Review: 'Kate' (2021) Dir. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
French director and VFX artist Cedric Nicolas-Troyan adds a new original film to the growing Netflix roster, this time fusing Yakuza gang war and a strong-willed assassin with 24rs to live...
Professional assassin Kate (Winstead) takes one last job for her mentor Varrick (Harreslon) before turning straight. But the job doesn't go to plan, and Kate is poisoned with radiation, giving her just under 24hrs to live.
Haunted by the demons of her past, Kate has no choice but to power through the poison and track down the ones who signed her death warrant, believed to be a high-ranking Yakuza crime lord.
Working with streetwise Ani (Martineau) who is a face from Kate's past, the duo must navigate a dangerous and ruthless criminal underworld to find those responsible for Kate's betrayal before her time is up...
Just some of the recent films that feature a strong female lead going up against countless adversaries in a flurry of violent, but often balletic, action and adventure. The said female lead is mostly heavily out-matched by male enemies, but she uses her espionage / assassin training to wreck havoc on those who have betrayed / disbanded her, eventually saving herself and the conspiracy that is working against her. It's a less than exciting title trait, but you get what you pay for - a lone female going up against the odds.
Next in line for that same treatment is Lucy, and the title character played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Following her turn in Birds of Prey and getting stuck into the action genre, she is another capable actress proving she can deliver with the pathos and brutality as a "badass killer mother fucker" to be someone who has nothing to live for, and so makes her the most dangerous. Teaming up with young streetwise and sassy Miku Martineau to help navigate the underworld criminal connections, MEW has one last job to carry out before her time is up. She's both "Terminator bitch" and best friend in equal measure. Add to the fact her character has radiation poisoning that visibly attacks her during the course of the story, MEW gets to show her Kate's weakness along with her strengths as a decent actress.
Sadly the character is another one of these action templates given to capable women to prove they can kick, punch, shoot, stab and flip around as much ass as their male counterparts, but mostly follow the same template of revenge, corruption, betrayal and taking on a paternal relationship during the chaos. MEW delivers in one hand, but you see there's nothing she does that nobody else has done before in recent years. It certainly isn't her fault, or does the film suffer for her dangerous and passionate performance.
This overly familiar female-led action template makes you wish audiences could be presented with something different once in a while for our stars to deal with.
The plot of revenge and betrayal may be overly familiar, but there is something a little more to this in terms of visual style and flair thanks to director Nicolas-Troyan. Be it the fight choreography that is a fusion of modern and classic hand-to-hand combat, or the framing of Osaka that really showcases Eastern culture.
With an influx of Eastern culture bleedings more into Western action films, Kate feels influenced a lot more influenced than normal. Themes of honour, family and sacrifice run from the outset, and the Yakuza clans feature prominently. The score by Nathan Barr also fuses Western and Eastern in a perfect blend, at times sounding like the most intense Christopher Nolan action sequence. Thanks to these little touches, it works for what it's trying to achieve.
However where it falls down is the action, which is a same. Be it the most prominent genre in the film, the action is thick and fast. It's all presented in a very stylish way with camera work that isn't frantic and frenetic, and allows us to see each hit and snazzy piece of stunt performance. Yet most of the gun battles and (sadly) CG enhanced chases feel far too much style over substance, loud and lacking real threat. Yet at least the team aren't afraid to hold back on the gore to really add to the brutality of things.
It doesn't outstay it's 1hr 40min welcome, but doesn't exactly feel brisk as we hunt down for the real bad guys pulling the strings (who you probably can guess in the first 20mins). Woody Harrelson phones in a small supporting role as the mentor figure to MEW, and a supporting cast of Eastern stars including Tadanobu Asano and the great Jun Kunimura all add to the authenticity of this dark underworld crime story.
Kudos to Netflix for yet another easy watching popcorn action flick that turns out to be just what is expected nowadays, despite trying to be different from the outset.
'Kate' is a co-production between 87North Productions and Clubhouse Pictures