Some movies make absolutely no sense at all. When I heard there was going to be a Western live-action adaptation of Kite (the cult anime), I simply couldn't wrap my head around the idea that someone out there figured it would a smart thing to do. Expectations were low (obviously), but I was still quite interested to see where they would take it. And surprise surprise, even though some predictable concessions were made, the film turned out to be pretty damn fun.
Since its original anime release (back in 1998), Kite has garnered quite the reputation. The original film is an explosive combination of sex and violence, made twice as shocking by featuring a female minor in the lead. Needless to say, that bit alone resulted in quite a few angry reviews. I used to like the film a lot, but when I watched it again some time ago the low production values and moments of cheap exploitation couldn't just be ignored by merely focusing on the admittedly kick-ass action sequences and solid ending.
As was to be expected, the scenes where Sawa (the main character) is raped and abused by her mentor were removed from this remake in their entirety. And that's probably not such a bad thing, since those bits in the original film were vile and exploitative without adding anything to the film as a whole. What remains now is a rock-solid action flick about a young girl taking revenge on the killers of her parents, no holds barred. And that's all this film ever really needed to be.
Sawa is aided in her quest by Karl, a shady policeman who was Sawa's father's parter back when her parents were violently killed. Behind the murder was a group of human traffickers who he had crossed right before his death. Karl provides Sawa with weapons, information, cover from the police and a drug named amp, which lets her forget about the horrendous things she has to pull off to get to the bottom of the case. With each new victim she makes, Sawa gets a little closer to uncovering the truth.
Kite is clearly a mid to low-budget affair, but Ziman makes the most of the available funds to bring the film's dystopian future to life. A run-down city, neon lights, muted tones with strong colors popping out and extravagant lighting make for an attractive-looking film. The camera work is in-your-face, the editing snappy. It reminded me a little of Frank Miller's film adaptations (Sin City, The Spirit), only a bit more colorful.
The soundtrack is going to make Kite a lot of enemies, but it's actually a pretty neat electronic score. It's a clear and explicit derivative of dubstep-oriented tunes and tracks and it will probably be ridiculed because of that, but honestly, how many films have dared to make that choice. Add some moody melodic ambient to go with the dramatic flashbacks and you have a more than fitting score that most films would be too afraid to even consider, yet complements this type of film perfectly.
India Eisley is well-cast as Sawa. Her child-like appearance suits her character, while her real-life age allows her to kick ass more convincingly than Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass ever could. Samuel L Jackson is Eisley's back-up and even though he's pretty much the same guy, no matter what movie he plays in, he too is a perfect match for the job. McAuliffe is a solid third, while some juicy South-African thugs make for a fun yet rather limited secondary cast.
Kite is somewhat of a niche film. I'm afraid this more action-oriented adaptation isn't going to appeal to the hardcore fans of the original, while I'm pretty sure that the harsh action and strange setting will alienate the rest of the audience. There's a nice twist ending that may help to convince some people of the film's qualities, but to be honest, that's not where Kite's strong points lie.
If you don't like the setting and you aren't charmed by the film's stylish exterior, the harsh action and crude characters probably won't cut it for you. On the other hand, it's nice to see Ziman make a film that shies away from compromises. Kite is a relentless action flick, helmed by a strong female lead and boasting interesting visuals and a fun, daring soundtrack. It may not be the most faithful adaptation and it may not turn out to be a big commercial success, I still liked it a lot better than the original film and I had a blast watching. It's somewhat of a gamble for sure, but Kite is one of the best action films I've seen in a long time.