Make no mistake, The Hunted is a terrible movie, but I'll be darned if I don't have a certain affection for it. It has four things that I find irresistible: 1) a very photogenic-looking Japan; 2) swordplay; 3) Christopher Lambehr; 4) Yoko Shimada.
If the name Yoko Shimada rings no bells or presses no buzzers, think back a bit. She was the one who played Lady Mariko in Shogun — probably the only English-speaking member of the entire Japanese cast — and had been a veteran of many Japanese movies before then. (One of the best, Vessel of Sand, was based on a best-selling mystery novel which I need to get around to reviewing one of these days.) She's been tapped only occasionally for American movies, which is a shame — the only other productions I've seen her in are Christophe Gans's Crying Freeman (based on the manga of the same name) and a rather dismal 1985 movie called My Champion, about a Japanese-American long-distance runner. Her presence alone makes this movie bearable.
Too bad most of them film is about Lambert as a computer salesman named Racine, currently in Japan for a conference. At his hotel, he meets an enigmatic woman (Joan Chen, also very easy on the eyes) whom he winds up spending a very steamy evening with. Turns out it's her last night on earth as she's been marked for death by Kinjo (John Lone), a ninja clan leader bent on taking over Japan (or at least having the Rolling Stones play there again, or something). Racine is a witness to the woman's murder, the ninja chase him, and he escapes only because they have a police detective character come in and scoff at how silly the whole ninja-in-this-day-and-age thing is.
Racine eventually winds up in the protectorate of Kinjo's sworn enemy, a samurai, and his wife (Shimada). The samurai character, played by Japanese samurai-movie staple Yoshio Harada, is also fun to watch: he sidles through his scenes mumbling his dialogue around low-hanging hanks of black hair, then turns around and slices enemy shuriken out of the air. Shimada's also great to watch during the same fight scenes — one on a bullet train and another, more slow-burn action sequence at the end.
Would that there was a story here that was worth following. The clunky script and Lambert's anti-charisma (he's best in foil roles, not leading ones) all work against the movie, and the best things about it are the corner details and incidentals. Leonard Maltin had the last laugh when he summed up the movie this way: "Titles of bona fide Japanese classics indicate what it's like sitting through this: Gate of Hell, Street of Shame, and — in Lambert's case — An Actor's Revenge." I wish I could write like that.copyright=Universal Pictures