If there's one genre of which we can't get enough, it's those movies which prominently feature Japanese women packing firearms. Never mind that most of the films we see in that genre are bad enough to curl your toes, we keep coming back, hoping against hope (and against ample evidence) that one will be truly fun to watch.
Sadly, we're still waiting. English language title aside, Zero Woman: Final Mission is the first movie in the Zero Woman series, nearly all of which are available on U.S. video. All the movies feature Rei (played by various actors), a woman assassin for the government agency Section Zero. When Media Blasters initially released the second Japanese feature with the title of just Zero Woman, implying it was the beginning of the series, there were some raised eyebrows. But after seeing both films we can see where they were coming from. Zero Woman: Final Mission includes very little exposition about Rei's job as a government-sanctioned killer. When the main plot kicks in, it has nothing to do with Rei's profession. She could just as easily have been a waitress or real estate agent. The few scenes of her "at work" come across as a bizarre sub-plot. Final Mission is also quite a bit less exciting than the other installments in the series we've seen. Perhaps the frequent (if mild) female bondage and humiliation scenes would be enough to carry this movie with its intended audience in Japan, but we found it uninvolving and unexciting.
In the opening scenes we do get to see what Rei (Naoko Iijima) does to keep her rent paid and her unparalleled wardrobe of short skirts well-stocked. She kills an undercover cop who has taken his role as a gangster too seriously, then kills an escaped serial killer while his young daughter looks on. Rei takes the now-orphaned girl and drops her off at an orphanage supported by the charitable work of Yumi (Miho Suzuki), the daughter of a powerful CEO.
Hey, you're not Michael Knight.
Coincidence? You're soaking in it! A few days later Rei and a couple of friends (including Takako, a detective she spars romantically with) are hanging out at the beach. Nearby, Yumi is indulging in her secret obsession with being tied up during sex. She pays college students to perform this service for her, but her most recent cuddle buddy is a little too weirded out by the whole thing. He throws her money back at her and stalks off. Yumi responds by hopping in her black sports car, still completely naked, and runs the poor schmoe over a couple of times. It's kind of like Knight Rider, but really, really hot. The only witnesses to the crime are Rei and her friends, with only the detective getting a look at the woman in the car.
Yumi's bodyguard sees the inconvenient witnesses, so Rei and her friends are marked for death. The police are not interested in investigating, and even Rei's boss at Section Zero doesn't seem to be very curious about what may have happened on the beach. Our heroine is on her own, as Takako is killed and Rei is stalked and eventually captured by killers in the CEO's employ.
Being a peeping Tom in
Japan can be dangerous.
When it comes to the action scenes, the best phrase to describe them is "laid back." The camera doesn't move very much, a technique that is taken to such an extreme that one extended sequence begins to resemble that gag from Scooby-Doo where Shaggy and Scooby are chased in and out of all the doors on both sides of a hallway. Another sequence has an unfortunate (and presumably accidental) resemblance to a Police Squad! joke.
As we mentioned before, Rei's occupation doesn't have anything to do with her troubles with Yumi. As a matter of fact, the plot as presented would probably make more sense if Rei were anything but an assassin. Not once, but twice, goons who should know better leave Rei alive to torment her, resulting in her inevitable escape.
Time to pull the big guns out.
Inevitable, that is, if Rei came across as even slightly competent. As it is, we're pretty impressed she manages to turn the tables at all. Iijima is undeniably gorgeous, but she doesn't come across as dangerous, no matter how big a gun she may have stuffed down her cleavage. And speaking of cleavage, don't expect to see much more than cleavage from her. One immutable rule of the Zero Woman series is that the more attractive the woman, the less likely it is she'll take her clothes off. So Iijima has one shower scene where she rather unrealistically keeps her arms over her chest the whole time, while the less attractive actress playing Yumi goes the full monty a couple of times.
Zero Woman: Final Mission was successful enough in Japan to kick start a whole series of cheap thrillers, not to mention imitators. If you're really interested in Zero Woman, Final Mission is worth seeing, but it isn't where you want to start.