Last week I finally caught a screening of the highly-anticipated Indonesian action film The Raid, which has been bringing down houses at TIFF and Sundance. (Our review from TIFF.) The frankly stunning action film is directed by Gareth Evans (Merantau), and it will be released by Sony Pictures Classics in late March / early April -- but not before kicking some ass at South By Southwest next month.
So on my way home from The Raid, I was (of course) tweeting in highly opinionated fashion about how "foreign" films are presently kicking Hollywood's ass, as far as quality action films are concerned. Then I got a response from Duncan Jones, director of Moon and Source Code, asking me to write a piece about the best recent action movies I've seen from around the planet. And when the guy who debuted with one of the best sci-fi films in 20 years asks for a favor, you do it. So here goes:
13 Assassins (Japan) -- Takes a little while to warm up -- although I wouldn't call it boring -- but once the mayhem hits the screen, it just ... doesn't ... stop. (Also of note: Outrage, Yakuza Weapon)
Attack the Block (Great Britain) -- Call it action, comedy, sci-fi, horror, whatever. It still pulses with energy, offers colorful characters, and moves forward on all cylinders. (Also of note: Centurion, A Lonely Place to Die)
Chocolate (Thailand) -- An autistic girl studies the moves of the martial arts masters and becomes one of the most entertainingly dangerous heroines in years. (Also of note: Born to Fight, Ong Bak, The Protector)
Clash (Vietnam) -- A female mercenary turns to old colleagues when a bad guy kidnaps her daughter. Obvious plot machinations, but some pretty impressive mayhem. (Also of note: The Rebel)
District 13 & District 13: Ultimatum (France)-- The first entry is a shot of adrenalin; the sequel is a bit drier but certainly packed with lunacy. (Also of note: Point Blank; Sleepless Night)
Elite Squad & Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Brazil) -- Might look like just a super-intense police procedural to American eyes, but these two films have made quite a lot of noise in Brazil, and I don't just mean at the box office. (Also of note: City of God!)
Flash Point (Hong Kong) -- At least three different gang leaders declare war on a special agent ... and vice versa. (Also of note: Exiled, Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Kill Zone, Vengeance)
The Good, the Bad and the Weird (South Korea) -- Probably my favorite action film of the last ten years. Gorgeous to look at, smoothly fun, and outrageously kinetic. (Also of note: A Bittersweet Life, City of Violence, The Man from Nowhere)
JCVD (Belgium) -- Probably the best action film that Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever made. Hell, forget probably.
Kiltro (Chile) -- Simple stuff about a pretty lady and her powerful protector, but works well as an introduction to the ass-kicking talents of Mr. Marko Zaror. (Also of note: Mirageman, Mandrill)
The Raid (Indonesia) -- Straightforward, simple, and pretty damn amazing. Police raid a high-rise that's jam-packed with sleazy thugs. Enough said. (Also of note: Merantau)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finland) -- Action, horror, and sweet sense of nostalgic humor run rampant through this great Finnish import.
Saint Nick (Netherlands) -- Slightly similar to Rare Exports, although a little wackier.
The Warlords (China) -- An epic period piece about three brothers, ancient betrayals, and lots of violence. (Also of note: Red Cliff, Hero, Let the Bullets Fly, Wu Xia)
Please throw your own suggestions in the comments section below. We may do doing some follow-up pieces in upcoming weeks. Also, big thanks to Twitchfilm's James Marsh and our own Peter Hall for helping me put this list together!