Kate (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - September 16, 2021
Kate (2021)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes polonium poisoning look cool in this neon-drenched, self-aware and formulaic fight film from Netflix and 87North Productions – master purveyors of the mid-budget Hollywood head-stomper. As an action star, Winstead shone in Scott Pilgrim, was wasted in Gemini Man, and damn-near stole Birds of Prey. She undergoes the obligatory months of training to perform as the titular Kate – an ambiguous title for a rather unambiguous character. She’s a Tokyo-based assassin, groomed into an uber-killer from a young age by shady father figure Varrick (Harrelson). Following a one night stand, she discovers she has been fatally poisoned, and spends her remaining hours trying to find out why. Despite her worsening health – her gradual decomposition throughout the film is grisly but effective – she still somehow maintains the energy to go on a violent rampage through the dark city streets of Tokyo, stabbing and shooting her way through Yakuza gang members to get to the truth, breaking off occasionally to administer a booster shot of pure adrenaline to maintain her killing spree. The editors could have benefitted from a similar shot, given how her race-against-death becomes quite lethargic at times. (We’re not in Crank territory here, folks). Tonally, the film is stalled somewhere between wanting to be a punky, frivolous actioner – complete with souped-up florescent pink cars, over-the-top violence and head-banging Japanese metal; and a far more serious, reflective and cautionary tale in which Kate befriends a young Japanese American girl escaping from her own family trauma. This unbalance probably makes it the weakest of the 87North films so far, lacking the heady fun of Nobody, the rush of Atomic Blonde, or the charm of John Wick. In Winstead’s defence, there isn’t too much of a character for her to explore, other than her love for a drink called ‘Boom boom lemon’, and some quite antiquated, cliched maternal instincts because, you know, she’s a woman; so, she wisely decides to simply play it straight, moody and mysterious. Admirably, Winstead continues the 87North tradition of immersing herself in the fight scenes, clearly performing most of the action herself, which relies heavily on some quite graphic violence and blood splatter. When the Yakuza subplot becomes more prominent in the final stages – featuring the great Japanese actors Tadanobu Asano and Jun Kunimura – suddenly a far more intriguing film starts to emerge; but this might just be because it conjures up thoughts of much better, contemporary-set Japanese crime films. You will also guess the twist within the first five minutes of the film starting. As female-led Netflix action films go – and there are a lot of these now – this is still a decent offer, and a vast improvement on the majority of incoherent, ‘shakey-cam’, cut-to-shreds, CGI-fuelled hokum that Hollywood likes to churn-out regularly at five times the budget.

Kate is available on Netflix.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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