In a vast, multicultural and decimated urban landscape, post-financial collapse, Sawa (India Eisley) lives a secret life as a covert assassin. The daughter of a police detective involved in the investigation of human trafficking, she was orphaned at the tender age of 12 when an unknown assailant targeted both of her parents. Now 18, with the help of her father's ex-partner (Samuel L. Jackson), Sawa is a human time-bomb intent upon eliminating members of the flesh-cartels whom she presumes murdered her family - men who exploit the defenseless children of a collapsed society for the pleasure of high-paying, foreign clients.
In the vast legacy of Japanese animation, the video series known as Kite is a controversial piece of action trash. Even by Japan’s standards for adult content in animation, it was excessively gory and sexual. In the director’s cut, the extremely young female protagonist is seen raped in explicit detail. I guess I should be thankful the American live-action remake toned down the pedophelic angle significantly. But what it lacks in the original’s vulgarity it maintains in the cynical and unintentionally silly nature. Kite manages to be so cliche that it winds up being just as unbearable as the anime it was based on.
There is little detail given on the environment other than that it’s now a dystopian future after a massive economic crash. The streets are littered with cartels that buy/sell children for carnal pleasures. Sawa (India Eisley) props on her cherry-red wig and prowls the streets as an 18-year-old prostitute seeking revenge for her dead parents. In the age-old traditional of just about every action femme fatale, she lures lustful criminals in with her assets and then brutally murders them with the nearest weapon. Her arsenal is provided by a detective (Samuel L. Jackson) who trained her as a killer and keeps her constantly stocked with the drug known as amp. The amp drug is supposed to both make you an efficient killer and erase your memory, making one’s true reason for revenge become foggy.
The script is such a muddled revenge story with very few connecting elements making any logical sense. Even the characters who orchestrate the conspiracy admit that the whole puzzle they assembled doesn’t quite fit. The journey the entire story takes with trying to throw so many red herrings becomes such a silly farce of a mystery. Sawa thinks her suspect might be this boy who aids her named Oburi, but it turns out that he is a pawn of another pawn who held the gun that killed her parents. But he didn’t fire the gun as there was someone else behind that pawn who pulled the trigger of the said gun that was being held by said pawn. It’s as confusing and lame as it sounds.
Even if you were to throw out the whole story angle and just look at this as pure action, it’s still a gigantic mess of direction. Sawa’s special gun fires bullets that are triggered to explode after 10-15 seconds of hitting their target. That sounds like it would make for some intense kills and it could have if Sawa weren’t such a good shot. Every bullet she fires is either aimed at the heart or the head, killing her targets instantly upon impact. She completely wastes the opportunity to fire off an exploding bullet, watch the enemy scream in pain and then have his voice silenced by an explosion of blood. The movie actually tries to ramp up some tension music for how long it takes a dead mobster’s head to explode. Was there supposed to be a zombie mafia where Sawa needs to make absolutely sure their brains are goo?
The world of Kite must take place in Action Cliche City as it doles out every trope in the book. You have the evil English mobsters with wildly fluctuating accents, packed with curse word sandwiches. You have the crazy post-apocalyptic gangs that parkour along roofs, call each other in whistles and speak like cavemen with knives in hand. Fight scenes feature multiple baddies taking on the hero one-by-one, some of which are actually more concerned with finishing their urination than fleeing for their lives. Even the kills themselves are a bore with no surprises. One bleeding man even takes his hat off as if to ready himself for the inevitable moment of decapitation set up by the camera. The decapitation itself is a clean cut with a large butcher knife. If you’re going to go that absurd with the violence, you could at least take a cue from Hong Kong cinema and turn the neck into a geyser of blood.
And I have to mention how cheap the entire production feels. The direction is all over the place with slow-motion shots, strange jump-cuts in the action and some rather garish looking choices for shots. The sound design is the biggest train-wreck of all. I’m not too sure why, but all the police sirens have been replaced by this horrible synth sound which I found myself confusing with the music. As for the music, it has that generic video game synth style with too many bleeps and bloops. For all I know those effects could be intended as the futuristic excuse for gunfire in the distance.
The film was originally supposed to be directed by David R. Ellis, but he tragically passed away just before filming was about to commence. One has to wonder if Ellis had something much more outlandish and fun given his previous track record that includes Final Destination 2 and Snakes on a Plane. He was quickly replaced by Ralph Ziman, best known for Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema. You can tell his heart clearly wasn’t in this as he probably thought so little of such a script packed with action.
Though respectfully lacking in the shocking nature of its anime counterpart, this version of Kite still manages to be just as depressing and snooze-worthy. It takes every cliche moment of every action movie ever made and wraps it in the bland blanket of prostitution, crime and crooked cops. If you want to go further down the rabbit hole, the original Kite animation appears as though it was inspired by Leon The Professional. That film was a less impressive American remake of Luc Besson’s far superior La Femme Nikita. It’s rather interesting how history can repeat itself.