The Warriors is my favourite film of all time so it’s hardly surprising that I’d pick this title for any film topic! However, while it may not be an original choice, it grants me the opportunity to discuss a lesser known (and largely underrated) hero of the action genre, the film’s key protagonist, Swan.
In the text which follows, there are spoilers from The Warriors. I very much hope you’ve seen it already but, if you haven’t got around to it for some strange reason, pick it up on DVD and then revisit this piece!
Swan is a reluctant hero. Never shown with any ego or arrogance, he backs up “War Chief” Cleon and helps maintain order when the group venture into The Bronx for a huge truce summit headed by Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs. When the shit hits the fan and Cyrus is assassinated, The Warriors are framed for murder and find themselves in the crosshairs of the cops and every gang in the city. They must fight their way home to Coney Island.
There can be no doubt that Swan isn’t enthusiastic about the job, nor the circumstances of the promotion, but knows he must lead his brother’s home. Despite the grumblings of Ajax who is arrogant, hot headed and wants the position for himself, the guys back Swan, knowing he was Cleon’s first choice and the best candidate. From the outset, Swan says with confidence: “We’re going back”, and so the journey begins.
Along their chaotic travels, The Warriors fight, flee, stick together, get separated and not everyone makes it home. Nonetheless, Swan is a genuine leader making smart, rational decisions and ultimately gets the majority of the group home safe. He also proves himself very handy during fights with rival gangs. Watch him take on the Baseball Furies in the park and the Punks in the subway – he lays a real beat down on those goons! Finally, he wounds the nasty, vicious Luther from The Rogues by throwing a switchblade into his arm, evading a gunshot (like a boss) and proving his gang’s innocence, allowing The Riffs to take vengeance against Cyrus’ real killers, The Rogues. The Warriors couldn’t have made it without Swan.
Michael Beck played the character with a sense of focus and calm which erupted into explosive action when needed. Swan is quiet and reserved for much of the film, avoiding confrontation where possible (such as The Orphans encounter) but demolishing rival gangs when backed into a corner. He is not violent by choice, and often diplomatic and respectful, but will do whatever it takes to save his friends and prove their innocence. All the trademarks of a real action hero! Swan remains yet another character gem in director Walker Hill’s roster of classic action cinema.
Author: Mike Fury
Movie: Man on Fire
Actor: Denzel Washington
I only found out recently that there was another movie called Man on Fire which starred Scott Glenn and came out in 1987. The role was made iconic however, by Denzel Washington and it has since gone on to be one of his most popular roles.
Creasy was created by English author Philip Nicholson, writing as A. J. Quinnell. He apparently wrote under a pseudonym because he didn’t want the mafia to target him. “Marcus Creasy” of the novel originally went on a rampage in Italy, as revenge against the mafia.
John Creasy in the 2004 film is an alcoholic former CIA operative/U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance officer turned bodyguard, who goes on a revenge rampage after his charge, nine-year-old Pita Ramos (Dakota Fanning), is abducted in Mexico City.
Rather than being an adrenaline rush of action though, we get to spend some time with Creasy and Pita and we see their bond develop. When she is taken, there is no force on Earth that will stop Creasy as he shoots, tortures and intimidates everyone for answers.
The film was directed by the late, great Tony Scott and is also regarded as one of his finest hours.
Creasy is a character with depth and not just an invincible hero; he is pretty much dead on the inside and is a hard drinking alcoholic, desperately trying to numb the painful memories of all the people he has killed in his lifetime. Pita is essentially his last shot at redemption and when she is taken from him, all of his anger comes out in brutal fashion. He is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save Pita which makes him a true hero.
Author: Eoin Friel
Actor: Karl Urban
Sorry Sly, you know we love you but Karl Urban’s dedication to the character of Judge Joseph Dredd was spot on. For the entire movie he never takes the helmet off keeping the character gruff and mysterious like he’s meant to be.
Dredd takes place in a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. It’s based on the comic from 2000 AD and has been a hugely popular character for years.
Despite having a similar story to The Raid, the movie Dredd went into production first and is suitably different and is to date the best adaptation of the character to the screen.
Sadly the movie failed to ignite the box office so a sequel remains unlikely but we’re all desperately waiting for one. I’ve waited to see Judge Death on celluloid for years but I’m not sure how he would work in this grittier and more realistic movie universe. One can still hope that we see him in some capacity in the future.
For now, Karl Urban’s badass future cop is the law; just pray he doesn’t come for you.
Author: Eoin Friel
The Bride AKABeatrix Kiddo
Movie: Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2
Actor: Uma Thurman
Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to Spaghetti Westerns and classic martial arts flicks has one of the best female protagonists of all time. Uma Thurman plays Beatrix Kiddo AKA The Bride AKA Black Mamba in Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 and like the best heroes she isn’t invincible.
Yes, she has great fighting skills but more importantly she’s a mother who is trying to get reunited with her daughter after being left for dead by the dastardly Bill (David Carradine).
