Kite live-action film review


It remains rare for an anime film or series to be adapted to an English language live-action film, and with the track record for quality set by movies like Dragonball Evolution, that might be a good thing. The controversial cult film Kite is the newest anime to get the live-action treatment and premiered on DirectTV on August 28th with a limited theatrical release coming in October.

Starring India Eisley, Callan McAuliffe, and Samuel L. Jackson, the movie follows Sawa, an orphaned girl whose guardian is her father’s former police partner, as she kills her way up the ranks of flesh cartels who sell children into sex slavery in a bid to avenge her parents’ murder. Unfortunately, the flimsy execution of the already shaky narrative of the original does little to change the reputation of live-action anime adaptations.

Set in an urban city tearing itself apart post-global financial collapse, where gangs control vast territories and the corrupt police force do little to keep them in check, the film feels appropriately grimy all over. While the filming location of Johannesburg does much to contribute to the apocalyptic feel of the city, buildings like Sawa’s apartment complex can feel somewhat characterless in their simplicity. The filtered look of the film causes the bright colors of some of Sawa’s costumes and wigs to pop when they’re present, but these pieces fall away during the film’s most important scenes, leaving them looking washed out and dull. That being said, when the film hits a visual high note it packs a fair punch for a low budget action film. There are also some odd editing choices in the film which I can’t quite find a justification for beyond the lead character’s drug addiction, but even then, their implementation doesn’t seem properly timed to match.

People that have seen the original 1998 Kite will see dashes of things they recognize and many things they don’t, like the aforementioned drug use. However, what’s most obvious are the things that are lacking from this adaptation, especially the high levels of graphic sexual violence. As I’ve written about before, the original’s sexual content is why only its edited version can be owned in the United States, Canada, and a handful of other countries without being considered child pornography. In this version, despite Sawa’s blatant attack on flesh cartels and overt discussion of an extensive network of underage sex slavery, there is no nudity or sexual content even approaching the original. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though certainly different from the original. Even producer Brian Cox said that while considering adapting the film he knew that he “would never include the sexual aspect of [the original] version on screen.” Sawa and her guardian, Karl Aker (Samuel L. Jackson) or Kanie and Akai in the original, also have a very different relationship due to these changes, and his character is much more fleshed out as a result.


Overall, I cannot say the film is without merit. At moments, it looks sleek and sexy and the soundtrack feels lively and appropriate. The action scenes can also be fun, and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that the bad guys very much deserve to be at the receiving end of Sawa’s explosive rounds. The film also does a lot of building upon the admittedly paltry plot of the original. However, the film is also not without its failings. Many plot points are poorly explained and some things appear to have been shoehorned in simply because they were present in the original film with little justification. The biggest example of this is Sawa’s earrings, which are clearly very important to her due to how protective she is over them, but the audience is given no real idea why. Also, simply the fact that Sawa and Oburi are two Caucasian teenagers named Sawa and Oburi. Actually, Sawa gives a definition for her name when another character in the film questions its uniqueness which is in no way related to the actual meaning behind the name Sawa, which is “help and harmony.”

As far as anime film adaptations go, this is far from the worst. There’s clearly an appreciation for the source material that extends beyond any potential dollars signs the name may bring in, and for that reason alone I would encourage anime fans to afford this film at least a passing glance. While far from a masterpiece, it’s refreshing to see a live-action film based on an anime that doesn’t show what may as well be open disdain for its inspiration. Without its background as a cult hentai film, Kite is easily seen as yet another tired teen assassin movie. It’s nothing to show someone you’re trying to impress, but definitely something to check out in the interest of exploring live-action adaptations. However, any attempt to spin this movie as being in the name of female empowerment is grossly misdirected. It takes a lot more than a butt kicking girl in heels killing predators to approach being anything alike to a feminist film.

Ultimately, it’s a worthwhile experiment to see how this film has changed for the camera. If you’re looking for a bit of popcorn and can stand that popcorn tripping every now and then, then Kite is unlikely to be a 90 minutes poorly spent. However, there are many areas that need improvement and it feels likely few would bat an eye at this film if it weren’t for the cult status of its inspiration.

Rating: 2/5 Atoms

NR 2 Atoms - D


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