In the near future dystopian aftermath of a global financial crash where children are commodities to be trafficked for sex, orphaned drug-addicted teen amnesiac assassin Sawa (India Eisley) wages her own personal war against the Emir, the mysterious crime kingpin and head of the ‘flesh-cartels’ who control the city and years earlier had Sawa’s cop father and her mother brutally murdered.

Aided only by her dad’s ex-partner, Detective Acker (Samuel L. Jackson) who routinely covers up for her by erasing evidence and botching crime scenes while supplying her with high-tech police weapons, memory-erasing PTSD drugs and information on fresh targets, Sawa is closing in on her prey when she meets the mysterious Oburi (Callan McAuliffe), a young free-running stranger who claims to know her and whose presence inspires Sawa to reclaim her lost memories. As Sawa’s mission brings her face-to-face with the vicious Emir (Zane Meas) she uncovers a shattering secret.

A live action adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu’s controversial, often banned, usually always censored 1999 anime of the same name, trimming the original OVA of its more salacious, transgressive hentai material (extensive, explicit cartoon schoolgirl rapes not playing particularly well outside of Japan…) while the violence admittedly stays pretty splashy, Kite somehow manages to still feel grubby and seedy, director Ralph Ziman spending rather too much time drooling over the lithesome India Eisley (star of The Secret Life Of The American Teenager), pouring her into fetishised day-glo schoolgirl hooker outfits and neon wigs, exposing acres of nubile thigh and belly flesh, following her around in low angle as she masquerades as a child prostitute in order to off various vile paedo-gangsters with knives, exploding bullets and a deadly dildo.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a pistol-packing teen babe (Eisley’s 20 but you’d never guess) as much as the next man.  Especially if the next man is a middle-aged Japanese salaryman in a gimp mask, huffing amyl nitrate through a pair of soiled Hello Kitty knickers while masturbating like a bonobo on a packed commuter train.  Or Zack Snyder.  But after years of murderous Lolitas in the likes of Sucker Punch, Kick-Ass and Leon, the teenage assassin has become something of a go-to cliché for filmmakers, an easy emblem of female empowerment, and there’s something, well, just a little bit icky and nasty about the film’s sexual undertones, our heroine forced to infiltrate an underground world of vice and child sex abuse in order to save sexually abused children.  And it’s not like there’s anything truly transgressive, explicit or upsetting in the film; yes Sawa’s damaged but she hasn’t endured the years of physical and sexual abuse she had in Umetsu’s original.  And she may be the primmest teen tease ever to slink across the scene, staying resolutely covered up even when seducing and murdering child molesters, only sliding her hand into her pants to palm a wicked little blade she uses to open up an abusers throat.  Kite’s queasily titillating without being in any way dangerous, Eisley’s body being offered up for our viewing pleasure as if in a 12a-rated I Spit On Your Grave, exploiting her even as she battles exploitation.

The action while clichéd (Why do none of these bozos suspect the hooker in the neon wig of being a hit girl? I’ve never seen anyone who isn’t a teen assassin wear a neon wig…) is pretty decent though, one scene of torture and murder in a kitchen above a bubbling deep fat fryer and a claustrophobic toilet shootout particularly stand out, but the film feels cheap and repetitive with the aesthetic of a grungier Taylor Momsen-video and the fact that it seems to have been filmed in about three crumbling locations in a sweaty Johannesburg, South Africa apparently being the dystopic location of choice after Dredd, only contributes to it’s threadbare feel, like the kind of cheap DTV sci-fi action movie that you probably watched in the ‘90s starring Rutger Hauer, Shannon Whirry and/or Olivier Grunier that usually had atmosphere and ideas to burn but couldn’t afford to buy a lighter from the petrol station.

The performances jar too with everyone apart from the principals being disposable South African extras. Eisley grunges up her teen persona, stretching herself as the murderous Sawa and acquits herself well on the physical side, convincing going toe-to-toe with some hulks, while the blandly good looking McAuliffe gives a performance that seems forever in search of a mirror. Perennial scenery chewer Jackson however is far more restrained than you need or want him to be. Sure he looks cool swishing around the ruins of Jo’burg in a designer leather trenchcoat but he doesn’t seem to be having any fun and if ever a film called for Jackson to uncage his inner Nicolas Cage and go batshit, it’s Kite.

Violent, gory and obvious, Kite makes for undemanding Saturday night viewing.


DVD Review: Kite
A grim, grimy steampunk-style cartoon
2.5Overall Score
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