1995, R, 118 min. Directed by J.F. Lawton. Starring Christopher Lambert, John Lone, Joan Chen, Yoshio Harada.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., March 3, 1995
Coming on the heels of Juzo Itami's Minbo, this tale of a criminal faction of killer ninjas in modern day Japan can't help but seem a little ridiculous, but when taken on its own terms, The Hunted proves to be an adequate, if mostly unmemorable, thriller. Lambert stars as a computer chip designer who, while on a business trip in Japan, has a brief affair with a mysterious local (Chen), only to bear witness to her execution a short time later, which sends him on the run from Lone (giving an uncharacteristically tired performance) and his lethal band of ninjas. From there, the plot gets more and more convoluted, with Lambert coming under the care of a powerful samurai and being used as a pawn in a complex game of revenge. There are many faults in The Hunted: It's overlong, somewhat miscast (particularly in Lambert's case), and suffers from too much dumb, fortune-cookie styled dialogue, but, somehow, the movie still manages to be watchable. Perhaps it's the little pleasures the film offers: a wonderfully percussive score, some nice scenery, and a few stylish, surreal dream sequences. (One shot quotes the opening credits of Masaki Kobayashi's classic Kwidwan.) But the real pleasure here is actor Yoshio Harada as Takeda, a master swordsman who may or may not be Lambert's savior. The screen just about explodes with tension and energy whenever he appears and the film's major action set piece -- an ultraviolent sword fight aboard a rocketing bullet train with a gaggle of ninja assassins -- provides jaw-dropping excitement of the highest order. Let's hope we see more of Harada in the future, he has so much power and charisma that when he disappears from the picture in the final reel, the audience's interest goes right along with him. After all, why would you want to watch Lambert take on the bad guy (in a ridiculous, hard-to-swallow finale), after seeing Harada in action? If everyone involved with the picture showed the same level of intensity and craftsmanship as he, The Hunted might be something special instead of an average, painless time-killer.