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‘Kate’: Bad acting and the fundamental question of human existence

| Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Emma Kirner

When I first heard about “Kate,” it was introduced to me as a perpetrator of anti-Asian violence in that the majority of the Asian characters serve as cannon fodder for the white heroine. The next time I heard about “Kate,” it was number one on Netflix. I decided to momentarily put aside my prejudice against Woody Harrelson for promoting the “5G causes COVID” conspiracy theory on his Instagram account last year and give this movie a shot.

For a mid-budget Netflix action, the “mise-en-scene” is equivalently appealing — cyberpunkish in the way all movies set in Japan are (think about “Ghost in the Shell” or “Blade Runner”). Admittedly, there is no claim towards cultural accuracy or attempt at winning any awards, perhaps not having the time to go beyond the LED, anime and katana stereotypes, but in the same way, it could also be argued that there’s no reason the white-dominated crew and cast needed to set “Kate” in Japan. Why shouldn’t we hold all movies, regardless of genre, to similar standards of cultural credibility?

Unfortunately, despite the female John Wick angle, the cinematography simply doesn’t have enough artistic value on its own to justify the sheer amount of plot-obfuscating action scenes. A confusing number of family members are introduced, seemingly for the entire purpose of being killed off within minutes. Post-viewing, only three characters come to the forefront of my mind: Kate (the titular antihero), Ani (Kate’s teenage sidekick) and Varrick (Kate’s handler). Generally, with the exception of an admittedly cool close-up of fingers getting sliced off in the direction of the lens, the violence quickly becomes tedious.

But the actual worst part of the entire movie is Miku Martineau’s Ani. Supposedly an orphaned teenager of her family’s internal power struggle, the creators attempt to do too much with too little. Part of it is just crappy lines and a too-sleek outfit that doesn’t align with the gung-ho personality Martineau attempts to portray, but the other part can only be attributed to the obvious emotional disconnect between the actress and the character. While Ani rarely goes a single sentence without some sort of expletive, the lack of emotional commitment makes the “get lost” unaggressive, the “you’re a badass killer, motherf*****” uninspirational and “no s*** from no dudes,” honestly, just kind of awkward.

The narrative attempts to be fresh and subversive in making Kate beaten up and wretched (literally dying gruesomely of radiation poisoning) rather than polished and sexy in the way mainstream female superheroes tend to be. The single best sentence in the entire hour and 40 minutes is when Kate realizes that the culprit behind her poisoning — the entire premise of the movie — was Varrick, the man who raised her, all along. With a ticking clock in her eyes, Kate desperately attempts to make meaning of a lifetime of contract killing and her final mad rampage through Japan: “I’m dying. I have to finish … I have to finish something.” This humanely rendered conflict-narrative shift from Japanese underworld politics to our fundamental human desire for existence arguably redeems the entire movie. We too, can’t help but wonder: If I only had 24 hours left to live, what would I do?

Title: “Kate”

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Martineau, Woody Harrelson

Genre: Action

Shamrocks: 3 out 5

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