the review by GLPL

Just when you were thinking that you were finally getting the hang of Pink Lady's many storied career, that there were no more surprises to come, and that you were finally on top of it all, up pops Codename K: Lady Connection, and once again, the only reaction is open mouthed astonishment. The plot is fairly straightforward: there are rising tensions between rival Triad and Yakuza gangs which threaten to erupt at any time; Kei, who works for a shadowy organisation is sent to investigate the developments and report back to her seniors, but soon finds herself in a rapidly escalating situation, unsure who to trust. The wish to avoid spoilers prevents me from going into to much detail, but fans of the Yakuza (Japanese gangster) genre will have seen similar stories of trust and betrayal. For such a short movie with the credits rolling after 80 minutes, I found the characterisation to be pleasingly well rounded. The main protagonists on both the Triad and Yakuza side are given more complex motivation in the script than you'd expect, with the Yakuza characters in particular being shown to be honourable despite being outside the law.

The real story in many Japanese films is not so much what the characters do, but what kind of emotional development the characters undergo, how they change and the distance they travel over the course of the movie. In this respect, Codename K well represents the national cinema it comes from, and taps into themes that have been part of Japanese movie making since its inception. I found myself being reminded of old series like Zatoichi in particular, the way the story starts slowly establishing the characters and then develops them, so that when the plot does come in, you find yourself involved with the characters and the situations they face. For the non-Japanese viewer, or for those unfamilar with Japanese gangster movies, there is also the added novelty factor which has much to contribute to the enjoyment. It is actually very common in Japan for a singer to also appear in front of a camera, but to Western eyes, it is a sight less well seen, and this in itself makes Codename K a rather greater treat than might originally be expected. Try to imagine an American disco artist, say a member of Sister Sledge, appearing in a movie performing kung fu, escaping gangsters by screaming away on motorbikes, and then showing impressive marksmanship skills, and you can get a flavour of the delights that Codename K has to offer.

As we are all Pink Lady fans here, I'd just like to shine a special light onto Kei's performance. She actually isn't in the movie as much as you'd perhaps expect given the name of the picture. Codename K is more of an ensemble piece with the main gangster characters as well as Kei's handler from her agency being given equal screen time. However when Kei is on screen, she always commands attention, delivering her lines clearly and with aplomb, and I found myself naturally drawn to her whenever she appears. However it is on the action side of the movie that Kei excels. It will come as no surprise to hear that Kei displays a similar physical grace in the movie to that which is in her dancing. There is a stand out scene where Kei is running for her life and is then confronted in a corridor by a big hulking man, whom she high kicks to the floor in a simple flowing motion, showing that she has lost none of her athleticism. There's also some creative escaping from her persuers including utilising the offensive properties of a shower head, as well as the all the appropriate kung fu moves and gunplay common to the genre. The action scenes, for me, were the highpoint of the movie,as I felt that Kei really got a chance to shine. Kei also looks good throughout the movie, looking many years younger than her age, and wearing a nice array of outfits. There's a scene where Kei disarms an attacker wearing a blue chinese style outfit that I particularly liked. In fact, it reminded me a little of the Sister Streetfighter herself, Etsuko Shihomi. On the other hand, there is the occasional fashion misstep, mainly realted to eye wateringly big shoulder pads, but overall I thought Kei's costumes were well chosen and appropriate, and Kei looks wonderful throughout.

Kei also handles the emotional aspects of the story well. There is one scene near the end which has substantial romantic content, and that is all due to Kei as she displays emotions like hesitancy and then trust as she opens up to another character on screen. Kei also from the evidence of this movie is able to portray that tricky thing of being on the verge of tears on screen, balancing the desire to let the emotion out with the need to keep in control of the situation - there's some real emotional complexity in Kei's performance here. It's a great scene. It's not a perfect movie though. The Japanese film industry felt the pressure from TV more severely than other countries, and was at a very low ebb during the 80s and 90s. However, towards the end of the 80s, a burgeoning straight-to-video film scene, later to be known as v-cinema, began to develop. Codename K is one of the earlier titles from this era. Typically, films would be shot for low budgets in a matter of weeks, often days even, and as such the more aesthetic or flashier shooting options are not an option. This results in a style of film making with either static tripod shots, or handheld cameras, and this can be seen in Codename K.; there are no tracking or dolly shots, and lighting is natural, with scenes happening in everyday environments to save on costs. Even so, on a number of occasions I was struck by the compositional skill of some of the shots with unusual camera angles being deployed. As long as expectations are suitably adjusted and you don't expect exploding helicopters or fancy special effects, I think this side of the movie can be enjoyed as well.

In conclusion, then. Well, whereas it's true to say that Codename K isn't going to threaten The Godfather in the upper echelons of the IMDB rankings anytime soon, it is also much better than you'd expect.Although proceedings start of fairly slow, this time is used to develop the characters and so when the action breaks out later in the movie, you feel for the characters and the situation they are in. Similarly, whereas nobody is going to mistake Codename K as a sparkling example of the cinematic form, it certainly works as a movie, and given the budgetary restrictions, I think it's fair to rate it on its own terms as a 3/5 movie...and Pink Lady fans should feel confident about adding another mark to that score. It's a hidden gem in the Pink Lady story, and I would definitely recommend a viewing should you get a chance for all of you reading this. Happy Birthday, Kei.


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