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  Hunted, The Nefarious Ninjas
Year: 1995
Director: J.F. Lawton
Stars: Christopher Lambert, John Lone, Joan Chen, Yoshio Harada, Yôko Shimada, Mari Natsuki, Tak Kubota, Masumi Okada, Tatsuya Irie, Michael Warren, Bart Anderson, James Saito, Seth Sakai, Toshishiro Obata, Ken Kensei, Hiroyasu Takagi
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Paul Racine (Christopher Lambert) is a businessman visiting Japan for a microchip deal, and after a day of meetings he just wants to get back to his hotel room and relax, but first decides to indulge himself with a glass of Scotch at the bar. As he sits sipping his beverage, he notices the attractive woman (Joan Chen) nearby and realises she has noticed him staring, but she is amused and soon they are sharing drinks and he cannot believe his luck when she agrees to go for dinner and a show with him. When they get back to her hotel room she invites him in and one thing leads to another; before he knows it they are having sex in the hot tub. However, he had better enjoy being with her while he can, for ninjas are out to get her!

No, this wasn't a quiet romance as in Lost in Translation, it was an action thriller that managed to see Lambert with a sword in his hands once more, almost ten years after Highlander. Mind you, he was no expert with a blade in this one, he had to be trained as he was, as stated, a humble foreign businessman and not some superman who happened to be working undercover, with the result that his character was curiously vulnerable for much of the movie. As for Joan, she barely had time to establish herself before Kinjo (John Lone) bursts into her room with a sword and after a conversation about how she would like to die, he ignores her wishes to expire slowly and promptly cuts her throat, killing her instantly.

But Racine was hiding behind the doorframe and almost put a stop to this by launching himself at the ninjas, yet merely gets himself some nasty injuries thanks to some poison-tipped shurikens thrown in his direction. Waking up in hospital, he is told his life is in mortal peril since he saw Kinjo's usually masked face, and he must have a bodyguard twenty-four hours a day, information he scoffs at, he merely wants to return to his home in New York City. But the married couple who are there to look after him, Takeda (Yoshio Harada) and Mieko (Yôko Shimada), are adamant, and soon proved correct when the lights go out and cops start being offed by the guys in black pyjamas, part of the theme being the hero's inability to understand what he has done to deserve this.

It was the old culture clash yarn that had been done before and would be again, Black Rain being a successful example of that, and Racine embodies the outsider who could not conceive of a culture where what he had tried to do to save the woman was a crime punishable by death. Not by the authorities, but by the secret cult few wish to admit the existence of, and the strongest stretch of the story saw him endeavour to recuperate while making it out of the city to safety, as he is not in great shape what with the poison in his body and wounds making movement painful. He does manage to escape the besieged hospital (a gun can initially help in that area, though what does he do once he's out of bullets?), out onto the streets and into a pachinko parlour where he uses Meiko's phone number to call her for help.

She orders him to the nearest railway station, and so began the sequence The Hunted was most celebrated for as Racine and his two expert bodyguards board the train, then realise the carriages have been infiltrated by the ninjas. This led to a stupendously bloody set of deaths as the blade-wielding assassins start systematically cutting down every passenger, the claret spraying everywhere, all on their way to eliminate our hapless hero. You would have thought that they've really blown the whole cover the secrecy might have worked out for them, but it was so nutty that it was actually very suspenseful knowing the adversaries were that insane that they would go to such pointlessly violent ends. Yet it was still Lone and Harada who performed the showdown: and we were only just over halfway through the movie. The rest of it took place in Takeda's retreat where he tutors his samurai, okay, from writer and director J.F. Lawton this could be accused of the West believing the East was jampacked with combat traditions and citizens studying them, but it was not half bad, at least as good as the other, more famous cult action movie bearing this title from eight years later. Percussive music by Leonard Eto and Motofumi Yamaguchi.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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