The film's action sequences, in particular, are consistently nicely done. The very first scene of Zero Woman reveals Rei with a man who, because of his immunity, was able to commit rape and murder without facing any consequences. She allows this person to take her back to his home, where he tosses her apparently unconscious body onto his bed, strips her, and starts getting out various unpleasant tools he plans to use on her. Rei, however, flings her deadly handcuffs at the man, so that they wrap around his neck and strangle him. Then she draws her gun and shoots her victim in the crotch. The scene is impressive, but it is hardly the only moment of grim excitement in Zero Woman. Later, the moviegoer is treated to a vicious hand-to-hand fight between Rei and an older madame, who is a member of the gang that kidnapped Kyoko, one thug's gory murder of another with a glass bottle, that same man's assault of a music teacher with a blunt instrument, and a lengthy gunfight between the police and the surviving members of the criminal gang. The movie is always exciting.
It is also generally dark. The violence the director presents is never glamorous. In fact, it is often horrific. Both Kyoko and Rei are gang raped and beaten by the kidnappers. These same thugs invade a private house, strip the women inside, tie them up, and leave them to die when the place goes up in flames. There is even a scene in which the police torture one of the kidnappers with a blow torch. It is not easy to watch. For that matter, a good part of the movie is pretty intense.
Such violence extends even to the film's sexuality. The director revels in exposing his actress's figures, especially their breasts, but every time a woman appears undressed she does so because she has been stripped, against her will, by a man. Noda allows the viewer to savor both the brutality of rough, vicious men and the helplessness and fear of the women they assault. Once again, the effect is not pleasant, but it is poignant.
As dark as is Zero Woman's world, it is infused with considerable style. Rei is always dressed in a long red trench coat, tall boots, and a slinky blue dress, and she is always armed with her little red gun and her deadly red handcuffs. The other characters are also intriguing simply to look at. The madame mentioned above is, for instance, crowned with a silvery wig and wears silvery cosmetics. Even the sets are often captivating. The director reveals a squalid landscape where petty criminals live in narrow corridors surrounded by blazing lights and neon signs. Noda often adds to the emotivity of this world by including the odd stylized detail. In the scene in which Rei is raped, for example, he shows the window behind her changing color whenever another man attacks her.
In spite of the impression the above statements might give, Zero Woman is not, in fact, focused exclusively, or even predominantly, on depictions of violence. Most of the movie concerns the interactions of the members of the gang of kidnappers and shows how their little society slowly disintegrates thanks to Rei's manipulations. She, I might add, is only revealed as a deadly fighter in a couple of scenes. For most of the movie's duration, she is more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. She is dangerous, and she is a successful schemer, but she is also treated very roughly, both directly (by being beaten and raped) and indirectly (by being used by Nangumo and the police). Additionally, the machinations of these latter individuals are unveiled and are shown to be consistently vile. The police officials are depicted as subservient lackeys, and Nangumo is exposed as a self-serving monster willing to sacrifice the life of his own daughter in order to further his career.
Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is a captivating movie. It is rough, engaging, and disturbing.
Review by Keith Allen
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