(or, “When Bad Movies Happen To Badasses”)
Writer (original anime): Yasuomi Umetsu
Screenplay: Brian Cox
Directed by Ralph Ziman
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Callan McAuliffe, India Eisley, et al
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Reviewed by Grim_Noir
With very few exceptions, live action films based on anime have been terrible. Terrible as adaptations and terrible as movies. Western live action adaptations of anime often fail to understand the original’s aesthetic appeal and rewrite the story into a big, splashy mess. Asian filmmakers, on the other hand, understand the spirit of the anime they’re adapting, but don’t have the budget to do the source material justice. Geographically, Ralph Ziman’s live action Kite was filmed in South Africa and sits squarely in the middle of these two worlds. Unfortunately, Kite also inherits all the defects of both Hollywood and Eastern cinema.
The infamous 1998 anime Kite was about a 15-year-old sexually-abused, drug-addicted orphan assassin schoolgirl named Sawa. Oh, yeah, and there were a lot of exploding bullets blowing up inside people’s bodies. It was like creator Yasuomi Umetsu was trying to make a darker, more depraved version of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita. (Another unusual fact about the Kite anime was that the director’s cut DVD actually contained LESS graphic sex scenes than the studio version.)
Brian Cox’s live action screenplay moves the action to a near-future world, after a global financial collapse. He raises Sawa’s age to 18, decreases the sexual abuse to nearly nil, increases the drug addiction and amps up the ultraviolence to parody levels.
Sawa (India Eisley) is orphaned when her father (a cop) and her mother are murdered in their home by agents of a mysterious drug lord called “The Emir.” She is taken in by her father’s partner, Karl Aker (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Together, they team up to track her parents’ killers and enact predictable blood-soaked vengeance.
But, Sawa is waivering in her resolve. As the bodies pile up over the years, she is taking more and more of a military-grade drug that supresses her emotions in combat situations. Conveniently, while she is questioning herself, she crosses paths with childhood friend Oburi (I Am Number Four‘s Callan McAuliffe), the proverbial street thug with a heart of gold. His mission seems to be to rescue orphan girls from white slavers. Oburi begs Sawa to drop her desire for revenge and sternly warns her that her questions will only lead to more sadness and death.
At this point, the movie begins to deal in “deep family secrets” tropes. Weirdly, the “deep secrets of the Past” are discussed openly in the first ten minutes of the anime and aren’t even that unexpected for new viewers. But you don’t need to worry about the revelation of secrets because most moviegoers will be asleep before this point.
Anime fanboy Sam Jackson brings all of his verbal panache (and love of exotic facial hair) to the role of cop and foster father, Karl. He preens, he pouts, he creepily coaxes Sawa to kill people. When he is on the screen, scenes exceed the limitations of the screenplay.
Sadly, the movie rests squarely on the wane shoulders of Eisley as Sawa. Despite five years on the TV series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she isn’t a particularly good actress. Add the drug-addled nature of her character in this movie, and the levels of leaden behaviour really hurt things. You never really connect emotionally with her character, nor even believe you are watching anything other than India Eisley collecting a paycheck. Her villianous foils are even worse, a worldly collection of thick bad guy accents just waiting to be mowed down.
Poor direction, cinematography, and even film developing torpedo this film completely. The print shown at Otakon this year was exceedingly muddy: Night scenes were difficult to see and daylight was over saturated. The fight scenes are mostly stolen directly from the anime, yet poorly shot and confusing to watch.
At the very least, the special effects budget should have been upped. Plastic flashing from blood “squibs” are plainly visible is some shots and some explosions are just smoke. Things came to (*AHEM*) a head when, during a decapitation sequence, the entire preview audience roared with laughter. The squirting tubing that was trying to pass for veins and arteries was deserving of laughter. (It was worse than Friday The Thirteenth, Part One effects.) The capper came when the girl behind us whispered to her boyfriend, “Oh! Oh, geez, I don’t think we were supposed to laugh at that…!”
That about sums things up. If you have a high threshold for bad movies, and the slow parts haven’t put you to sleep, you will also say of Kite, “I don’t think we were supposed to laugh at that…”
(KITE debuted in Estonia on June 14, 2014. It’s North American premiere was at Otakon on August 8, 2014 and it is currently scheduled to release in North American theaters and onDemand in October 2014.)
* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.
Tags: ANIME, Brian Cox, Callan McAuliffe, Grim_Noir, India Eisley, Kite, Live Action, Otakon 2014, Ralph Ziman, Samuel L. Jackson, South Africa, Yasuomi Umetsu