Kate is a Taurus, no further questions

With Kate, Mary Elizabeth Winstead finally gets her ‘movie title that is just a woman’s first name’

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Blame the fact I’m a Taurus, but in recent months I have fixated on a certain brand of Japanese canned iced coffee. I’ve had internal meltdowns when it’s sold out in stores, and have even made fake #spon tagging the company, in hopes they’ll send me free boxes. (No, it did not work.)

All this is to say that I really related to the titular Kate of Kate, which is streaming later today on Netflix. To be clear, I didn’t relate to Kate because she’s a poisoned assassin who uses her last living day to seek revenge –though that level of stubbornness is Taurean culture – but because she counts a Japanese fizzy drink called ‘Lemon Boom Boom’ among life’s greatest pleasures. 

Streaming 5pm
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If your brain is as internet-rotted as mine is, you’ll agree that Kate is a perfect film title. Of the many Letterboxd lists, a scroll through “movie titles that are just a woman’s first name” offers the most overpowering serotonin boost. Amelie, Carol, Carrie, meet Kate. Who is she?

The film’s main character, Kate is deadly with a sniper gun, a kitchen knife, and a Yakitori grill. She is also almost always lit by bisexual neon lighting as she runs through Tokyo; loves Lemon Boom Boom and neutral clothing; and does not want to traumatise children! 

We first meet Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on a compromising mission, reluctant to shoot a Yakuza target, as this would mean a young daughter would witness her father’s death. After she’s forced to shoot, she tells her mentor/boss/father figure Varrick (Woody Harrelson) that she wants out. Years later, on Kate’s final mission, she’s poisoned and has just 24 hours to hunt down the Yakuza member responsible -- which involves holding that same little girl Ani (Miku Martineau), now an angsty, troubled teen, hostage. Like Mathilda in Léon: The Professional, Ani can more than hold her own, and the two build an unlikely alliance to find Kate’s killer before her time is up. 

This relationship is the stabilising core of Kate, an intentionally frantic film that uses Tokyo as a dizzying, overstimulating backdrop of bright colour, garish fashion, and blaring J-pop. While Kate isn’t sci-fi, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) was clearly inspired by the neon-grit of Cyberpunk, giving the film a dystopic, futuristic edge. Aesthetically, it’s a nod to Blade Runner, with the impressive bloody action of John Wick or Atomic Blonde.

Rather than match that world with an equally stylish character, our gaijin assassin isn’t one for theatrics. But Kate doesn’t need bright hair, bold outfits or one-liners to carry the film -- instead, stoicism sees her through dire circumstances, treating her increasingly abject, failing body as if it was no big deal even as she convulses and her throat turns purple. Besides, young Ani’s the colourful killer, a punk teen with a love of swearing.

We already knew that Winstead was a skilled action star (not just from Birds Of Prey, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or Gemini Man either. Pay some respect to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter!), able to build a rich inner world with the slightest of facial expressions in-between flips and kicks. But Kate is some of her best work. Winstead winces with every new wound and bruise, on top of the emotional toll of having a few hours to live. 

Early into their partnership, Ani calls Kate a Terminator, but she isn’t a robot: her body keeps the score, and Ani helps her shed the cold assassin exterior, too. Meanwhile, it’s a brutal, relentless fight to the finish. What’s more Taurean than that?

Kate is streaming on Netflix from 5pm today.

Watch these too:

  • Extraction, the 2020 hit starring Chris Hemsworth as an Australian mercenary who rescues an Indian drug lord’s son from a kidnapping. Written by Joe Russo of Marvel fame and directed by frequent collaborator and stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, it’s all about taking action scenes to another level.

  • Lucy, which pairs Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman with French action auteur Luc Besson and a sci-fi script about a drug mule who becomes a psychokinetic, post-human killer against her will.

  • Salt, a film featuring Angelina Jolie as a possible Russian spy on the lam. Honestly, if that sentence doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.

  • Birds Of Prey: come for Margot Robbie enjoying the hell out of DC anti-hero Harley Quinn’s first solo film, and stay for the supporting cast, featuring Winstead, Junrnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messina and Rosie Perez.

  • John Wick, a neo-noir thriller where Keanu Reeves seeks revenge on those who killed his dog. Kate is definitely indebted to this film’s love of stylish, excessive violence (to be honest, almost every action movie post-2014 is, and we’re the better for it!).

I can’t stop thinking about:

  • Oscar Issac sexily sniffing (??) Jessica Chastain’s arm on the Venice Film Festival’s red carpet, thankfully captured in slow-motion. Considering Issac’s wife is literally just out of shot, it’s giving me Bradley Cooper and Gaga during the A Star Is Born press circuit: a performance of lust purely to play with us ahead of their Scenes From A Marriage mini-series. I hope they keep it up.

  • The very surreal stories from the Money Heist cast in this GQ story about the moments they realised they were famous famous, such as Pedro Alonso, who plays Berlin, noticing that while he was on holiday taking in Michelangelo’s statue of David, everyone else nearby was staring at him. 

  • This tweet, which may or may not inspire my 10,000-word magnum opus comparing The Office’s Michael Scott to Money Heist’s Professor.

  • This quote from Vulture’s tribute to actor Michael K. Williams, most well-known for playing Omar in The Wire, who died age 54 this week: “What’s most fascinating about Williams’s career is the way he used [Omar] as a foundation for a series of performances that seemed to be in conversation with one another, the society that consumed them, and the actor’s complex, contradictory psychology. Expanding viewers’ minds was his superpower.” 

  • Jemima Kirke’s Vanity Fair profile, where she admits she’d never heard of Sally Rooney before signing up to film adaptation of Conversations With Friends. How?? (She also talks about her upcoming role as the new headmaster in Sex Education, ahead of season three’s release next Friday.) 

And finally, the film of the year:

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Jared Richards is a critic living on Gadigal Land who has written for The Guardian, The Monthly, Junkee and more. He tweets at @jrdjms
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