Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jun Kunimura, Miku Patricia Martineau, Woody Harrelson, Tadanobu Asano, Michiel Huisman, Miyavi, Kazuya Tanabe. 

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Joan Wick

This tough, visceral, violent and bloody action thriller with a high body count will certainly appeal to audiences who liked films such as the recent Nobody and the John Wick series. And also to those who love seeing strong, feisty heroines kicking butt on screen, such as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde and Mad Max: Fury Road, etc, Luc Besson’s tough thriller La Femme Nikita, or the recent female centric actioner Gunpowder Milkshake

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, etc) plays the eponymous heroine here, an assassin raised from a young age by her mentor Varrick (Woody Harrelson) to be a lethally efficient killing machine working for a mysterious and largely anonymous organisation. The film opens in Osaka where Kate is assigned to take out a Yakuza lieutenant. She shoots him in front of the man’s daughter and is filled with mixed feelings and guilt afterward. She wants to leave the trade behind but is lured back for one last hit six months later. She is charged with taking out Kijima (Jun Kunimura, from Midway, etc), the reclusive head of a vicious Yakuza family but she fluffs the assignment.  

Following a one-night stand with a handsome stranger, Kate also discovers that he has been poisoned by a radioactive polonium mickey and has just 24 left to live. She sets out on a violent mission to avenge herself on the gangster she believes was responsible for poisoning her. The best way to get to him is through his beloved niece Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau, making her film debut here), a precocious street wise girl. But Kate learns that, in this dangerous world of assassins and Yakuza gangsters, loyalty only goes so far. She is caught up in a power struggle for control of the Yakuza family. Pursued through the streets of Tokyo by armed and desperate knife-wielding gangsters, Kate is forced to try and protect Ani as well. 

Kate has been written by Umair Aleem, who also wrote the brutal action film Extraction, and it shares a few similar beats. Kate reworks a lot of the old familiar cliches here, including the “one last job that goes wrong” trope and much of what happens here is pretty predictable. The film also shares many familiar tropes with films like Luc Besson’s Leon, in which a tough hitman was forced to protect a precocious girl from killers and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The dynamic of the relationship between Kate and Ani gives the material something of an emotional core. 

This is the sophomore feature for French born filmmaker Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (The Huntsman: Winter War), who has worked as a visual effects specialist on a number of big budget action films, and he handles the material efficiently with a brisk no nonsense and brutal approach that rarely lets up. There are a couple of superbly staged kinetic action sequences including a brutal knife fight and a couple of shootouts that have been well staged by stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio (who has worked on films like John Wick, the Bourne and Fast & Furious franchises, etc). 

Much of the film’s action takes place away from the usual dazzling neon lit landscapes of Tokyo familiar through travel brochures and postcards, but rather occurs in dark, narrow backstreets and alleyways,  which are filled with a palpable sense of menace. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent (the moody black and white Iranian vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, etc) has done a great job with the moody visual style giving it an almost surreal and punk-like aesthetic. He uses handheld camera effectively to give the material a sense of energy and pace. 

Recently Winstead has been moving into more action driven fare like Birds Of Prey, etc, and she acquits herself well in the physically demanding and punishing role as the titular anti-heroine here, but she also manages to bring some real emotion and a hint of vulnerability and weariness to her performance as she deals with her own mortality and her need to protect the traumatised Ani. Martineau is at first a rather annoying presence but she becomes more layered and nuanced as the film unfolds. Veteran Japanese star Kunimura brings a sense of orld world class and dignity to his role as the Yakuza boss. Harrelson has little to do here but he does have a strong and charismatic presence. 

Kate is perfect fodder for action fans who like their carnage bloody, brutal, gritty, but with an edge of realism. 


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