Kate. MA15+, 106 minutes. Three stars
As I rack up additional hours of screen time in this latest lockdown, I've been having an unexpected career retrospective for the American actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
My past week has included bingeing the space-aliens-have-taken-over-the-Senate series Brain Dead and, years after everyone else, Fargo, both on Stan and both featuring Winstead in lead roles.
Winstead is winsome I might say if I were feeling alliterative, but it's also true. She's a refined and naturalistic performer who can switch from comedy to drama and back again with a raised eyebrow.
She's had a long career for a 36-year-old, beginning with child actor roles on Touched By An Angel and the soapie Passions in the late 1990s and with memorable turns in modern cult classics Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Death Proof.
Since her turn as The Huntress in the DC film Birds of Prey last year, internet geeks the world over are fanboying over Winstead, and with this new Netflix film Kate, her status as internet queen should be cemented.
Kate is a highly skilled gaijin assassin working in Japan, and in the role Winstead speaks fluent Japanese and kicks all kinds of ass, particularly of the Yakuza kind. She takes an absolute beating from gun, sword and a variety of more impromptu weaponry and she gives it right back with an aesthetic brutalism that reminds me of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley from Alien 3 and a striking familiarity to Karen Gillan in Gunpowder Milkshake.
Kate is a meticulous professional killer, appointed to jobs by her mentor and friend Varrick (Woody Harrelson). Her impeccable kill record is tarnished on a job targeting a major Yakuza figure, and she soon realises that her aim has been thrown off because she has been poisoned.
With her condition deteriorating and death certain within the day, Kate sets out on a final act of revenge on the people who ordered her own death. Along the way, she finds herself in charge of Ani (Miku Martineau), daughter of one of her former kills and whose uncle is among those responsible for Kate's poisoning.
With Ani's help, Kate works her way through a network of killers and thugs on a night of redemption and unexpected insight.
Kate enjoys all that lovely Netflix money, so this is a dark and beautiful experience, with Tokyo and Osaka street scenes of neon reflected in rain pools, and gorgeous apartments of the rich and shady getting absolutely destroyed in close-quarters fist fights.
French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan's appreciation of Japanese film gives us a handful of brilliant nods and some new approaches to staging fight sequences.
Screenplay writer Umair Aleem cites Sergio Leonne and comic books as childhood influences and he creates here a world mashing his loves together, a brilliant gaijin killer working in a neon pop world to a J-pop soundtrack. What his script lacks in dialogue it more than makes up for in opportunities for Winstead to get physical. Its plot isn't anything you haven't seen a few dozen times before, so it's lucky that Nicolas-Troyan's stylistic direction distracts from the plot turns you can predict throughout.
The film's effects team do a great job with an appreciable amount of blood and brain matter exploding throughout.
I applaud the fight choreographer for the first use in film I've seen of a cappuccino machine portafilter handle used as a stabbing weapon.
I've already waxed lyrical about Winstead in her female-John-Wick role - I can't promise her dialogue delivery sounds authentic to the Japanese ear, but she performs it in an unrehearsed manner.
Martineau is both sweet and furious as Kate's sidekick and wannabe apprentice.
A spectacular role is fleshed out in glorious tattooed sexiness by Japanese pop star Miyavi as a queer Yakuza figure who gives Kate more than a run for her money.
Yeah, you might have seen John Wick and Nobody and Gunpowder Milkshake and three dozen other familiar films this emulates.
But it's a boring and lonely lockdown and this is a flashy, violent bit of distraction.