Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the titular Kate, an assassin raised from a young age by her handler, Varrick (Woody Harrelson), to be a consummate killing machine. After a job in Osaka to off a high-ranking Yakuza member sees her whack the mark in front of his tween daughter, Kate decides that it’ll soon be time to retire, even though Varrick (and that must be a nod to the 1973 Don Siegel/Walter Matthau banger Charley Varrick, yeah?) advises her that she’ll be back to killing people after one visit to a Walmart.
There must, of course, be one last job, and it’s when she’s prepping for this final mission that Kate finds herself slipped a radioactive mickey. With only 24 hours to live, she swipes a fistful of symptom-suppressing uppers and proceeds to kill her way up the Japanese crime food chain in the name of vengeance. In doing so, she finds herself captor/carer for Ani (Miku Martineau), who is a) the niece of Yakuza boss Kijima (Jun Kunimura), the man most likely responsible for her terminal condition, and b) the girl whose dad she popped in the opening scene.
Kate contains a lot of familiar elements. One of the most prominent is the “before I die” mission model, which you’ll know from Crank (2006) with Jason Statham, but is best espoused in the 1950 noir potboiler D.O.A. (which has fallen out of copyright, so feel no guilt in watching it here). Our hero is on a terminal clock and has something very important to do before they keel over. It’s not always fatal in the end (John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, 1981), and it’s not necessarily a roaring rampage of revenge (Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, 1952, to keep the Japanese connection), but time is a finite resource.
The other big one is “the killer and the kid,” which you’ll know from Lone Wolf and Cub (1972), Léon: The Professional (1994), Logan (2017), Man on Fire (2004), and countless other iterations — the gruff demeanor and lethal skills of the warrior contrasted and sometimes leavened by the innocence and unconditional love of a younger ward. These are both well-worn tropes, but they get used a lot because they work, and they work here.