Yasuomi Umetsu’s Kite is a tricky proposition for a remake. A film whose protagonist, a schoolgirl assassin working for rogue cops, is an ongoing victim of statutory rape and brainwashing by her caretakers is uncomfortable enough when depicting animated drawings, never mind real live people. The update–from director Ralph Ziman and screenwriter Brian Cox–doubles the discomfort, transporting the anime’s tale to a candy-colored future ghetto borrowed from a EuropaCorp production. It’s swarming with roving packs of grime-stained brown and black people, free-running around tenements while menacing lily-white teenagers with Japanese names, a xenophobe’s idea of multiculturalism. The handler for India Eisley’s Sawa is even portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in menace mode. While Ziman tries to sand off the edges (Jackson is never portrayed molesting his charge), the character is no less horrific: an adult man doping a teen girl into a zombified super-state before dangling her in front of a sex-trafficking ring. He even gets upset when she opts to slaughter a roomful of traffickers, rather than be passed along for a better sabotage position. Kite 2014 otherwise seems confused about its sexual content, frequently stripping Eisley to a shirt and panties and teasing half-reveals of her body, acting as if she is empowering herself rather than being exploited.
Even the action is muddled and dull, though accomplished (lots of slick tracking shots). Like her anime counterpart, Eisley’s Sawa has a special gun which fires exploding bullets, yet her preferred murder weapon is a tucked-away blade–potential squandered (what, no exploding bullets to a bad guy’s genitals?). Further, Umetsu used guns in the anime to show Sawa is conditioned to kill: she’s desensitized to violence until a failed attempt forces her into survival mode. Ziman portrays Sawa as a miniskirt-sporting Hit-Girl knockoff, adorned with arterial spray.