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Friday, February 18, 2011

KITES -- DVD review by porfle

High-octane chick flick?  Or sensitive love story for guys?  Whatever you call it, the Indian film KITES (2009) is a dazzling achievement that starts out looking all flashy and superficial and ends up steeped in genuine operatic romance.  And shoot-outs.  And car chases.

When a bunch of Mexican farm workers descend on a freight train with pitchforks to unload bales of hay, an unconscious man rolls out with a bullet in his back.  As an elderly peasant removes it, flashbacks reveal the man as J (Hrithik Roshan), a pretty-boy con man from India who gives dance lessons in Vegas and marries illegal immigrant women seeking green cards on the side.  When one of his students, Gina (Kangana Ranaut), falls for him, he's uninterested until he discovers she's the daughter of immensely-wealthy casino kingpin Bob (Kabir Bedi). 

Gina's gangster brother Tony (Nicholas Brown) is getting married, and wouldn't you know it--his intended, Mexican beauty Linda (Bárbara Mori), is one of J's former green-card brides, and the only one he ever felt anything for.  When J sees how Tony abuses her, he takes action.  The result is that J and Linda are now on the run from Vegas' most powerful crime family, with every cop and bounty hunter in the state on their tail along with Tony and his henchmen.

It's been awhile since I finished watching KITES, and I still haven't come in for a landing.  This shimmering cornucopia of movie magic overflows with so much good stuff during its two-hour running time that it's almost like one of those lucid dreams you don't want to wake up from.  Brilliantly directed (by Anurag Basu), sumptuously photographed, and exhilaratingly cinematic, it's almost a throwback to the silent days with extended passages of compelling images that involve the viewer on a non-verbal level.

The dialogue, when not purely functional, is used mainly for both romantic and comedic effect as various language barriers (English, Spanish, Hindi) prove awkward.  Rajesh Roshan's poignant original score is a major element throughout, as are several spirited song montages.  Unlike a lot of other films, frequent lapses into slow-motion work because we're seeing everything from J's point of view and he's pretty much in a constant dream state.

The early scenes are lighter in tone, with J and Gina's electrifying performance in a breakdancing exhibition providing a lively interlude, and some of J and Linda's adventures on the road are fun.  But danger and desperation begin to darken the story as the fleeing lovers encounter peril at every turn, and this is when KITES turns into one of the most thrilling action flicks of recent years. 

There are at least three major car chases, one of which is jam-packed with incredible crash stunts that will leave you breathless.  The film doesn't skimp on bullets either, nor is there a lack of genuine dramatic tension when things really start to go wrong for our protagonists.  Along the way, we get to see J's character transform from superficial street hustler to a man willing to die (as well as kill bad guys) for love, which endows him with blind courage and a fiendish resourcefulness during the action scenes.

My estimation of Hrithik Roshan as an actor grew as I watched his character develop.  It may not be apparent at first, but beyond his male-model looks he's very good.  (He also, incidentally, has two thumbs on his right hand.)  As Linda, Bárbara Mori is more than just radiantly beautiful--she gives a thoroughly captivating performance that's at times deeply affecting, whether trading playful romantic barbs with J or facing death at the edge of a cliff.  All of the supporting players are fine as well, notably Nicholas Brown as the homicidally hostile Tony.

The two-disc DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  There are no extras--not even chapter selections.  Disc one is the original 123-minute Bollywood version in all its glory, while disc two contains Brett Ratner's 92-minute "Cliff Notes" version.
Ratner's remix strips the original of all its more contemplative passages and musical montages, including the early dance sequence and other important scenes in their entirety.  Graeme Revell's less effective new score replaces the intensely romantic one by Rajesh Roshan, including the love theme (which, admittedly, is a rip-off of Enya's theme for Aragorn and Arwen from the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy), robbing the film of much of its heart.
Already a fast-paced film, the remix is downright ADD-friendly--trimmed and "time-compressed" the way syndicated TV episodes are carved up to make room for more commercials--and nowhere near the exquisite collaboration between images and music as the original version.  In his attempt to reshape the film into something more appealing to short attention spans (while adding a few more titillating shots here and there), Ratner rushes so impatiently through the story that even the deeply moving ending is seriously blunted.

Even if unabashed romanticism makes you uncomfortable, you might as well just give in to KITES and allow it to do its thing for a couple of hours.  Either you won't like it--and I imagine a lot of people won't--or it will be one of the most thoroughly intoxicating movie experiences you've ever had.  My advice is to let it sweep you up in its emotional and sensory embrace, and--heaven forbid--maybe even get a little misty-eyed at the end.  This movie earns it.

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