The character was apparently created during the making of Pulp Fiction and the inspiration is actually Clint Eastwood’s character from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The Bride was a member of the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad”, an elite group of assassins. She was trained under Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) whose tutelage was “cruel” as he showed little mercy. This would make her a formidable and ruthless warrior and as the story progressed we find out that it makes her even harder to kill.
She becomes a master of the Hung Gar style of kung fu and was the only Viper to learn the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique”. I particularly loved the concept of the Five Point Palm as it really harkened back to the old school martial arts movies.
The Bride’s attire is also a nice tribute as it’s Bruce Lee’s outfit from Game of Death.
Tarantino has promised for years to create a “Whole Bloody Affair” on DVD/Blu-ray but sadly it has never materialised.
Author: Eoin Friel
Movie: The Mission: Impossible Series
Actor: Tom Cruise
I was wondering who Tom Cruise’s most iconic character was and it came down to Maverick from Top Gun and Ethan Hunt from the Mission: Impossible series. Maverick is arguably the best known but Ethan Hunt has been through four movies in a franchise each with their own feel.
In the first Mission: Impossible movie, Hunt is more of an espionage specialist with one of the best teams in the business… until they are all wiped out by a mysterious villain. As much as I enjoy part 1, it’s not my favourite of the series; I find the story to be far too convoluted and by the end I don’t have a bloody clue what’s going on.
What I do love though are the set-pieces. When Ethan is dangling from the wire in the secure facility, it’s the perfect exercise in tension and is now one of the most iconic scenes in action cinema history.
Cruise’s natural likability shines through with Hunt and he has some choice one-liners. After the big reveal at the end, I love his “Of course… I’m very disappointed to hear you say that” which cracks me up every time.
Mission: Impossible II is easily my favourite of the series as it’s directed by action maestro John Woo; we get slo-mo, pigeons, doves, double gun play and an epic motorbike chase. Ethan in this one is more of an all-out action hero who looks cool no matter what.
His climactic battle with Dougray Scott’s villain Sean Ambrose is the best fight scene in the series and Scott admitted he genuinely punched Cruise in the face during it. The final 30 minutes of the movie is pure action nirvana and although it lacks the espionage aspect of the first movie, this one is just better paced.
In Mission: Impossible III Ethan is more vulnerable than ever as he has a new wife who is in harm’s way when he gets on the wrong side of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s super-evil bad guy. Although the film moves along at breakneck pace, it’s my least favourite of the series and for some reason the most forgettable.
It does have some great action though and the stand out scene is the attack on the bridge with Cruise jumping around, avoiding missiles and gunfire. Hunt is no longer the cool action hero in this movie but more of a Bourne style character, which of course for me is uninteresting. I also hate how we never find out what the rabbit’s foot is.
In Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol the action is mind-blowing with Hunt in action hero mode again climbing the Burj Khalifa building, running through sandstorms and generally doing impossible things… thus the name. Hunt isn’t quite as important as in the other movies with a new crew, including Jeremy Renner stealing his thunder a bit. The movie has arguably the best action of the series but it has a weak villain whose name I don’t even know.
Mission: Impossible 5 is on the way and it will be interesting to see how Ethan Hunt has evolved once more; will he be the main focus of the story or will the crew take over? Either way, the series has proven hugely successful with Ghost Protocol destroying the box office and we shall wait with great interest for Part 5.
Author: Eoin Friel
Movie: Hard Target
Actor: Jean-Claude Van Damme
“Hunting season is over.”
While Jean-Claude Van Damme was never known for machine gun mayhem a la Stallone in Rambo or Schwarzenegger in Commando; Hard Target’s Chance Boudreaux comes dangerously close to pure action movie territory.
As a decorated former member of Marine Force Recon turned down on his luck sailor, Boudreaux stumbles into a deadly game put on by rich hunters. Their prey? Military veterans. When beautiful and smart yet out of her neighborhood lawyer Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) comes looking for her missing father, she uncovers the darker side of Dixie in the violent and seedy underworld of New Orleans.
Teaming with Chance, the pair take on the evil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen), his right hand man Pik van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo) and their small army of well-armed sportsmen (including Arnold’s buddy Sven-Ole Thorsen).
Recruiting Hong Kong action maestro John Woo for his first American film, Hard Target is full of violently slick, slow motion fight and shootout sequences that see Van Damme filling the bad guys with lead before finishing them off with a spinning hook kick to the face.
Like a greasy mullet’ed samurai in a denim shirt and tight jeans; J.C.V.D.’s Chance fights, chases and shoots it out with Fouchon’s crew using fists, pistols, shotguns, pigeons, gasoline, roundhouse kicks and one-liners. Al of this while moto-surfing on a motorcycles standing up, outrunning a helicopter on horseback through Louisiana’s streets, back country and of course a warehouse to save the girl and take revenge for their dead comrades.
