The Hunted has packs of lithe ninjas and, like so many Asian-flavored films, has an instructive subtext. Between the bouts of swordplay, we learn that Christopher Lambert is moving comfortably into middle age and headed for Harrison Ford territory, that John Lone is in danger of becoming Rutger Hauer and that women are still disposable.
Lambert plays American businessman Paul Racine. On the unbusinesslike last night of a business trip in Japan, he meets up with Kirina (Joan Chen), who happens to be wearing a spectacular red gown. Many action-adventure-suspense-martial-arts films are plotted so that the leads get together in a hotel room, and The Hunted has the high-priced movie-star flesh mingling in a lovely Japanese bath; scenes from this interlude are scattered throughout the movie.
Lambert is sweet, and Chen is erotic and inscrutable, and things are moving along at an entertaining pace and then -- enter John Lone. Although Lambert and Chen are no slouches at the thespian biz, Lone overwhelms both them and The Hunted with his dark and graceful performance as the assassin Kinjo.
Had Lone reined himself in, been a bit sloppy in his work, then The Hunted would chug along just fine. Kinjo, we discover, is the leader of a cult whose members practice their deadly skills secluded in a forest. Kinjo has a slew of disciples and a few women, including his perverse and violent mistress, Junko (Mari Natsuki). She's half dragon lady and half fighting ninja bitch. She's also, Kinjo says, "A stupid woman." He's right.
Once Kinjo and Racine are enemies (because of Kirina, of course), Racine teams up with an old samurai and his wife. Said samurai, Takeda, is played by veteran movie samurai Yoshio Harada, who has a fine time slicing up dozens of sleek young fools. Although Takeda is supposed to be a wise old warrior, he believes every punk who claims to be Kinjo. He also overestimates the readiness of his pre-teen fighting force. We're given to believe that Takeda makes these mistakes because he's obsessed with the idea of revenge. (A blood feud between his clan and Kinjo's cult goes back two centuries.)
True love is, presumably, the reason for his wife's errors. Mieko (Yoko Shimada) is considerably younger than her husband and properly obedient when it comes to the big issues, "I will gladly suffer my husband's fate," she says, though she's still willing to give him what for in day-to-day life. She's just a woman, so what she does and what happens to her doesn't really matter. Occasionally, she puts on a costume or gets rescued.
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Clearly, there's nothing unusual in this plot, and there's nothing wrong with it, either. The problem is that John Lone is so much better than the story. It's disquieting to see an actor of his caliber reduced to a one-dimensional role as worthy adversary for an aw-shucks hero. (Playing the aw-shucks hero isn't demeaning because, for one thing, wholesomeness doesn't display the range that villainy does; there's not much difference between playing the good Joe well and playing the good Joe adequately.)
Without Lone, The Hunted would be a serviceable action and suspense flick. But Lone throws the whole thing out of balance. He strides around being magnificent and completely overshadowing the characters around him. Like Rutger Hauer, John Lone came to this country as an accomplished, respected actor. Like Hauer, at least half of his work is in stupid movies -- and he can't learn to underact. Watching John Lone in The Hunted is like watching a racehorse pull a junk wagon.
Lone's complex and powerful performance makes one think, and thinking during an unambitious action movie is bad. Once one has started thinking, well, one is then open to thinking about how shallow the women characters are. And open to thinking that the values the old samurai Takeda espouses are not only conflicting, but also not what he lives by. Finally, one might think that the filmmakers figured a couple of well-choreographed fights, a regularly repeated sex scene and blood squibs all around were enough to make a movie memorable.
Directed by J.F. Lawton. With John Lone, Christopher Lambert and Joan Chen.