Stars: India Eisley, Samuel L Jackson, Callan McAuliffe, Zane Meas, Carl Beukes, Lionel Newton and Deon Lotz.
Writer: Brian Cox; based upon the film by Yasuomi Umetsu.
Director: Ralph Ziman.
Dabbling in the same fetish-feminism and coldly-served revenge fantasies that made Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch such a wildly divisive work, artist and occasional director Ralph Ziman brings an appropriately seedy but miserably downbeat aesthetic to this long-in-development adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu’s R-rated anime.
The blood-soaked, soft-core original drew conservative ire and censorship board wrath for its depiction of schoolgirl skin-flick anti-heroine, Sawa. In Brian Cox’s script, the random fornication so prevalent in the cartoon is gone, replaced by a greater focus on Sawa’s troubled psyche and fitful recollection of her past (the skimpy costuming, of course, remains). Fuelled by an addiction to the street drug Amp and hell bent upon avenging the slaying of her crusader cop dad, she delves deep into the sordid world of child prostitution where she ekes out and exterminates any evildoer that crosses her.
Live-action reimagining of the original’s key visual cues and memorable moments will register with the fan base. Relevance is attempted by positing the action in a post-GFC dystopia, riddled with the kind of social decay that budget restraints demand is conveyed by lots of peeling paint and smoke machines. The expansion of the plot from 50 minutes to a laborious 90 yields no discernible thematic gain; additional elements such as parkour street gang rivalries and Sawa’s softening when faced with an orphaned teen bolster the running time but not audience involvement.
Ziman’s flesh-and-blood embodiment of Sawa is American actress India Eisley, registering strongly when called upon to humanize the cold-blooded assassin but unable to cut it when the going gets physical; best amongst the cast is Australian Callan McAuliffe as Sawa’s street-urchin guardian, Oburi. Prime villainy is provided in the form of ‘The Emir’, played in a brief, charismatic turn by local character actor Zane Meas, and his OTT pommie offsider, Vic (some ol’ school scenery-chewing by Carl Beukes); all other bad guy parts are of the ‘arms folded and wait to die horribly’ variety. Gorehounds will find some glee in an opening sequence that features an exploding head seen through a gaping hole in one baddie’s hand and a henchman’s death by dum-dum dildo.
The property fell into Ziman’s hands when Snakes on a Plane director David R Ellis passed away unexpectedly during pre-production. Cast as the Sawa’s protector and loner cop Karl, a clearly disinterested Samuel L Jackson was locked in and hung around when the shoot went ahead, but there is a tangible sense that not everybody was particularly enthused about continuing. Shot in South Africa, the narrative occasionally recalls Luc Besson’s Leon and Tarantino’s Kill Bill double feature, but ultimately feels more akin to such weekly rental VHS staples as Avenging Angel and I Spit on Your Grave than anything worthwhile in its own right.