The underground fighting movie, a byproduct of films like “Kickboxer” and “Bloodsport” but popularized by “Fight Club,” is given another adaptation in this slick, engrossing new effort from director Shutaro Oku adapted from the original anime ‘Blood-C.’ Just now getting to the foreign festival part of it’s run, the film is part of the lineup at Japan Film Fest Hamburg.

“Blood-Club Dolls 1” is screening at Japan Filmfest Hamburg:

Following the news of a heinous tragedy, Mana (Aki Asakura) searches the streets for her missing brother Aiba (Ryo Kitaen), the person accused of committing the incident. Unaware of his true status or location, Aiba finds himself in the employ of an underground fighting ring using inmates like him to entertain wealthy clients, eventually moving up the ranks of the fighters quite quickly. Eventually frustrated at the lack of information from the investigation, she turns to Detective Mito (Tomoto Hachiman) to help him, but with the dangerous Michiru Arisugawa (Manon Kurosaki) also looking into the club they try to push their rescue efforts into high gear into order to save Aiba.

Frankly, ‘Blood-Club Dolls 1’ turned out to be quite a challenging if still enjoyable watch at times. A lot of that is due to Junichi Fujisaki’s screenplay which might be a lot more familiar and less of an issue for those aware of the original anime. As a stand-alone film, though, this one proves to be quite difficult to understand characters and motivations from the very beginning. Most of the characters here are never given much of anything, from their names to why their fighting to the entire purpose of the fighting club and its rules, to the point of winning. We’re simply dropped off into this world in the beginning and not told much about it and with the film focusing on dozens of characters who go through the story at various points that makes it even more difficult to follow what’s going on here. With flashbacks and other interludes, the only chance to really focus on the characters and their relationships present, that helps somewhat but this is still an incredibly sloppy and challenging aspect of the film. Still, it should again be noted that this is only being based on the live-action film and may not be a problem with the anime but as I’m unfamiliar with that version I can’t compare this issue.

Another issue is the rather substandard fight scenes that are utilized. Rather than engage in more flashy choreography that features impressive martial arts or weapon tactics that would be more commonly associated with these fighting movies, instead there’s a reliance more on realistic bare-knuckle brawling and street-fighting. The fights are short, hard-hitting and incredibly brutal but they’re really not that memorable in terms of what would generally be associated with the genre. None of the performers here are really that impressive in terms of move-set or fighting skills, focusing on straight punches to the head, wild kicks to the body and slamming people into objects around the fighting arena. That ends up creating a rather bland approach to the style which is entirely off-putting considering there’s so few of them in the film and none of them really last long when they occur. In addition to this, the fact that the comedy with the bumbling cops investigating everything might be problematic for some, leaving ‘Blood-Club Dolls 1’ with several big flaws overall.

However, there are some positives to be had here. The main thing to like is the rather fun side story involving Detective Mito and his bumbling sidekicks as they try to investigate Aiba’s disappearance. This is handled in a much more intelligent manner than expected, giving this a much more watchable side-plot as their bumbling-cop antics and incompetence forcing them to be dressed down meshes nicely with the clue deciphering and puzzle-solving done during these times. It all builds together with some fine revelations to be had in the last minutes involving the actual outcome of the incident that put Aiba in the system to set up a potential sequel nicely. As well, the other nice positive to be had is the inherent brutality of the fighting, which isn’t flashy or dynamic but is far more realistic in feeling. That feeling allows for a more hard-hitting, brutal style of combat between the fighters on the few occasions when they do engage in combat. However, these are all that really works here.

Despite having plenty of potentially likable elements, ‘Blood-Club Dolls 1’ suffers from a confusing storyline and a lack of action that really holds the film back. Fans of the anime who are willing to see a live-action version are really the only ones to give this a chance as it’s other flaws will be a detriment to other viewers overall.

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