Did The Raid: Redemption kick your ass too? The Indonesian action film from director Gareth Evans, on DVD and Blu-ray August 14, didn't screw around. A SWAT team is on a mission to apprehend a crime lord who lives at the top of an apartment building populated entirely by violent criminals who will stop at nothing to protect their leader. The action was relentless, so much so that it makes you wonder why we don't get more films like this in the United States. And that's where we've got good news for you, action fans: movies like this get made all the time abroad, but they often get swept under the rug because Hollywood is too busy blowing up battleships and remaking Total Recall.
If you saw The Raid: Redemption, or want something to watch with it when the movie comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on August 14, and wondered what else you're missing in the foreign action landscape, never fear: these are The Best Foreign Action Movies You've Never Seen. (And if you have seen any of them, or even all of them, you're already a total badass and don't need our help.)
Each of these films is available in America, but mostly in tiny, blink-and-you-missed-them releases that underplayed just how awesome they are.
If you can imagine Three Ninjas crossed with The Raid: Redemption you’ll have some idea of how thoroughly insane Power Kids really is. When a group of deadly terrorists, led by a little girl, take over a local hospital, it’s up to a gaggle of martial arts expert pre-teens to sneak inside and retrieve a heart their best friend needs for an immediate transplant. The clock is ticking, and choreography is incredible, and the kids throw themselves through glass windows, hang from tall buildings by a rope tied around their necks and that’s just the icing on the cake. Wildly irresponsible, but very, very entertaining.
House of Fury
Want a foreign action movie you can actually show your kids? Try House of Fury, China’s answer to The Incredibles. Anthony Wong keeps embarrassing his teen martial arts prodigy children with his obviously fictional stories of being a secret agent, but when he’s kidnapped they discover that all his lies were really true, and have to use their skills to rescue their dad from an old enemy. The tone is broad, but the action is awesome, particularly young Jake Strickland as the villain’s son, who only puts down his video games long enough to steal the film with a remarkable, knock down fight sequence.
Running on Karma
The odds are good that you’ve never seen an action movie quite like Running on Karma, a strange hybrid of police procedurals, Eastern mysticism and martial arts insanity headlined by Chinese superstar Andy Lau in an only questionably realistic muscle suit. Lau plays “Big,” a former monk turned stripper, who can see the karma of people around him: what they’ve done in a past life, and how it will affect their current one. He falls for a police detective on the trail of a contortionist serial killer, trying to prevent her past life as a violent war criminal from catching up to her. The last act is a bit of a downer, but it’s worth watching because of how utterly unique the whole experience is.
Based on Yu Koyama’s manga series, Azumi is a Japanese production about a young girl named Azumi (Aya Ueto), who was trained since birth to be a master assassin. But when she finally goes out into the world, she finds the reality of her mission is a lot more complicated than she was led to believe. The film climaxes with Azumi taking on an entire army singlehanded, kicking their collective asses before embarking on an incredibly photographed final sword fight with a homicidal maniac (Joe Odagiri) who gets so turned on by her prowess that he starts massacring his own men beside her.
The City of Violence
An unusually effective hybrid of Martin Scorsese-esque crime drama and modern day action epic, The City of Violence kicks off when a local bar owner is murdered, forcing the members of his childhood gang to reunite to solve the crime. One of them is a legitimate businessman, another a career criminal and the other is a cop, so they spend as much time arguing with each other as they do righting the wrongs of the community. The drama is compelling enough to get you through the relatively few action sequences, but once the two remaining heroes storm the enemy compound for a last hurrah, it’s nothing but badass action extravaganza all the way.
Musa: The Warrior
One of the biggest movies ever produced in South Korea, Musa: The Warrior is a dashing and impressively violent historical epic about a Korean diplomatic envoy to China that gets stranded in the desert. Walking home, dying of starvation, they decide to take one last opportunity to redeem themselves by rescuing a Chinese princess (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Zhang Ziyi) who has been kidnapped by Mongol hoards. Musa: The Warrior – released in an abridged, inferior version in America as simply Musa – isn’t just one of the best foreign action films you’ve never seen, it’s one of the best action movies of the new century, with a cast of memorable characters, truly impeccable action sequences and an underdog story of the highest order.
Andrew Lau’s anachronistic, fantasy-driven historical epic is a “kitchen sink” sort of action film, one that switches between broad comedy, Dragonball-styled action sequences and high drama between practically every scene. It sure is neat to watch though. The two greatest swordsmen in China (Andy Lau and Ekin Cheng) have agreed to duel atop the Forbidden Temple, and a superspy named Dragon Nine (Nick Cheung) has to make sure the public event isn’t used to assassinate the Emperor. They don’t call it “forbidden” for nothing. The Duel might not be to everyone’s taste, but one thing’s for sure: you will never be bored.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry
He might be best known for “Gun Fu,” but this early, little-discussed John Woo film was a kung fu spectacular of the highest order. Last Hurrah for Chivalry tells the story of two master assassins, Damian Pau and Wei Pai, who agree to exact revenge for the murder of a local merchant, but gradually learn that things are not as they seem. The action sequences are high flying (sometimes literally) and over the top (there’s a narcoleptic swordsman in here), but Woo’s lifelong obsession with masculinity and honor are on full display, married to some wonderful fight choreography. Fantastic, fantastical and very, very fun.
Uno Bianca is an action movie in the same way that Heat is an action movie: only kinda. But the comparison to Michael Mann's modern crime classic is apt. Director Michel Soavi, better known for horror movies like Cemetary Man, directed this epic crime saga about a detective (Kim Rossi Stewart) on the trail of the “Uno Bianca” gang, who steal the eponymous, commonplace vehicle before committing each of their seemingly random crimes throughout Italy. Are they just random thugs? Are they terrorists? Or are they something altogether more dangerous? The investigation is just as thrilling as the relatively few action sequences, but when the bullets do fly you won't be able to think of anything else. One of the best foreign action movies you’ve never seen, one of the best crime movies you’ve never seen, one of the just plain best, period.
Disclaimer: This article has been sponsored by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment