Black Angel, The Review
From writer/director Takashi Ishii (Gonin) comes The Black Angel (Kuro no Tenshi Vol.1), a film which is quite simply about girls with guns and if that is not enough to grip you, then surely the interesting story will. The film begins with the brutal murders of a Yakuza bosses family, all of which is witnessed by their 6-year old daughter Ikko who luckily escapes thanks to her caring minder and with a little help from the families most trusted assassin, a lady who goes by the name of The Black Angel. We immediately see that Ikko is in awe of The Black Angel as she protects Ikko to eventually send her off to safety in America, and promising that she will always be there for her.
Jumping 14-years forward we see Ikko return to Japan with her trusted friend Zill. The pair have only one thing in mind, to exact revenge on the group of Yakuza that usurped her families position and in turn killed everyone who was dear to her. Passing herself off as The Black Angel Ikko soon makes waves in the Yakuza underworld as she rather messily dispatches with several gang members, all of whom lead her a little closer to her ultimate targets. On the path of revenge Ikko will also face much pain, humiliation, betrayal and several startling facts about her life will be uncovered, all of which is played out via scenes of sex and violence the latter of which is quite disturbing at times due to the no holds barred attitude taken with violence towards women.
Relative newcomer to the acting world Riona Hazuki certainly has the looks required for the role of Ikko but she also turns in a fine performance that shows she can handle herself both in amongst the action and out of it in the more sombre scenes between herself and fellow cast members who all turn in equally good performances. The story is compelling, the acting convincing but what really pulls you in is the fine direction and cinematography on display that heightens the overall feel of the proceedings but really comes into its own whenever an action sequence arrives. Of which there are a myriad of sequences to enjoy including several Hong Kong style bouts of gunplay and martial arts based combat (the latter mostly from Zill) with the main difference to the obvious influences of Hong Kong cinema being the more raw levels of violence we see that makes the action somewhat more real.
Other touches I really enjoyed include the quite bizarre but thoroughly enjoyable dance act sequence that sees Ikko and Zill perform a brief dance routine in their hotel room. This is both completely out of place but somehow never manages to break the flow of the movie! A mention must also be given to the score from Goro Yasukawa that is subtle enough to draw you in to the action but never overpowering. Like most films though The Black Angel is not without its flaws. One I am loathe to pick out but feel I ought to is that of the attempts to have Ikko and Zill speak in English with each other, as the dialogue between them at these points is often quite basic while the voice acting is also quite strange with some sections even proving quite difficult to fully understand. The reasons for having them speak English are obvious (they have both come from America) but you feel they could have enlisted more professional help in this area of the film.
Another area I will pick up on but only briefly is that of the slightly melodramatic proceedings in places which are due to the complexities of Ikko's life that are brought into light. These lead to some scenes that could have been handled better with some more subtle acting, but again like the English language points this is a flaw you can forgive in what is essentially an action movie, not a drama.
Presented in its original 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio but sadly without Anamorphic enhancement the print used is in good condition bar a few white specks and some film grain. The picture suffers from being a little soft, with some signs of ghosting and due to the lack of the extra resolution an Anamorphic Transfer would usually provide some jaggies crop up, as does some smearing. But, otherwise what we have here is a very watchable transfer with well represented black levels, and good colours and while there is a noticeable level of grain present throughout that does not stop some scenes looking very clear but of course it could be a lot better if the extra effort was put in to provide an all new anamorphic transfer. One other note worth making is that the film includes some English speech, which results in Japanese subtitles that are burnt into the print. This is not especially distracting but worth pointing out.
Presented with the original Japanese language audio we are sadly only given a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that while suffering no signs of audio drop-outs or background hiss is also generally unimpressive. Optional English subtitles are included with both 4:3 and 16:9 settings. The latter should allow Widescreen owners to Zoom in without fear of cutting the subtitles off, however, the change in positioning is so small that a standard 'Zoom/Cinema' mode on a Widescreen set will cut off most of the second lines so unless you have a 'Subtitle' or equivalent screen mode or adjustable zoom you may want to approach this disc with caution. The actual quality of the subtitles is a huge improvement over the previous Tokyo Bullets as they offer a complete translation (unlike the early Kitano releases such as Violent Cop) alongside correct grammar and spelling.
The extra features mimic that of the previous Tokyo Bullets releases in that we get the original Japanese Theatrical Trailer for the main feature (in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen with no subtitles), single page biographies/filmographies for the Director and 3 of the stars, a promotional stills gallery and Trailers for 4 further Tokyo Bullets releases - Black Angel 2, Gonin, Violent Cop and Boiling Point. Slim pickings indeed.
The Black Angel is a hard edged action movie that will certainly delight fans of Japanese movies and most likely fans on the action genre in general. Unfortunately this DVD is hard to recommend when you consider the high retail price (£19.99) in comparison to its weak set of features, but if you can pick it up cheap or find it available to rent then it certainly comes recommended.