The San Juan Daily Star
Five action movies to stream now
By Robert Daniels
From orphans turned assassins to martial artists seeking redemption, these action picks are a feast of retribution.
‘Fist of the Condor’
In this film by Chilean writer-director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, twin brothers (both played by Marko Zaror) arrive at the temple of a martial arts master to study an ancient fighting style (in the film’s lore, one originated by the Inca against the Spanish). They promise each other that if they can’t both join the school, the one who is accepted will teach the other. When one brother is turned away, however, he abandons the plan, murdering the temple’s teacher and absconding with the book holding the secrets of the style.
The innocent brother, credited simply as the Warrior, goes into hiding after his nefarious sibling begins fielding assassins to murder him. To avenge his teacher and save his own life, the Warrior decides to finally confront his past.
“Fist of the Condor” is a throwback to 1970s martial arts films such as “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” which render a man of few words with arresting charisma and awe-inspiring fighting ability. The final fight, set in a dusty ruin, features physics-defying flights through the air that feel rugged yet dizzyingly weightless.
Stream it on Hi-Yah!
“Furies,” a prequel to the 2019 film “Furie,” manages to attack the patriarchy while critiquing girl-boss feminism with aplomb. It helps that Veronica Ngo, a Vietnamese actress who starred in “Furie,” not only returned to act in this film but directed it. Ngo plays Jacqueline, the matron to a group of women assassins whose task is to rid the streets of a sex-trafficking drug gang led by venomous Mad Dog Hai (Thuan Nguyen). Jacqueline’s crew grows by one when she offers to train Bi (Dong Anh Quynh), a homeless teenager haunted by the gruesome death of her mother, a prostitute in a country village.
As a filmmaker, Ngo has an exquisite eye: She reapplies the aesthetics of Wong Kar-wai to enrapturing, blood-drenched battles with bold red and green lighting and wild camera movement. She leads into one scene by tracking a rat running on a pipe into a room where Hai is presiding over a tense meeting. Another stylish cut shows wisps of gore floating past Bi’s eyes after she slashes a man’s face. And a claustrophobic motorcycle chase sequence, set to a thrumming hard-rock song, effectively reveals both the fissures between these women and their dedication to each other in a film that is an audacious statement of empowerment.
Stream it on Netflix.
‘Gangs of Lagos’
Obalola (Tobi Bakre), an orphan taken in from the street by the leading gangster, Nino (Tayo Faniran), is the heart of this mob epic from Nigerian director Jadesola Osiberu. In the dense script by Osiberu and Kay Jegede, we see Obalola rise from a keen, quick-witted kid to an enforcer and bodyguard for Nino’s adversary, Kazeem (Olarotimi Fakunle), after Nino is mysteriously murdered. Kazeem has his finger in several pies: He sells drugs, owns nightclubs and plays kingmaker to politicians.
With an election nearing, Obalola is caught between the realities of an oncoming gang war and his dream of leaving Lagos. The climactic set piece of the film, in which Obalola avenges the death of a childhood friend, is an all-out machete street fight slowed to molasses so that the viewer can feel the visceral heartache in each blade’s slash and the insurmountable odds inherent in a life of crime.
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.
“You can never put down the sword that feeds you,” says Lin (Zhenhua Su), the best swordsman in China. Lin, the hired killer for his town’s magistrate, is poorly compensated: Rather than being paid in silver, he is given fabric to barter. But now his wife is sick, they’re running out of rice and the local businesses no longer accept his fabric. He lets his friend Qian Lu (Cong Xiao) talk him into robbing the constable, Jin Mantang (Mohetaer), of his gold. The job turns bad when Lin accidentally kills the constable’s wife, and further devolves when Qian Lu brutally murders Jin’s son. Lin gets away with the loot, but in a betrayal akin to “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Qian Lu turns on his friend, causing Lin to be sentenced to life at a grueling work camp. Fifteen years later, Lin receives a pardon and returns home for his gold, his family and revenge.
“Rusty Blade,” from Chinese directors Xiaobai Song and Huyi Sun, is a sturdy swordplay drama, where the clinking of blades becomes a symphonic soundtrack to a story concerned with the cost of retaining honor, paying your debts and dying a good death.
Stream it on Vudu.
An orphan raised by the Song people, Qiao Feng (Donnie Yen) is now a leader in the Beggars’ Sect, an elite group of swordsmen endowed with otherworldly wushu powers. His place in society turns sour, however, when he is accused of being Khitan (an enemy of the Song) and of killing an elder. Exiled from the Beggars, he seeks proof of his innocence, only to be framed for the murder of his adoptive parents and a priest. Along the way, he meets Azhu (Chen Yuqi), a trickster, and nurses her back to health after he accidentally injures her during a larger fight.
On the journey to clearing his name, the men he once called his brothers, the Beggars, face him in battle: Their confrontations include graceful and dexterous spinning through the sky, balletic sliding on the floor and blades that seem to move faster than light. Yen, who also directed “Sakra,” captures these sprawling battles with soft melodramatic touches — supported by muscular lighting and whirlwind fight choreography — and a swaggering tone that aptly marries the tragedy and artistry central to every thrilling martial arts costume drama.
Rent or buy on most major platforms.