Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.
The country is in disarray after a financial collapse. Which country isn’t exactly important, but judging by the accents and locations on display let’s go with the United States of Middle Eastern South Africa. Criminal syndicates run rampant while neutered and frequently bribed police struggle to keep them in check, and the biggest victims are also the smallest as child sex trafficking becomes the crime du jour. Into this societal morass comes a waif-like girl in the violent grip of a clearly malicious thug.
Her name is Sawa (India Eisley), and after blowing out the back of the guy’s head with an exploding bullet she continues on her way up the food chain of evil deeds looking for the man at the top, the man responsible for her parents’ murder, the man she is intent on killing. Along for the ride are her father’s ex-partner (Samuel L. Jackson) and a homeless teen (Callan McAuliffe) who taught himself parkour.
Kite, based on an anime from 1998, is a post-apocalyptic and mostly generic mash-up of The Professional and Léon, and before you say “But Rob, those are the same movie” rest assured that I know they’re the same movie. This film takes the former’s central conceit of a young girl’s thirst for revenge assisted by an adult and mixes it with the more sexualized latter film that was deemed too challenging for American audiences. Granted, it’s executed with 1/100th the skill, talent, subtlety and results of Luc Besson’s film, but the filmakers’ hearts were in the right place anyway. And in a messed up world where children are bought and sold like chewing gum that has to count for something.
Sawa’s quest is hampered by her own addiction to a drug called Amp that finds its appeal in its ability to make users forget their past. Good, bad, it doesn’t matter, and that’s an effect that she craves. Despite Karl Aker’s (Jackson) best efforts she always returns to the needle after each mission in the hope that the pain of losing her parents won’t return. Not for nothing, but the drug appears to be doing a fairly shoddy job as flashes of memory and a clearly burning sense of pain and loss are still pretty damn evident.
It’s fitting though as Sawa is also pretty terrible at her job at times. Her fighting ability is inconsistent and seemingly based solely on the necessity of each plot turn, and it can’t be good for her brain cells that she get knocked unconscious probably half a dozen times. Her efforts — basically acting as a victim until she’s in her underwear with a bad guy — seem counter-productive at times too. The decision seems based less on intelligence on more on the film’s basis as an adult-themed anime known for some fairly explicit scenes involving young Sawa and others. It’s toned way, way down here, but we still get plenty of cleavage and panty shots.
Director Ralph Ziman handles the action fairly well with some crowd-pleasing sequences and denouements, and the cinematography/editing help ensure that skinny little Eisley looks convincing in her antics. The gangs that roam the city looking for children to sell to the crime syndicate (?) all know parkour for obvious reasons, and while they don’t get to use it often the camera captures them well too. Far less successful is the world as a whole as budget and skill-level come together resulting in a movie that just feels small. Every exterior is foggy to diminish how far we can see… ie how far the production design could afford to make look like a rundown near future. Still, it’s the little things that count — the penis-shaped door lock, the truck labeled “Fresh Meat” and loaded with children, the dildo with a surprise in its tip, Eisley in her bra and panties.
Eisley (from TV’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) is actually one of the few worthwhile reasons to watch. She gives a more convincing and emotionally valid performance than the role demands, and while her boy-like frame is played for more sex appeal than it’s capable of she’s a pretty young woman packing an arsenal of menacing expressions. As mentioned above, she’s fairly convincing in her physical fight action too. Jackson meanwhile alternates between feeling mildly invested and unsure why exactly he’s here. It can’t help that he acts too frequently as little more than an exposition machine.
Kite is a mild diversion with a level of entertainment that will depend on the viewer’s interests. Want some dumb, stylized action? Check it out. Prefer some smarts and an actually compelling style? You may want to re-watch The Professional or Kick-Ass. And if neither appeals to you? Well you can just go fly a kite.
The Upside: India Eisley is pretty solid; some fun action beats
The Downside: Feels slight and dated; world feels small; script/dialogue are wanting; third act exposition dump
On the Side: India Eisley also played Eve in Underworld: Awakening and is rumored to be the star of the upcoming Underworld: Next Generation.