This review first appeared at filmarcade.net.
It’s the kind of question that every reviewer of the dark, demented, and sleazy side of cinema loves to hear; “Would you be interested in reviewing Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale? Um, yes please! Then the thought enters your mind…how could an entire movie about a tile game work? Movies based around card games rarely maintain my interest. Then it dawns on you… hot topless Japanese chicks! That explains everything. At least, that’s how my thought process went. Oh Japan, bizarre frolics through bad taste like this one are why I love you so much.
Synopsis: LET THE ULTIMATE SEXY DEATH GAME BEGIN! A handful of mysterious Japanese women take part in a deranged web show that makes them strip off their clothes when they lose a round of Mahjong. When there is nothing left to hide, the losers’ secrets are revealed and the nubile contestants must take their punishment. Can anyone survive, or keep their clothes on, in the dangerous game of STRIP MAHJONG: BATTLE ROYALE? Gleefully adding a risqué, wry twist to an ancient game of strategy, this erotic thriller delivers voyeuristic thrills with the friskiness of Seventies "sexploitation" flicks, providing titillating, strange and kinky gameplay at every turn!
I wanted to enjoy this movie more than I did. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t dig it nearly as much as I thought I would with that title and premise. I guess I thought that the actual Mahjong would be used as more of a backdrop to a story. Actually, the mahjong IS the story. I didn’t actually time it, but I’ll say approximately 63% of the running time is spent with the ladies around a table playing the titular tile game. Yes, I just pulled that number straight out of my ass. Anyway, these scenes drag, especially if you don’t know how to play mahjong. It’s like watching one of those poker TV shows, but having absolutely no idea what the rules of poker are. Hell, I know how to play poker, and the only time I’ve ever actually been able to watch it on TV for more than a minute are the times when I catch Jennifer Tilly playing. The boobs make it tolerable, and the same principle is at play in Strip Mahjong. See kids? That’s what we call a segueway. As the game proceeds, the girls get nakeder and nakeder (shut up, it is too a word), so in theory these scenes should get less tedious. In the end, even the pretty Asian tatas can only make these scenes so interesting. Of course, there are probably some hardcore mahjong fanatics out there for whom this is their wettest dream come to life on screen. What do I know?
The scenes where the girls are taken to the cell for interrogation and torture are fun. It’s sleazy as hell, and it’s so over the top and goofy that you can’t take it even remotely seriously. For those with overly delicate sensibilities, the misogynistic bent might give you something to get your knickers in a gnarl over. However, if a scene of some goofball in a loincloth and sparkly over-sized bow tie tearing at a chained woman’s bra with those cheap plastic robot pincher arms sounds like something that would tickle your funny bone; then congratulations, you’re the perfect audience for this movie.
The flick is obviously low budget, but the budgetary constrictions aren’t a detriment at all. It’s set up like an underground gameshow, and the limited sets work perfectly with that motif. It was a smart move on the part of the producers. Too often movies reach too far beyond their cash flow and end up looking cheap as a result. This one looks cheap, but it’s supposed to. Like I said, smart.
The players are fairly uninteresting characters, with predictable “secrets,” but the actresses play them effectively enough. They’re all also quite easy on the eyes and spend most of the movie half naked, so I will fully admit that my judgment may be a little clouded as far as they’re concerned. The most interesting character is the host, Mc Kato. I really couldn’t tell you the actor’s name unfortunately, since the credits just list the cast and don’t say who played who, but he’s great. He does some Jigsaw-like moralizing, but with the histrionics of a Japanese game show host. It’s a truly odd character, and one I’d like to revisit in a different movie. Then there is the female host. This woman had the most annoying voice of all time. Yes, of all time. I may get accused of racism here, because it was that stereotypical shrill Asian female voice, but honestly, that voice would have grated my brain no matter what inflections it had. She was just painful to listen to. At least they had the good sense to get her out of her clothes at some point.
With a premise as thin as a lethal game of Strip Mahjong, 77 minutes was just the right amount of time for this flick not to overstay its welcome. It’s not as full-tilt-gonzo-crazy as, say, Robo-Geisha or Mutant Girl Squad, but it has enough sleazy weirdness to make it a good addition to the current Japanese exploitation cycle. If they had added some gore, this might have been downright awesome. As it stands now, it slows down too much during the game sequences and feels like it stops just short of the kind of depravity needed to make it essential viewing. You can’t be too hard on a movie that delivers exactly what it promises though. Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale promises mahjong and tits, and it delivers both in spades. Well played. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out.