As anyone who knows me relatively well knows, I’m a huge action film fan. I absolutely love the genre. Yes, most of the movies are very similar and yes, they feature plenty of mindless action, but you know what? That’s what makes them great. They’re full of explosions, bullets flying, bodies hitting the ground, beautiful women, guys with guns, car chases, and pretty much everything that might look or sound cool on-screen.
For action fans, there are tons of options to get your fix with every year, but even then, some of these movies tend go by the wayside, due to smaller budgets, lack of marketing, or one of any other number of reasons.
Here are 11 action films I really enjoyed that fall into one or more of these categories that I think you might also enjoy. There are numerous others, but at the moment, these ones stand out the most for me.
1. THE GENE GENERATION (2007, RATED: R)
This one has likely slipped by most due to pretty much going straight to DVD, but it’s still worth a look. Bai Ling stars as Michelle, an assassin in the future who takes down “DNA Hackers”, people who use skills and technology to “hack” into other people’s bodies and kill them in the process. Things get personal when her brother Jackie, who has an addictive personality and likes to engage in illegal activities for the fun of it, and has crossed the wrong people as a result. By continuing to hunt the Hackers, she gets herself closer to Jackie’s freedom, and both of them leaving town for good.
2. SHOOT ‘EM UP (2007, RATED: R)
Possibly the cheesiest title in action movie history, and it suits it just fine. This movie is “popcorn” action at it’s best, with a story that is paper-thin with plenty of action, just how we like it. A drifter (Clive Owen) gets himself involved with a group of mobsters when he sees them chasing a pregnant woman down the middle of a street at night. Not being able to sit idly by, he gets himself involved, finding out the mobsters are after the woman’s unborn baby. He proceeds to take on the entire gang, and winds up getting mixed up in a political plot involving guns that aren’t on the market yet, as well as opposition to the 2nd Amendment by a would-be presidential candidate.
Like I said, paper-thin plot, but the amount of gunplay and senseless violence more than makes up for it. Plus, I think Clive Owen is a good actor.
3. THE CITY OF VIOLENCE (2006, NOT RATED)
Many people in the U.S. don’t like foreign films, usually because they don’t like reading subtitles. It’s too bad, as they often miss out on a lot of great films from other countries. This is one of those. A detective named Tae-su reunites with some friends at a funeral for another friend, and suspects that some of those friends may be involved in some shady dealings. He and one Seok-hwan, another friend at the funeral who also suspects something illegal, begin investigating and find that there is a massive land deal going on, of which the other friends are involved. During the investigations, the two come across numerous gangs looking to stop them from revealing the truth, resulting in massive bloodshed.
This movie has a very Quentin Tarantino feel to it, so if you like Tarantino films, this one is right up your alley. Not only that, but it features some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever witness, including an exceptionally long and bloody one that closes the film out.
4. SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (2007, RATED: R)
Speaking of Tarantino, he was directly responsible for this film making it stateside. Created by Asian horror legend Takashi Miike, Django is a western film with a Japanese twist. Based on the actual feud between the Genji and Heike clans, it combines the feel of a samurai flick with that of a spaghetti western. A mysterious stranger enters the town amidst a war between the two clans. He offers his services to both sides (unknown to the other) for a large sum of money, with neither clan realizing his intentions of actually being loyal to neither, hoping they destroy each other in the process.
Despite not featuring a single American actor (save for a cameo by Tarantino), the entire film is in English, with all of the actors learning the language phonetically. You may still want to have the subtitles on, but it’s not completely necessary. It features great action, a great script, and a brand-new twist on the western genre, really helping it to stand out from numerous others.
5. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994, RATED: R)
Despite being one of the more critically acclaimed action films out there, there are still a very large number of people who have yet to see this film, and it’s a damn shame. Jean Reno plays a professional hitman who is exceptional at what he does, hired for only the most important jobs. After meeting a little girl in his apartment (Natalie Portman, in her film debut) who is the daughter of very abusive parents, he winds up saving her after her family is killed during a raid by some corrupt police officers (her father was a drug runner). Reno takes her in under his wing, and based on what has happened to her in her life, teaches her how to be an assassin like himself.
It still amazes me how many people have missed this movie, especially when you consider that writer Luc Besson’s other films like The Fifth Element and The Transporter series have been so popular. It’s well-acted, features a great script, an outstanding performance by Gary Oldman (one of the coolest actors alive), and allows you to get a real emotional attachment to the characters, unlike many other films in the genre.
6. THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008, RATED: R)
Despite what many would believe, this was NOT a sequel to the Tom Jane film. After Jane was unable to do a sequel, that script was scrapped in favor of a brand new start for the series. Ray Stevenson plays the Punisher this time around, targeting a mob family led by Billy Russoti (Dominic West). After Punisher lays waste to pretty much Russoti’s entire crime family, he throws Russoti into a glass-crushing machine, leaving him for dead. Russoti survives, but is horribly disfigured. He begins referring to himself as “Jigsaw” due to the scarring after his surgery, and vows to take Punisher down.
While the Tom Jane of the Punisher wasn’t bad by any means, Ray Stevenson’s version makes Jane look like a total wuss. He is brutal and holds very little remorse, exactly how this character should be portrayed. He proves his bad-assery in only the first few minutes of the film resetting his broken nose with the eraser end of a pencil, moments after slaughtering a bunch of mobsters with automatic weapons.
