sat 24/02/2024

DVD: Red Sun | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Red Sun

DVD: Red Sun

It's samurai versus gunslinger in a western with a touch of the East

'Red Sun': An East-West genre hybrid from the 1970s

Hollywood westerns and Japanese samurai movies have long been generic companions. Akira Kurosawa borrowed from the films of John Ford for his chambara (a term referring to period drama with swordfighting), while Hollywood borrowed back again by remaking The Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven, and Sergio Leone launched the spaghetti western subgenre by remaking Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars.

Toshiro Mifune, star of both The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, was the only Japanese actor of his era who might have been reasonably described as world-famous; he had already appeared in Grand Prix and Hell in the Pacific when in 1971 he made Red Sun (Optimum Western Classics), a Franco-Italian-Spanish co-production with an international cast, filmed in Spain, and among the first of a number of East-West genre hybrids to appear in the 1970s (Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza and Roy Ward Baker's The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires are two such titles that spring to mind). Alain Delon plays the bandit who hijacks a train to steal a ceremonial sword from the Japanese ambassador to Washington; Mifune plays the samurai who co-opts the services of robber Charles Bronson, whom Delon has double-crossed,  to help him locate the malefactor, save his nation’s honour by retrieving the invaluable blade, and avenge the colleague who was killed during the robbery.

The idea of a samurai at large in the Wild West is irresistible, and the film almost scrapes by on novelty value alone. In time-honoured spaghetti western style, there's plenty of vivid scarlet  bleeding as combatants are shot or sliced; Ursula Andress, as Delon's main squeeze, goes topless; Bronson and Mifune play off each other well, and their odd-couple pairing (mutual antagonism developing into affectionate respect) is endearing. At one point Mifune hunkers down in the middle of nowhere to snack on what looks suspiciously like sushi (presumably carried in an invisible 19th century mini-fridge), and swordplay is invariably more fun to watch than shoot-outs. On paper, this film sounds as if it can't fail.

And yet, alas, the results fall disappointingly flat. Mifune's fish-out-of-water status is never properly exploited; maybe the intention was to show him as feeling at home in the West, but he might just as well be Bronson's oddly dressed cousin from out of town. Delon, with judicious scar make-up, is icily beautiful as ever, but his black-clad baddie is too laid-back to be interesting - we needed Klaus Kinski or Gian Maria Volonté levels of villainy here, or indeed Lee Byung-hun, who recently played a similar evildoer with ten times more swagger in Kim Ji-woon's 2008 Korean western The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

Terence Young, best known for his work on the first two James Bond movies, directs in a manner more workmanlike than inspired, and lacks the demented panache of such spaghetti specialists as Sergio Corbucci. His use of landscape is functional rather than symbolic or spectacular, and he does just OK with the action scenes, with only the messy  grande finale (featuring marauding Comanches, fire arrows and a field of waving grass) coming anywhere near to delivering an epic thrill.

Watch the trailer for Red Sun

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