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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Five action movies to stream now

“Hard Hit,” by Kim Chang-ju, is a furious combination of “Speed” and “Phone Booth.”


With comic book heroes, comedic secret agents or family drama, these films bend the genre.

‘Hard Hit’

Stream it on Prime Video.

“Hard Hit,” a remake of “Retribution” by Spanish director Dani de la Torre, is a furious combination of “Speed” and “Phone Booth” that manages to swerve in unexpected ways. In this film, from Korean director Kim Chang-ju, a successful bank manager and father, Lee Sung-gyu (Jo Woo-jin), receives a mysterious phone call while driving his children to school. The voice on the line tells Lee that a bomb underneath his seat will explode if anyone leaves his car. The only way Lee or his children will live, the caller says, is if Lee deposits more than $4 million into the extortionist’s account.

The tight streets of Busan serve as the claustrophobic canvas for big explosions and vast car chases as Lee speeds across the city to procure the ransom and avoid the cops who believe he is behind the resulting destruction. The fear on Jo’s face grips you in the raucous set pieces. And a late appointment with a ghost from the past makes the chases worth every second.

‘Head Rush’

Rent or buy on most major platforms.

After a diagnosis of lung cancer, a young Vietnamese comic book artist named Tam (Curong Seven) is given two months to live. Rather than accepting a fate that will leave his wife widowed and his son fatherless, he turns to his Uncle Ma (Hoang Son), an experimental surgeon, to transplant his head onto the body of a dead gangster. The surgery magically imbues Tam with superhero strength like the characters in his graphic novels. But his moments of courage, such as saving a child from a burning building, soon bring attention from gang members who murdered the previous owner of his body.

“Head Rush,” from Vietnamese American director Victor Vu, is a melodramatic adrenaline hit that combines soap-opera family dynamics — as Tam’s fame grows, his personal life crumbles — with gravity-defying chase sequences atop roofs that lead to balletic fight scenes. Vu’s awareness of how bodies can dynamically move within space is an asset in this action-packed subversion of the superhero subgenre, giving “Head Rush” the kind of pulpy, B-movie fun missing from today’s cinematic landscape.

‘Hell Dogs’

Stream it on Netflix.

Adapted from the manga of the same name by Fukamachi Akio, “Hell Dogs” combines neo-noir sensibilities with spaghetti western tropes for a suspenseful crime thriller filled with double-crosses and more undercover agents than you can count.

At the outset of this film from Japanese director Masato Harada, two gunmen infiltrate a supermarket, murdering three female workers in a black-and-white flashback. One of these employees is the crush of a local cop named Goro Idezutsi (Jun’ichi Okada). The death of his sweetheart sends Goro on a yearslong revenge binge that ultimately forces him to change his name to Kanetaka to infiltrate a Yakuza mob.

As is inevitable in a gangland drama, Goro soon loses his identity as he slides further toward the dark side of the law, becoming the trusted bodyguard of the Yakuza don Toake (Miyavi). With his unhinged partner, Murooka (Kentaro Sakaguchi), Goro carries out bloody hits and reprisals with the workmanlike precision of a man on a mission. Alliances are tested and revealed in a “Today I settled all family business” sequence filled with crazed shootouts and distressing assassinations of supposed friends.

‘My Name Is Vendetta’

Stream it on Netflix.

While Italian director Cosimo Gomez’s “My Name Is Vendetta” follows in the footsteps of other “messed with the wrong man’s family” films like “Commando” and “Taken,” it discovers new terrain by focusing on not only Santo (Alessandro Gassmann) but also his daughter Sofia (Ginevra Francesconi).

Santo and Sofia are flung from their idyllic existence when she posts a picture of her father to Instagram. Facial recognition software locates Santo, causing a pair of murderous goons to kill Sofia’s mother. Now Sofia and Santo venture toward Milan in search of the Mafia boss (Remo Girone) who upended their lives.

Gomez puts action fans squarely in the carnage: There are close-ups of arms breaking, knives plunging into stomachs and blood dripping from victims’ mouths. Between a tautly edited nighttime showdown in a rail yard and a cathartic final confrontation between Santo and the Mafia boss, there’s no shortage of high-octane brutality. And yet what makes “My Name Is Vendetta” indelible is the close family relationship that gives the bloody proceedings a tangible element of tenderness.

‘Mission: Possible’

Stream it on Prime Video.

A comedic spoof of the espionage subgenre akin to “Get Smart,” “Mission: Possible,” by Korean writer and director Kim Hyeong-joo, entertains a hilarious premise: Yoo Da-hee (Lee Sun-bin), a secret agent on her first mission, teams with Woo Su-han (Kim Young-kwang), a man she thinks is a trained expert in subterfuge, to recover a shipment of stolen guns. There are two problems. Yoo doesn’t know it, but her bosses consider her task a suicide mission. And Woo appears to be a bumbling idiot hoping to grift some cash.

In their investigation, the two meet a band of oddball characters, such as a flamboyant gay psychic and an older woman looking for her lost dog. Throughout, Kim is a master at breaking the farcical mood with lean gunplay captured by cinematographer Nam Hyun-woo’s kinetic use of shaky cam. The editor Heo Sun-mi further switches moods by speeding up or reverting to slow motion. Magically, a satisfying twist turns the climax of “Mission: Possible” into an unforgettable, high-stakes game where love and war hang in the balance.

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