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The Fine Print
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Kite © Yasuomi Umetsu/Green Bunny
The French Connection?
With an eye for action and a flamboyant sense of humor, filmmaker Luc Besson has quickly become one of the most prominent, contemporary French film makers. A light sampling of his works will no doubt include several hits, from La Femme Nikita (remade as Point of No Return in the U.S., Black Cat in Hong Kong, and a syndicated weekly cable TV series), to The Professional (which marked the U.S. debut of Jean Reno and the rise of Natalie "Queen Amidala" Portman's star), to box office smash The Fifth Element. Currently Besson is reported to be working on one of the many "Joan of Arc" movies which seem to be growing out of Hollywood like so much crab weed, and the upcoming Tomb Raider flick. Stylistically though, Besson's juxtaposition of intense action with comedic hijinks could easily be described as anime-like, and from the look of his oeuvre, Kite is right up his alley.
From both character and plot standpoints, The Professional and La Femme Nikita bear the closest resemblance to Kite and its frenetic action intermixed with ill-fated love. Nikita is about a down-and-out street punk who gets Shanghaied by the French government and enrolled in a bizarre form of assassin/top-secret-government-operative school. Years go by, Nikita hones and perfects her killing acumen, and is finally released into society where she attempts to live a normal life (which involves picking up a grocery store clerk and cultivating a meaningful relationship, not unlike Kite's heroine and her attempts to befriend a fellow assassin that also works retail). Alas, the life of a professional killer isn't simple, especially when she's required to drop any and everything, walk into a bathroom, quickly assemble a high-powered rifle, and start shooting all the while pretending that she's taking a shower. Keeping true to form, Nikita's ending is bittersweet.
Although his role in La Femme Nikita was only minor (as, you guessed it, an assassin), Jean Reno takes center stage in The Professional as "Leon," a six-foot plus French "cleaner" who takes his assignments out of a deli run by Danny Aiello, drinks a carton of milk a day, sleeps in a chair while wearing sunglasses and half a dozen hand guns, and kills his targets before they even know he's in the room. Throw in Gary Oldman as a maniacal, pill-popping, slush fund-saving cop and Natalie Portman as an inquisitive urban youth with a fondness for Leon eclipsed only by her dislike for the shamble of a life she leads, and the rest writes itself. Eventually Portman moves in with Reno and begs that she be taught his trade, but Leon has different plans for her future (particularly one that doesn't involve gun battles with SWAT teams and hasty daylight getaways). In a particularly anime-esque scene Portman's character Mathilda inquires into Leon's knowledge of popular American movies. She the proceeds to leave the living room only to return dressed as Charlie Chapman, Marilyn Monroe, and a few other cornerstones of cinema, all of which Leon is unable to recognize. (Where did this incredible wardrobe come from?) At the risk of sounding redundant, The Professional also comes to a close on a somber note.
One of the more salient points of comparison between Besson's films and Kite is that of male-female relationships, particularly that of a man in a father-figure/ mentor position. In Nikita and Kite the heroine is both picked out, trained by, and romantically involved with a mysterious man claiming to be able to offer her a new life. As sincere as he attempts to be, his motivations don't go too far beyond satisfying his own ego and corrupting an impressionable young woman. In the case of Mr. Akai, his control of Sawa is all the more sinister, especially when we take into account how Sawa became indebted in his service. Both Sawa and Nikita struggle to free themselves from their respective guardian's control, yet at the same time feel ineffably tied to him, and somewhat attracted to him.
Second, the issue of love, or more practically companionship, plays a big role in all three features. By definition assassins live solitary, detached lives, so it's no surprise that each clings so desperately to whatever semblance of a relationship they come across. Sawa looks to Oburi not only as a fellow assassin who has shared some of her experiences but also as a potential way out of her miserable existence, and an object of affection and understanding. Leon is initially put off by Mathilda, but grows to accept and care for her, something he never allows himself to do. Nikita, in a vane attempt to create a "normal" domestic life also searches for solace in her male companion. But such is the life of a hired hit-man/woman, fighting for a cause they've never believed in only to chance upon a reason to live, but then it's always too late.
Last, the drive to survive for Sawa, Leon, and Nikita is invariably pushed to the limit when their professional lives jeopardize their pseudo-private ones. Betrayal always acts as a catalyst for action (and gobs of violence), resulting in an endless slew of close-calls and last chances lost. Consequently, the greatest shock is when our killers realize that those who professed to being their protectors are only seeking to do them even more harm and that they have been duped all along. Trust no one? Most of the time, that's the only luxury Sawa, Leon, and Nikita can afford.
Although not nearly as nihilistic as Besson's works, Kite coalesces with La Femme Nikita and The Professional at several points. Tone, pacing, deliverance, and execution, all contain Wittgensteinian "family resemblances" that make these works of media all the more similar.