Review: Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41
I watched this on Amazon Prime sort of by accident as the above poster flashed by as I was browsing through their anime selections. While it is the second in a series of four movies, I feel like it worked out just fine to watch them out of order as reviewers generally place this as the best of all the films. It's easy to see why as it's beautifully shot with some surreal visuals and a sort of mystical realism to the storytelling at times. That being said I don't watch too many prison exploitation films, and if you generally want to avoid an abundance of physical and sexual violence in your films then fair warning that you will want to avoid this film.
We start with our main character bound and trapped in an underground prison cell, spending the first two minutes of the opening titles scraping a spoon across the rocks to form a shiv.
If watching someone whittle a spoon into a deadly weapon over the course of a year through sheer spite and determination doesn't set the tone, I don't know what will.
Right from the get-go we've got a lot of engaging and dynamic shots. Virtually no time is wasted and the full forward momentum of the movie is well set as the warden's hateful nature is fully established as he mentally and physically tortures our main character, Scorpion remaining ever silent as she will through most of the film.
The plot is pretty simple and straightforward as we follow Scorpion's eventual escape as she and six other convicts go on the lamb.
What really elevates the film besides a lot of dynamic cinematography is that at moments it takes on elements of kabuki theater to offer an alternative method of exposition or to push forward some subtle character moments. We get a really engaging sequence as we learn of the past crimes of our convicts, giving us just enough background to work with in our lean 88 minute film. It's also interesting in that it offers an unforgiving view of the world where nearly no character is without sin as we root for a group of legit terrible people against a corrupt and abusive system.
One of the other engaging elements is that the weight of the film is squarely carried on Meiko Kaji's silent shoulders. She speaks volumes with a stare and her performance lends an otherworldly element to every situation. But mostly you just hope she won't stab you.
Another interesting element I noticed was that while Scorpion herself is sexually assaulted, she nor any of the other convicts are stripped nude at any point. So while I can't say the themes of sexual assault were tastefully done because this is an exploitation film, it wasn't nearly as exploitative as I expected and leaned heavier into the art-house world.
Films like this (and specifically Meiko Kaji's performance as Lady Snowblood) were a major influence on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, so if you're a fan of violent revenge stories then this series should be of interest. That it's so beautifully shot and tightly orchestrated is a great plus, and I am interested in checking out the other films (all but the first seem to be on Amazon) just to see what else they do with the character.
My main takeaway though is that we should all strive to be as murderously fabulous as Meiko Kaji.