From the Archive – The Hunted (1995)

Hunted

Directed by J.F. Lawton
Starring Christopher Lambert, John Lone and Joan Chen

Paul Racine (Lambert) is an American businessman. On a business trip to Tokyo, he sleeps with a Chinese…sorry, Japanese woman named Kirina (Chen), only to witness her death at the hands of Chin… Japanese master ninja Kinjo (Lone, who does at least get a ‘why yes, I am of Chinese descent’ speech).

Racine is left for dead, but survives, and his doctor calls in a master swordsman from an ancient Samurai family, Takeda (Yoshio Harada), and his wife to protect him when the ninjas start falling out of the woodwork – sometimes literally; they’re not terribly good ninjas.

It turns out that Takeda is actually seeking a showdown with the supposedly unbeatable Kinjo, and eventually he calls him out. Kinjo brings a cohort of ninjas to the ‘fair fight’, and slaughters all of Takeda’s followers. The ninja then get wiped out by Takeda, who is in turn killed by Kinjo. Racine – having taken some kenjutsu lessons from the drunken old swordmaker – then kills Kinjo.

What’s wrong with it?

The Hunted is pretty slow-moving in places. In particular, it takes too long to get started in the first place, spending far too long faffing about with Racine and Kirina to try and establish that it’s not just a shag, it means something. Then Kinjo poses for ten minutes. The ongoing failure of the ninjas to kill the schmuck bait Racine pretty much saps their credibility, and their assault tactics – kill everyone on the train, just to be sure – are just there to make them marginally less pleasant than Takeda. Also, the ninja only appear to know one move – an overhead swing that gets them chopped in the gut every time.

The score is nothing to write home about.

What’s right with it?

Well, the samurai is very good. A veteran of Japanese cinema, Yoshio Harada plays the role to the hilt, and carries off the swordfights with aplomb (especially compared to his rather useless foes). Also, the finale has some nice touches, with the ninja turning up to the duel with a dozen cunningly concealed buddies. There’s also some decent bits on samurai honour.

How bad is it really?

The Hunted is dull. It has some decent ideas, but does next to nothing with them. While technically interesting, even the best of the fights lack real dynamism, and the score does nothing to cover.

Best bit?

The ninjas popping up to interrupt the duel are pretty good, and the female ninja slicing off her own face to avoid identification is excellent in a wince-inducing way.

What’s up with…?

  • The bargain basement ninjas? They’re frankly all crap, and what’s more they go on about how hidebound the samurai are, but will they use a sniper rifle or a silenced pistol? Will they buggery.
  • The little girl who helps Racine out? She just pops up, hangs around for fifteen minutes and sods off again. Totally random.
  • The American businessman taking out the ‘unbeatable’ ninja after a week of casual sword training? Even with the ninja having been stabbed in the leg already, I didn’t really buy it.

Ratings

Production values – Not bad, but let down by the samey choreography. The lighting is also not the best, and the score is unmemorable. 14

Dialogue and performances – Nothing to write home about. Grumpy old samurai is pretty solid, and John Lone acts his little heart out in a limited role, but Lambert just does his usual thing, and Joan Chen is barely in the film at all (c.f. Judge Dredd). 16

Plot and execution – An interesting idea squandered in a meandering mish-mash of dull fight scenes. There’s little character development, and frankly you might not care if there was. 15

Randomness – The crapness of the ninjas, rivalled only by the crapness of everyone they off. The little girl. The instant sword master. Suspension of disbelief was an early casualty. 12

Waste of potential – The Hunted had some solid ideas in it, but there was just bog all done with them. 18

Overall 75%

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