Ahh…the 90s. For all the love looking back at 80s cinema has given us every now and then it’s hard not to look at the decade that followed for some great hidden gems and films that now 20-30 years later are being looked upon as cult classics. As much as it breaks my heart to think 1995 is now 25 years ago this is the reality I have to live with getting older and having the years go by so quickly as a movie fan. On the bright side movie nerds of my generation now have the duty and responsiblity to introduce these hidden treasures of film to the younger generation of fans that maybe have missed out watching certain movies before their time. Well have no fear my young ones because I am hear to tell you the brilliance and absurdity of the insanely entertaining 1995 film THE HUNTED. So grab a drink and let’s go back to a year when the cinemas were filled with such classics as Mortal Kombat, Lord Of Illusions, 12 Monkeys, Showgirls, Halloween 6: Curse Of Michael Myers, and Seven.
Ironically as much as I wanted to just stick with the 90s this story actually has to start in the 80s. If you were a kid growing up in your local videostore in the early part of that decade you scanned the shelves of the action section looking for one name and one name only… SHO KOSUGI. If you found his name on a Beta or VHS cover you knew it was gonna something sweet in the form of a ninja. Without a doubt this man brought the attention of the “ninja” mythos to North American audiences more than anyone else at the time. Enter The Ninja. Revenge Of The Ninja. Ninja III. Pray For Death. Black Eagle. Nine Deaths Of The Ninja. You knew if you grabbed one of his movies exactly what to expect. Blood, martial arts, swords, throwing stars, and black eyeliner. Seriously the pop culture image of the ninja had become so big to kids of that era that every Halloween you either wanted to dress as a Ghostbuster or a Ninja. Hands down the two most popular costumes. And then for some reason it stopped. The ninja movie that is. Martial arts films continued and evolved into other areas but sadly it seemed the masked ninja was left behind.
Well, on a dark, cold, and bleak winter Febuary in 1995 my friends and I decided to go see a movie at the old cinema which was kind of our thing atleast once a week regardless of what was playing. Little did we know that we were about to sit back in a quiet theatre at West Edmonton Mall and watch one hell of an etertaining film starring the hero from Highlander, the villain from Year Of The Dragon, and Twin Peaks’ Josie Parkard. Ofcourse I’m referring to Christopher Lambert, John Lone, and Joan Chen respectively. It was slim pickings at the theater that week so we walked in blind only knowing it was a action flick. Well the minute the Universal Logo hit the screen you felt you were in for something special or at the very least something would deliver some good times.
I say it set the tone right off the hook primarily because of the brilliant choice in tghe music score was preformed by Japanese Taiko Drums.The raw power of this music just got you amped. Could it be taking us back to the early 80s when Sho Kosugi ruled? Maybe?
Our movie opens with the always heavy accented Christopher Lambert playing your all American business man on a trip in Japan Paul Racine. You see Paul just had a good meeting with fellow Japanese businessmen and instead of going out with everyone after he decides to relax for a quiet drink in the hotel bar before calling it a night. He seems down and if you ever see the work print cut which is 15 minutes longer it would make sense because in that version it is said that he can’t get over his last relationship. Bummer. Well…enter the lovely Kirina played by Joan Chen who he shares a drink with and sparks fly for Racine. They spend the evening out and then things get hot back at Kirina’s hotel room.
So a sexy hottube seen follows and suddenly Paul’s business trip has really picked up. After all is said and done Kirina tells him they will never see each other again and Paul sadly leaves her room. Well Paul, it is better to have loved and lost then never loved at all or something like that I guess.
But there was a reason she needed Paul to get the hell out of dodge, You see on this night Kirina knows that her life will end. On this night a trio of deadly ninja assassins led by Kinjo (John Lone) are here to kill her as they were hired by her yakuza ex-boyfriend. Bravely facing a certain death Kirina asks Kinjo to show her the face of her killer. He takes off his cloth to reveal the John Lone we all know and love. He goes on to say no one has ever seen his face outside of his clan. This is important stuff kids. She goes on to belittle him with shame and deep insults such as calling him a coward. He asks her if she wants to die fast and painless or slow and painful. Well Kirina is not scared to die slowly and makes it known but Kinjo says he’s under orders for fast. He is definately confused by her composure and somewhat intimated. Either way with one fatal swiing of the blade Kinjo decapitates Kirina and that’s that…end of movie. Oh wait…
I completely forgot about Paul. You see as he was walking back to his hotel room he realizes he has Kirina’s hotel key in his pocket still. Well when he enters her place to simply drop the key off he sees the three ninjas and more importantly Kinjo’s face. Now that is a big deal as we have been told. Anyways, he tries to save her before the old sword swing but instead gets welcomed with a poison dart and a slash to the throat. Kinjo and his boys leave expecting Paul to be dead within minutes from his wounds but surprise, surprise…he lives. Moving on…
So as Paul is healing up at the hospital one of the staff there hears about his tale of survival from the ninja and the man named Kinjo. Turns out this hospital employee is friends with a man named Takeda played very intensely by Yoshio Harada. You see, after Racine tells the cops he saw Kinjo they just laugh him off because to them Kinjo and all the stories about him are treated as an urban legend. But Takeda is a Samurai and has been obsessed with Kinjo for many years vowing to destroy him if only he knew what he looked like. Well now with Racine he has those eyes to identify. After hearing Takeda out telling Paul his life is serious danger because, you know, ninjas, Paul figures he’d be safer with the cops guarding him at the hospital and declines an offer to go with Takeda who wants to get Paul out of the city ASAP.
