Black Cat (1991)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Righting Wrongs

Legacy of Rage

Charlie's Angels

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Black Cat (1991)

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

cute chick with a big gun
"Huh, N'Sync is right over there.
I'll get to them after I finish off
the Backstreet Boys."
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.

cute chick with a big explosion
"My Yugo!"
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.

cute chick with a big chunk of glass
Assassins: the improv comics
of the underworld.
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.

cute chick with a big crane
She catches thieves just like flies, too.
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.

Review date: 07/18/2001

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