Black Cat stars Jade Leung as Catherine, a young girl who has come from living on the streets to working in a diner somewhere in America. One night, as the sole diner trys to touch her up, she picks up a fork and stabs him in the hand. She gets thrown out of the diner and her job. Outside, the same diner tries to rape her, but as she fights back both outside and back inside the diner, her last line of defence becomes the gun suddenly produced by the owner trying to stop the madness.
After the carnage, the police arrive. Startled, Catherine shoots at the first person she sees, a cop, killing him instantly, and then being taken straight to the police station. She manages to escape after being given more than a rough time by one of the female police officers, only to be brought back in a way she didn't expect, and the next time she'll open her eyes, she'll be in a white bed in a white room in a white corridor, being told that she has been certified dead, and is now the property of the United States government, with a microchip inside her brain so she is at their command, and she is codenamed, Black Cat.
If all this sounds rather familiar to fans of Luc Besson's Nikita, that's because it's a remake, albeit with a different beginning which soon finds its way back to the roots of the original. It also has more action packed into five minutes than most directors can pack into a whole film. Don't get me wrong, I do like the original, but by comparison I don't have a lot of time for the other remake, The Assassin (released in the USA as Point of No Return) from director John Badham.
I'm happy to report that with this remake, the directors have chosen to bring new scenarios into the film for our heroine to exercise her new skills, rather than simply rehashing old ones used in Nikita a la The Assassin.
Even for those who don't like subtitles in a film, this one being set in the USA, doesn't have as much Cantonese dialogue. For those scenes which do, subtitles appear in the black bar under the widescreen image.
-- Dominic Robinson
If you thought La Femme Nikita was tough, then you haven't seen Black Cat in action. Shamelessly and aggressively ripped off from the sleek French action classic, this outrageous Hong Kong action melodrama stars Jade Leung as a surly, hot-headed Chinese drifter in New York (actually Vancouver, Canada, subbing for the U.S. location). After killing a couple of macho trucker slimeballs and a cop in a brutal, bloody fight at a roadside diner, she's "killed" by a mystery man and reborn as a stealth assassin for a super-secret high-tech government agency. Director Stephen Shin goes for broke in a series of bizarre action scenes, but none tops the protagonist's graduation exercise, an outrageous assassination at a Jewish wedding that explodes into gang warfare when every guest suddenly pops up armed with semiautomatic weapons. That kind of logic guides the entire film: Leung's character is never told why, only who, and she slickly takes out her heavily guarded targets with everything from ice bullets to steel girders. Leung pouts and sneers her way through her film debut, all attitude and sass even when she falls in love with gentle environmentalist Thomas Lam (who wins her heart with his syrupy harmonica playing). Simon Yam (the suave assassin of Bullet in the Head) plays her sensitive but steely mentor, secretly in love with the woman he plunges into heady mind games. Leung returns in Black Cat II: The Assassination of President Yeltsin, an even more insane action logic-bomb.
-- Sean Axmaker, Amazon.com
Hong Kong's version of La Femme Nikita is a gritty action piece at times, but at other times itís strangely distant. Jade Leung is the Anne Parillaud/Bridget Fonda stand-in, an ex-hellcat turned assassin who receives a second chance from government agent Simon Yam. Once she gets out, she sets up a semblance of a life with Thomas Lam, but soon the reality of being a government assassin crashes in upon them.
Director Stephen Shin has made a virtual copy of Luc Bessonís original, carried by an intense, effective performance from Jade Leung. Simon Yam is perfectly cast as her mentor. Though its not as glossy as La Femme Nikita, Black Cat nearly surpasses its inspiration. The film is a dead-solid remake with a slight, darker twist at the ending that doesnít exactly work. It pushes the characters and situations to the edge, but refuses to follow through. Thatís actually quite a strange thing, because HK films are usually famous for going over the edge. Director Stephen Shin puts on some western-style brakes and allows a compromise for the conflicted heroine. It may make us feel better, but it unfortunately rings a bit false.
The Hong Kong rip-off machine rolls on with this low budget action movie that bears a not so subtle resemblance to La Femme Nikita. As Black Cat opens, Chinese-American drifter Catherine (former model Jade Leung) is working at a truck stop in New York. When she gets into an altercation with a truck driver (despite speaking his role in English, he has a pronounced European accent), Catherine ends up killing the driver and the owner of the truck stop. And to make things worse, Catherine accidentally shoots the cop who responds to the situation.
After being taken to prison (where one of the cops has a suspiciously British accent) for a few days, Catherine is hurried to court. Strangely, Catherine seems to have been changed back into the clothes she was wearing when apprehended. In the court house she is able to escape, thanks largely to a mysterious gunman who seems to be trying to kill her. (No, that didn't make any sense as written. Just see the movie.) Once outside, Catherine runs into another mysterious gunman, and this one shoots her dead.
Well, not completely dead. She wakes up in a white featureless room with a creepy guy named Brian (a shockingly clean-cut Simon Yam) who tells her that everyone thinks she is dead and that she has a microchip in her head. That chip is called Black Cat, and its purpose is to unlock Catherine's physical potential. Apparently the chip also frees Catherine from having to wear a bra, because she never wears one, no matter how much running she has to do.
The next portion of the film follows La Femme Nikita quite closely. Brian works for a branch of the CIA that fakes people's deaths and trains them to be super-assassins. Catherine goes through the training, and she makes the requisite little rebellions and escape attempts.
Once it has been decided that Catherine (now redubbed Black Cat) has completed her training, she is given her first field mission. Her orders are to infiltrate a Jewish wedding (!), kill the bride (!!), and make her getaway despite the many armed guests (!!!). As with the original movie, the getaway plan provided for her is a dud, and she must use her natural wiles to survive.
After passing this test, Black Cat, now redubbed Erica, moves to Hong Kong and becomes a photojournalist. This job is a cover for her assassination activities, though we don't see why she couldn't have been a professional tennis player instead. It worked for Jaime Sommers, right?
On one hit, Erica is spotted by conservationist Allen (Thomas Lam, who looks like he could be Chow Yun Fat's love child), but rather than kill this inconvenient witness, Erica shacks up with him. This leads to all sorts of complications (like when she has to duck out of a movie date with Thomas to engineer a complicated hit) and a not-so-happy ending. There's no "Cleaner" in this version, though.
Being so close to La Femme Nikita (and by association, Point of No Return), there aren't many surprises to be had. What Black Cat does have to offer is Jade Leung, and Hong Kong action scenes. Leung is certainly attractive, and her problems with the English language aside, she seems to be a passable actor. She also displays a confident physical presence in the action scenes, even if she doesn't do any martial arts.
The action scenes, while low-budget, are generally creative. Sometimes a little too creative. For one hit, Erica is supposed to kill a businessman who is visiting a construction site. For some reason, she has been given only a single small explosive charge with which to kill the man, and it must look like an accident. At first she plans to use the charge to cut an elevator cable so the man will fall to his death. But then the businessman gets a call that causes him to get back in his car. So Erica makes her way to a nearby crane, swings it's load of girders over the nearby road, shimmies out on to the crane arm (which is many stories above the ground), and all the way down to the girders. She places the charge there, shimmies back, and sets the explosive off, causing the girders to fall on the car. Perhaps Erica should talk to Scott Evil sometime. As assassination methods go, this was way too complicated. It probably would have been easier and safer to just cut the guy's brake line.
Black Cat turned out to have somewhat less than nine lives, as the sequel that was rushed into production the very next year was a bomb. But for some cheap thrills, you could do a lot worse than this film.
-- Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton, Stomp Tokyo
[Jade Leung Ching won Best New Artist at the 11th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards]