In part two of our action A-Z, we look at a selection of films beginning with E-H…
After an action packed A-D of action films, what does the next batch of carnage have to offer? Once again I delve into an eclectic mix of cult favourites and obscure video specials, with an array of action icons. Buff your guns with baby oil, get to da choppah, and load your bazooka, for here are twelve films from E-H to put hairs on your chest (take a look here for A-D)…
Enter The Dragon
Still the greatest. Bruce Lee had an inimitable presence. The stoic charisma and lightening fast moves left an indelible impression while Lee was alive, and became almost mythological in his death. Enter the Dragon marked something entirely new and awe inspiring to Western audiences at the time. This was the one which would have seen Lee become a major worldwide action star and an interesting antithesis to American heroes like Bronson, McQueen and Eastwood, who were strutting their stuff at the time. What can be said of Enter the Dragon aside from ‘iconic’? It’s the blueprint for the tournament fighting film, that has great support from John Saxon and Jim Kelly, some superb villains and the fight scenes still hold up.
An amalgamation of The Matrix and 1984, thrusts a pre-mega Christian Bale into an Orwellian dystopia, where emotion has been supressed to keep order. All forms of art, literature and free-thinking have been outlawed and Bale is one of the agents charged with keeping that order. He follows his orders dutifully, even if it means killing a partner (Sean Bean dies…again…) before he inevitably sees the light and rebels. Kurt Wimmer’s film was greeted with mediocre reviews and poor box office, though it was consigned to limited releases. Following its home release though, it began accruing a cult fan base and is now highly regarded with genre fans. It might owe too much to Orwell, but the film is elevated above some of its contrivances by the cast. Bale takes it beyond being guff, and is aided by Taye Diggs, Sean Pertwee and Emily Watson (who is always utterly compelling). If you think John Wick gave the world gun-fu, think again. Equilibrium did it first, and whilst it’s almost comically implausible and silly here, it does contribute to some enjoyable set pieces.
The promotional posters featured Arnold Schwarzenegger holding two oversized laser weapons which feature heavily in the film. It promised everything you might expect from the Austrian Oak in his prime, even if the film came at a point he’d just passed said prime. Eraser isn’t too highly placed in Arnie’s legacy, nor does it bare the mark of avoidable Turkey. It’s above middle ground and perhaps a little more forgotten than it deserves. It’s fun, goofy and packed with some enjoyable set pieces. It’s the last balls out Arnie special in truth, with big action, one liners and high concept theatrics. It’s also got James Caan revelling in villainous scenery chomping.
Take the son of Steve McQueen (Chad), English kickboxing video deity Gary Daniels, and the Ultimate Warrior (the legendary WWE grappler who won the world championship at WrestleMania 6). Then throw them into a Dystopian future where criminals have overtaken a section of City which has become lawless and a new potent drug runs rife. THEN…throw them into a PM Entertainment film. The result is chaos, car flips, brawling and almost non-stop action, with a tournament fighting film crammed in for good measure. PM were great at cramming and whilst this isn’t as efficiently delivered as some of their finer works, it’s a lot of fun. McQueen lacked a bit of personality here, and can’t match the physical dynamics of co-star Gary Daniels. In truth, as a Daniels starrer this would have been better. The Warrior has one line in the film, but plenty of grunts. He’s suitably imposing as ‘the Swordsman.’
It probably wasn’t expected to launch a five film franchise, particularly given early versions where Rambo meets his maker at the films climax, but First Blood still remains a genre classic. It’s one of Stallone’s great works (and performances). This tale of a PTSD suffering Nam vet, prodded to reaction by a small town Sheriff and his Deputy is a world away from the run and gun silliness that overtook the franchise from the first sequel onward. We have complex characters here, notably in Rambo but also Sheriff Teasle (played brilliantly by Brian Dennehy). The commentary still retains insight and prescience, and the final scene with Rambo’s breakdown is still one of Sly’s finest hours in front of camera.
