Netflix’s action thriller film, Kate, is nothing out of the box. It is a familiar template film following a hitman on a journey of revenge. Even the most distinguishing element in the film is that the contract killer is poisoned and has only 24 hours to finish off her last target. The conflict has already been put on screen by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor in their Jason Statham film, Crank (2006).
So what makes Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s film stand out from the crowd? To be blunt, nothing except Netflix is making mercenary movies with a female cast, to feel progressive. The Old Guard and Gunpowder Milkshake are among the new lot. Well, it’s good to have a formula in maths, but in art, it’s an easy way out, and sooner or later, the audience will understand the tricks.
An American mercenary, Varrick (Woody Harrelson), runs a contract killer agency, and Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is his most lethal weapon. Varrick took Kate under his wings after her mother’s murder and transformed her into a ruthless killer. Kate started killing people for Varrick, which increased his bank account.
The film begins with one such assignment in Osaka, Japan. Kate is ordered to shoot a Japanese man near the Shitenno-Ji Temple, but she hesitates when she finds a small teenage girl with the target. She requests to abort the mission, but a voice on the talkie commands her to pull the trigger. Kate shoots the man but repents it afterward.
10 months later, Kate demands an early retirement from Varrick because she cannot forget the Osaka incident. She was of the same age when she lost her mother. Thus, profoundly felt for the kid who had to look at a man dying in front of her. Remorse keeps haunting her throughout the film. Kate now wants a life of her own, away from Varrick’s command.
Kate meets a man, Stephen, at a bar at night, ending up in a hotel room. Moments later, she receives orders for her last mission at Roppongi Tower. She braces herself and takes a position to shoot the man but suddenly gets dizzy. Kate misses the target and has to run away, but her body starts crumbling under the influence of poison. She ends up in a hospital where a doctor informs her that her bloodstream is poisoned with a radioactive material, Polonium-210, to be precise. She has only 24 hours to survive as there is no antidote to radioactive poisoning.
Kate runs away from the hospital and swears to take revenge on the people who poisoned her.
Who Poisoned Kate and Why?
Kate tracked down Stephen, who told her that a Yakuza club manager, Kazuo Sato of the Kijima clan, had ordered him to poison Kate’s drink. Kate informed Varrick about the poisoning and the Yakuza involvement, who finally shed some light on the matter. According to Varrick, the man, Kate shot in Osaka, was Yakuza boss, Kijima’s younger brother, Kentaro. To take revenge for his brother’s death, Kijima would have probably ordered a death sentence for the assassin.
However, by the end of the film, it was duly underlined that Kijima’s main advisor, Renji, poisoned Kate. He was associated with Varrick, and together they planned to overthrow Kijima from the clan. Renji wanted to eliminate everyone in Kijima’s family, so he hired Varrick to kill Kentaro in Osaka and Kijima in Tokyo. He even ordered his loyal hitman, Shinzo, to shoot Kijima’s niece Ani-chan to clear his way to the throne.
But when Renji learned that Kate was taking early retirement and was leaving Varrick forever, he did his new friend a favor and poisoned Kate behind Varrick’s back. Varrick wanted to get hold of the Yakuza business, and thus he ignored Renji’s stupid move and let Kate die in vain.
Why didn’t Kijima accept his niece, Ani, until the end?
Kijima’s younger brother, Kentaro, fell in love with a foreigner (probably an American woman they call “Gaijin” in Japanese). Kijima considered Kentaro’s daughter, Ani-chan, half-blood and thus never accepted her as a part of his Royal Yakuza family.
However, in the end, when Kate confronted Kijima at his family house in Hottazaka, Kijima revealed that his biggest regret was abandoning the little soul, Ani, when she needed a family the most. Hopefully, Kate didn’t kill Kijima. He was able to reconcile his relationship with Ani.
Why did Varrick take Ani with him?
