Chanbara Beauty: The Movie - Vortex (2009)

DVD Cover (Tokyo Shock)
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Overall Rating 41%
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Connections: Onechanbara

Sisters Aya and Saki put aside their rivalry and go toe-to-toe with Himiko and her band of zombies. The evil Himiko needs the blood of the young girls to restore her youth, while the sisters need to stop Himiko to save mankind... --TMDb
Review by Chad
Added: February 07, 2014
I've reviewed two Japanese zombie flicks featuring scantily-clad women in two days. What, is this some kind of formula over there? To be fair, Chanbara Beauty (the sequel to Zombie Bikini Squad) is based on a video game series that started about ten years ago, so I have to give them the nod in that regard. Still, it seems like a bizarre formula, but hey, whatever sells discs, right? You've got your blood and guts, and you've also got your T&A... what more could you ask for?

The storyline ties in more closely with the video game this time around, and in fact, you may find yourself a little confused if your only experience with the series is the previous film. It's still the same basic thing, but while the two main characters were rivals in the previous film, they're close sisters in this one. The bikini-clad cowgirl Aya (now played by Yu Tejima) and schoolgirl Saki (now played by Akari Ozawa) are the aforementioned sisters, and they find themselves in a post-apocalyptic world where the creation of an immortality drug went terribly wrong and led to zombies taking over the planet. They're also cursed with some sort of bizarre blood condition, where they will go into psychotic frenzies if they get blood on their skin. This does not mix well with the fact that they're zombie hunters.

Things pick up one night when a young lady named Misery (Kumi Imura) shows up and joins the party. Unfortunately for Aya, she convinces Saki to leave her sister and join her in a quest to rid the world of Himiko (Kaoru Yuki), a super-powerful woman who controls the zombies. Oh, and in return for helping her, Misery will resurrect Saki's dead parents. The trio eventually encounters Reiko (Rika Kawamura), the shotgun-wielding samurai from the previous film, and her friend Ryo (Yohei Hoshina), a clumsy but charming young man. Some things happen, Reiko fades into the background, Aya and Saki split up with Misery in the middle, and Ryo joins Aya to... well, watch for yourself to see where it goes from there.

First up, I have to say that I enjoyed the cast and characters a lot more in this sequel. Both Aya and Saki were recast, and both actresses were perfect in their roles (and they looked great doing it). Their relationship with one another now matches the source material, and bringing in Misery was a nice touch. She was heavily involved in the game series, and the character translated wonderfully to the screen. My only real complaint in this area is that Reiko was quickly forgotten about; seriously, she's on the screen for maybe five minutes. While not the main character in the series, she is a fairly important part of it (and I personally love the character), so a little more time for her would have been nice.

With that said, it's a shame that the characters weren't given more to work with. I hate to say it, but the movie is downright boring at times. It's a campy concept - scantily-clad women chopping up zombies with swords - so really, how could it be boring? Well, I will say that the fight and action sequences were perfectly acceptable. The special effects and the CGI were nothing to write home about, but honestly, did you expect perfection from a movie like this? The actual choreography for the fight sequences was surprisingly well done, however, and both leading ladies seemed right at home while swinging a sword or doing roundhouse kicks.

The problem is that those fight sequences are strung together with a plot that never really goes anywhere. Let me sum it up for you: there's a villain, she controls zombies, Aya kicks some ass en route to the villain, hero and villain face off in a final battle. There's a little more to it than that, but you get the idea. Now, did I expect award-winning writing from a movie like this? Of course not. I'll even go one further and say that I appreciate the filmmakers attempting to inject an actual plot into what could have just been a cheap exploitation flick. The thing is, these plot development scenes just drag on for what seems like ages. It's not a problem with the leading ladies, it's just that they have nothing to work with. Stretching out "I want to go kick some ass" for ten minutes without actually showing any ass-kicking is a little rough, and things like that happen far too often.

Still, when the movie works, it works well. It's incredibly campy, and as a fan of that sort of thing, I did get a lot of enjoyment out of this one. The zombie slaughtering never got old, and as mentioned before, the choreography from those leading ladies was great. They're not exactly the female versions of Jackie Chan, but they are much better than you might expect. I'll even say that the plot - taken as a whole - was pretty good. Sure, it was padded out, and yeah, the writing was weak in spots, but as a whole, the storyline wasn't that bad. It was certainly better and more thought out than what we get from a lot of exploitation fare, but it could have used some trimming all the same.

So, to sum it up: if you enjoyed the video games, or if watching scantily-clad women hack zombies to pieces with swords sounds like something you'd be interested in, check it out. It does have its flaws, but it does more right than it does wrong. I don't think that many people will love it or rank it amongst their favorites, but if the idea driving it intrigues you, it may serve you well for a night of mindless entertainment. 6/10.
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