Back at the secrect cult ninja base Kinjo decides to teach the two assassins that were with him that night a lesson and brutally kill them. In his mind he is convinced they did not finish the job on Racine on purpose so he could be identified and maybe they could take control of the gang. Well, that was bad thinking on their part because Kinjo whips some ass quickly infront of everyone leaving those two for dead. But now Kinjo has two issues. One, he’s haunted by the imagine of Kirina in his dreams and still upset for having had to kill her. Bad guy or not these characters have a certain code of honour. And two, Paul Racine still needs to be killed because by being alive and having seen Kinjo’s face he feels a part of his soul has been taken. True story. So he sends another band of evil and lethal ninjas to the hospital to finish it! No fuck ups this time boys.
Well at the hospital all hell breaks loose. Before the ninjas start slaughting staff of the hospital and cops there is a fun exchange between Racine and Japanese detective who basically tells Paul “Ninjas are no more real in Japan than Cowboys and Indians in America”. After this he gets shot with an arrow and gives Paul his gun as he realizes he was probably wrong on that last statement. Even with all the martial arts skill and lethal moves the nnja can still be taken out by a bullet and good thing too because that’s all a still recovering Paul Racine has to defend himself.
After escaping the hospital and losing the other ninjas in a strange VLT gambling type den Paul eventually meets up with Takeda and his wife Mieko who is a complete badass with the bow and arrow. The three of them soon board a bullet speed train to take them away from the city and closer to Takeda’s training grounds. Did I mention Train? I did and for good reason. Every movie that thrives in action and violence usually has one center piece moment or sequence that adds that extra layer of “okay, this movie is badass” efffect. When it comes to The Hunted it is all about the next 20 minutes of the film from this point.
Shit man, where to begin with this part of the movie? This was the moment where my friends and I literlly thought we were 8 years old again and watching those Cannon Film ninja flicks with mass slaughter and violence happening in front of our eyes. Literally it’s so over the top you can’t help but feel giddy. So knowing the three are on the train the ninja clan sends atleast a dozen warrirors on this busy express with instructions from the top brass to kill everyone on board. Everyone? Yes, everyone. Even women and children and the elderly? Yes. Everyone!
So on a pure visual level the fact that the assassin ninjas are wearing a white cloth instead of the usual black for this slaughter is brilliant because the blood starts flying and shows. Led by Kinjo’s second in charge lethal and ruthless female partner they start from the front of the train and begin slicing up all passengers slowly trying to make their way down to the back to find Paul. Takeda sees what’s goiung on makes Mieko and Racine go to the very back as he takes his blade to begins his brilliant counter attack on the attackers. From one car to the next of the train it is beautiful mayhem, swordplay, and utter martial arts violence till Takeda has almost single handedly killed all the baddies. But when they get close to Paul Mieko and her trusty bow and arrow routine never miss the target either. In the end though all Takeda wants in Kinjo. He’s obsessed!
So obsessed that Paul is ready to gun down what may be the main baddie but Takeda takes his waepon away and throws it out the window. It’s at this point that Paul might be thinking maybe they are not really doing this for his well being. Anyways, after dispatching the ruthless female killer who commits suicide by slicing her own face off..crazy shit…Takeda takes out the final masked assassin and pulls the mask off begging Paul to tell him that it’s Kinjo. Ofcourse it’s not and Takeda is pissed. Killing 12-15 ninjas means nothing if one of them is not Kinjo. Oh well, they live to fight another day and head out to the island where his young samurai recruits live and train. Everyone will be safe there I’m sure.
Getting back to Kinjo he’s still haunted by Kirina’s death and goes to the man who hired him to kill her to ask why.
When he finds out the real reason, basically jealousy, he kills the man because he knows he truly killed an innocent woman who had a the aura of an angel in his mind. Now that this is dealt with he will take his army of cult ninja killers to the island of the samurai and finish it to regain his power and complete soul.
