Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kite (2014)

In a near future South Africa dominated by gangs and a corrupt police force after some sort of economic collapse. A young woman named Sawa (India Eisley) hunts a mysterious slaver and trafficker in kids only known as The Emir, the man responsible for the murder of her policeman father. To keep her trauma at bay, Sawa is taking the drug Amp that not only makes the psychological pain go away but also erases parts of her memory and increases her combat reflexes, though I’m not sure her killing machine style really needs much improvement. Her only friend is Karl (Samuel L. Jackson), her father’s former partner who keeps her in weapons, drugs and information and tries to erase as many of her traces as he can, which gets increasingly more difficult the closer she gets to the Emir and the higher her body count becomes.

Of course, taking a drug that destroys one’s memory isn’t necessarily a good thing to do because you just might lose your personality, or the actual reason for doing the things that you do, with it, and consequently, Sawa might have forgotten some rather important facts. Like how she is connected to the young guy (Callan McAulifee) who seems to be following her, helping her out (or at least trying to) and who says they know each other well.

What we have with Ralph Ziman’s Kite is a US/Mexican/South African co-production of the adaptation of a Japanese anime I haven’t seen but which is supposedly much, much smuttier. The whole international she-bang was filmed in South Africa, giving the film more of the feel of one of Luc Besson’s more obscure productions than of your typical US SF/action movie.

In fact, on an aesthetic level, Kite doesn’t so much remind me of its own anime roots as of a live action version of a francophone comic crossed with the 2010s interpretation of an old Duran Duran video clip. Which, if you ask me, is a good thing, and certainly an aesthetic that gives the film an individual feel, particularly in connection with the use it makes of its South African locations (only the most ugly and run-down, of course, because this is a post-economical apocalypse movie and not a tourist video) and minor role actors. It’s an interesting mix to say the least, and while Kite’s plot isn’t anything I haven’t seen a dozen times before (including the idea that vengeance probably-maybe doesn’t solve everything or makes you whole again), the rather more lived in world it takes place in gives it a bit of originality – at least inside the genre borders of post-economical collapse SF action. Which yes, is a thing now.

The film’s action is pretty great too, with a variety of increasingly tense and bloody fights that actually manage to sell the not exactly threateningly built Eisley as a frightening killing machine through clever choreography, fast-but-not-too-fast editing, and Eisley’s surprising ability to go from controlled childlike to fierce through poise and facial expressions. Sure, she probably couldn’t take most of the guys she makes mincemeat out of here in real life but she sure has the eyes of somebody who could, and that’s what counts in movies. On the other hand, the film also doesn’t make the mistake of never letting her lose a fight; as all good action heroes, one of her qualities is not that she’s never going down but the way she gets up again.

The plot, as I said, isn’t very original, but the film is well enough paced and doesn’t just go from one action sequence to the next. At the very least, Kite possesses an actual story, as well as characters that make sense in their comic book-y way, and while it isn’t exploring questions of trauma, memory and identity deeply, it’s not a thoughtless movie either. In particular when it comes to a style of worldbuilding that suggests more than it explains about its specific post-collapse world but which does intimate things that feel to belong together and form the place in which these characters attempt to survive.

And that’s really the part that makes Kite work for me the most, the feeling that its crazy, a little sad, and a little silly plot takes place in a world appropriate to it.

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