Sunday, January 5, 2014

Samuel L. Jackson Presents...

"Why does Samuel L. Jackson always play a black guy?"

- Perhaps the single greatest YouTube comment of 2014.

A full-length trailer and an R-rating ready sizzle reel for the long-delayed live action adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu's 1998 masterpiece, [A] KITE, is finally upon us. I had assumed this was going to sink into obscurity with the death of director David. R. Ellis, the uh... "visionary" behind Snakes on a Plane and Shark Night*, but when Ellis passed away last January it was completed by Ralph Ziman, who's mostly known for Gangster's Paradise: Jeruselama. No word on who'll be distributing the film yet, but with it having been produced by our friends at The Weinstein Company, it wouldn't surprise me if they release it themselves, at least in North America.

* I mean as little disrespect as possible saying that - you guys know I love garbage. But the man did, honestly, make a movie in which .

The results look... about how you'd expect, I'm sure. I have no idea what the budget on this project was, or how much of it was shot before Ellis died, but the fact is this looks like a cheap straight-to-DVD movie I wouldn't give the time of day to, were it not for the fact that it's - technically, at least - a new adaptation of one of my favorite pieces of media ever spawned. The acting isn't looking too hot, and while it's clear the cinematographer was going out of his way to try and emulate Umetsu's original anime, it just comes off as dull and uninspired without the hyper-human movement, excruciating tactile pain, and pop-cultural self awareness that the OVA was so damned good at delivering.


I'm also not sure what the hell Samuel L. Jackson's talking about when he says that Kite has a "Graphic Novel". Umetsu did release a single Mezzo Danger Service Agency manga, adapting the TV series of the loosely affiliated Kite spin-off Mezzo Forte, but the closest thing to a "Kite Graphic Novel" I'm aware of was the short pornographic comic Yasai, which was included in the A Kite: Complete Work Book as a point of comparison, since some of the ideas present in that short wound up in the OVA. I'm not trying to give Sam any shit - he's consistently proven himself to be a cool guy, and is a surprisingly competent actor when he feels like turning off his Jules persona, and I have little doubt that he's a big fan of Black Lagoon and Ninja Scroll - I just have no fucking idea what he's on about, and that's... weird.

I'm also just gonna come out and say it: What the FUCK is up all this parkour bullshit set to Matrix color filters? The only time that was remotely acceptable was in Punisher: Warzone, and if you've seen it, . I wish that I was more into the idea of this being a Financially Ruined Dystopian State, as that sort of thing usually tickles my fancy, but this iteration appears to have distanced her from her captor - Akai in the original, now possibly "Ymir" for the movie? - seems like a wasted opportunity.

Part of the main appeal for me in the OVA was the fact that it looked at the premise of Leon: The Professional and asked the basic question "What if Jean Reno's character wasn't an honorable man?" Sawa's life as a weapon was a tragic one, made all the worse by the fact that she's simply tuning reality out to ignore the obvious truth that the man who takes care of her through her formative years not only murdered her family, but has been using her as a sex slave since she was barely even an adolescent. This is why I can't stand the edited version: It has far less to do with "hot loli action" and more to do with the question of why Sawa continues to stay with Akai if she has the power to deny him in the first place. One of the most striking moments cut from the

It's certainly gross, but a believable, fascinating gross that puts Sawa in the position of being forced to stand against the man she sees both as her father and her boyfriend. Worse yet, Akai knows how she sees him and uses it against her at every turn. Removing him from the equation makes Sawa's development much less interesting at a glance...


She's hardly the Sawa we know from Umetsu's universe, is she? Frankly with her gaudy hooker gear and neon wig, she looks more like a shittier Hot Topic version Mikura, and her self-serving and violent attitude are a far cry from the cold, lifeless "Welp, got a job to do." persona Sawa exudes in the Kite OVA. Clearly this is a "costume" the heroine wears to attract predators, a bit like the 'transformation' that takes center stage in Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, but... goddamn it, do yourself a favor and don't invite comparisons like that unless you're a Death Wish 2 level entry. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever was overseeing this project's pre-production decided some inspiration from Mezzo Forte was appropriate, but that just calls into question why they're pretending this is an adaptation of Kite in the first place, instead of an original movie that happens to re-use the exploding bullets concept.

Wait a tic... actually, why are Sawa and Oburi "Japanese" if neither character is Japanese, nor is the story set in anything resembling Japan? I know that's a minor thing that doesn't make much difference in a Sci-Fi setting, but it's always a bit weird to see names kept but not locations. Sort of like how it was always weird that Leonardo "White as 2% Milk" DiCaprio was supposed to play a punk kid named "Kaneda". Actually, the 'punk kid' part might be harder to swallow these days, but I'm getting off track...


It's ironic, this hot-pink mess of a character design that looks like a stereotype of what Americans think "Anee May" looks like, as opposed to actually looking anything like Umetsu's largely grounded, hyper-realistic visual sense. Hell, it's actually more obnoxious than the crimson haired oiran in Takashi Miike's Imprint, and he specifically requested that over the top choice because he figured that's how Americans think Japan actually looks!

But whatever, context is everything, and I can't say my hopes for this were ever all that high. I can't with a straight face say this looks any worse than the infamously unbearable Tony Randel directed Fist of the North Star movie, and while this looks bad, at least it doesn't look like it was actively trying to take a dump on the source material, which seemed to have been the driving philosophy behind Dragon Ball: Evolution. And I'd say "Don't forget how bad Devilman was!", but seriously, if you ever saw that god-awful turd, you should repress it hard - harder than that time your "uncle" from across the street taught you how to play Butt Ball in his basement, and then promised he'd stab you in the eyes if you ever told anyone about it.

The premise of Umetsu's OVA - when stripped of its psychological nuance and grim atmosphere, is basically "cute girl assassin who lost her family beats the shit out of larger men with explosive results". If we're lucky, the film will be an inoffensive and disposable ode to its source material that can sit alongside not-particularly-noteworthy live action productions like Shamo, Crying Freeman, and The Guyver: Dark Hero. It's certainly not looking like the next Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, Cutey Honey or even The Wicked City - films that found a way to make their absurd source material work in new and perhaps infuriating ways - but we can rest assured that, if nothing else, it'll be far from the worst of these projects we've ever seen. I mean, shit man, do you remember what a mess that live action Perfect Blue movie was?


ADDENDUM: Despite the release having been cancelled for about a year now due to the film negatives being heavily damaged, Media Blasters now swears that they've got plans to re-release the Kite OVA on Blu-ray to coincide with the new live action film. They also claim they have "big plans" for Kitty Media in 2014, but refuse to give any actual details beyond that... infuriatingly, they won't say if these two things are directly related, which means we might still get the OVA in HD, but only the butchered "Director's Edit" which removes all of the graphic sex entirely. You all know by now how far we can trust anything John Sirabella says, so I personally refuse to get my panties in a tizzy until RightStuf themselves claim the title is shipping.
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