Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Red Sun (1971)
Let's run down the list of Features That Should Automatically Make Ryan Love The Movie:
a) It's a Western
b) It stars Toshiro Mifune as a samurai in the West
Ok, the combination of those two alone should be enough to make it my favorite movie of all time, but there's more.
c) Charles Bronson as a gunslinger
d) Directed by the guy who made some fun Bond movies
e) Features another gunslinger played by the French guy from Le Samourai (Alain Delon)
What could go wrong?
Well, it should have been my favorite movie ever, but it turns out it was just OK, and that's mostly because of Mifune hacking up bandits and dubiously-cast Indians.
The first thing Amy and I noticed was that the setup is identical to Shanghai Noon. It begins with Bronson and Le Samourai sticking up a passenger train. Bronson is supposed to come off as the likable thief, while his partner Delon seems more sinister, and at the end of the heist Delon betrays and attempts to kill Bronson. Mifune is also on the train, accompanying an ambassador from Japan, and his friend is killed by Delon during the hold-up. Mifune discovers Bronson outside, not quite dead, and the two set off after Delon as a bickering and unlikely pair. Along the way they introduce each other to their respective cultures a bit, and become loose friends. They even stop off at a brothel where Bronson is well-known and Mifune gets introduced to Western women. From here the stories of Shanghai Noon and Red Sun part ways, as the annoying banshee known as Ursula Andress is introduced and unfortunately survives the rest of the movie.
High points: seeing Toshiro Mifune as a samurai in color. His character and performance are very good. He's the most interesting person to watch in the movie. His action scenes, especially the one where he's attacking on horseback, are excellent. The other action scenes are ok as well. The sound effects for the guns (you knew I was going to comment on them) are unique. They sound like production audio for blank-firing guns, but it works. Delon is pretty handy with the gun, and uses fanning to great effect.
Mediocre points: Bronson. His character is not very likable: starts off by robbing the train and bringing Delon in on the job, so he's responsible for the samurai's death, yet he takes no responsibility; then he visits a farmhouse to steal horses and watches as bandits kill an innocent old man while his wife watches and his daughters hide nearby (Bronson only steps in and kills the bandits when they come close to discovering him); at the very end he is responsible for another character's death, and directly after it happens he does something that makes the death pointless. Bronson's voice is also tough to listen to. His cadence and delivery are annoying and way too close to Hank Azaria's parody of him on the Simpsons. I think he works best in Once Upon a Time in the West because he doesn't talk very much.
Also, there isn't much style to the movie. The most interesting part is probably the one towards the end when they're in the old church, and they're surrounded by a field of tall reeds. The use of sound is very effective during these scenes, as the sound of the wind rushing through the reeds is used to mask any sign of the approaching Comanche. The sound and visuals create some effectively tense moments. Unfortunately that's about all the style that I can remember. Everything else was pretty uninspired.
The low points: Ursula Andress. I think she was getting paid a bonus for every time she screamed "You bastard!" with her annoyingly hoarse voice. The ending was also very unsatisfying because of the stupid choice that Bronson's character makes (the one that results in a pointless death).
Ultimately Red Sun is failed potential. I'm glad Shanghai Noon decided to use the concept again, because that makes at least one East vs. Wild West movie that I enjoy, even if it Mifune ain't in it.