“Why have a conversation when you can stab someone, eh?” says Callan MaCauliffe’s character Oburi to India Eisley’s Sawa (pronounced after Kurosawa) towards the end of Kite, and that would seem to be a manifesto for the movie. Shot in a washed-out palette punctuated by stark instances of vivid colour, Kite is scant on dialogue and characterisation and big on atmosphere, peppered with frequent moments of ferocious violence. It is an uncomfortably brutal viewing experience.
Based on the two-part Japanese anime from the same year as the film Blade, with which this live-action remake appreciably shares both an environment and an ambience, Ralph Ziman’s film (Ziman joined the project after originally slated director David R. Ellis died in 2013) takes its cue from the more easily digestible graphic novel milieu, its plot basically being an expanded variation on the Hit-Girl sub-plot from Kick-Ass, with something of the feel of similarly nihilistic and femme-centric movies like Sucker Punch informing its presentation. Set in an unnamed near-future cityscape (and shot in Johannesburg, as indicated by the accents of the supporting cast), Kite tones down many of the more unpalatable elements of the original, streamlining the plot for Western audiences without condescending to the mainstream.
Sawa, whose family were killed during a gangland attack several years previously, has teamed up with her father’s ex-partner, detective Karl Aker (Jackson), to track down and enact revenge upon the so-called “Numbers” who had caused her parents’ deaths. Edgily directed and uncompromisingly bloodthirsty, we join the story just as Sawa begins to cut loose from Aker’s influence and increasingly take matters into her own hands. With little or no humour to alleviate the grimness, it is up to Sawa’s contemporary Oburi to bring some humanity into her world. There is little that is unpredictable about what follows, but the manner in which it plays out is nevertheless compelling, and the focus is – with good reason – more on Sawa’s deliberately drug-suppressed memories than it is on the complexities of her mission. The central performances are generally effective if sometimes a little monotonous.
Fleshed out with the kind of variable acting that somehow seem appropriate to a movie of this nature, Kite balances its kineticism with numerous occasions of the utmost stillness, and finds a rhythm to suit both its plot and its concerns. The soundtrack matches that mood beat for beat, although the film’s spartan universe and bleak perspective won’t make it easy viewing for anyone seeking out something more conventional. For anyone with an affinity for the darker territories that modern comics commonly inhabit, this is no instant classic; however, it is an immersive and largely satisfying production. A film to appreciate rather than one to like.