The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
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There was a moment, right at the very beginning of Kitty The Killer, that was almost intriguing in its Off-The-Rack nature. A man we don’t know yet gets a phone call warning him that a man named Wong (Pat Chatburirak) has procured something called the Black Box and is selling it to the Japanese, which is a betrayal of The Agency. The man, who we learn is called Grey Fox (Tao Somchai Khemklad), calls Wong for a bit of predator-prey banter and director Lee Thongkham lets the whole thing basically plays itself out in roughly two or three minutes of decidedly ‘been there, done that’ screentime.
And with that, I got a tiny interior frisson of cautious optimism.
Because that’s the not-so-dirty, not entirely secret dirty little secret behind the action genre: plot is really more of a necessary evil than anything; in a sense, it can actually be the thing that gets in the way of what we came there to see. Indeed, one of the nicest things about the action as a genre is that it’s a genre that allows for a hell of a lot of leeway.
If comedy doesn’t make you laugh, it is functionally worthless. If horror movies don’t give you at least some kind of visceral kick, they’re beneath contempt. If science fiction fails to bring a certain amount of spectacle or invention to the table,
When you get right down to it, action is the only genre that can get by on style and/or attitude alone.
So where for most films, such unoriginality could be ruinous, an action film is this upfront with its exposition, and so Book Basic in its details, the possibility exists that the filmmakers see the story details as the hindrance they so often are, and instead of wasting our time pretending that it’s actually important or innovative, put their energies towards getting all that stuff out of the way in as quick and efficient a manner as possible as to better concentrate on the most important thing for audiences: the cathartic mayhem of dudes getting the shit kicked out of them.
Ultimately, the film will turn out to be a bit… plottier in its plotting and rather weirder around the edges, but hey… that can work, too.
Grey Fox sends his number one killer Dina (Ploypailin Thangprapaporn) to take out Wong and retrieve the Black Box. After a stylish showdown, Dina retrieves the box, but Wong manages to escape. He goes to the lovely, purple haired Ms. Violet (Janie Ratipan Panpinij, labeled as “coordinator under The Agency” in a chyron, always a helpful touch for audience and note taking film critic alike), insisting that something be done, lest the Japanese wing of The Agency be force to go to way with the Malaysian wing. Violet sends her number one killer, Nina The Faceless (who, spoiler alert, actually has a face, and a cool mask to cover it) to take out Grey Fox and get the box back. As you do.
There is another showdown, a bloody daylight back alley brawl, wherein Dina arrives to save her guardian but can’t quite hack it, and it seems like the course is set: Dina will go on a roaring rampage of retribution, taking on the entire Agency to attain justice for the loss of Grey Fox.
But that’s when things go… in a decidedly different direction.
In an absolute left field turn in terms of tone, we are introduced to Charlie (Denkhun Ngamnet), an ambitious young executive whose narration about hard work and self-improvement do little to paper over the fact he is a total bumbler and an absolute goof.
Just as we’re wondering why we’re following this yutz around, Charlie stumbles right into Gray Fox, who is temporarily less dead than you’d expect from previous events. He tasks Charlie with rescuing Dina from The Agency and, to ensure compliance, puts a hit out on Charlie’s family if he refuses.
Pretty good motivation, all things considered.
The movie twists and turns from there, but eventually settles into something of a brain damaged cross between Wanted, Kick-Ass and John Wick, which I mean as a compliment. Charlie agrees to become the new Grey Fox and undergoes rigorous training at the hands of the all-female Kitty Killer Squad.
Now, I can’t tell if it’s an intentional joke that he’s undergoing the exact sort of ‘tear you down and build you back up again’.sort of program that we’ve come to know and love from every assassin movie ever in order to become… the guy who sends them on missions. But it amused me either way.
(SIDENOTE: There are flashbacks to the origins of the members of the Kitty Killer squad, and they make use of a trend in these types of movies where as part of their conditioning, the trainees are forced to kill an adorable animal they’ve been taking care of, in order to prove they can be ruthless. I very much appreciate this, because it;s like the opposite of William Goldmans’ advice: Now we kill the cat!)
Kitty The Killer goes heavy on the mythology and the comic book style world building, only instead of a Keanu Reeves or a James McAvoy, we have more of a Thai Kevin Hart. And it’s a shift that takes a bit of time to adjust to; the first act is hardly serious business, but it’s operating in more of a winking, smart-assed sort of way. But when Ngamnet comes in with his flailing limbs and maniacal laughter (seriously, if they’re hiring a new Joker, he’s at least earned an audition), things start trending more than a little slapstick-y.
Luckily, as these things go it’s actually a good comic performance. Anybody who’s seen their share of Thai action movies knows that tonal mismatches can be pare for the course, graphic violence mixing with comedy so broad that even Hong Kong movies would ask them to take it down a notch. But Ngamnet tempers his performance so, while it can get very silly at times, never does so at the expense of the dramatic beats. In fact, arguably his loosey goosey charm keeps you from asking a lot of questions about The Agency’s hiring policies, because it’s probably best we don’t linger on the implications of an organization that exclusively recruits underage female assassins that all dress like schoolgirls.
Plus, for what its worth he’s the only person with an insane action hero body who actually acknowledges that he has an insane action hero body; his preening, posing, and inability to stop feeling his own pecs during his shirtless scenes is a bit that, for me at least, never got old.
At the end of the day there really isn’t that much in Kitty The Killer that die hard action fans haven’t seen before; it is a movie that was written by four writers, and it is a movie that definitely feels like it was written by four writers. But I continue to insist that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, and in this case, I don’t think it is. The fight choreography by Sumret Mueangputt is good but not spectacular, and there’s a welcome amount of gore (including a blink-and-you-miss-it decapitation, my second favorite kind of decapitation). And they even throw in the occasional animated shot during the fights, a stylistic choice which is always appreciated. A post-credit scene indicates they’re thinking franchise, and I’m not quite sure if there’s enough meat on the bone for all that. But as a singular experience, you could certainly do much, much worse.
Incidentally… absolute earworm of a theme song this film has, been stuck in my head for days. Seriously, I think I need to call one of those doctors that drills a hole in your brain…