Once on the island Paul confromts Takeda and comes to blows with him after being used as nothing more than bait. Settle down Paul, the man is a killing machine and can take you out in a heartbeat for showing disrespect so go hang out with the drunk swordsman in a hut and know your place until this whole thing blows over. The nerve of this american business man getting in the way of hundreds of years of ancient warrior tradition. Dick move Paul, dick move.
So while Paul is learning to swing a sword with the guidance of drunken Mr. Miyagi the Samurai are expecting a meeting with the Ninja to finally settle this in an honourable way. A one on one fight between Kinjo and Takeda. Ofcourse Kinjo is one sneaky bastard so he does show up to meet in a sort of parley stance but what he really has planned is while talking a good talk alone with Takeda his army has secretly snuck on the isalnd to slaughter all of his recruits before anyone knows what the hell is happening. To make it more dirty pool he tells Takeda that he is not Kinjo but just his proxy because honestly only Paul knows what he looks like and he’s busy hanging with a drunk fisherman swordmaker.
So when all is said and done Kinjo’s trap is laid to perfection and Takeda’s men are brutally slaughtered by the ninja before anyone knows what the hell is going on. It is at this point that Takeda knows this so called proxy son of a bitch is indeed the man they call Kinjo. Game ON!
The two battle it out in the pouring rain going head to head, blow to blow, until through some bad guy tactics Kinjo lays a fatal stabbing blow to Takeda sending him bleeding out in the muddy ground below. Kinjo, who has leveled up to full on evil mode now after killing all these young kids on the island, now has his eyes set on Takeda’s wounded wife Mieko. She is in great pain after suffering injury during a battle in which she killed many a ninja as well.
With a vunerable Mieko accepting her fate Kinjo suddenly stops just as he is about to strike her. All this seems too familiar to him. And maybe it’s from the blood loss he suffered in his fight with Takedo but before his eyes Mieko turns into Kinira. And with that slight hestitation a now heroic Paul Racine thrusts a sword right through the good weapon swinging shoulder of Kinjo from behind. Okay maybe stabbing him from behind is not heroic but he is a ninja and the only way this final battle can work is to even the odds.
I remember sitting in the theater and going “Really? A guy who has trained with a sword for one or two days is gonna take out a lifelong lethal ninja cult leader assassin? But I guess after fighting Takeda, getting a blade in his leg, a sword through his good arm, and all around taking a beating before facing Paul I suppose in a the Hollywood 90s action way it could work. Especailly when Paul goes old school dirty fighting on Kinjo with nut shots and taking a rock and bashing his head in a few times. Business man tatics indeed Paul Racine.
With a bloody head wound and basically out for the count Paul was gonna let it go but Kinjo decides to pull out throwing stars and attacks Racine with a few. But before he can fire off round two of the deadly flying menaces Mieko throws Paul the sword and he swings it giving us a decapitation scene very reminisent of Mrs. Voorhees getting her head lopped off back at Camp Crystal Lake. Beautiful. The End.
And that is basically the story of THE HUNTED. Walking out of the theater that night to the sound of the Japanese drums going off during the closing credits it was most definately a case of gong into a film blind, not knowing what to expect, and leaving with a shit eating grin on your face thinking I’ll be watching this again soon. Well here I am 25 years later having a whiskey and talking about it at 3am.
I think if this movie came out now it would have been a straight to VOD film. That was the most amazing part watching this movie in an actual theater. It felt even back then that I would have had a better chance stumbling on this movie in a Blockbuster Video than an actual Cineplex theater. Truly it felt like it snuck it’s way onto the big screen by accident but then again maybe that had to do with the power that was Christopher Lambert? After all, even though this film was not exactly a box ofice hit when it opened a few months later the man known as Connor Macleod would be in a summer smash hit movie by playing the mighty Lord Raiden.
So once again guys thanks as always for reading my random thoughts on a movie that just turned 25 years old. If you have never seen it or it’s a been awhile I highly recommended checking out the great SCREAM FACTORY BLU RAY release which looks great and gives you the option to watch the WORKPRINT version as well which runs 124 minutes instead of 111 minutes. Some interesting scenes were put back in there. Also I would recommend the soundtrack as well. Those drums man…they get you fired up for sure.
And one more thing. John Lone is great in THE HUNTED but I highly recommend you watch him in 1985’s YEAR OF THE DRAGON where he goes head to head with Mickey Rourke. Sorry, I had to get that in there. It’s the whole being a videostore guy and wanting you all to see some really sweet cinema while it’s on my mind. Okay. We’re good for now. Tell next time..the videostore loves you. Cheers!