The storyline's not bad. Unfortunately the production is hilariously incompetent.
This is a film of two halves. The first half is so bad that its badness is the main reason to keep watching. You'll be curious to see their next atrocity against filmmaking. The narrative is negligible, the bad guys are laughable and the action scenes suggest a three-day shooting schedule with no time for pick-ups and an editor who didn't care.
The pre-credits sequence especially is a classic for bad film connoisseurs. I'll be going into detail in a moment.
However about halfway through, you'll realise that underneath all that is a decent storyline. Our latest Zero Woman (Mikiyo Ono) has found a cook/waiter boyfriend (Kou Watanabe), which doesn't please her boss (Daisuke Ryu). A Zero Woman is a piece of meat. That's what he thinks. She's a blunt weapon to be pointed at the enemy and allowed no humanity. Soon we've left behind the dull question of "hit of the week" and are discovering that not only has Ryu previously used multiple Zero Women, but he's got more than one right now and he's willing to use them against each other. This gets pretty nasty and intense, or rather it would have had any of the actresses been able to act.
If you can squint past the terrible straight-to-video production, this is my favourite Zero Woman storyline yet. It's nasty and it has some delicious entertainment when Ono is having to be nice in public to men with whom she'll be swapping bullets. Her waitress scene is wonderful. I laughed and laughed.
Unfortunately Norihisa Yoshimura couldn't direct his way out of a paper bag. Let me go through the beginning of the film. We begin with Ono swimming in a pool, surrounded by bad guys, as a voice-over explains why she has to whack her latest target. (This reason is one of the best yet, by which I mean it's the most transparently self-centred and might as well have been subtitled, "Foreign people are trying to do business in Japan and this is threatening the monopolies of the Zero Department's powerful, corrupt superiors. We're telling you some transparently stupid lies about the possible consequences of this. Kill them!" I love the way the Zero Woman series keeps making its hit-woman protagonist the puppet of evil string-pulling scum.)
Anyway, Ono kills her target by pulling him down underwater, which is admittedly quite cool, then emerges from the pool and gets out a gun that must have been concealed in her, um, swimsuit. Don't ask. The target's bodyguards either shoot at her from the poolside (sensible) or else jump into the water for no clear reason and then start firing their soaked guns (less sensible). No one's capable of hitting her. These were not the best bodyguards. There's some curious editing which wants to hedge its bets about whether people are in the pool or not. After that, Ono runs into a big guy who does wrestling moves on her for a while (without trying to do anything else) until she shoots him.
Ono then goes home, lights some joss sticks and takes off her clothes. She appears to have a thing for watching joss sticks while naked.
Naturally I assumed that this would be the nadir, but amazingly the film keeps on living down to it. Ono's shoot-out with a hit man in her apartment is, if anything, even sillier. Yoshimura's trying to stage a gunfight in a space so small that his two actors are nearly touching, while in addition the film seems confused about whether people are inside the apartment or outside it. This isn't the editor's fault. No editor could do this by accident. It's impossible. I can only believe that they didn't have the raw footage they needed and that the real editor took his name off the film in embarrassment, again thanks to Yoshimura.
It just looks amateurish. A girl being threatened with a knife looks staged for the camera. The characters are poorly introduced and I had trouble telling them apart, especially the boss and the hit man.
However I did like the second half of the script, once we've finished with silly Germans. The glass bead bowl provides a nice bit of symbolism, but on the other hand unfortunately we've seen the "smear poison on breasts before sex" murder technique before in this series. This film makes better use of it than the last one had, but it's still old news for the audience.
The ketchup on the spaghetti was weird, though.
The male actors are better than the actresses. We have a new evil bastard Zero Department boss (Mutoh), i.e. Daisuke Ryu, who I see played the role in at least three films. Mutoh is clearly the key actor in any Zero Woman film, if one assumes that the title role will always be played by a Z-list celebrity who's doing most of her acting with her bosom. Mikiyo Ono only ever acted in this film and her main other achievement is apparently to have won the 1988 Japan Bishojo Contest. ("Bishojo" means "pretty girl".) Almost no one else is worth a damn, although I did enjoy watching the delightful Kou Watanabe as Ono's ordinary boyfriend. He's so smiley! He's a human ray of sunshine, which makes an interesting (and probably deliberate) comparison with the robotically impassive Ono. She's psychotically detached. She enjoys nothing. She takes pleasure in nothing. She reacts to nothing. This hardly stretches Ono as an actress, although in fairness I was amused by the finale, in which this pathologically stony-faced killer at last finds the mask cracking a bit. The amusement lies in trying to decide how much of Ono's performance is deliberate and how much is merely lack of talent.
This film is, in parts, abysmal. Nevertheless I'd still recommend it over much of the rest of this series, because it also has a decent stretch that could be called good (unlike most of them) and because when it's bad, it's so incompetent that its badness in itself keeps you watching. "So bad it's good" applies here. However sometimes there's an interesting storyline, e.g. the surprising ending. I also liked the terrapin, although I didn't see the point of what happens to it, Terrapins are cool. It has gratuitous nudity, of course. It has childhood flashbacks, as are nearly traditional in this franchise, although it doesn't make best use of them. It has a chillingly cold boss, as always. It's not dull, I'll give it that.
"Is it true that everyone's face is peaceful at the moment of death?"