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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Christopher Lambert has got to be one of the least likeliest success stories in the history of Hollywood. Despite never starring in a bona fide hit (the closest he came was probably Mortal Kombat), he has nevertheless built an incredibly impressive resume over some thirty odd years of acting, and was even married to Diane Lane, one of the most beautiful and talented women to ever live. Lambert also has the uncanny ability to bring his best to the cheapest, most thankless of roles. I’ve never seen him not try in any film he’s appeared in, which can’t be said of higher paid, more popular actors like Bruce Willis. I love Lambert, despite (or perhaps because of) his overall incredible oddness.
Born in the United States yet looking, speaking, and acting almost entirely European (his French father was a diplomat who worked for the UN), Lambert is almost totally unbelievable as an American everyman, which is almost every role he plays. This is no exception in 1995’s forgotten thriller The Hunted, wherein Lambert plays Paul Racine, a normal, everyday American computer chip salesman (is there a job more 1995 than computer chip salesman?) on a business trip in Japan. After another successful sale, Racine heads back to his apartment, skipping out on celebrating with his two business associates. He runs afoul of the mysterious and beautiful Kirina (Joan Chen), and spends the night with her. When Kirina is attacked and murdered by ninjas, Racine is the only witness as well as a marked man.
Written for the screen and directed by J.F. Lawton (who also wrote, among other works, Pretty Woman), The Hunted is poorly paced, badly choreographed, barely acted, and an incredibly painful in places. It is also a total guilty pleasure. Lawton’s writing, which can generously be referred to as stilted, is unintentionally campy and goofy, treating the subject matter as if it were an actual super serious drama film rather than a contemporary tale of an American businessman on the run from ninjas – a premise which is already silly and awesome enough. The premise for the film is actually super interesting (I’m a sucker for a story about someone on the run from a malevolent force I guess), and part of me likes The Hunted not for what it is, but for what it could be. In the hands of a more skilled action director, this could have become a well-remembered cult classic.
The film unfortunately suffers from an incredibly high amount of Orientalism. Asian women are often sex objects – Joan Chen’s character Kirina really serves no purpose except to be an object of desire by Racine for example. The best character in the movie, Ichirou Takeda (Yoshio Harada), is a modern day samurai and expert on the various ninja clans of Japan. The movie is shot as if Japan is on another planet completely, treating most, if not all, of its characters as if they’re aliens from outer space. While it is true that the film reveres and respects some of its characters (particularly Takeda and his partner and wife Mieko are treated with respect), by and large the film more often than not gawks at its characters as if to say, “Wow, look how crazy these Japanese people are!” While this may have been somewhat more acceptable in the 1980s (when there was indeed a fear in the U.S. that Japan could one day become the world’s preeminent financial superpower), it feels incredibly outdated in a film from 1995.
As noted earlier, the pacing in this movie is somewhat glacial. It takes practically 40 minutes to get to the meatier parts of the story, and the movie runs an interminable 111 minutes overall. There’s a fantastic action sequence on a bullet train that is probably the high point of the movie. But the follow up scenes, on a samurai training ground (once again, in modern Japan), slow the film down to a screeching halt. A brisker, 90 minute cut would have helped the film immensely (but also probably cut down on villain Kinjo’s (John Lone) motivations). Action choreography is also laughably cheap throughout, and the whole production looks like it spent about a dollar fifty on fake blood (Lambert’s character sports a bloodied bandage pretty much throughout the entire running time of the film). Again, in the hands of a more skilled director, this could have been a whole lot cooler.
Christopher Lambert just doesn’t work as an everyman. He is just too odd, like a less perverted European version of James Spader or Nicolas Cage. In the long pantheon of unlikely leading men (which obviously includes Jeff Goldblum as its most famous member), Lambert is perhaps the least likely. Despite this (or again, perhaps because of it), Lambert is almost never disappointing in any role. He really gives it his all in The Hunted despite a crappy script, low budget, and almost complete and total lack of direction or spirit. This is an incredibly dumb, forgotten movie that wastes its goofily awesome premise by being far too serious for its own good.