Friday, October 3, 2014

Microreview [film]: Kite, directed by Ralph Ziman

Delicious Dystopia Blessedly Free of the Sexploitation of the Original, but Lame Main Cast...

Kite, dir. Ralph Ziman. Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2014.

In theaters/on iTunes October 10th.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have seen Umetsu Yasuomi's 1998 anime Kite, and innocents. I'll let you piece together what I mean.

That isn't to say that nothing about Umetsu's anime was good; atmospherically it was a dystopian blast. But whatever enjoyment innocents might have squeezed from that anime was quickly strangled by the anime film's truly shocking—and graphic—sexual exploitation. It truly is not for the faint of heart!

So my expectations were rather low for Ziman's 2014 live-action, Westernized adaptation of the 1998 anime, for two main reasons: 1) I feared they would try a similar sexploitation/borderline pornographic angle, and 2) I doubted the live-action film crew could capture much of the dystopian atmosphere of the original. 

Imagine my surprise when I found both my doubts and my fears unfounded! This version of the story has (virtually) none of the deeply unsettling child pornography-esque depravity of the 1998 anime, yet for all that managed to hang quite a convincing dystopian look on their near-future hellhole of a city and its people. Ziman et al 2, Zhaoyun 0.

But certain aspects of the film didn't quite live up to the surprisingly high production values associated with the visual aesthetic. In particular, the main cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, was a slight disappointment. Presumably they intended to disguise Jackson's character Aker's (corresponding to Akai from the original 1998 anime) evil nature, but the instant Jackson swaggered onto the screen everything about him screamed 'villain!' (and not even in disguise, really). 

The other two main actors, for the roles of Sawa and Oguri, had no on-screen chemistry, and the perverse side of me started rooting for Jackson and hoping he'd somehow drop a flying elbow's worth of beat-down on them because I was so annoyed with their whining and with Oguri's indeterminate quasi-Australian accent. There was no ethno-cultural specificity to any of the main cast, and while I'm sure the filmmakers were pushing for a sort of mongrel hodge-podge Blade Runner-ish megalopolis, that angle fell flat while the supporting cast, most of whom were from South Africa, ironically managed to make the story come alive. Main cast 0, Character actors 1.

You know a good guy lacks charisma when you find yourself screaming at the bad guy, "Just shoot him!"

So in conclusion, Kite is quite an entertaining film, with a few good action sequences, a fine supporting cast and great production values vis-a-vis dystopian atmosphere as well as some nifty special effects scattered like pearls throughout. Unfortunately, those pearls were scattered among the swine, so to speak, of a weak main cast, a plot so predictable we all know what's what about three minutes in, and the considerable (though by no means unwelcome!) oddity of remaking an animated film notorious for its extremely explicit sex scenes and removing, well, all the sex. Is Kite great? No. But it's "pretty good", and you can take that to the bank! (Whatever that means!)

The Math

Objective assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for great dystopian atmosphere (and special effects eye candy), +1 for fine supporting cast, +1 for removing the deeply troubling sexploitation angle

Penalties: -1 for stripping away the core of the original (i.e., the deeply troubling sexploitation angle), -1 for a mediocre trio of main cast members

Nerd coefficient: 7/10 "An enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"

[Stop right there, furious would-be (character?) assassins! Here at NOAF, a 7/10 means Kite is well above average, teetering on the edge of really good-ness!]

Warning: read NOAF regular and sf/f aficionado Zhaoyun's reviews at your own risk, as razor-sharp wit like this can, to quote The Running Man, slice you limb from limb into quivering, bloody sushi! Or at any rate, its opinionated-ness (man, that's a lot of i's, o's and n's! Who knew that 'opinion' minus 3.14159 = 'onion'?) can leave you mildly annoyed...