If that weren’t enough, Chance flexes his muscles, gets shot, doesn’t get burned by fire and drops a grenade down Fouchon’s pants during the explosion and bullet filled finale.
Author: Duvien Ho
Movie: Lonewolf McQuade
Actor: Chuck Norris
Lonewolf McQuade is the best modern day action spaghetti western movie around. The reason is none other than J.J McQuade.
He is the best Texas Ranger ever seen on screen; he does things in pure badass style. He is not a model citizen, he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t play by the rules and he doesn’t live “clean”.
Instead he is the most determined lawman in the Lone Star state. His lone wolf attitude is second to none and if the shit hits the fan, and he finds himself buried in his jeep deep in the ground, all he needs is one beer and a badass turbocharger to escape.
Oh, didn’t I mention that he is played by Chuck Norris? That makes J.J. an all-time action classic hero.
Author: Stef Loisios
Movie: True Grit
Actor: John Wayne
Rooster Cogburn – Few actors effortlessly exude and personify primal machismo as effortlessly as John Wayne. Having a career last five decades and in 169 movies, including some of the most iconic roles of all time, quite a few action heroes among them, including Mike Kirby from the Green Berets, John Chance from Rio Bravo, Ethan Edwards from The Searchers, and the role that won Wayne an Oscar and a spot on this list, Rooster Cogburn from True Grit.
A one-eyed US Marshall whose fearsome reputation as a take no prisoners lawman is only matched by his reputation as an alcoholic, Rooster Cogburn is enlisted by a young woman named Mattie Ross and Texas Ranger LeBoeuf to help track down the man who murdered her father and the bandits he rides with, and almost immediately you can see the departure not just from Wayne’s usual roles, but from the types of heroes that filled the old Hollywood he represents. Cogburn is a cantankerous old cowboy, drunk and defiant, with a mad gleam in his eye, who lives to shoot the bad guys.
That is where Rooster Cogburn makes his impact on the genre, acting as the six-shooter wielding forerunner to Dirty Harry and all the other grizzled renegade action heroes to come. The moment Rooster takes the reins in his teeth while firing guns from both hands in a crazed bonsai charge at the villains shows that well along with an important reminder: that for all the debates over who the king or queen of the action genre may be, there will only ever be one Duke.
Author: Sean C.W. Korsgaard
Actor: Jeeja Yanin
If you haven’t seen then 2008 movie Chocolate then you’re missing out on one of the greatest martial arts films of all time. From the director of Ong Bak, Chocolate has jaw dropping fight scenes and the star JeeJa Yanin was a revelation.
She plays the autistic Zen and makes the character sweet, moving and badass all at the same time. She learns martial arts through watching kung fu movies (mostly featuring one Tony Jaa) and watches students practising muay-thai in the class next door to her house.
Any time she feels threatened or if someone she loves is in danger, she kicks into action and can take down and entire room full of goons within seconds. The fights in this movie are crazy good but as it’s from Prachya Pinkaew then that should come as no surprise.
When her friend Moom uses her skills to bring money in they start going to Zin’s (Zen’s mother) debtors to get money to pay for her cancer treatment. It’s surprisingly heartbreaking in places and the acting is first rate.
The trailer for the movie was hilariously tacky with the tagline “From the makers of Ong-Bak, comes a special needs girl… with a special need… to kick some ass.”
Wow, but aside from that the movie is a bit of a classic and JeeJa Yanin instantly cemented herself as one of the greatest female action stars of all time. She would go on to have roles in other movies including The Protector 2 and the awesomely named This Girl is Badass. She certainly is…
Author: Sean C.W. Korsgaard
Movie: Police Story
Actor: Jackie Chan
Chan Ka-Kui – World famous for his martial arts skills and his resilience in surviving death-defying stunts, Jackie Chan has become an action icon, so it somewhat strange that the franchise that made him a household name in Hong Kong remains largely unknown outside action junkies here across the pond – I’m talking about the Police Story franchise, with hero Inspector Chan Ka-Kui.
Young police officer Chan Ka-Kui is held to be a model cop within the Hong Kong Police Department, dedicated, motivated, and incorruptible, with an absolute loyalty to the letter of the law and seeing the mission through. This has seen him run afoul of Hong Kong’s various nefarious elements, and the risk to him and property damage that usually comes from his pursuits often get him in trouble with his superiors and his girlfriend, but he’ll always get the job done.
Though the franchise and Chan shares a lot of signatures and qualities with other Hong Kong action movies, what sets them apart is the inherent playfulness of both the franchise and its hero. Despite featuring staples like triads, double-crosses and even terrorism, where say, the lead in a John Woo movie might brood or suffer some tragic fate, Chan has such inherent optimism and dedication to his duty that he drives on in the face of all opposition, even when beaten, bloodied and suffering from multiple broken bones.
Chan Ka-Kui, one super cop, and one hell of an action hero.