(Cantonese & English dialogue; Chinese & English subtitles)
LONDON–Hong Kong actioner fans should come away purring from “Black Cat,” a sexy spin on the genre that comes within a whisker of being a straight ripoff of “La Femme Nikita.” Pic already has developed a minor cult following among Western buffs and could go wider as a dubbed vid with the right marketing.
Helmer Stephen Shin, who made his rep with a string of Hong Kong yuppie comedies during the ’80s, originally intended a straight remake of the Gallic original but changed course when he found the rights had been snapped up Stateside by Disney. Result, which poses no commercial threat to the skedded U.S. remake, still has clear parallels with the Luc Besson pic (mostly during the early training scenes) but is also simply a further variant on Hong Kong’s long-established femme actioner genre.
Central character is hardboiled loner Catherine (newcomer Jade Leung), who’s arrested for killing a horny truck driver at a roadside diner. After shooting her way out of a Gotham courthouse, she’s kidnapped by the CIA, implanted with a microchip called “Black Cat,” and put through a grueling program by an agent (Simon Yam) to train her as an obedient assassin.
After a practice hit at a Jewish wedding, she’s sent to Hong Kong posing as a photo-journalist. In between two hits there (on the prez of the World Wildlife Fund and a local businessman) she falls for a fellow photog (Thomas Lam) who’s ignorant of her true trade. Pic climaxes in Japan as she and her b.f. go on the run after she’s sliced a Nipponese big shot.
Underlying theme is meant to be Leung’s inner conflict between obedience and personal freedom, but that doesn’t get much further than an obvious scene in which she frees a caged bird. After a gritty first half of her being worn down into submission, remainder of the thinly scripted pic is mostly a series of well-staged action sequences separated by mushy, mildly softcore moments with Lam.
Former model Leung is excellent in the bruising opening reels as the tough, nihilistic nowhere-girl and her crop-haired, statuesque looks add an edge to the designer violence later on. Local Yam is well-cast as her cool CIA nemesis.
Tech credits are all pro for the genre, with zippy editing, a pacy synths score and occasional arty visuals by Shin.