute action sequence featuring Saori Izawa.

The main gripe I had with Baby Assassins is the same I have with a lot of modern action movies. They rely on CG blood. Take the convenience store fight. Great choreography, and the camerawork isn’t getting in the way of the action, but there’s a couple dozen knife stabs and the floors and walls are pristine throughout. You see the blood flying out of the people, but then it just disappears. The blood only shows up on the characters at the very end after the cut from the fight to the close-up. Stuff like that takes me right out of action flicks.

Damnit, now that you pointed that out I will always notice it :P

To be fair, I believe for that particular sequence she was either dreaming or imagining the fight so maybe that explains the disappearing blood? (Now you’re going to point out that the same thing occurs in the final fight as well.)

The fight choreographer for Baby Assassins was Kensuke Sonomura, who also was the director of Hydra, featuring the best film knife fight I’ve ever seen. Hydra’s main character is played by Masanori Mimoto, who was Saori Izawa’s foil in that final martial arts fight sequence in Baby Assassins. Hydra also is the same kind of slice-of-life film that Baby Assassins is, but better. IOW, if you liked one, you’ll probably enjoy the other.

It’s a thing in a lot of modern action movies. It’s cheaper and easier to add CG blood spurts in post to action scenes (especially long takes) instead of rigging a bunch of blood packs and squibs and choreographing them with camera moves and trying to hide all that under clothing. On the flipside, it’s expensive and takes a lot longer to CG all that blood onto the walls and floors in the background as the fight sequences move through the sets, so most movies without a John Wick budget just ignore it.

I watched Donnie Yen’s (directs and stars) new film Sakra. It’s a gorgeously shot wuxia film with lots of sorcerer-kung fu and wire work.

The plot is weirdly presented. Important characters get introduced really late in the film and the romance subplot is underplayed, presumably because Donnie Yen is 60 and his co-star Chen Yu Qi is 31? On the other hand, Donnie is still kicking tons of ass and whoever did make-up in this film is spectacular because he could easily pass for 40. The fight scenes are awesome: frenetic and fun with lots of crazy wire stuff and stunts and kung-fu magic moves like 18 Dragons Roll Down a Hill Laughing or whatever. The plot wasn’t enough to hold my attention during the rather turgid non-fight scenes, but it was worth watching the film. I love how Donnie really gets that his smile is what makes his scenes.

EDIT: So this film is based on a very well known and popular wuxia novel (Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils) by Jin Yong from the 60’s. The presentation of the plot is weird probably because it’s assumed the Chinese audience will be at least somewhat familiar with the story? Kind of like adaptations of, say, A Christmas Carol are here. The important character introduced at the end of the film, Duan Zhengchun, is an actual historical figure who is somewhat central to the novel.

Ah, so this thread is where I recognised (but couldn’t put a name to) that frame.

Watched Sakra. Not sure what I thought about it - the more fantastical elements to the fighting - the fire and air stuff, and even some of the more OTT wire work - felt almost anime-esque and didn’t work for me, though I suppose it may be coming from the source material. If this were an original movie I’d definitely want it to be more grounded. It also didn’t sit very well with the brutality of some of the combat, especially in the second half - maybe it’s my own hangup, but I feel you should do one or the other, at least in live action. Still, there were some cool sequences.