The Film

On first hearing the title, you might guess that this is a Hong Kong adaptation of the much-filmed Edgar Allan Poe story. It is, largely, an adaptation, but not of that. Writer/Director Stephen Shin apparently wanted to do a straight remake of Luc Besson’s Nikita, but the rights weren’t available (because they had already been sold in preparation for John Badham’s Bridget Fonda starring Point of No Return [AKA: The Assassin]). Shin made this instead. He makes some cosmetic changes, but in structure and many specifics, it remains very recognisable. You could say that Shin went from remake to ripoff in his concept of the film. Which isn’t to say it’s bad.

Former model Jade Leung debuts as Catherine, who kills a truck driver who tries to molest her, then the cop who comes to arrest her. As she’s taken to her trial, she attempts to escape, but is shot. Waking up later, she finds she has been declared dead, but been inducted into a programme where she will be trained by ‘Brian’ (Simon Yam) to be an assassin. The film follows many of the beats of Nikita, but often restages action scenes to open them up.

For instance, the beats of the restaurant kitchen scene are followed to the letter, but at an outdoor wedding. It also replicates its source in the relationship between ‘Brian’ and Catherine (known as Erica once she becomes a killer on assignment), as well as in Erica’s relationship with a bland photographer, Thomas (Thomas Lam). Shin adds a light sci-fi element in the form of a chip in ‘Erica’s’ head, but it’s only used to give her sudden headaches as a means of control. To Shin’s endless credit though, one thing he doesn’t replicate is the mind-numblingly stupid supermarket scene.

black catBlack Cat is neither the attention grabbing exercise in style that Nikita was, nor the incredibly proficient (for my money better, but I’m a massive Bridget Fonda fan) remake that Badham pulled off. It’s a touch sillier and, surprisingly for a Hong Kong production, the action isn’t as strong. There is no martial arts in the film, and when it comes to shooting gunplay, Shin is no John Woo. It’s proficiently made all round, and it’s less exploitative than you might imagine for a Hong Kong action take on Nikita, with nudity of the teasing, rather than explicit, variety.

Where Black Cat does score is with its cast. Yam is a pro, and he pulls off the balance of tough mentor, captor growing fond of his prisoner and professional handler with ease and charm. Jade Leung isn’t the strongest actress, her outbursts of emotion are overplayed, but her dialogue is limited and where she does well is in her sheer screen presence. She’s strikingly beautiful, even with a stereotypically boyish haircut serving as a shorthand for the character’s toughness, but more than that she pulls off that duality in the physical performance, using her form for both seduction and force, and she does crazy eyes very, very well. The only other significant cast member is Thomas Lam, who is a bit of a drip, but that’s more the fault of the screenplay than his performance.

Black Cat is what it is: a fairly dumb ripoff of Nikita. There are worse things to be, and Leung holds it together, but the writing is thin even compared to its source material, and the action doesn’t do enough to compensate for that. It’s a fun enough 96 minutes, but there are at least two better versions of this movie (seriously, revisit Point of No Return).

The Disc

black cat blu-ray

Though this is a standard edition without the bells and whistles that accompanied last year’s boxset release, there is still a slipcase with the new art and reversible cover artwork, so the case can display the original Hong Kong poster. Both are cool images. The image and sound are much like the film: solid but unspectacular. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine restoration, probably limited more by the materials and style of shooting than anything, but the image doesn’t quite have that pop of sharpness and depth of detail that the best BluRay does. It’s worth noting that while I watched the Cantonese version, a large part of the film is in English, as the first half is set in the US, whichever version you look at, the mono soundtrack is efficient and decently balanced, but it’s not going to knock anyone’s socks off, audiophile or not. It’s a good disc, but nobody’s demonstration go to.

The Extras

This release retains all the on disc extras from the limited edition. Beyond the various trailers, there are four major supplements. A recent interview with Jade Leung looks as though it may have been recorded remotely, as she repeats the questions before answering them. In 8 minutes she talks about various aspects of making Black Cat, particularly interestingly about how she felt shooting in sequence and working with Simon Yam helped her as a novice actor. The inclusion of the English language opening and closing titles is welcome, but other than the text there’s no real difference.

The major extras come in the form of two commentaries. The first from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, the second from Frank Djeng. All are experienced, knowledgable and reliable voices on Asian action cinema. Leeder and Venema strike a good balance between information and enthusiasm for the film, and in the dynamic between them. Frank Djeng’s solo commentary repeats some of the information from the other track, but brings additional insight, and is overall more sober and closer in its commentary on the film. Which commentary you choose will probably depend on the vibe you’re after. Djeng brings the denser information, while Leeder and Venema give the impression of hanging out with knowledgable friends.

Overall, this is a solid package of extras that add both fun and insight to the film.