Futuristic and inescapable prison. We’ve seen the setting a few times in films like Running Man, No Escape and more recently the aforementioned Arnie and Sly in Escape Plan. Between those, came Fortress with Christopher Lambert. Legendary Horror director, Stuart Gordon makes this one highly enjoyable and it’s pretty goofy. A couple, who recently lose their infant son, in a world where couples are only allowed one child, try to illegally obtain a new child. They’re arrested and sent to a maximum security fortress. The action sci-fi blend works well, and this was during a period where Lambert was making some enjoyable lower tier theatrical films (see also Hunted and Gunmen). Alongside Lambert there’s some stalwart ‘genre’ support from Vernon Wells, Gordon favourite Jeffrey Combs and Kurtwood Smith enjoying his villainy.
From Chad McQueen in Firepower, to the old man in his pomp in Sam Peckinpah’s, The Getaway. McQueen senior exudes cool and effortless charisma as the recently paroled con who goes on the run after a heist gone wrong. Cue car chases and gun battles. Peckinpah’s trailblazing approach to cutting action is in full effect and any fan of John Woo will see the genesis of Woo’s style in a hotel shootout full of balletic slow motion. McQueen sizzles with Ali MacGraw (they’d marry soon after) too.
Get The Gringo
Mel Gibson fresh from falling afoul of controversy, had something of a comeback with Get The Gringo, which as a consequence made no box office impact anywhere. Despite suffering from the result of Gibson backlash (and as a box office pull, Gibson’s card is still marked), Gringo proved a reminder, unfortunate personal issues aside, that he still has talent and presence to burn. Finding himself in a prison village, and the only gringo there, he must escape (cash in tow) with the aid of a young boy. It’s a lot of fun and the beginnings of the gruff Gibson period, his days as a heart-throb in the past.
The Queen of martial arts cinema crossed paths with PM Entertainment. Perhaps that should have been a more regular collaboration, but sadly wasn’t. Guardian Angel is one of Rothrock’s more solid entries from the period. There’s a few PM trademarks along the way with nice stunt work and lots of action. It was also an all too rare chance for Rothrock to play the lead, without being partnered with a male action star (and often times, they weren’t half as awesome as Rothrock herself). It’s a solid video action special, and Rothrock’s presence keeps it watchable as indeed the presence of some quirky characters for this type of film.
The pinnacle of action. Hard Boiled is a visually dynamic, blistering display of pyrotechnic brilliance. John Woo peaked as his career would shift to Hollywood following this. Woo brought together two of the biggest icons in Hong Kong cinema at the time, with Tony Leung and Chow Yun Fat. Neither were strangers to action (Yun Fat particularly) but they also carried with them the reputation of being exceptional actors. With Woo’s signature pathos and duality between opposing characters, we’re offered a complex action film with drama at its core. The set pieces here have never been eclipsed since and are still breathtaking.
Hard to Kill
“You can take that to the bank, Senator Trent…the blood bank!” Steven Seagal’s sophomore film may occasionally feel less loved than others in his opening flurry of slightly interchangeable works. Regardless, Hard to Kill is an enjoyable slice of action cinema which has had some impact on the genre, not least Tarantino lifting entire plot points and sequences for Kill Bill. Seagal well and truly cemented his on screen persona in this, and it’s continued since (and if you’re a fan, that’s a good thing). There are good set pieces here, Kelly Le Brock (who’d briefly become Mrs Seagal after) is a dazzling presence, and William Sadler is a suitably slimy villain. Seagal’s early period was certainly blessed with excellent villains.
Tournament fight film. Check. Albert Pyun. Check. Cyborgs? Um, sure…check. The inimitable Pyun’s trademark fascination with high concept on low budgets saw him once again visit Cyborg tech for Heatseeker. Here, a world champion kickboxer is forced to fight in a tournament against Cyborg brawlers. That sounds goofy and it is, but it’s a lot of fun because of it. Additionally it was an all too rare leading role for Keith Cooke, a dynamic physical performer renowned for the kind of kicks Donnie Yen would become famous for. He’s up, he’s just unleashed about 10 kicks before he’s even landed. I exaggerate, but Cooke was always eye catching. Often though, being no worse an actor than a lot of his contemporaries, he was consigned to bit part player. He’s still best known as Reptile in Paul Anderson’s original adaptation of Mortal Kombat (and Sub-Zero in the first sequel). An irregular career, whether through choice or not, finished in 2012 (which was also 9 years after his previous role in National Security opposite Martin Lawrence).
Join us next time for the next batch in our action A-Z with I-L.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.