W.I.P without dull clichés and stereotypes
In love with a corrupt police detective, Nami (Meiko Kaji) foolishly agrees to infiltrate the Yakuza. Things go very wrong. Betrayed, battered and bruised, she ends up in a violent prison environment with only one thing left on her mind… Revenge.
“Women In Prison” movies, commonly known under their abbreviation WIP, formed an insignificant but hugely popular sub genre of exploitation cinema, particularly from the 70′s up until the mid 80′s. Especially Euro-smut directors like, say, Jess Franco, Bruno Mattei and Joe D’Amato were enthusiastic and always ready to shoot this type of film because substantial depth and coherence weren’t necessary requirements. WIP movies provide the easiest excuse to depict copious amounts of lesbian experiments, shower-catfights, brutal whippings, rape & abuse and sadistic battle-axe guards. These films are merely guilty pleasures, amusing to watch once or maybe twice, but none of them were actually good films. I’m writing all this background info only to state that Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion isn’t anything like that at all! Although I have yet to see the other five installments in this acclaimed Japanese WIP-series, I can safely say already the first entry is a genuine (and so far the only) highlight in this exploitation sub genre.
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion works effectively because everything, even the slightest detail, is 100% opposite to the usual characteristics of WIP movies. It has an absorbing story, amiable heroine characters, spectacular action sequences, gloomy set pieces and classy photography. Sure there’s also quite a bit of nudity – though never full frontal – and sleazy insinuations, but the film never reverts to pure vulgarity and director Shunya Ito continuously keeps the emphasis on story building. There’s even room for a bit of subtle & witty humor in the script, notably in the opening sequences when the titular heroine escapes during a ceremony to reward the prison’s impeccable management skills. The escape and subsequent chase through the reeds promptly set the tone and pace for the rest of the film, namely pure excitement and ingenuity. Particularly Nami’s background story is a compelling and involving one. Out of love for her police detective boyfriend she agreed to infiltrate into the Japanese mafia network, but he himself double-crossed her and the poor girl got gang-raped and abused. When her initial attempt at vengeance failed, Nami ended up in prison where she constantly tries to escape in order to extract her revenge properly. The once cherubic woman now causes riots, evokes fights with fellow inmates and builds up a notorious reputation that goes far beyond the prison walls. Her former boyfriend grows increasingly nervous and even hires one of her fellow inmates to eliminate her.
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a fantastic WIP thriller, and for once it doesn’t rely on all the known clichés and dreadful stereotypes. The guards are sadists, but not just empty-headed perverts and even the obligatory influential dyke-prisoner is missing this time. You wouldn’t think it’s possible, but the film actually gets better and better as the climax approaches. The last half hour contains marvelous scenes where the inmates take control of the prison (and gang-rape the male guards!!) and Nami is finally able to get her well-deserved vengeance. Meiko Kaji, who also played the titular role in my absolute favorite Japanese film of all-time, gives away a stellar performance and the soundtrack is simply mesmerizing… Just ask Quentin Tarantino about that, since he used the scores of both films (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and Lady Snowblood) for his ultimate strong women/martial arts homage . This is an awesome cinematic accomplishment from director Shunya Ito, and I can’t wait to unwrap the other five installments in the series.
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