The first in a series of sleazy direct-to-video action movies contains everything an exploitation fan could wish for: naked women, guns, cars, and naked women firing guns while driving cars. But don't come looking for decent acting, story and production values.
A remake of sorts of the 1974 film directed by Yukio Noda, Zero Woman concerns the exploits of a female assassin (played here by Natsuki Ozawa, but each sequel features a different sultry starlet in the lead role) working for the top secret Zero department of the Tokyo metropolitan police force. She is sent after the powerful top-level crime bosses who elude normal law enforcement, dispatching them with a quick, silenced bullet in the head.
The idea to dust off the concept of Noda's film was most likely influenced by the international success of Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita, a film that made female assassins a temporary hot topic and spawned remakes, official and otherwise, in the USA (the Bridget Fonda starrer Point of No Return) and Hong Kong (the Black Cat series). Zero Woman was Japan's attempt to jump onto the bandwagon, adding more than a touch of S&M (Zero Woman at one point finds herself in a torture dungeon, taking on a bondage fetishist dwarf) but little in the way of inspiration.
Based on the manga by Toru Fujiwara, who also created the much loved Female Convict Scorpion series, Zero Woman not only spawned a host of sequels - the best of this bunch being Zero Woman IV: The Accused - but created an entire subgenre of straight-to-video action flicks featuring gun-toting, scantily-clad ladies, whose most famous entries are the Prisoner Maria series and Metropolitan Police Branch 82 (also based on Fujiwara's work). Even Takashi Miike got in on the act, directing pneumatic but bland topless model Atsuko Sakuraba in the thankfully little-seen Silver (1999).
Whereas Zero Woman's many sequels (seven entries to date) were all shot on digital video, the first instalment was recorded on 16 millimeter. Ironically, most of the video sequels ended up looking better than part 1, which is marred by drab cinematography.
The Zero Woman series has acquired a real cult following outside Japan. The films have been released on video in the US, where a fairly strong fan base exists for them. Given the limitations of the concept and its inherently exploitative execution, recommended viewing in this series are parts 3 and especially 4.