Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song
I will concede that the film lacks both the visceral savagery and the surreal imagery of the first two preceding it. Nonetheless, the director does tell a thrilling tale of adventure. He reveals how Nami braves one dangerous situation after another, is brutally beaten, faces death, and yet never stops struggling. He does, consequently, evoke a poignant sense of the woman's bravery, even of her heroism. That said, this heroism is given a certain nastiness here, which makes her character more intriguing than she would have been otherwise. Nami proves herself willing to cause pain not just to those who threaten her, but also to their family members (such as the woman she, in effect, causes to fall to her death) and even to those she finds it convenient to manipulate (such as a fellow prisoner who is awaiting her death calmly, having found peace, but in whom Nami reawakens fear by informing the woman that she is soon to die). Nami is not, however, the only character in the film who has violent inclinations. Most notably, the viewer is shown how Kodama, having captured Teruo, beats and tortures that man and how the policeman tortured, scalded, and maimed Teruo in the past. Even if it is never truly intense, the movie is, thanks to such elements, invariably exhilarating.
As I mentioned above, the film is not alive with the strange images, wild colors, and dreamlike feel of those directed by Ito. In fact, for most of its duration, Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song is actually fairly pedestrian visually. Sadly, the movie's final moments, which do include a couple of scenes filled with otherworldly or garish images, are, at once, derivative of sequences from the earlier films and rather cheaply done. They are not, as a result, as effective as they could have been. In one such scene, while standing below a burning orange sky and being illumined with light like molten gold, Nami faces the detective who has been hunting her, and who has constructed a gallows himself so that he can personally hang her, and, in another, she confronts Teruo while dressed in a long black coat and a wide brimmed black hat and standing in a circle of light in the darkened theater where the man works. These image are, for the most part, appealing, but they are nothing new and their impact is weakened by some substandard details (like a fake crow dangling upside down in the hanging scene).
Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Grudge Song is a good, exciting movie. Taken on its own, it is a success and is certainly well worth seeing. It is just not inspired in the way the first two films in the series are.
Review by Keith Allen
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