An improvement on the last two Zero Woman films, but still pointless because of the main characters' stupidity.
This series just got a bit artier. It's not about action scenes this time, or indeed really about exploitation. Of course there's gratuitous nudity, but the film gets it out of the way as soon as possible and then gets down to what it's really interested in.
The latest Rei (Kumiko Takeda) is once again an assassin for the Zero Division. (I'm sure there's a mathematics joke in there somewhere.) What's more, she's a proper assassin, unlike last time
. She doesn't do generic police work. She just ambushes people and shoots them. That's her working day. Anyway, this time her targets are a big corporation whose first crime (gasp) is to obtain evidence of the mayor's corruption! Clearly they have to die. I quite like the way that yet again a Zero Woman is acting in the interests of a corrupt politician.
However Takeda's feeling moody. She's going through a teenage phase, which might be related to some teenage flashbacks we keep seeing throughout the movie. (She killed her father because he killed her mother, although it's more complicated than that.) She walks away and throws her gun at her boss (Tokuma Nishioka once again) when he tries to give her her next list of targets.
As the title suggests, there are two assassins here. One is Takeda. The other is Keiji Matsuda, who's male and gets hired to kill her. The entire movie is about how hilariously bad they are at doing their jobs.
Okay, I can understand that someone might be getting tired of murder. I have less sympathy with that person if they accept money to carry out a hit, then blow off the assignment so often that their employers start threatening them, kidnapping their loved ones and arranging to have them killed at the earliest opportunity. Takeda and Matsuda sleep together, but even that's a warning sign, because surely it's abnormal to give yourself to someone who not only has orders to kill you but has just tried (not very hard) to do so. They're broken in the head. They're not thinking straight, they're over-identifying with each other and they're developing a peculiar habit of pumping bullets into someone and then administering first aid.
Probably connected with this are some absurd tactics. Takeda's being pressured by Nishioka to take a job. She gives in with bad grace and saddles up to go blow away some fools... by walking in the front door, acting suspiciously and getting herself perforated. This is practically a suicide attempt, or at the very least a cry for help and/or form of protest.
Note also the silly shoot-out of mutual destruction. If that's not a death wish, I don't know what is. If anything, the fact that it turns out to be a dream sequence only underlines that.
"You're not suited to this life." "You're hardly one to talk."
Theoretically, this is quite interesting. It's certainly far meatier psychologically than the "boobs and bullets" nonsense of the previous two films. I also respect the fact that they're telling a story that doesn't work on a surface action level and only starts making sense if you read it as psychological deconstruction. Unfortunately it's not good enough to get away with it. Neither Takeda nor Matsuda is within a million miles of making us buy all this. They're passable actors, but absolutely nothing about them is good. This film could have been electrifying with A-list talent, but it's a long, long way from that. You'll just laugh at the idiots and wonder for a while whether Matsuda is deliberately abandoning his girlfriend to die.
It's the supporting characters who grabbed me more. Mari Nishina has an attention-grabbing role as Matsuda's girlfriend. I felt for her. Best of course though is this franchise's one regular actor, Nishioka. Time after time, he's the best thing in the film. This time he unbends a bit! He almost seems to regard Takeda as a human being! This is a staggering advance on the last two films. He's telling stories about mice and saying, "Your make-up's too heavy," which made me laugh. However he's still a stone-cold bastard and a key player in the silly but interesting finale.
Most striking is the very end. That was chilling. It nearly justifies the movie's existence, which is higher praise than I was giving anything in the 1995 movies.
I should note though that Takeda is the most beautiful Zero Woman yet and that she has quite nice boobs. There's also a villain who likes being whipped and abused by a topless woman in his sex dungeon.
Theoretically, there's an interesting movie buried underneath all this. It's nearly as bleak as the 1974 original, although immeasurably less violent, sleazy and disturbing. It's the first of the straight-to-video Zero Woman films to have a point, but unfortunately it undermines that by making its assassins look like idiots. I didn't care. If even the hit men themselves seem to think they'd be better off dead, who am I to disagree? Absolutely not a good film... but I'd argue that it's making significant and even brave efforts to get there.