Beautiful Beast (XX: Utsukushiki kemono)

Director: Toshiharu Ikeda
Year: 1995
Running Time: 87 minutes

Toshiharu Ikeda is very much a genre filmmaker – first working for Nikkatsu in the 1970’s as an assistant to his mentor Konuma and then later on his own. He directed a few “pinku” films such as “Sex Hunter” (1980), “Blue Lagoon” (1981) and then the fourth in the “Angel Guts” series before later shifting to films with more a gore and horror bent with his most famous shocker “Evil Dead Trap” (1988), which is considered one of the keystones of Japanese horror. Neither “Beautiful Beast” nor his other film in this series “Beautiful Prey” have the visceral impact of some of his earlier films – much tamer by far – but they certainly have elements within that lean in those directions – in particular “Beautiful Prey” that is a psycho-sexual-thriller dealing with sadomasochism and murder.

Beautiful Beast follows most of the conventional genre rules for female assassin films  - she is beautiful, deadly, enigmatic and alone. At some point the assassin may fall in love with someone, but in the final frame she is almost always either once again by herself or dead. Her name is Ran (Kaori Shimamura – “Junk”) and she is a Chinese assassin who has come to Japan with an agenda to take care of. She is a killer for the “Pasei Ding” – an organization of ex-Red Guards who are considered the most merciless assassins in Asia. Her code name is Black Orchid and her signature is an “X” carved into the forehead of the dead men she leaves behind. This time it’s personal.
She gets a job as a waitress and takes out her target with a shot to the head (after he complains about the soup being cold) along with a few of his bodyguards and flees the scene. The remaining gang gives chase and she finds sanctuary in a bar that is being run by an ex-Yakuza – Yoichi (Takeshi Yamato) who takes one look at her wound and the men in pursuit and hides her. He thinks she is just a witness though – not the killer. Helping a beautiful killer has its rewards – she shows her gratitude in the best way possible as she sweeps all those glasses and ashtrays off the bar and gets it ready for takeoff. Like any guy, he just goes along for the ride and comes up aces. She has one more name on her list but this one won’t be easy – they know who she is and that she is coming – and in no time she is as much prey as hunter. Then Yoichi is pulled back into the Yakuza by favors he owes – to kill the assassin.
The action is fairly minimal and basic – with the lack of a budget probably being the main deterrent. The final scene seems to be set up perfectly for a grand ending as she tracks all the bad guys to a large house and fires tear gas through the windows. She then dons a gas mask and walks towards the house with guns at the ready. One expects a Woo-like slo-mo shootout in the foggy gas but it’s all a bit of a let down and you realize they likely couldn’t even afford to rent the house to break up some of the furniture and windows. That’s really the problem with going into these films with expectations of action set pieces – its simply not going to happen – there just isn’t the money for it. So you take your small pleasures from the cinematography, the nudity and the basic plots.

My rating for this film: 5.5