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Knuckle Girl - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Nakkuru Gaaru

Japan 2023

Action, Drama


Ayaka Miyoshi
Goki Maeda
Kanata Hosoda
Hideaki Ito
Kotona Minami
Yosuke Kubozuka
Satoshi Jinbo
Ruka Matsuda

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Knuckle Girl

Knuckle Girl - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Tachibana Ran (Ayaka Miyoshi) is an amateur boxer and has become quite successful. One day, however, she gets a call that her sister Yuzuki (Kotona Minami) has taken her own life in an explosion. The DNA test confirms her identity but Ran can tell from the teeth of the corpse that this is not her sister. The police are unwilling to investigate any further, so Ran's only clue is a key card to a club her sister had among her belongings. When she asks questions in the club, Ran is immediately incapacitated with a drug. She basically would have died from it, but Naruse (Kanata Hosoda), who works at the club, saves her life. He is looking for a way to take revenge on the club owner, the ruthless Nikaido Haruki (Hideaki Ito), who lets rich people bet on illegal street fights in his club. Naruse is a hacker and promises Ran to look for a clue about her sister. In the meantime, the boxer searches for her ex-boyfriend Shun (Goki Maeda) to ask him for help too. Shun doesn't like the idea of Ran taking matters into her own hands, especially since Nikaido seems to be powerful enough to have the police in his pocket. When the hacker finally finds someone who knows something about the whereabouts of Ran's sister, the boxer doesn't think twice and wants to save Yuzuki, even though things could end fatal for her...

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Knuckle Girl - Film Screenshot 4

Review: At first glance, "Knuckle Girl" may seem like a Japanese action flick, but in fact it's a Japanese-Korean co-production with director Chang behind the camera, who has already demonstrated his ability for creating the typical genre fare with movies like "The Target". "Knuckle Girl" is based on a webtoon by Jeon Sangyoung and Yoo Sangjin, and I suspect that some negative opinions on the internet are related to the fact that the movie adaptation does not do justice to the original. But even from a neutral point of view, the movie version also struggles with other difficulties. For one, there are the characters, some of which would have had the potential to emotionally touch us but who ultimately remain rather flat, and then there are the villains, who could have come right out of a B-movie. In fact, there are some other occasions too, in which the movie reminds us of a flick that was made with a rather low budget in the 90s.

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However, the Amazon Prime production manages to set up a good counterbalance to this with razor-sharp images and some nice performances. It's just the plot and some sudden insertions that give the impression that you're watching a B-movie. The stereotypical villains certainly don't help to make the movie seem more sophisticated either. For example, the amateurishness of the plot comes through with the "Golden Blood" which is supposed to be used as an encryption method - not very pragmatic and not really safe but looks cool on paper. At least, thanks to the source material, you will find a lot more plot in "Knuckle Girl" than you would expect from an action movie, whose basic plot can be described as "heroine wants to free her sister by competing in an illegal street fight". The plot's little extras even set the movie apart from a typical story about a female boxer.

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While the little subplot about the corrupt police captain is hardly surprising, you will probably not be able to guess that, in addition to the supposed showdown in the cage, Naruse and a dutiful detective will infiltrate the club. It's as if the movie producers knew that the fight alone would be a bit too hackneyed. This is refreshing, and the search for the sister is also coupled with a few nice ideas at the beginning. Therefore, "Knuckle Girl" always oscillates between using stereotypes and avoiding them. But this also leads to some strange decisions. For instance, after the supposed showdown, you realize that the movie continues for another half an hour. Unfortunately, the actual finale is quite anticlimactic. On top of that, the ending also seems quite sudden. Director Chang probably wanted to avoid the story to take up a whole two hours, as the movie feels a bit too long anyway, but the ending still leaves a bitter aftertaste.

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Most people will probably know Miyoshi Ayaka from "Alice in Borderland", and she is said to have trained for six months for her role here. This deserves praise, because even if you can make almost everybody look quite decent in fights with good editing and a few clever camera angles, the trained eye can still tell, at the latest during shadow boxing in the training scenes, whether someone knows a thing or two about boxing. Miyoshi Ayaka is fully committed to her role, that's why it's such a shame that we don't get to see more fights with her. Her two male colleagues sometimes even steal the show from her by having brawls against whole armies of gangsters. Only her fight in the cage gives us what we hoped for. The choreography could have been a bit more original at times, but every blow has impact, not least because of the good sound effects and the crucial visible injuries. "Knuckle Girl" isn't overly brutal, but it's still quite bloody when it needs to be.

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Ran is also a heroine who gets her share of bruises and always only merely manages to drag herself across the finishing line. This makes her into someone you can relate to. Shun gives her a bit of a backstory, as he used to be her boyfriend, but fortunately, their love doesn't get rekindled here. Sadly, Hideaki Ito ("Memoirs of a Murderer") only gets to play a villain who seems to have time-travelled straight out of the 80s/90s. In general, the characters stay rather two-dimensional at best, so that even if they manage to carry the story, we do not really care whether they live or die. In the end, "Knuckle Girl" is an action flick that can only be recommended to fans of the genre, but it also manages to score points with a little more plot than you would have expected. Nevertheless, a few more fights and less camera shaking could certainly have satisfied action fans even more.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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