Through Kijima, Kate finally understood the plan being weaved by her father-figure, Varrick. He was nothing but a narcissistic mercenary who could go to any lengths to increase his power and bank balance. She remembered an incident from her childhood where Varrick trained and molded her into a ruthless killer after her mother’s death. He gave Kate guns to kill her mother’s hitman, but when she confronted the malefactor, she found that the guns were empty. In the quick of the moment, Kate grabbed a knife and butchered the man’s body. It was the kind of horrible depths that Varrick pushed Kate into, from which she never really recovered. To put an end to her murderous pursuit, Kate let Kijima live.
After Varrick found that his most lethal weapon, Kate, was going to perish from the radioactive poisoning, he initiated the process of creating another vengeful hitman. Varrick mischievously plotted seeds of hatred and revenge in Ani by revealing that Kate destroyed her whole family by killing her father and uncle. When Kate came out of Kijima’s house, Ani took a shot at her in vengeance.
However, the bullet didn’t kill Kate. Kijima brought her another antidote that gave her an extra hour to save Ani from the wrath of Varrick and finish her vengeance.
‘Kate’ Ending Explained
Kate, aided by Kijima and his Yakuza mob, infiltrated Renji’s stronghold and slaughtered everything on their way to Renji and Varrick. Kijima challenged Renji to sword fighting and killed him. Varrick tried to run away and took Ani hostage, but Kate approached him in the end, and they both took a shot at each other. Fortunately, Kate’s bullet killed Varrick.
Later, Ani escorted a bleeding Kate towards the terrace, at the same location, where Varrick convinced Kate that it was the start of the rest of her life. Ironically, Kate’s life ended at the same juncture, where it all began. However, in all her pursuits, she saved Ani from falling into the wrong hands and thus saved an innocent girl from turning into a killing machine like her. It was Kate’s atonement in the end.
Yotsuya Kaidan – The Story of Oiwa Explained – Did Varrick Kill Kate’s Mother?
Kijima compares Kate’s journey with a famous Japanese ghost story, Yotsuya Kaidan. In the Ghost Story of Yotsuya, a beautiful bride, Oiwa, marries a ronin Tamiya Iemon. But unhappy in the marriage, Oiwa wants to divorce Lemon. In his treacherous scheme, Lemon murders Oiwa’s father, Yotsuya Samon, and promises to avenge her father’s death if she agrees not to divorce her.
Later, another lord, Itô Kihei’s granddaughter, Oume, falls in love with Lemon. Itô and Oume plot a scheme to spoil Oiwa’s beauty and persuade Lemon to marry Oume.
Lemon, a selfish man, gets an opportunity to cut off ties with Oiwa and a chance to marry the wealthy lord’s granddaughter. He pays one of his friends to exploit Oiwa to blame her for adultery and divorce her. However, Oiwa learns about Lemon’s plot and tries to avenge but accidentally kills herself. After her death, Oiwa’s ghost or onryo (a vengeful spirit) torments Lemon, and he descends into madness.
Like the ghost of Oiwa, a poisoned Kate cheats death to take revenge, but as Kijima underlined, these endeavors, they’re never simple. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan has plotted some references from the famous Yotsuya Kaidan play, like Kate yearning for “Boom Boom Lemon.” But if one looks at the larger picture, these are easily forgettable devices that lack proper implementation and depth.
If one wants to theorize, it can be possible to some extent, that Varrick ordered the murder of Kate’s mother. So that he can transform the somber soul into a lethal weapon. Hence, like the original play, in the end, Kate (as Oiwa’s Onryo) torments and takes revenge from her nemesis, Varrick (or Tamiya Iemon). And similarly, at some point, in his narcissism, Varrick leaves Kate (Oiwa) and picks up Ani (rich lord’s granddaughter, Oume) for selfish reasons. However, these are just theories only if one wants to look further.
Kate is a 2021 Action Thriller film directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. The film is streaming on Netflix.