Credit: NYAFF/Kitty the Killer
by Sean Gilman Featured Film Genre Views

Kitty the Killer — Lee Thongkham

May 6, 2024

Of all the John Wick knockoffs that I’ve seen over the last decade, Lee Thongkham’s Kitty the Killer is almost certainly the first one that has come from Thailand. For good and bad, we’ve seen more movies about assassins working within shadowy, often nonsensical organizations loaded with back story and lore doing their best to survive against an army of anonymous enemies in black suits aided by nothing other than the skills of their stunt workers and the ingenuity of their choreographers, dispatching said enemies in an orgy of flashy camera movements and splattering of computer-generated blood. It must be said that this era has been a drastic improvement over the last one, when every action movie aped the dull gray tones and incomprehensible editing of the Paul Greengrass Bourne movies. While that era did give us a few gems (the works of Neveldine and Taylor stand out, in particular), the average action film of the last decade is surely better than the average one from back then. (Note here that the biggest blockbusters of the 21st century, your MCUs and Batmans and Worlds Jurassic, are not action films but rather disaster movies: their pleasure comes not from seeing elaborate stunts performed by skilled professionals, but rather ever more elaborate displays of destruction, usually of phony environments, in either mass explosions or, at best, vehicular chase sequences.) Sure, there are a lot of annoying tics (black and neon pink color schemes, cutesy humor, substitution of subpar CGI work for practical make-up and stunt work), but by and large, we’re in… if not a golden age of action cinema, then at least a bronze one.

Kitty the Killer is a middling example of the contemporary action film. It’s about a shadowy organization of assassins wherein the killers are all young women and girls called “Kitties,” all of whom have some variation of a “-na” name: Tina, Mina, Nina, Rina, etc. Our hero is an assassin named Dina (Ploypailin Thangprapaporn), who has been tasked by her handler, “Gray Fox,” with stealing a box with a magic rock inside of it from a member of a rival organization. She gets the rock, but that causes inter-agency struggles and leads to Gray Fox’s own bosses turning against him and sending their top assassin, Nina the Faceless, after him. He dies, but not before passing on the mantle of Gray Fox onto a goofy young insurance salesman named Charlie.

By this point, Kitty the Killer has been a pretty entertaining action movie, with cool ladies slicing heads off and bodies open with katanas while wearing masks and black leather. But the next chapter slows everything down for a long sequence of comic relief and world-building, as the goofball guy is trained and integrated into the system, and introduced to Dina’s companions. This all takes way too long, given how much it relies on Denkhun Ngamnet’s cartoonish performance as Charlie, all wild eyes and screaming and just generally being annoying. There are some interesting side stories with some of the women (one with Dina’s health problems, another about Tina’s alienation and loneliness), but these tend to get lost in all the strained silliness.

All that would be bearable if the action was truly inspired, or the world as unhinged as something like the recent straight-to-video gem Mutant Ghost Wargirl. But alas, Kitty the KIller settles for the merely competent. The most memorable part of the fight scenes, to be honest, are the costumes (the aforementioned masks and leather) and the eclectic mix of cultural influences (Japanese and American and Chinese and Thai). None of this is bad, and as tedious as some of the comic bits can be, even those never get as gratingly obnoxious as something like Gunpowder Milkshake. But sadly, neither is Kitty the Killer ever as inspired as the likes of Baby Assassins or Veronica Ngo’s Furie movies. It’s content to be merely okay, and that’s firmly where it lands.

DIRECTOR: Lee Thongkham;  CAST: Ploypailin Thangprabhaporn, Denkhun Ngamnet, Vithaya Pansringarm, Somchai Khemglad;  DISTRIBUTOR: Epic Pictures;  IN THEATERS: May 3;  RUNTIME: 2 hr. 3 min.

Originally published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2023.