Based on a 1998 anime of the same name, Kite is a gory revenge saga that takes place in a future so bleak it gags under its own layers of decay. Child sex slavery is the cornerstone of the black market, and desperate, ineffectual cops collude with teenage vigilantes to play judge, jury, and executioner against underworld kingpins.
After she’s poured into skin-tight dresses and five-inch heels, Sawa (India Eisley) — a waifish, tortured, drug-addicted assassin — eviscerates scores of henchmen with whatever’s handy: a handgun loaded with hollow-point exploding bullets, a butcher’s cleaver, or her porcelain-white, doll-like hands. The gallons of blood-red corn syrup that get streaked across Eisley’s cherubic face could supply Coney Island with cotton candy for decades. Her mentor (and drug supplier) is Detective Kyle Acker, played with bored resignation by an underused Samuel L. Jackson.
The film’s neo-noir, anime roots are clear. Everything is a shade of smog except for the copious arterial spray and Sawa’s candy-pink wig. It’s grim, stylish, and sets the perfect mood, but isn’t what’s ultimately memorable.
There’s a vague feeling that director Ralph Ziman intended for Sawa to be an empowering female figure. While she does hold her own in a variety of tightly constructed action sequences, her adventures often occur while she’s clad in nothing but underwear. Lingering, low-angle shots of her jogging up staircases in schoolgirl skirts or prowling the streets in bodycon obfuscate attempts to make her more than a fantasy object. In a film that pits the heroine directly against the sexualization of young women, the camera’s gaze itself feels awfully exploitative.