Netflix’s new action-thriller, Kate is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the titular character who plays an elite assassin. An original concept written by Umair Aleen takes elements from Japanese 70s and 90s movies. It’s an adventurous, gruesome, violent and bloody entertaining movie drenched in the neon lights of Tokyo City and Asian tropes in Western cinema. Kate offers familiar elements that were previously seen in Atomic Blonde and, more recently, Netflix’s Gunpowder Milkshake, in a somewhat predictable action movie.
Kate (Winstead) is an elite assassin who works for her handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson). Varrick rescued her after a horrible accident. For 12 years, she has never missed a shot. One night after being assigned to kill a yakuza boss; Kijima (Jun Kunimura), she uncharacteristically misses the target. She finds out that she was poisoned the night before, leading to her failure. Unfortunately, she has less than 24 hours to kill the person who was responsible for this. She kidnaps Kijima’s niece Ani (Miku Martineau), whose father was one of her recent targets. Using Ani, she attempts to find his location and kill him. The journey leads to a trail of blood and emotional bonding between the anti-heroine and sidekick.
As the titular character, Winstead does a fantastic job of performing the silent and gloomy assassin with the talent of maiming, slicing and shooting the yakuza clan with such ease. Her previous experiences in Ang Lee’s The Gemini Man and Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) has proven her to be one of the leading action actors in the industry. Winstead performed most of the action sequences by herself, and they are exhilarating. Stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio (Birds of Prey) choreographed gruesome and deadly action sequences in dark alleys and outdoor markets in Tokyo.
Kate’s cinematographer, Lyle Vincent bathes the locations in neon lights and incredible camera work. Even though the entirety of the movie takes place at night, Vincent lights up the screen with lighting and colour. The cyberpunk look of Kate is inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, immersed in neon colours and futuristic visual elements. Vincent and Nicolas-Troyan wanted to replicate the visual elements of sci-fi and cyberpunk into the world of Kate.
Despite these aspects, there are problems in the movie that must be addressed. This is specifically regarding the number of Asian tropes and violence against the Japanese yakuza gang. The movie is set in Japan and highly inspired by much Japanese pop culture, and yet there is a Western lens over the movie. It’s an intense revenge movie. But this means that a white woman kills Asian men on-screen during a time when there is an increase in anti-Asian hate crime. The scenes where Kate is slicing their hands and shooting into their heads without a second thought presents chilling and uncomfortable moments.
It’s not a perfect story from beginning to end either. While these action sequences are entertaining and disturbing, Kate’s characterization and her relationship with Ani, and the result is predictable. The story does not dive deep into the trauma of Kate’s childhood. Hollywood’s interest in creating movies with female assassins led by male writers is where the problem lies. These women, like Kate, are indestructible and gloomy, obsessed with going after the people who did them wrong. She is never interested in what happens to Kate when Kijima’s associate sends his gang to kill her. She has no humanity and brings a gloomy presence, and Ani and Kate’s relationship feels like a white saviour trope. Ani follows her around and becomes her sidekick after Kate saves her life.
Kate is a bright new entry to a list of the female assassins that seek revenge, but these attempts of female empowerment are bland and repetitive. There are not enough aspects or stories that provide a good representation of the trauma of women and young teenagers and in the case of Kate, the characteristics are not interesting enough either. Although the cinematography is captivating, it still relies on Western viewpoints and inspiration to get the picture across. This subgenre of femme Fatales still has some work to do, and Kate has not subverted the genre yet.
For more coverage on films featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, check out our “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” review!