7. THE MACHINE GIRL (2008, UNRATED)
From the production company Tokyo Shock-known for quite possibly the craziest films ever known to man, comes The Machine Girl. It’s about a school girl whose world comes crashing down when her brother is killed by bullies who are actually the children of a well-known Yakuza family. She blindly goes after the clan on a solo revenge mission, but they are too much for her, cutting off her left arm and leaving her for dead. She manages to escape and stumbles across a set of parents who are highly skilled mechanics and technicians. They replace her arm with a mini-gun. The three together then vow to take out the Yakuza family one-by-one.
It’s as cheesy as it sounds, and that’s what makes it so great. The story is beyond ridiculous, and the violence is over-the-top at its best.
8. TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008, UNRATED)
Our second entry from the Tokyo Shock production company is even more insane than the first. It’s set in Japan in the near future, where a mad scientist going by the codename “The Key Man” has developed a virus that mutates humans into deadly monsters he calls “Engineers”. The police creates a special task force to deal with these monstrosities, the “Engineer Hunters”. However, they are basically independent from the police, and are extremely brutal and vicious in dealing with the mutants. They are headed up by Ruka (Eihi Shiina), who is the best of the best, and also hunting down the man who killed her father, who may be associated with Key Man. After she hunts him down, he infects her as well. Meanwhile, another infected officer wipes out the main precinct, which leads to a city-wide crackdown on Engineers, including anyone who is suspected of possibly being one, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
Ruka eventually meets up with Key Man, where she finds out he is not all he seems, and there was more to her father’s death than she knew, and in a roundabout way, they are actually on the same side.
This is easily the most insane movie I’ve ever seen, and quite possibly the most insane movie ever made.
9. THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS (1998, RATED: R)
This was the American debut of international star Chow Yun-fat, who plays John Lee, hitman hired by a Triad boss named Wei to kill the 7 year-old son of a police officer (Michael Rooker), who killed the Wei’s son in a police raid. Lee, despite the attempt, can’t bring himself to kill the cop’s son. Wei then threatens to kill Lee’s family back in China if he can’t complete his task, but Lee still refuses to do so. Lee attempts to get back to China with a fake passport with the help of a top quality con artist named Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino), but Wei hires men to track Lee and Coburn down before the passport is completed. Lee decides he must stop the hitmen before he can flee the country, and while holding Coburn hostage, offers her protection through the ordeal, as well as her freedom, in exchange for her getting his passport made.
This film features a great soundtrack and solid performances by both Yun-fat and Sorvino (who has kind of disappeared, despite being a good actress) and plenty of action, including a cameo by action legend Danny Trejo. For whatever reason, it got lost in the shuffle at its time of release, despite receiving a lot of praise and critical acclaim.
10. GAMER (2009, RATED: R)
In a near-future version of New York, billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has created a new genre of video games, where real people are controlled by other real people. His first attempt was a game called Society, a Sims-type game that allows players to more or less live out their life how they dream. His second game, Slayers, involves players taking control of actual prison inmates who fight to the death, with the winning inmate receiving a full pardon. Inmate John “Kable” Tillman is controlled by a 17 year-old named Simon, who has built a reputation across the world for his incredible skills in the game. Under Simon’s control, Kable is just a few wins away from gaining his freedom. Meanwhile, an underground group of hackers called “Humanz” are attempting to put a stop to what Castle is doing, seeing it as a form of enslavement. One of their members manages to reach Kable in prison and inform him that he is simply an avatar in a game (the prisoners don’t know this), and that Castle has no intention of letting him live, even if he wins the game. Kable manages to communicate with Simon thanks to his informant, asking to be released in order to take matters into his own hands, including freeing his wife, who is voluntarily an avatar in the Society game.
Despite being released nationwide in the U.S. and featuring major names like Butler, Hall and Terry Crews, this movie didn’t do as well as you might expect. Sure, the plot was pretty silly, but the action was great, and, I know I’ve said this repeatedly in this column, but one of the other highlights of this film is the soundtrack. It’s especially surprising when you consider that the team behind this film, Neveldine/Taylor, was also responsible for the Crank series of films, which are wildly popular.
Chow Yun-fat makes his second appearance on this list, playing Inspector Tequila, a police officer who is investigating a gun-smuggling ring. At the same time, a police officer named Tony (Tony Leung) who has infiltrated a Triad gang (unbeknownst to Tequila), makes a hit in the middle of a library on a fellow Triad member who has gone to work for a rival gang. After tracking Tony down, Tequila later discovers the truth about who Tony is, and tracks him down a second time to his house boat. They are attacked by the gang Tony was working for. They eventually agree to work together to track down the rest of the Triads and put a stop to the gun smuggling, ending in a massive shoot-out in a hospital.
While there are a lot of people in the U.S. who haven’t seen this film, it is considered by many action aficionados to be the best and most influential action film of all time. Not only that, but it is easily considered John Woo’s best film, which really says something when you consider Woo’s body of work, with one of the reasons being that it features some of the wildest, most intense shoot-outs in cinema history. It’s also my personal all-time favorite action film.
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