Plot: What’s it about?
Shout!Factory has always been a wonderful label for film collectors that have a taste for nostalgia. Aside from their excellent Scream Factory label, they also release a wide variety of films from yesteryear. When I saw that the label was releasing the 1995 Christopher Lambert action filmThe Hunted, I knew immediately that it would be something that I would enjoy. In the mid-Eighties through the mid-Nineties, America was impressed by, and scared of, Japan. This came through in films like Black Rain, Rising Sun, and countless others. In our present age, through video games, movies, and television shows, Japanese and American cultures have become much more aligned. For myself, I have always enjoyed the films that came out during the uneasy transition of trust. This meant that I needed to see The Hunted as soon as possible.
The film opens with a quote:
“One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind, by day and by night… the fact that he has to die.” – Daidōji Yūzan
An American executive dealing in computer chips, Paul Racine (Christopher Lambert) goes to his hotel in Nagoya, Japan while on a business trip. At the hotel bar he meets a beautiful Asian woman in a red dress named Kirina (Joan Chen.) He asks her to accompany him to a traditional Japanese music performance. Afterward, she invites him back to her room. After they make love, she asks him to leave her room. Outside the room are three ninja. After Paul leaves the room, the ninja enter. The leader of the Makato ninja, Kinjo (John Lone,) is asked by Karina to reveal his face before he kills her. He has never revealed his face to anybody outside the Makato that has survived. Entranced by her, he honors her request. Paul interrupts the assassination, but he is too late. Paul is badly wounded and survives, but Kirina is killed. Paul becomes embroiled in a centuries old conflict between the Makato and another group of samurai. Paul is helped along by a martial arts teacher and amazing swordsman named Takeda (Yoshio Harada) and a female that can use a bow and arrow named Meiko (Yoko Shimada.) Because Paul has seen his face, Kinjo makes it his sole mission in life to terminate Paul. Takeda meanwhile is using Paul as bait so that he might have a showdown with Kinjo.
The Hunted scratched an itch that I had for this type of film. I enjoyed it from the first scene until the last. Are certain scenes absolutely laughable? Yes, but I would have trouble naming a Nineties action film that doesn’t have some element of the ridiculous. Even high profile films of the Nineties indulged in the type of excess that today is covered up with green screen CGI garbage. Back then it was done with stunt men and clever photography. The Hunted is written and directed by the writer of Under Siege and Pretty Woman, J.F. Lawton. With the success of those two films he was able to secure his spot in the director’s chair and it is obvious that he really put his heart into directing the film. Fans of Japanese cinema will enjoy the ways in which Kurosawa films influence some of the shots in the film (a scene in which blood splashes across the wall is very reminiscent of a shot from Ran.) This was Lawton’s one chance to direct a martial arts throwback to the films of his youth and he tried to give nods to his favorite aspects of those films including the names of the characters (Meiko from Meiko Kaji.)
That said – this film is not without some unintentionally hilarious sequences. The love making scene is pretty funny and of the early 90s Cinemax variety. Adults my age will know what I mean. Another of my favorite scenes involves an unnecessary bit of dialogue- a character proclaims that there are no ninjas in present day Nagoya, is promptly shot with a crossbow, and then says, “I…was…wrong…” These two scenes both got a great laugh from me.
This film has a lot of fun action to offer. There are sword fights, shuriken tossing, fights on bullet trains, sake drinking, a sword creation sequence, and much more. The acting in the film is enjoyable. Joan Chen and John Lone had both starred in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, so it was nice to see them paired up again (albeit briefly.) Christopher Lambert talks so softly that you will need to turn up your sound system, but he does his thing. The music in the film is pretty sweet – similar to the Akira soundtrack with some cool drumming and orchestration. The film also benefits from the location shooting done in Japan which lends the film some of its most visually exciting scenes.
Video: How’s it look?
Shout!Factory have provided an good looking transfer provided by universal Pictures of the film using an MPEG-4 AVC codec in 1080p. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Fine detail is solid. The film has a look that should be familiar to fans of Nineties action films like Color of Night or Die Harder. I was really pleased with the results and thought the film looked pretty great on Blu-ray.
Audio: How’s it sound?
A DTS-HD MA 5.1 track has some great moments due to the fantastic drums and orchestral compositions in the film. The surrounds are fairly active in the film. The only gripe I had with the track is that Christopher Lambert talks so low in his voice that I had trouble hearing him at times and found myself playing with the volume knob frequently. Overall – it’s a really enjoyable track.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Writer/Director J.F. Lawton gives an excellent and informative commentary here that covers how the film came about, how the success of Under Siege funded this film, the soundtrack work by Kodo, its influences (including Otto Preminger’s Laura,) and why the film is so special to him. There are also some plot mechanics that he explains that I missed in my first viewing. This commentary is going to please any fans of the movie and it is well worth your time.
- Workprint Version – Running twelve minutes longer than the original this has extended, alternate, and deleted scenes in SD.
- Behind the Scenes – About 14 minutes of footage shot on a camcorder.
- Deleted Scenes – Three scenes that are not included on the Workprint or Theatrical Version.
- Theatrical Trailer/TV Spots
The Bottom Line
The Hunted is a fun minor action film from the golden era of America’s infatuation with Japan. I really enjoyed the film warts and all. If you are looking for a breezy and fun action film to pass the time, this is a great nostalgia trip from the great age of VHS rentals. Shout! Factory have provided a full workprint version of the film in standard definition and a fantastic audio commentary with writer/director J.F. Lawton. Fans will no doubt want to add it to their Blu-ray collection and newcomers who like this type of film may want to consider a blind buy. The movie is exactly what you expect it to be, and that comes as high praise.